Methodist Minister on Trial – The Church Tries to Change Its Policy

By GLAAD |
June 20, 2011

UPDATE

Nine of the 46 potential jury memebers for Rev. DeLong’s trial were dismissed after admitting that their personal beliefs about gay clergy and marriage for all couples would prevent them from being impartial.

This follows the dismissal of all but two of Rev. DeLong’s eight planned witnesses.  Among the excluded witnesses are three current and former District Superintendents, a secular attorney, and an expert on Methodist law and the Book of Discipline. “This action by Bishop Clay Lee actually supports our position that the hierarchy of the United Methodist Church conspires to hide the truth,” said Rev. Steve Polster, testified to DeLong’s commitment and good standing as a pastor. The testimony of the dismissed witnesses was entered into the trial record, and will be included in the appeal process.

DeLong was supported by a crowd of about 40, who held a prayer service on the church lawn Tuesday morning. Further information about supporting Rev. DeLong can be found at loveontrial.org.

The Rev. Amy Delong, a United Methodist minister in Wisconsin, will face charges on June 21 for officiating a union for two women and for registering a domestic partnership in Wisconsin with her partner – both chargeable offenses according to the policy of the United Methodist Church.

“It is still unsettling to see my Domestic Partnership document and the thank you note written by the couple I joined in Holy Union, used as ‘evidence’ against me,” said Delong. DeLong will not deny the charges against her.

The denomination’s law book, the Book of Discipline, says that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” and that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or approved to serve in The United Methodist Church.” While acknowledging that these Church laws are unambiguous, the Wisconsin committee charging DeLong commended her “extraordinary courage to step forward and freely acknowledge her sexual orientation and her commitment to be in ministry to all persons, regardless of their sexual orientation.” The committee described the need for a trial as “fundamentally unjust,” saying that “offenses based on sexual orientation are inconsistent with Social Principles in the Discipline that address Human Sexuality and Equal Rights Regardless of Sexual Orientation.” However, while the Social Principles provide a “prayerful and thoughtful effort to speak to the human issues in the contemporary world,” they are not considered Church law.

DeLong’s trial begins tomorrow at Peace United Methodist Church in Kaukauna, WI. The trial had been delayed by several circumstances, including several trial participants and the original trial host site recusing itself. The trial is expected to last about three days.

Though DeLong may only be reprimanded, or suspended for as little as a day, there is a precedent for more serious consequences. In 2005, Irene Elizabeth Stroud was defrocked after coming out to her congregation in Philadelphia.

The trial comes in the context of a larger effort to change the language in the Book of Discipline. Several Methodist leaders and scholars have issued statements to the Church urging them to change the way in which they relate to LGBT persons in “official statements, judicial proceedings, and in congregational life.” They further reject “the current disciplinary position” of the Church, noting that historical stances “need not, and should not, be embraced as the faithful position of the future.” Additionally, increasing numbers of clergy have pledged to perform marriages for all couples.

Supporters of LGBT equality are encouraged to visit Rev. DeLong’s website, loveontrial.org. GLAAD continues to offer support for members of the UMC working towards equal recognition of LGBT people within the church and commends the commitment shown so far by Rev. DeLong and the committee’s statements.