The trial of United Methodist pastor Amy DeLong in Wisconsin is over, and one of the standards of the church has been upheld. Unfortunately, the second seems to have gotten lost in technicalities that may provide a road to chaos. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
Thirteen ordained elders assigned to pass judgment on United Methodist minister the Rev. Amy DeLong delivered a split decision on Wednesday, finding her guilty of presiding over a same-sex union but not guilty on a charge of being a “self-avowed practicing” homosexual.
The penalty phase has begun and is expected to continue into Thursday.
Quiet gasps rippled through the church fellowship hall when the verdict was read, said the Rev. Scott Carlson of Sun Prairie United Methodist Church, who has attended the trial in support of DeLong. The guilty verdict was unanimous; the not guilty verdict, 12-1.
The charge of presiding over a same sex union was essentially impossible to dispute; I mean, she did it, right? As for the other, I’m baffled at the verdict. The article may–may–offer some hint:
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 Wednesday morning.
“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.
Now, as the Journal-Sentinel notes, Delong has acknowledged being in a “committed relationship” with a woman, and in fact told the annual conference about that relationship back in 2009. She didn’t say she had a female roommate; rather, she appears to have used the kind of language that typically refers to a sexually active relationship. Is this suggesting that her statements at the time she informed the annual conference weren’t admissible? And if the conference didn’t think it had evidence that she had violated the Book of Discipline in this matter, why bring the charge in the first place? I can certainly understand DeLong not wanting to testify against herself, but then why bring the matter to the attention of the conference at all? (I suspect it was because she was either making a political point or was engaged in some kind of psychological therapy for herself, but surely she must have known that she would be asked about the sexual nature of her relationship at some point?)
What this comes down to is that the jury decided to adopt the approach that has been in use in the other mainline churches for years to get around “fidelity in marriage/celibacy in singleness” standards. That essentially means that regardless of whether DeLong ratted herself out, they would not convict her unless they had some kind of independent evidence of sexual conduct that is, under normal circumstances, impossible to obtain. Widespread adoption of this standard will vitiate the prohibition on sexually active gay clergy in United Methodism, and 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.
UPDATE: Amy DeLong has made it easy for those who would contend that those who break the rules, and then declares that the rules don’t apply to them, should be shown the door. According to the United Methodist News Service:
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.
DeLong was the only witness called by the church’s counsel, the Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, during the penalty phase.
No further witnesses are needed, of course. DeLong has announced that she considers the Discipline‘s strictures to be optional in her case, and had a bunch of people (including the inevitable left-wing seminary professors, in this case Philip Wogaman and Tex Sample) testify that because the Discipline should say something other than what it says, it should be ignored). Sample actually had the gall to bring up polygamy, and the lack of a specific Discipline prohibition on it, as a reason to let DeLong off:
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.
I haven’t purchased a new edition of the Discipline since I left the United Methodist Church in 1992, but I’d be willing to bet that there’s no specific prohibition on bestiality or necrophilia in the current version, either. I’m sure Sample will be presenting proposals to remedy these deficiencies in the church’s law at the next General Conference in 2012.
(Hat tip: Methodist Thinker.)