The Trial of Reverend Amy DeLong

As I wrote yesterday, the Wisconsin Conference of the United Methodist Church is in the midst of a church trial.  The defendant is Pastor Amy DeLong and she’s accused of being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” and of conducting a ceremony that celebrated a same-sex union.  Both acts are in direct violation of the Book of Discipline, something Rev. DeLong was well aware of during the commission of said acts as well as when she, herself, informed the conference of what she’d done.  As I alluded to yesterday, I see what Rev. DeLong as a form of civil disobedience.  Yes, she and others like her are pushing the issue.  But, if no one pushes it, how will things ever change?  Others, however, disagree with what LGBT supporters are doing.  On his Ministry Matters website, Shane Raynor said “A minority of United Methodists disagree with church law on this issue–I understand that. But if you disagree with church law, you should work to change it in the appropriate venue–General Conference–not the judicial branch”.  To say the least,  I’ve got issues with this statement. 

First is his contention that “A minority of United Methodists disagree with church law on this issue”.  It’s true that at the last General Conference’s vote on the LGBT issue kept the current policy in place.  However, the margin was the slimmest it’s ever been; 52% to 48% against full inclusion.  So, by that standard, he’s correct.  While it’s debatable that the General Conference is representative of the UMC as a whole, 48% is a sizable minority and one that’s growing.  So what he said may not be disingenuous, it is rather dismissive.  And, in my opinion, unworthy of someone whose opinion who I respect even when I don’t agree with them.

The second problem I have with his statement is the idea that the General Conference is the only “appropriate venue” to address grievances with church law.  The UMC is organized similarly to the United States, with a Legislative branch (the General Conference), an Executive branch (the Council of Bishops) and judicial branch (the Judicial Council).  Much like the U. S. Supreme Court, the Judicial Council’s function is to rule on questions of constitutionality in the laws and practices of the church.  To determine whether court is the proper place to decide this issue, let us consider the following excerpts from the Book of Discipline:

  • Paragraph 162 states “Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons. We are committed to supporting those rights and liberties for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation.”
  • Article IV  states “The United Methodist Church is a part of the church universal, which is one Body in Christ. The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth. All persons without regard to race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition, shall be eligible to attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, upon baptism be admitted as baptized members, and upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith, become professing members in any local church in the connection. In The United Methodist Church no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or any constituent body of the Church because of race, color, national origin, status or economic condition.”
  • Paragraph 304.3  states “The United Methodist Church is a part of the church universal which is one body in Christ. The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth and that we are in ministry to all. All persons shall be eligible to attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, and upon Baptism, be admitted as baptized members. All persons upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith and relationship in Jesus Christ shall be eligible to become professing members in any local church in the connection
  • Paragraph 341 states “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.”

So, the Book of Discipline says that the UMC is committed to supporting the rights and liberties of everyone regardless of their sexual orientation.  The Book of Discipline also states that all are “persons of sacred worth”, that “All persons upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith and relationship in Jesus Christ shall be eligible to become professing members in any local church in the connection”.  That sounds good, but the rest of what we read doesn’t back that up, because paragraph 304.3 says that no “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” are allowed to even enter the ordination process.  And, paragraph 341 excludes marriage ceremonies even in areas where the state allow them.  Reading all this, it becomes obvious that the Book of Discipline contradicts itself.  Added to that is the fact that the only “sin” mentioned that would disqualify someone from a pastoral charge is homosexuality.  If we decide to cleave to church law, as Raynor and others wish, a pastor could engage in several other grievous sins and not be subject to discipline from the church.  That constitutes discrimination and that is certainly a matter to be decided in court.