by Rev. Dr. Carlton L. Shepard
Rev. Dr. Shepard officiating his son's wedding.
Dear Bishop Webb,
The Rev. Frank Schaefer said at his church trial, “I cannot go back to being a silent supporter. I must continue to be in ministry with all the people.” I, too, will no longer be a silent supporter of the rights of LGBTQ people, no longer a silent opponent of the positions of The United Methodist Church.
I wish to inform you that I recently conducted my second same sex wedding ceremony. I’ve been careful to “lay low” - not joining the Reconciling Ministries group or MFSA, not informing my church what I was doing (although a few suspected), neither conducting the ceremonies within the United Methodist church nor even within the Upper New York Annual Conference. Now I want you and all of the Conference to know that there are clergy within our ranks who are willing to minister to all without reserve.
This was not an act of bravery on my part. This was an act of love.
The only reason for my silence to this point was that I wanted to conduct the weddings of both my sons before I could be stopped from doing so. Were there more time between the second of those and my retirement I would have gladly conducted more same sex weddings.
We both know the arguments for and against the church’s official position on this issue and I won’t recount all of them here. When I was young I used to sit on my mother’s bed and talk before leaving for school. Deeply impressed in my memory is the morning she explained the Wesley quadrilateral. I thought, “Wow! I am not only allowed to use my brain in this denomination, I am encouraged to do so! This is the church for me!” No sola scriptura for me. Nor authority telling me what I must think or how I must interpret scripture only through their lens.
I went on to become a teacher and scientist - my Ph.D. is in physics - before I entered ministry. I have long been convinced that homosexuality is not a social or psychological aberration but is a part of how God has created human beings, and science has increasingly confirmed my opinion. Therefore I must minister to all as equal creations of our loving God. Ironically, I agree with the statement that “homosexuality is inconsistent with Christian teaching.” However, I contend that it is Christian teaching which is wrong.
While I might wish that as bishop you, too, would openly stand for equality of ministry to all people in committed, loving relationships, I understand your need to walk the tightrope between the polarities for the sake of unity in the Church. You may be spared the embarrassment of bringing charges against me since I have now, as of June 30, retired as a licensed local pastor, just as Steve Heiss spared you and the Conference the ordeal of a trial by retiring. Maybe, however, my actions will inspire others.
Dr. Carlton L. Shepard, newly retired licensed local pastor
. . .
After teaching high school in upstate New York for 14 years and 20 more years as a physics professor and administrator at a SUNY campus, Carl Shepard took early retirement and became a licensed local pastor serving first in the former Troy Annual Conference, then in the Upper New York Annual Conference. He attended Andover Newton Theological School. He served for ten years before retiring at the end of June 2014. Knowing his sons’ sexual orientation, he always hoped that he would be able to see them married to their partners and would be able to perform the ceremonies. For that reason, and only that reason, he refrained from performing other same sex weddings or even advertising his willingness to do so.