Finding the Rev. Amy DeLong not guilty of violating The Book of Discipline has the potential to “open the church to chaos and eventual schism or disintegration,” said the church’s counsel in his closing arguments.
“The issue is in fact not homosexuality per se,” said the Rev. Thomas Lambrecht. “Instead it is about the integrity of our clergy covenant.”
The evidence, he said, shows that she violated the ban in The Book of Discipline against “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” serving as clergy and the bar on clergy performing same-sex unions.
Lambrecht addressed DeLong’s refusal in earlier testimony to answer his questions about whether she had “genital sexual contact” with someone of the same gender.
The Book of Discipline, he pointed out, allows witnesses to decline answering a question at a church trial only if the answer would incriminate them under state or federal law or if that testimony is based on a confidential communication with a clergyperson. Neither situation was the case here, he said.
“Therefore, the church would argue that Amy’s refusal to answer the relevant questions entitles us to assume that her answers would be adverse to her case,” Lambrecht said.
Lambrecht argued that clergy cannot unilaterally do what they see as right. To groans from a crowd of many DeLong supporters, Lambrecht used the example of a pastor who against the congregation’s wishes chooses to support a food pantry by stealing from the congregation’s offering.
DeLong’s counsel, the Rev. Scott Campbell, countered that while DeLong has long acknowledged that she is a lesbian, the church has not established that she has engaged in prohibited sexual practices. He also argued that her blessing of a same-sex union was in accordance with the denomination’s social principles.
“She knew that the social principles of our church implore us not to reject our gay and lesbian members and friends,” he said. “And so she said yes.”
Both Campbell and Lambrecht said in their closing arguments that the ruling in this case could have a monumental impact on the denomination, where homosexuality has been a point of contention for nearly 40 years.
The trial court, or jury, is now in deliberations.
United Methodist News Service reporter Heather Hahn and photographer Mike DuBose are covering the trial and will post coverage here as well as on the UMNS Facebookpage and Flickr.
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