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Methodist Bishop, Gay
Ally, Dies at 93

Methodist Bishop, Gay
Ally, Dies at 93

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Bishop Melvin Wheatley, an outspoken Methodist minister and human rights advocate considered by colleagues to be "ahead of his time," died earlier this month in Mission Viejo, Calif. He was 93.

Bishop Melvin Wheatley, an outspoken Methodist minister and human rights advocate, died earlier this month in Mission Viejo, Calif. He was 93.

Wheatley was known for his sometimes unpopular stances on issues like gay rights and interfaith tolerance. In 1980, Wheatley publicly refused to support a statement by fellow Methodist bishops calling homosexuality "incompatible with Christian teaching," according to the Los Angeles Times.

Then in 1982, he appointed the Reverend Julian Rush, who was openly gay, to a church in Denver, causing outcry and accusations of heresy against Wheatly. He was later absolved by a national church panel, where he said that "homosexuality is a mysterious gift of God's grace." Since then, other openly gay clergy have been appointed to churches.

"He was the Martin Luther of the Methodist Church," said the Reverend Donald Messer, president emeritus of the Iliff School of Theology in Denver. "He freed all of us to be less prejudiced, biased, and dogmatic."

Before he was elected bishop, Wheatley worked at the Westwood Methodist Church in Los Angeles for 18 years.

"He was well loved in this congregation and he was pastor for what we would really consider to be dynamic and peak times in this church," said Westwood pastor John Robert Woodall. He added that Wheatley's inclusive nature was "ahead of his time," and that he was encouraging to others who may not have otherwise been as devoted to church.

"At Westwood in particular, many of our members remember Mel as one of the reasons why they got involved in this church, and I would also say that he is particularly well remembered by those in the gay and lesbian community, who saw him as a groundbreaking in opening up the church dialogue, and emphasizing inclusion into all facets of the church," he said.

Wheatley is survived by his wife, Lucile, his sons Paul and James, and three grandchildren.

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