Methodist minister gets small sanction over lesbian wedding

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 23, 2011 9:23 PM
Methodist minister gets small sanction over lesbian wedding

By Brendan O'Brien

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - An openly-gay United Methodist minister was suspended from her religious duties for 20 days after elders decided on Thursday that she violated church doctrine by performing a same-sex wedding.

Rev. Amy Delong was also required to write a paper about how she should deal with issues that "create an adversarial spirit" within the church, according Rev. Tom Lambrecht, representing the Wisconsin Conference of the United Methodist Church.

"We feel good that it recognizes that there was a violation of church law and that there is a punishment levied," Lambrecht said of the decision.

DeLong is required to complete the first draft of the document by January 1, 2012. The final draft is to be completed by June of 2012. If she fails to comply with the ruling, DeLong will be suspended from her ministerial duties for one year.

Delong said her goals during the proceeding were to tell the truth about herself, to help the church live up to its goals, and to send a message of love to gays.

"I am standing in the light of God and feel confident and strong. We have opened some doors and it feels like a new day," she said after the trial.

The sentence ended a four-day church trial in which a 13-member jury unanimously convicted DeLong of officiating a wedding for a lesbian couple in Menominee, Wisconsin in September, 2009.

Rev. Scott Campbell, who represented DeLong, called it a "very fair" outcome.

The 44-year-old minister from Osceola, Wisconsin faced two charges -- officiating a homosexual union and being a "self-avowed practicing homosexual."

The jury voted 12-1 that DeLong was not guilty of being a self-avowed practicing homosexual. Homosexuals may be ordained ministers in the United Methodist Church but they must vow to a life of celibacy, according to the church's doctrine.

DeLong, who has been in a relationship for the last 16 years, is the executive director of Kairos CoMotion, a progressive theological advocacy group.

The church trial, similar to a criminal trial, was held at Peace United Methodist Church in Kaukauna, about 30 minutes southwest of Green Bay.

The proceeding marked the seventh time over the last two decades that the church has held a trial involving homosexuality, according to the United Methodist News Service. The church is expected to take a hard look at its policies on homosexuality during its legislative conference in 2012, Lambrecht said.

"This is going to be a big issue and an important discussion that is going to be held in 2012," Lambrecht said. "There are proposals that completely reverse our church's position on the issue right now."

Lambrecht also recommended the jury require DeLong to sign a statement saying she would not perform same-sex marriage ceremonies in future. She had said earlier that she would refuse to sign that type of statement if it were required.

Despite the ruling, DeLong said she would not treat an invitation to preside over a same sex marriage any differently than she would a traditional marriage.

"There's no way I would categorically discriminate against them based on their sexual orientation," she said.

(Editing by Greg McCune)