A New Jersey native, David was born of Jewish parents and became a Christian in college after reading the Bible for the first time. He served as a United Methodist pastor for nine years (North Carolina Conference) and is now a pastor in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
David holds degrees from Rutgers University and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Wake Forest, N.C.). He is currently a Doctor of Ministry student at Trinity School for Ministry near Pittsburgh.
This opinion piece first appeared in a different form at The Reformed Pastor. Links below have been added by MethodistThinker.com — Ed.
The Wisconsin Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, via the trial and “punishment” of lesbian minister and same-sex union blesser Amy DeLong, has declared that the denomination’s Book of Discipline is merely a Book of Suggestions — and, by extension, that the views of the worldwide church that passes that Discipline every four years can be effectively ignored.
DeLong received only a slap on the wrist — a light 20-day jury-imposed suspension — though found guilty by a unanimous vote of presiding over a 2009 union ceremony at which a woman married another woman. Ceremonies celebrating homosexual unions are expressly prohibited in the UMC (¶341.6).
By a 12-1 vote, DeLong was acquitted on a second charge — being “a self-avowed practicing homosexual” — even though had she informed Wisconsin Conference officials two years ago that she was in a lesbian relationship. The Book of Discipline says self-avowed practicing homosexuals are disqualified from serving as clergy (¶304.3).
From the penalty argument by the Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, counsel for the UMC
During the trial, that moral standard for UM clergy got lost in technicalities that may provide a road to chaos.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
DeLong’s counsel, the Rev. Scott Campbell, had argued during the trial that church investigators never asked the lesbian minister whether she engages in prohibited sexual activity, the church’s accepted definition for “practicing.” And DeLong declined to answer that question when church counsel the Rev. Tom Lambrecht posed it during her testimony….
“I don’t know if you’re being voyeuristic or just plain indecent, but there is no way, when you are trying to do me harm, that I’m going to answer and share the intimate, sacred details of our lives,” DeLong said.
What this comes down to is that, in acquitting DeLong, the jury of Wisconsin Conference clergy members decided to adopt the approach that has been used in other mainline churches for years to get around “fidelity in marriage/celibacy in singleness” standards.
The jury would not convict DeLong of being a practicing homosexual unless it had some kind of independent evidence of sexual conduct that is, under normal circumstances, impossible to obtain.
Make no mistake: Widespread adoption of this evidentiary standard will vitiate the UMC’s prohibition on sexually active homosexual clergy. It will be the means that liberals will use to frustrate the will of the church as a whole — unless a way can be found to stop them.
Indeed, the pro-homosexuality Reconciling Ministries Network in the UMC crows that the DeLong approach is the key, for now, that will enable any practicing homosexual clergy member to avoid conviction at a church trial.
The outcome on this charge appears to signal that it’s possible for gay and lesbian clergy to be out about their sexual orientation, as DeLong is, and not be prosecutable under the Incompatibility Clause as long as neither they nor anyone else documents the details of their sex lives.
As for presiding at union ceremonies for two people of the same sex, DeLong said she has every intention of continuing to do so, as the United Methodist News Service reported:
The Rev. Amy DeLong testified that she would not abide by The United Methodist Church’s ban against clergy officiating at same-sex unions.
“I can’t imagine doing that,” she said in testimony…during the penalty phase of the trial.
To put it plainly, Amy DeLong announced that she considers the Discipline’s strictures to be optional in her case — and the jury, by issuing a toothless suspension, effectively agreed.
“I feel good about what the church has done,” DeLong later said, as quoted in the Journal Sentinel.
“I think we’ve sent a message that the United Methodist Church will not throw out its gay and lesbian people, and that it has opened the doors for a more inclusive church,” she said.
Oh, in addition to her 20-day suspension (the counsel for the UMC had asked that she be suspended indefinitely, pending her willingness to submit to the Discipline — see sidebar), the court imposed another wrist slap: DeLong must “initiate a written document outlining procedures for clergy in order to help resolve issues that harm the clergy covenant, create an adversarial spirit or lead to future clergy trials.”
If Amy DeLong were willing to submit the church’s boundaries, that could a short paper indeed. All it would need to say is: “To avoid harming the clergy covenant, creating an adversarial spirit, or precipitating church trials, United Methodist clergy should by abide by the will of the church as expressed in the Book of Discipline.”
But that is just what DeLong has made clear she will not do — and, based on recent reports in the denominational press (see here and here–PDF), DeLong apparently has the support of hundreds of clergy across the United Methodist Church.
Further, it would seem that performing homosexual unions is widespread in the Wisconsin Annual Conference. In trial testimony, the Rev. Richard Strait, chair of the conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry, said that if performing same-sex unions “were a heinous crime, there would be a whole lot of us in deep trouble.”
“A whole lot of us” is a telling phrase, suggesting that disobedience to the Discipline among Wisconsin Conference clergy and leaders is common.
What was really going on in the Amy DeLong trial was this: the Wisconsin Annual Conference (which in the person of the bishop appointed DeLong to her current position as director of Kairos CoMotion, an advocacy group that among other things seeks — surprise! — to repeal the prohibitions on sexually active homosexual clergy and the blessing of same-sex unions) is telling the rest of the denomination that it will not enforce the parts of the Discipline it doesn’t like. Expect other conferences to follow.
If this is not stopped, the collapse of the United Methodist Church as an even vaguely unified body cannot be far off.