An openly lesbian United Methodist minister will face a jury of her peers on two charges of violating by-laws beginning Tuesday in Kaukauna, Wis.
The Rev. Amy DeLong faces two charges of breaking the denomination’s ban on homosexuality. DeLong reportedly conducted a ceremony in 2009 that wedded a lesbian couple in addition to her admission of a same-sex relationship. She has been involved in pastoral ministry for eight years, according to the United Methodist News Service.
The three-day trial before a panel of 13 of her fellow Wisconsin United Methodist ministers is described in the Church’s Book of Discipline as a last resort, according to the UMNS.
The United Methodist Church holds that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a full communion partner of the United Methodist Church, began accepting noncelibate gay clergy in 2009, a practice The United Methodist Church has rejected.
DeLong recently told The Associated Press the charges have been hard to deal with. She openly admitted to practicing homosexuality and marrying a lesbian couple.
Other United Methodist ministers have thrown their support behind DeLong. When her trial was originally scheduled in February 2011, the Rev. Tim Berlew of Memorial United Methodist Church in Greenfield, Wis., said DeLong’s story was not unique.
“This sort of thing goes on regularly,” Berlew said. “But Amy made it public because she feels the church needs to deal with this.”
Berlew addressed his congregation on the matter, bucking his denomination’s official stance.
“I think that we spend a lot of time doing things that aren’t transforming the world. Our world has changed. Our understanding of family has changed in many different ways,” Berlew, who no longer pastors the church, said.
Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, said the trial comes as no surprise to him considering the continued surge of progressivism in the American church.
“The denomination, the teaching policy (is) very clear on this issue and hopefully the jury of her peers, whatever their own personal thoughts … will uphold the church’s clear policy,” Tooley said.
He added that he believes DeLong was open about her homosexuality in hopes of advocating “the cause of her and her allies.”
“Obviously, she wanted to create a public issue,” Tooley commented. The Institute on Religion and Democracy bills itself as a watchdog of the liberal-leaning religious and evangelical left.
DeLong’s counsel for the trial, the Rev. Scott Campbell, is a member of the Reconciling Ministries Network, an unofficial caucus that advocates for greater inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church.
The trial will operate in much the same way as a traditional court case, with each party having representation. The Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, who decried DeLong’s actions when the trial was originally scheduled, will represent the church at the request of Bishop Linda Lee of the Wisconsin Conference. Lambrecht pastors Faith Community Church in Greenville, Wis.
“I think Scripture is very clear that our expression of the good gift of sexuality is to be reserved only within heterosexual marriage,” Lambrecht told UMNS in February.
The jury can convict DeLong with nine votes. A range of punishments would then be in play, including the removal of DeLong as a minister. If found guilty, she can appeal to the denomination’s Committee on Appeals of the Jurisdictional Conference. The United Methodist Church claims 7.7 million members in the United States.
A spokesperson for the Wisconsin Conference of the United Methodist Church could not be immediately reached for comment.