6:00 A.M. EDT June 20, 2011
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Rev. Amy DeLong of Osceola, Wis., will undergo a United Methodist Church trial starting June 21 to respond to a charge that she has violated church law by being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” and officiating at a same-sex union. UMNS will cover the trial and will post coverage online at www.umc.org and on the UMNS Facebook page. Michele Virnig, director of communications for the Wisconsin Annual (regional) Conference, provided the information below.
What is a church trial?
In a United Methodist church trial, an individual responds to a charge or charges of having violated denominational law, as set forth in the Church’s Book of Discipline.
A trial is described as a “last resort” in the Book of Discipline. When a complaint is filed against someone, the matter is first addressed in a supervisory process and usually resolved. If resolution does not occur, the complaint may be forwarded to the conference committee on investigation, which conducts hearings and decides whether grounds exist for converting the complaint to a charge for trial. The committee notified DeLong on Dec. 10, 2010, of its decision to move forward with a trial.
The conference bishop designates another bishop to preside over the trial, and a jury or “trial court” of 13 clergy members (and two alternates) from the respondent’s annual conference — in this case, the Wisconsin Annual (regional) Conference — hears the case. Nine votes are necessary to convict.
Why is the Rev. Amy DeLong on trial?
She is charged with conducting ceremonies that celebrate same-sex unions, and being “a self-avowed practicing homosexual” — both in violation of ¶2702.1b of The 2008 Book of Discipline, which outlines The United Methodist Church’s law.
DeLong served eight years in pastoral ministry. Since 2006, she has been executive director of Kairos CoMotion, a group that provides advocacy and education on progressive theological issues.
What is the denomination’s official policy on homosexuality?
The United Methodist Church, in the 2008 Book of Discipline, states “all persons are of sacred worth.” However, the denomination regards "the practice of homosexuality as incompatible with Christian teaching.” The church forbids the ordination and appointment of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.” It also forbids the celebration of same-sex unions by its clergy and in its sanctuaries.
Who will preside over the trial?
The original presiding officer, retired Bishop Bruce Blake, has recused himself from the trial for personal reasons. Bishop Linda Lee of the Wisconsin Conference has selected retired Bishop Clay Foster Lee Jr., of Byram, Miss., as the new presiding officer. He retired in 1996 as bishop of the Holston Conference, which encompasses congregations in eastern Tennessee, southwestern
Virginia and northern Georgia.
When will the trial be held?
The church trial, originally scheduled to begin on April 11, is now scheduled to start June 21 at Peace United Methodist Church in Kaukauna, Wis.
Who is representing the church and respondent (defendant)?
The Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, pastor of Faith Community Church in Greenville, Wis., is the counsel for the church at the request of Bishop Linda Lee. Lambrecht is also a board member of Good News, an unofficial evangelical caucus in the denomination, and will begin working for the group in July.
The Rev. Scott Campbell, pastor of Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church in Cambridge, Mass., is the counsel for DeLong, the respondent. He is a member of the Reconciling Ministries Network, an unofficial caucus advocating for greater inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church.
How are the members of the trial court selected?
The 13 members and two alternates are chosen by the presiding officer — with input from the counsels for the respondent and the church — from a pool of Wisconsin Conference clergy. The Book of Discipline specifies that at least 35 pastors must be named to the jury pool. The bishop’s cabinet — the district superintendents — recommends the names for the pool. Special consideration is given to ensuring that the pool is diverse in terms of race, ethnicity and gender. The counsel for each side has up to four peremptory challenges, as well as unlimited challenges for cause. The alternates will sit as observers and will be prepared to serve if one or two of the original jurors are unable to sit.
What are the possible outcomes of the trial?
No person can predict the outcome. This is in the hands of the jury. With a guilty verdict, the trial court would have a range of penalties to consider, including the removal of ministerial orders or a lesser penalty. While at least nine votes are needed to convict, seven votes by the trial court are necessary to set the penalty.
What happens during the trial?
Bishop Linda Lee will convene the trial and then, by the Book of Discipline, she leaves the proceedings. The presiding officer acts as the judge during the trial but has no authority to determine guilt or innocence. The counsel for the church represents the church. The counsel for the respondent represents the person on trial. The trial begins with the selection of the jury as described above. Once selected, both sides of the trial present their case and can question witnesses. This is followed by the deliberation of the jury and a determination of guilt or innocence, and other possible outcomes. If found guilty, the respondent can appeal to the Committee on Appeals of the Jurisdictional Conference.
Will the trial be open to the public?
Yes. The Book of Discipline provides for open court proceedings at the request of the respondent. However, seating will be limited. No cameras or audio or video recording equipment will be allowed in the courtroom.
Where can I find out more information about the Book of Discipline and the United Methodist judicial process?
Refer to these links:
The 2008 Book of Discipline — Judicial Administration
GCFA Administration and Judicial Procedures Handbook
News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.