Friday, June 24, 2011

Rev. Amy DeLong: the Verdict

“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
Matthew 10:16

It’s over.

The strange and sorry and embarrassing trial of the Rev. Amy DeLong is over. And in the end it was a victory of sorts for the forces of light; a reminder that the moral arc of the universe does bend toward justice.

And congratulations to my friend and colleague, the Rev. Scott Campbell, who was Amy’s defense counsel, and the person most responsible for bringing a measure or grace to this strange episode.

Rev. DeLong was charged with two instances of violating the United Methodist Book of Discipline, by officiating at the Holy Union of a lesbian couple, and by being herself a “self-avowed practicing homosexual.” She was found guilty on the first charge and innocent on the second, and she was sentenced to a 20 day suspension of her clergy credentials and required to write a reflection on how what she had done affected the clergy covenant.

The first part was a slam-dunk for the prosecution. Amy had reported performing the Holy Union in her annual report to the District Superintendent and the Bishop. And Scott stipulated the same in his opening statement.

One might think that the second part would also have been just as clear. Amy and her partner Val have a “domestic partnership” under Wisconsin law. They are in a committed same sex relationship. They have been honest about their love for each other.

But it’s not that simple. Under the Discipline, it’s the practice of homosexual sex that is banned and it is the practice which must be “self-avowed” for conviction. It is not surprising that Amy never said anything about that in her reports on the relationship she shares with Val.

At the trial, the counsel for “the church” tried to overcome this obstacle by asking Amy if she and Val ever had “genital” contact. Honest, that really happened. Amy’s response was that she would not share the intimate details of her relationship with someone whose only purpose was to do her harm.

So the jury of 13 clergypersons from the Wisconsin Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church found her “not guilty.”

On one level it defies common sense. And it seems like a bizarre technicality.

At a deeper level it represents the triumph of rabbinic argument. Traditionally, Christians have made great sport of rabbinic arguments, which often seem to us to be based on strange and arcane analyses of what appear to us to be insignificant details. But the genius of rabbinic reasoning is that God is in the details, that justice is sometimes found in the most obscure places.

One simple interpretation of that “not guilty” verdict would be that those who wrote those prohibitions into the Discipline a few decades ago left a loophole. A different interpretation might be that the loophole was itself one of the best examples of the Methodist soul: the gift of grace. In the loophole we see not a mistake, but what ought to be. It is the truth. Unintentional, to be sure, but still the truth.

To use a Scott Campbell phrase, it is “an open door.”

And maybe by exposing the whole policy for the embarrassing sham that it is, this verdict will bring us closer to a vision of grace and truth that represents real faithfulness.

1 comment:

  1. I'd say the Judicial psnel wisely took a "bye" on this one. What were they prepared to do - hire a private investigator? The good sign is that it didn't quite have the witchhunt atmosphere of the Beth Stroud trial.