Amy DeLong and her partner Val were smiling. Their family and their love were both recognized publicly not only through their Wisconsin domestic partnership but by a United Methodist Church court. Their family was also protected from further intrusions into their privacy. After multiple attempts, the Bishop ruled further questions out of order, asked and answered, by Amy’s “there is no way I am going to answer that when you are trying to harm my family.” Her response revealed good healthy boundaries, commitment to being whole, and protectiveness of her family—all great pastoral qualities.
Some questions we just don’t ask–at least not in church and not of the pastor. The jury found Amy not guilty of being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual”. Our rules require proof of same-sex genital contact (found in a footnote in the Book of Discipline). When you are committed to wholeness, reductionist questions about practice make no sense and are offensive. Gay people know they are practicing homosexuality just by breathing; it is not about doing but being and with God’s help being whole.
I’m thankful Amy didn’t submit to invasive questions. I’m thankful the jury discerned the difference and by 12-1 ruled on Amy and Val’s behalf.
After confirming the uncontested charge of conducting a same-gender wedding with a 13-0 ruling, the jury struggled to find a way to honor the value of Amy’s actions as a pastor on the behalf of a lesbian couple who in the process of getting wed came to trust God known to us through Jesus more deeply and fully. They deliberated for six hours after hearing testimony on applying the whole of the Discipline, seeing the whole of the clergy covenant’s ten promises, and honoring the UM Book of Discipline’s commitment to restorative justice which asks questions about harm over against retributive justice.
In a creative outcome, the jury decided 9-4 to have Amy participate in a 20 day spiritual discernment process in July and then prepare a document on the nature of the clergy covenant to be presented at next year’s Wisconsin annual conference. Leaning into Amy’s strength and experience as a writer, the jury’s decision is both creative and momentous. For the first time a jury did not display retributive justice by removing ordination credentials or giving a year of suspension.
Even with this step forward, the cost of antigay policies is too high–too high for clergy, gay and straight, who struggle between baptismal covenant, components of the clergy covenant, their promise to serve God’s people, their conscience, the whole of the discipline; too high for gay and lesbian United Methodists their families and allies who honor the Holy Spirit at work; too high for young people who to parent’s dismay just walk away from antigay churches; and way too high for an institution whose purpose is to convey God’s love shown to us in Christ in a way to transform our relationships and the world.
But for now, I’m looking forward to Amy’s clergy covenant document. Just the thought of it makes me join Amy and Val smiling along with them.
Prior to RMN, Troy served for 13 years on the pastoral staff of Bering Memorial United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas. He directed Bering’s on-site counseling center for those affected by HIV/AIDS. Outside Bering’s sanctuary in 1999, he performed a “street wedding” for a lesbian couple celebrating 25 years together and facilitated Bering’s equal treatment of all couples policy. He also coordinated Bible Study, mission trips, retreats, and nonviolence training. Facing a bomb threat with 50 other couples, Troy and Walter, shared promises and rings on Freedom To Marry Day, February 12, 2003 for their 5th anniversary.