UMC Suspends Minister for Performing Same-Sex Union

The Christian Century, July 26, 2011 | Go to article overview

UMC Suspends Minister for Performing Same-Sex Union


A United Methodist minister was suspended for 20 days by a church court in Wisconsin for performing a same-sex union in 2009, a breach of denominational rules. After deliberating seven hours, a jury of local United Methodist clergy voted 9-4 on June 23 to suspend Amy DeLong of Osceola, Wisconsin.

The closely watched trial--presaging another contentious quadrennial United Methodist legislative meeting next April 24-May 4 in Tampa, Florida--resulted in unusual rulings. For the first time in 20 years, the conviction of a minister conducting a same-sex union did not result in a defrocking or indefinite suspension.

The jury ruled that DeLong should write a report on issues that break the covenant between UMC clergy or be suspended for one year. DeLong admitted during the three-day trial to performing a "holy union" ceremony for a lesbian couple in 2009 but said she would not pledge to stop the practice, which is banned by the church. "I can't imagine doing that," she testified, according to United Methodist News Service.

Thomas Lambrecht, the prosecuting counsel, argued that DeLong, 44, should be suspended from ministry unless she pledged not to perform same-sex unions, saying that failing to discipline DeLong would give free reign to ministers to flout church rules.

The UMC's Book of Discipline bars "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" from ministry and prohibits clergy from celebrating same-sex weddings. The jury voted 12-1 to acquit DeLong of violating a rule against homosexual activity. In her testimony, she remarked, "The word 'practicing' would never be used for a heterosexual person. It's just part of who they are."

The openly lesbian DeLong registered with her partner of 16 years under Wisconsin's domestic partnership statute in 2009. But she refused to tell the court whether the couple is sexually intimate, and her lawyer, Scott Campbell, argued that the church could not prove DeLong had violated her vows. …

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