1: 30 p.m. EST, June 23: Penalty closing arguments
The United Methodist Church’s counsel asked the jury to suspend the Rev. Amy DeLong indefinitely until she agrees in writing not to perform same-sex unions or the denomination’s law on such unions is changed.
“Contrary to the statements of some of those who testified yesterday afternoon, this is not some insignificant violation of the terms of the Book of Discipline,” the Rev. Thomas Lambrecht told the jury of 13 clergy in his closing statement.
He reiterated that at stake is the covenant all United Methodist elders make to uphold the Discipline, the denomination’s law book, and abide by its provisions.
Lambrecht pointed out that as the church’s representative, he is not asking for DeLong to be expelled from church membership, nor does he want to deprive her of her credentials or remove her as a clergy member of the Wisconsin Annual (regional) Conference.
“The church’s main interest in terms of a penalty is that the requirements of the Book of Discipline are honored and complied with,” he said. “We want to make sure that DeLong will conform her future behavior to the requirements of the Book of Discipline so we are not back here in the future.”
The Rev. Scott Campbell, DeLong’s counsel, in his closing statement countered that the jury has full discretion to determine the penalty. He mentioned a recent nonbinding resolution recently approved at the Northern Illinois Annual Conference that calls for clergy to receive a 24-hour suspension if they officiate at a same-sex union.
In previous trials regarding same-sex unions, he said, the Book of Discipline has been used as a club.
“We seek to terrorize compassionate pastors into withholding blessings from those whom the Discipline calls them to serve,” Campbell said. “This is not right, dear friends.”
DeLong’s actions were “not a violation of covenant but the vindication of conscience,” he asserted, drawing murmurs of “Amen” from a crowd of many DeLong supporters.
After Campbell spoke, Lambrecht offered a rebuttal in which he told the jurors that they should consider the harm that will be done if they fail to adequately penalize DeLong. He said a lack of accountability will prompt some United Methodists to leave the church.
He also urged the jurors to keep in mind “our brothers and sisters in Africa, Latin America and other parts of the world.
“There is no disputing that becoming a more gay-affirming church would severely harm our church’s witness in other countries where our brothers and sisters are confronted with life-and-death circumstances in their conflict with radical Islam,” he declared.
Lambrecht also said only General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking body, has the authority to expand the church’s definition of marriage to include same-sex couples. General Conference, he noted, consistently has voted against such an expansion.
Before the jury adjourned for deliberations, DeLong’s counsel asked the trial’s presiding officer, retired Bishop Clay Lee Jr., to rule on whether the trial court had the authority to suspend DeLong indefinitely.
After consulting the Book of Discipline, Lee said the denomination places no limits on the length of a suspension.
“I rule that the proposed penalty is not prohibited by the Book of Discipline,” Lee said. “However, the determination of the penalty is up to the trial court.”
The jury is in deliberations now.