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 Wednesday afternoon, during the penalty phase of the trial.
A jury, or trial court, of 13 Wisconsin ordained elders unanimously found DeLong guilty of performing a same-sex union in violation of church law. The same jury acquitted her of being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” by a vote of 12 to 1. Immediately after the court’s presiding officer, retired Bishop Clay Lee Jr., announced the verdict, the penalty phase of the trial began.
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DeLong has not denied that she is a lesbian, but her counsel, the Rev. Scott Campbell, has argued that church authorities had not proven she engaged in prohibited sexual activities.
At this point, the jury of her peers is weighing what punishment she faces after officiating at a same-sex union in September 2009.
The Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, offers the jury a range of possible penalties, including suspension or a lesser punishment. The trial court also could choose to defrock DeLong.
DeLong was the only witness called by the church’s counsel, the Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, during the penalty phase.
DeLong’s counsel called five witnesses to speak on her behalf.
The first was Carolyn Larson. DeLong initiated the case when she reported that she had officiated at Larson’s union to Carrie Johnson.
Larson testified that she had long felt alienated by the Christian church in general, but DeLong made her and Johnson feel welcome inthe church’s embrace. She reiterated DeLong’s earlier testimony that the couple publicly thanked her at the ceremony for her premarital counseling — something few heterosexual couples do at their weddings.
“It’s shameful that she should be found guilty for performing a marital ceremony for us,” Larson said.
DeLong’s counsel next called the Rev. Richard Strait, chair of the Wisconsin Annual (regional) Conference Board of Ordained Ministry. DeLong served alongside Strait on the board from 2002 to 2008, and Strait served as a character witness.
Strait testified that if performing same-sex unions “were a heinous crime, there would be a whole lot of us in deep trouble.”
Asked if DeLong demonstrates a calling by God to pastoral ministry, Strait answered “beyond a shadow of a doubt.”
He described her commitment to the church, noting that DeLong leads Kairos CoMotion, a Wisconsin Conference extension ministry, and receives no pay and no health benefits.
“If there is any way she can be returned to pastoral ministry, that would be a great blessing,” Strait testified.
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Campbell next called on three people identified as experts on church law and ethics:.the Rev. J. Philip Wogaman, retired pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington and former dean of Wesley Theological Seminary; the Rev. Tex Sample, retired professor of church and society at Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Mo.; and the Rev. Janet Wolf, an ordained elder in the Tennessee Annual (regional) Conference.
Wogaman, Sample and Wolf have advocated for the denomination to change its position on homosexuality. In 2000, Sample and DeLong co-edited “The Loyal Opposition: Struggling with the Church on Homosexuality,” a collection of essays that argue for a more inclusive church policy.
Wogaman testified that he hoped the jury would consider proportion in determining DeLong’s penalty.
He said there are forms of homosexuality that are “incompatible with Christian teaching,” echoing the wording in the Book of Discipline. Specifically, he mentioned promiscuity as a problem.
The question in same-sex unions, he testified, should be whether the two people involved “are God’s grace to each other.”
“We probably have been prone to take too harsh an attitude in these cases,” Wogaman said.
Sample testified that the Book of Discipline is not comprehensive on sexual issues. He said that the church law book says nothing about polygamy, even though it is a practice that many African United Methodists are trying to combat in their communities.
“If you are going to think about penalty, I would ask you in the name of fairness to say to yourself that we are really coming down hard (on) the issue of homosexuality and same-sex practices in the West,” he said.
“But the church is not being evenhanded here when it comes to polygamy and those kinds of expressions, and I think that is a serious problem in the church…,” he said.
Wolf, who works on church reconciliation issues, testified that she hoped the trial court could consider “restorative rather than retributive justice” in determining DeLong’s penalty. She asked the jury to be creative in considering resolutions and even suggested DeLong might be asked to lead “listening circles” for people on various sides of the homosexuality debate.
Wolf also testified that she thinks DeLong’s ministry is addressing a real harm that has been done to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals.
The jury is now considering penalties.