United Methodists are weighing in on the debate over an Appleton, Wis., minister who faces a church trial for her homosexual lifestyle.
The Rev. Amy DeLong is scheduled to go to trial on April 11. Two charges were brought against her – one for conducting a ceremony for the union of a lesbian couple and another for being a self-avowed practicing homosexual.
"This sort of thing goes on regularly," the Rev. Tim Berlew of Memorial United Methodist Church in Greenfield, Wis., who supports DeLong, said recently. "But Amy made it public because she feels the church needs to deal with this."
DeLong, who has served as a clergy member for 14 years, officiated at a lesbian couple's union in 2009 then registered with her same-sex partner that same year, according to the United Methodist News Service.
She acknowledged her sexual orientation as she reported her actions to the Wisconsin Annual Conference.
She told UMNS that hiding who she was was taking a "toll on my soul and psyche."
The United Methodist Church holds that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. The 7.7 million-member denomination does not allow ministers in same-sex relationships to serve as clergy. That stance was reaffirmed in recent years when the president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, Bishop Gregory Palmer, articulated that the church would not be accepting noncelibate gay clergy from their full communion partner, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – which opened the door to such clergy in 2009.
Disagreeing with the denomination's stance, Berlew spoke his mind as he addressed his congregation and stated, "I believe that our church is wrong in this place.
"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."
But for others, the Scripture is clear.
"I think Scripture is very clear that our expression of the good gift of sexuality is to be reserved only within heterosexual marriage," the Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, pastor of Faith Community Church in Greenville, Wis., told UMNS.
Earlier this month, 33 retired bishops released a Statement of Counsel to the Church supporting homosexual clergy.
Their voices, however, represent the past, said one conservative United Methodist.
Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, said Monday, "These retired bishops represent the past, not the future of The United Methodist Church. They are responsible for presiding over the loss of over 3 million church members in the U.S. over 45 years. Now they want United Methodism to accelerate that decline by following the even more disastrous course of The Episcopal Church.
"United Methodism's future will be international, theologically orthodox, and focused on evangelism, not on the fads of declining liberal Protestantism in the U.S."
U.S. membership has continued to decline since 1968 while United Methodists overseas have been seeing growing numbers.
Thirteen clergy members and two alternates will hear DeLong's case in April.