The Rev. Amy DeLong, who was found guilty on Wednesday for conducting a Holy Union celebration between two women in September 2009, will be suspended for 20 days of “spiritual discernment” beginning July 1. She must also draft a document outlining “procedures to help resolve issues that harm the clergy covenant, create an adversarial spirit, or lead to future clergy trials,” to be presented at the Wisconsin Annual Conference in 2012. Failure to submit this document by the January 1, 2012, deadline will result in a one year suspension. Still, DeLong’s suspension demonstrates an increase in tolerance compared to the defrockings of other Methodist ministers for similar charges. Other mainline Protestant denominations, including The Episcopal Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 2009 and the Presbyterian Church (USA) in May of this year, have already affirmed their acceptance of openly gay clergy.
DeLong considered the outcome a victory, saying, “We had a 100 percent chance of winning because our goal was to be faithful and to tell the truth. We have done that and we’ve broken the silence.” The growing movement towards affirmation in the United Methodist Church appears to be gaining momentum, as defense counsel Rev. Scott Campbell called on the jury to consider secular movements such as the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the recent UN resolution affirming human rights for LGBT people.
Church counsel had initially proposed that DeLong be suspended until she signed a pledge stating that she would never perform another wedding for a gay or lesbian couple as long as it was against church law, a suggestion which DeLong refused. “There’s no way I would categorically discriminate against them based on their sexual orientation,” she said.
Rev. Scott Campbell was optimistic that this trial would be a turning point towards acceptance, rather than a source of division within the church. “Change is coming in the church and in the world,” he said. “This is not a violation of covenant, but rather a vindication of conscience. These are not the seeds of schism but the sowing of our salvation. We are not engaged in the abrogation of accountability, but in the creation of community. God is bringing forth something new in our midst.”
GLAAD hopes that Rev. DeLong will be able to use the writing assignment that is her “sentence” to help the United Methodist Church grow into a more inclusive church that is faithful to its teaching of love and respect for all people. GLAAD continues to offer support to LGBT members of all faiths working towards equal recognition, and commends Rev. DeLong for her courage and optimism throughout this trial.