Early this evening, after 7 hours of deliberation, the Trial Court (church name for jury) handed over their punishment for the Rev. Amy DeLong to Bishop Clay Lee to be read. Amy had been found guilty yesterday of the charge of having performed a Holy union service between two committed, loving, faithful lesbian women who had sought her out for pastoral care around a service of Holy Union. Amy never denied the performing the service and talked about how she felt after having met with the couple; that in agreeing to perform the service, she was fulfilling the higher calling of both the Scripture and the Book of Discipline by providing pastoral care and Christian guidance to people she had promised to serve through her ordination vows.
Also yesterday, she was acquitted of a second charge of “being a self-avowed, practicing homosexual.” Over the past two days Amy showed incredible grace, integrity and honesty as she faced questioning that many described as “badgering” at times. When it became obvious that no one had asked Amy, as they were required in the review process, if she had been “engaged in prohibited genital sexual contact (the disciplinary standard for ‘practicing”),” the Rev. Tom Lambrecht tried asking the question in several ways. Amy responded, “I will never share the intimate details of my loving committed relationship with Val with anyone who intends to do me harm (paraphrased).” It became clear that the evidence for the self-avowed charge was based on circumstantial evidence and the assumptions others had made, but never asked, about the details of Amy’s relationship with her Domestic Partner (registered).
To get a good sense of what took place over the past three days and all of what was at stake for our denomination, I would recommend that you go to the article posted by The Post Crescent Newspaper’s reporter, Michael Vinson and look for the links to The Rev. Scott Campbell’s (counsel for Amy) and Rev. Tom Lambrecht’s (counsel for the church) statements. That article can be found here.
As the crowd of approximately 110 waited all day for the trial court to come back, we sang, talked and celebrated our faith and joy… that we knew would not be diminished no matter what the trial result. Then at about 5 PM, when we were sitting in prayer and silence, because our voices were simply worn out, the Trial Court came back in with a verdict as to punishment.
In the words of one MFSAer, “She is suspended for 20 days, for spiritual discernment. She has one year to write a report outlining the harm done to the clergy covenant. Many are praising it as a creative penalty that gives Amy a real opportunity to speak. It feels like a victory! Troy Plummer of RMN says, "So Amy is tasked with writing a transformational resource for clergy to better understand their covenant with one another? I can't think of anyone else more up to the task.’" Amy Says, “I think the church sent a message today–to LGBT folk and our allies–that we don’t want to throw away our LGBT children of God.”
As an elder of the church, I believe this verdict is sending a very clear message to the denomination… change is coming. While this does indeed feel like a victory, we have to recognize that we have been through almost forty years of pain, hurt, spiritual abuse and yes, “the covenant among our clergy has been harmed” over these 40 years. But today, restorative justice was indeed the victor! For Amy is going to help craft a document to help her colleagues in ministry find ways to heal the harm that has been done to our clergy covenant. Maybe, now that “a door has been opened (Rev. Scott Campbell)” and Godly change has an opportunity to flow through our church, we might be looking to Amy DeLong’s work to help us begin the long process of healing the United Methodist Church.
The Rev. Steve Clunn,
Coalition Coordinator for MFSA, RMN & Affirmation