Amy was right. When we tell the truth we win. Her chances of winning were 100%.
Why? Because she was doing the right thing and telling the truth.
After it was announced that Amy was found guilty of one charge (performing the union) and not of the other (incompatibility) we went directly into the “penalty” portion. In this stage, more witnesses can be presented to help the jury decide on a penalty.
The church only called Amy. They asked her if she will ever perform another union. She said she didn’t know how to answer that because it is complicated. The church counsel then asked if she would be willing to vow never to do so again. She said she couldn’t imagine doing that.
Then we moved to witnesses for the defense. The defense’s line-up was among the most amazing expressions of courage and faithfulness I’ve ever seen in my life. The power of truth telling was liberating to my soul. It made my heart feel as free and as loving as Amy DeLong’s.
First Caroline came up (a.k.a. Kerrie’s partner). Caroline testified that Amy’s performance of her union brought her back into the church. After a hurtful relationship with the church in her youth, she was gone until she made friends with a few Methodist pastors. She was asked for insight on how Amy should be punished. Caroline said, “All I have to say about a punishment for Amy is that it is shameful that she should be found guilty for performing a marriage ceremony for us.”
The next witness was Rev. Richard Straight, the chair of the Wisconsin Board of Ordained Ministry. He must have been curling Bibles and Disciplines in the witness room because he was ready to go.
He stated that Amy was one of the finest pastors he has ever known. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, she shows the gifts and graces for a call to ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church. When asked to consider a punishment, he said that if performing these unions is really going to suddenly start becoming a big deal in the Methodist church than a whole lot of us will start being in trouble. Furthermore, if Amy could return to the local parish, it would be an enormous blessing to the Annual Conference. (I thought he was saying that her “punishment” should be taking a local church appointment again – she is currently in extension ministry).
He was asked by the church counsel if the Board ever finds that people could serve better in other denominations. Richard said that although this may clearly be true for some clergy he knows (nice long pause and stare), the board would never make such a decision.
The next witness was Phil Wogaman. How can I possibly explain the stature of this man to some one who doesn’t know him? Here’s the link to his wikipedia article. I’ll just say he is an absolute titan. Actually, it was more like from here on in we had Olympians descending into our little fellowship hall basement, one after another. Scott took about three minutes to read Phil’s credentials.
His testimony was brilliant: thought provoking, measured, genuinely interesting and at times funny. He pointed out that there is no prescribed punishment and that a loss of credentials should certainly not be assumed.
He suggested the jury remember that the heart of the gospel as understood by John Wesley is God’s grace, the love of God, and our response to God and each other in light of this grace. The question is whether the union that was performed was between grace-filled people and whether there is anything that gets in the way of God’s grace in this union.
There is something more at stake here than just recognizing that a law has been found to have been broken. Law in the church is not law for its own sake. Law in the church is law for the sake of God’s love.
First we need to weigh the harm done against those who are stigmatized by our rejection and condemnation of them. Then we must decide whether a given action stands in the way of receiving God’s grace or whether or not the thing we are concerned about might in fact be an expression of that very grace.
The church counsel decided to cross examine Phil Wogaman. I’m putting this exchange down on my all time top ten church experiences.
The counsel asked who makes the decision that it is okay to override something in the Discipline in light of another part. Phil said we all do, individually and collectively. And we do it remembering that John Wesley was ordered, according to church law, by his bishop, not to preach at all in his parish. His response? The world is my parish. He broke the law. We could also look at Luther, but let’s just talk about the ministry of Jesus Christ himself. He very clearly instructed his disciples to break the law by plucking grain on the Sabbath. It is not necessary to elaborate much to show that breaking the law is an essential part of our faith.
For some reason the counsel continued to try to cross examine him. They asked if it is not true that in the 2000 year history of our church you will find overwhelming support of the United Methodist Church’s current statement on homosexuality. Phil said no. You’re not going to run into it much. It’s just not there. Furthermore, if you apply that standard you will find many things that you will not want to associate yourself with. If you take that sort of approach to ethical reasoning the biggest thing you will be struck with are teachings and practices that denigrate the role of women. It is very hard to even take that approach to the question in front of a jury that has women on it. The very fact of who is in the room shows that to be a problematic approach to the question before us.
Next up: Tex Sample.
Scott confessed that he had misplaced his typed introduction of Tex, like the one he read for Phil, so he asked Tex to introduce himself. Tex gave his introduction, noting he like Bishop Lee is a native of Mississippi. You can click here… He also wanted us to know that he has just completed a four year term as chair person of the stewardship committee at his local church and that they ended with a surplus. This was greeted with applause from the court.
He was asked about what a fair punishment would be and said we shouldn’t proceed lightly. Fairness is very difficult when we have such a divided church. We need to realize that the amount of time and attention we pay to this are way out of proportion to how important it really is. Consider the existence of polygamy in the world. It is an important issue that requires care and courage. However we don’t even address it at all. Instead we have the same discussions about homosexuality over and over again. So we need to realize that our focus is off.
Tex said that his experience of marriage comes out of 54 years of being married to Peggy. “And in fact, before then I didn’t have any experience at all!” The court irrupted in laughter. Even the jurors couldn’t sit still. “But in the name fairness, please remember that our approach isn’t fair.”
He also spoke about the first Christian doctrine of marriage coming from Augustine. There is no scriptural doctrine of marriage. He compared Augustine and Wesley with our current discipline. He pointed out that between the three of them they all agree. The only thing that stands out from all of this in the case before us is the gender of the parties involved. Maybe we should think of the penalty in terms of how close and consistent we are with doctrines of marriage and let go of the aspects of this issue we normally focus on.
Finally, Janet Wolf was called. I thought my head and heart were going to explode… you know, in a good way.
Janet introduced herself by saying that she first met the United Methodist Church at a time in her life when she wasn’t very lovable. Her former church had asked her to leave because her husband had left her. They didn’t think she was a good role model. But she found her way to a Methodist church and they loved her when others judged her and made her leave. Now she is an elder – ordained in the Tennessee Annual Conference – and professor of Church and Society at American Baptist College in Nashville, TN.
She spoke about restorative justice- the principle under which this court operates. The questions are not – what law was broken, who broken and how should they be punished.
The questions are – what harm was done, how can it be restored and who might be partners in the rebuilding.
The United Methodist Church does not endorse retributive systems of justice. We believe in reconciliation and restoration.
She ended by saying that Amy has opened a door and the church has the chance to walk through it by showing another way to live out the gospel.
As it was then 5:00 (about), the bishop adjourned us until 9:00am. We will then have closing statements and instructions to the jury for the discernment of the penalty.
After the trial we met in the park again. IT FELT GOOD! Our singing of “This Little Light Of Mine” must have floated right up the Fox River to Green Bay and beyond.
Tex Sample preached. He reminded us that we live our lives in front of a great horizon. At times we get visions of all that is possible in this space. Today we got a sense of that vision. Our vision isn’t perfect on this side of the horizon, but we’re getting there.