In Wisconsin, lesbian United Methodist minister the Rev. Amy DeLong recently received a 20-day suspension (that started July 1) for performing a same-sex wedding in 2009. (In addition, she was found not guilty of being a "self-avowed practicing homosexual.") She was also required to write a document about dealing with issues that "create an adversarial spirit" within the church.
Windy City Times talked with DeLong, 44 (who was ordained in 1997), about the wedding, trial and punishment, and what came across was a woman who is loyalto her religion but even more to her core beliefs.
Windy City Times: I want to talk about the 2009 wedding. When you performed it, you were aware of the rules and laws, correct?
Rev. Amy DeLong: Correct.
Windy City Times: So why did you choose to officiate?
DeLong: I know the rules of the church, but I feel that any rule that requires me to discriminate is not a rule I feel called to follow. When the couple approached me, I had decided a long time ago that, if I were approached, I would treat that request like any other request for a weddingand that's what I did. I think of Dr. King, who wrote his letter from a Birmingham jail that we have a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. That's how I feel about discriminatory policies.
Windy City Times: There are no marriage equality or civil unions in Wisconsin, but domestic-partnership registries.
DeLong: Correct. The couple had filed for their registry and wanted a religious ceremony to accompany that.
Windy City Times: Moving on to the trial itself, how did you plead to the counts?
DeLong: I could only plead once, and I pled not guilty.
Windy City Times: What was your sense during the trial? Did it feel one-sided?
DeLong: No; it felt like we were given a very fair trial. It felt like we had mounted a solid and good defense, and we were fairly confident how it would play outand that's how it did. That was our best-case scenario, and that's how it worked out. The bottom line is that the church was not able to provide evidence to convict me on both counts.
Windy City Times: Do you think the punishment is fair?
DeLong: I think it's more than fair. I think it gives us a great opportunity to be in dialogue. I've dedicated most of my ministry to trying to write and educate around issues of sexual orientation. The trial court punished me to teach and to writeand it actually feels like more of an honor. I think they were incredibly creative in their decision and I applaud them 100 percent.
Windy City Times: I understood the suspension as punishmentbut when I saw they required you to write a document, I asked, "They gave her homework?"
DeLong: [Laughs] That's exactly right. I think it's an excellent opportunity. There are others who are working with me, and I hope they approach it with the same open spirit.
Windy City Times: What are your hopes for your denomination?
DeLong: Going into the trial, I said I had three goals or hopes. One was for me to tell the truth about who I am and what I've done. I knew that my relationship with my partner could not be placed second to my position to being in the ministry. That goal has been accomplished and will continue to be.
The second goal was that the church would be truthful to the proclamations it makesthat God's grace is sufficient, that there's nothing we need to do to earn God's love and that we're part of a denomination that puts limits and conditions on some of God's people simply because we're gay or lesbian. I think that goes against the very gospel of Jesus Christ.
The other hope I have, always, is that the next generation of LGBT Christians to not hear that they're somehow "less than." We know about the suicide rates among young gay people is three to four times higher than their heterosexual peersand I think that's due in large part to the church sending such horrible messages. I think the trial let young people hear a different messageone of love and acceptance.
Windy City Times: So if another same-sex couple approached you about officiating a wedding, how would you respond?
DeLong: I would respond like I would with any couple. When I was in pastoral ministry, most weddings involved people I didn't know. It's the right of every clergy person to decide if that's a blessing they want to offer, and you do that by getting to know the couple.
The church council at the trial asked the trial court to suspend me indefinitely until I signed a document saying I would do no more holy unions. On the stand I said that's a document I would never sign. I would never sign a document that told me that I would categorically have to discriminate against people.
So I would get to know the [same-sex] couple and see if it is a union I would want to be involved in. If it is, I would do it without a moment's hesitation.
Windy City Times: Despite the fact that you would probably get a stiffer penalty, such as indefinite suspension?
DeLong: The answer is "yes." I just cannot, in good conscience, engage in that kind of discrimination. To know what it's like to feel that discrimination, there's no way I would do that to someone else. The law of the church gets trumped by compassion and love. That's the bottom line, despite the consequences.
Windy City Times: During the trial, did you ever second-guess being a ministeror did you always feel like this is your calling?
DeLong: I do feel like it's my calling to help change the church. There are people who ask, "Why don't you go to a church that's already open?" I don't know anybody who joins a church because they think everything about that organization is perfect. I've never heard anyone run for a school board saying, "I'm running for the school board because I want it to stay the way it is and everything they do is perfect."
Usually, you are part of an organization because you believe in it, you love it and you know it can be better than it is. I know that if there aren't those of us who are willing to stay in the system and risk our power and privilege to make it better, nothing will ever change. I love the church too much to let it be lost in repression and discrimination any longer. Also, I was a Girl Scoutand I was taught that you leave a place better than you found it.
When I took the covenant to enter into ordained ministry, I never once said that I would suppress or suspend my conscience. "Covenant" used to be such a beautiful word; now it seems that it's used as a hammer to keep gay people silent. A real covenant is based in love and faithfulness, and shouldn't cause us to abandon our own sense of right and wrong.
Windy City Times: Was there anything you wanted to add?
DeLong: The one thing is this idea that I was found not guilty of being a "self-avowed practicing homosexual." What I am clear about is that I am partnered, I am lesbian and I'm in a covenanted, long-term, monogamous relationship. The church couldn't prove whether my partner and I have sexual contact, and I didn't answer the questionbut not out of any sense of shame. I didn't answer because the shame is the church's for thinking it has a right to invade my privacy like that.