Bishop Melvin Wheatley Dies at 93
A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*
March 3, 2009
Bishop Melvin E. Wheatley Jr., a champion of gay rights in The United Methodist Church, died March 1 after a prolonged illness.
Wheatley, 93, retired, had been residing in a private board and care residence in
Bishop Wheatley received an award of appreciation in 1984 from Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. "Arrogant judgmentalism, as some have experienced by society, even religious institutions, is too great a price for society to be able to continue to pay," he said at that time.
The Wheatleys also received a human rights award from an international Christian denomination that serves gay members. In a speech accepting the award, he said that his son John - who died in 1984 of cancer - was gay.
In 1982, Wheatley came under fire for appointing a self-avowed practicing homosexual to a
An investigative committee said in its final report that it found no "reasonable grounds" for accusing the bishop. The panel found that the bishop should not be tried on charges of heresy and disobedience.
Wheatley's advocacy on gay and lesbian issues, and dissatisfaction with the denomination's policy, led him to become one of 15 bishops to release a joint statement at the 1996 General Conference expressing their pain over the proscriptions in the Book of Discipline. Those bishops also affirmed their commitment to uphold the Discipline of the church.
Inclusive and caring
Born in 1915 in
He received a B.D. degree summa cum laude from
Wheatley served pastorates for 33 years in
"He was a wonderful, wonderful man," Mrs. Wheatley said. "He was just very, very special. Many people know that he was a superb person. He did not have a prejudice or bigoted bone in his body. He was born to be inclusive and care about everybody."
"He was a good friend of mine, and we served on several committees together," said Bishop Leontine T.C. Kelly, retired, of
"He was one of the great preachers of our generation," said Bishop Jack Tuell,
For the past several years, Wheatley had adopted a mantra, "Safely home ... safely home ... safely home again, amen!" which he recited to himself continuously. In an email announcing his father's death, Jim Wheatley said the family and caregivers are comforted that his passing took place in an environment of manifest love and attention and that the bishop is at last "safely home."
A memorial service will be held March 22 at
In addition to his wife, Lucile, and son, James, of