Leaders of the Wisconsin Annual (regional) Conference have known for more than a decade that the Rev. Amy DeLong was “a lesbian living in a loving, partnered relationship,” her counsel said in a pretrial statement on the morning of June 21.
In action and word, two bishops promised DeLong no charges would be forthcoming, said her counsel, the Rev. Scott Campbell. The church trial she faces now is a violation of that promise and DeLong’s civil rights, he contended.
Campbell spoke to a packed room filled with DeLong supporters in the basement of Peace United Methodist Church in Kaukauna, Wis., as the proceedings began.
A lesbian elder in Wisconsin, DeLong is on trial for violating the denomination’s ban on “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy and its prohibition against officiating at same-sex unions.
Campbell’s pretrial statement, known as a proffer, included testimony and objections that retired Bishop Clay Lee Jr., the presiding officer, had ruled irrelevant to the official trial.
Before Campbell’s statement, Lee explained that Campbell’s statement would not be heard by the jury but could be entered into the court record. The statement can be used in the event of appeals.
The Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, the counsel representing The United Methodist Church in the case, said both before and after that statement that he and fellow church representatives had “nothing to offer” at this time.
Campbell listed five arguments his team would have made had Lee not excluded them in pretrial motions.
1. While DeLong has acknowledged her partnership, the church has provided no proof that DeLong has engaged in “prohibited sexual practices” or “engaged in genital sexual acts with someone of the same gender,” Campbell said.
He contended that this is required by Judicial Council rulings1027and920to establish whether someone is a “practicing homosexual.” The Judicial Council is the United Methodist equivalent of a church Supreme Court.
2. The church has not followed proper procedure in bringing DeLong to trial, he said. At no point was she asked whether she had engaged in prohibited sexual acts, Campbell said.
3. DeLong has acknowledged her lesbian partnership to Wisconsin conference leaders for more than a decade, Campbell said. She specifically told retired Bishop Sharon Z. Rader and current resident Bishop Linda Lee. “Because the church did not work in a timely manner, it cannot use what it has agreed to for many years to now cause her harm,” Campbell said.
4. Campbell said DeLong’s civil rights are being violated under contract law in the state of Wisconsin. The state bans discrimination in contracts based on sexual orientation but allows exemptions for religious bodies if those religious bodies establish hiring a gay individual is in violation of “a core tenet.” Campbell argued that the Wisconsin Conference has failed to establish that the ban on gay clergy is a core tenet. Because the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, does not list the ban as part of official church doctrine, Campbell questioned whether the ban should be considered part of the denomination’s core tenets.
5. Campbell said an excluded expert witness on church law, the Rev. Phil Wogaman, would have testified that DeLong’s officiating at a same-sex unions was obedient to the highest spirit of the Book of Discipline, which calls on church leaders to minister to all people.
Campbell also objected to the trial’s venue of Peace United Methodist Church in Kaukauna, a 10-minute drive from Appleton. “The setting is inadequate to accommodating a truly open trial,” he said.
Lee, the presiding officer, entered Campbell’s statement into the court record.
At the beginning of the morning session, Lee told those gathered that he believes “we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.”
“Every day I wake up with the thought this is day the Lord has made,” he said. “My prayer for everyone this morning is that this will be our spirit. … Whatever our circumstance, God walks with us.”
The official trial proceedings are scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m. with the selection of 13 Wisconsin clergy and two alternates to serve as the jury, known as the trial court.
United Methodist News Service reporter Heather Hahn and Chief Photographer Mike DuBoseare covering the trial and will post coverage online athttp://umc.org/, on theUMNS Facebookpage and onflickr.