Lesbian Minister Suspended for Performing Same-Sex Ceremony

( [email protected] ) Jun 24, 2011 10:36 AM EDT

A lesbian minister was suspended from her church duties Thursday and ordered to spend the next 20 days as a time for spiritual discernment. A jury of 13 United Methodist clergy convicted the Rev. Amy DeLong on a charge of performing a same-sex union, which is in violation of church law.

The jury voted 9-4 to suspend the pastor beginning in July. The same jury Wednesday found DeLong not guilty in a unanimous decision of the charge of being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual.”

Her conviction on the same-sex union violation came on a 12-1 vote.

DeLong is a partnered lesbian who has served as a clergy member for 14 years. Along with officiating at a lesbian couple’s union in 2009, she also registered with her same-sex partner of nearly 16 years under Wisconsin's Domestic Partnership Law that same year. She reported both actions to the annual conference.

DeLong, 44, of Polk County, was also ordered by the jury to write a document outlining issues that harm the United Methodist Church's clergy covenant.

That document is to be presented to the annual conference of the Wisconsin Conference of the United Methodist Church in summer 2012.

DeLong rejected the church counsel’s proposal that she should be suspended until she signs a pledge that she will not perform same-sex weddings in the future, as long as it remains church law.

“Performing the holy union for the couple I did was one of the great joys of my ministry, and I would never sign a document that would indicate I wouldn’t do that again,” DeLong told reporters Thursday.

“To sign such a document would say to the couple that I married, ‘Your marriage is not valid.’ I’d never want to send them that message.”

The United Methodist Church permits gay and lesbian ministers to serve as long as they remain celibate. The church does not permit clergy to perform same-sex marriage rituals.

If DeLong does not meet the jury's orders, she will be suspended for one year, beginning in June 2012, according to a church spokesperson.

“A chargeable offense did occur; a penalty has been determined,” said Bishop Linda Lee from the Wisconsin Conference in a statement Thursday.

“The trial was truly a heart-wrenching and painful process. Yet, we have hope because of our common faith in Jesus Christ, and trust that some growth and good can come from this.”

During closing arguments Wednesday the Rev. Scott Campbell, DeLong's counsel, reminded the jury that a recent non-binding resolution was approved at the Northern Illinois Annual Conference that calls for clergy to receive only a 24-hour suspension if they officiate at a same-sex union.

Prior to the penalty announcement Thursday, Campbell asked the jury to think about the broader implications of their decision.

He said there are movements in secular culture to embrace same-sex relationships, including the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and a recent United Nations resolution affirming gay rights.

“Change is coming in the church and in the world,” Campbell said to the jury. “Signs are all around us in the church and in the world.”

DeLong's actions were "not a violation of covenant but the vindication of conscience," he asserted, drawing murmurs of "Amen" from a crowd of many DeLong supporters.

The Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, the lead counsel for the United Methodist Church, told jurors on Wednesday that they should consider the harm that will be done if they fail to adequately penalize DeLong.

He said a lack of accountability will prompt some United Methodists to leave the church.

"There is no disputing that becoming a more gay-affirming church would severely harm our church's witness in other countries where our brothers and sisters are confronted with life-and-death circumstances in their conflict with radical Islam," he declared.

DeLong’s suspension, the jury wrote, is to be used for spiritual discernment in preparation for a process seeking to restore the broken clergy covenant relationship.

UMC trial details: http://www.umc.org/site/c.lwL4KnN1LtH/b.7519397/k.8E10/Amy_DeLong_Trial.htm