Incompatible with Christian Teaching
A note regarding this post: I am and have been close with several self-avowed homosexual people within my lifetime. It is my personal belief that God loves all of God’s children and calls upon all of us to act and behave in the same way as God has demonstrated through Jesus’ life here on earth. I do not claim to understand the homosexual lifestyle (as it simply does not describe me) and choose not to judge the lifestyle because of my extreme lack of knowledge regarding the topic. I do, however, think that our culture is on the verge of a gender and sexual orientation crisis that has been snowballing for years. I think that if the Church does not handle such a crisis with grace, mercy, and love, we will not only have disobeyed God’s will for us, but we will have lost (please define “lost” however you’d like, it will still be true). My opinions listed below are indicative of my own observations of the said situation at the given time, with as much information as I felt like I could find. I would hope that they do not anger any readers, as I have attempted to choose the words carefully so as to be inclusive, yet honest, with describing and arguing a very difficult situation that no one quite knows the “right” answer to. I have attempted to be mindful of those that I know and love while writing this post, because if at the end of the day I have angered people close to me, I have lost. If at any point you disagree or wish to point out my own ill-thinking, please express this to me in a way that embodies the grace, mercy, and love referenced above.
Rev. Amy DeLong of Wisconsin is on trial in the United Methodist Church for “chargeable offenses” according to Paragraph 2702 in the United Methodist Book of Discipline. The Book of Discipline is edited, morphed, and revoted on every four years by delegates from each of the Annual Conferences within the United Methodist Church. For those uninterested in church procedure and polity, it reads a lot like a phone book (do they even still have those anymore?).
The story of Amy goes something like this: she fell in love with the United Methodist Church around the time she was in college. She began to feel a call to pursue ordained ministry. By the time she had affirmed that call and applied to seminary, she fell in love with her partner, Val. You can read Amy’s account of her story here.
Then, in 2009, “Amy officiated at a Holy Union for a same-gender loving couple.”(Link) She then reported about it in the annual required report that pastors must submit. She was called in to meet with the Bishop and she explained what she had done and described to the Bishop her on-going relationship with her partner, Val. The link at the top of the paragraph has the rest of the story’s timeline. Given what you’ve read so far, you can put the pieces together.
What are the offenses against Amy? The Book of Discipline (remember, decided on by United Methodists worldwide) says you can’t do that.
The Book of Discipline lists the word “homosexual” 17 times. It lists “gay” seven times. It lists “lesbian” three times. In regards to homosexuality in general, the Book of Discipline says this:
The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. we will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons. (Paragraph 161, F)
Basically, the UMC implores individual churches to love and care for homosexual people, but still considers the practice of homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Rev. DeLong, though, at this point isn’t guilty of anything. She’s cited as guilty of charges under PP 2702.1b. Paragraph 2702 refers explicitly to reasons that a bishop, clergy member, local pastor, clergy on honorable location, or diaconal minister may be tried. Here’s what it lists:
- immorality including but not limited to not being celibate in singleness or not faithful in a heterosexual marriage.
- practices declared by the UMC to be incompatible with Christian teaching, including but not limited to: being a self avowed practicing homosexual; or conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual union; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies.
- failure to perform the work of the ministry.
- disobedience to the order and discipline of the UMC.
- many others including sexual abuse, sexual misconduct, harassment, and racial or gender discrimination.
Short and sweet: Rev. DeLong broke the rules.
So, according to the Book of Discipline, she is being charged with breaking the rules. Sounds fair, right? When she was ordained as a pastor, she agreed to hold to the rules. She didn’t.
Obviously Rev. DeLong didn’t take nicely to this. She has employed help and a defense system including the recently popular www.loveontrial.org.
Here’s what I don’t understand: why is she angry? Obviously, she is on the verge of losing her job (one that she loves and feels called to). I guess that makes sense. But, we musn’t forget: she knowingly did something that she was consciously aware was against the teachings and rules of the church. When you have a private job (remember, churches are private institutions) and you break the rules of that job, your employer has the right (and the responsibility) to remove you from your position at their own discretion. This issue is often compared to the Civil Right’s issues in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. I don’t personally think this is a fair comparison in this instance because Amy has a private job. Martin Luther King went to jail. Amy will not. The government has no rules about her own ordination. If she loses this trial, she is not going to go to jail. The best argument that she has is that the UMC shouldn’t legally be able to ask you whether or not you are gay in order to be employed. (It is worth noting that I noticed this during my recent investigations into the ordination process of the UMC. The church does background checks–expected–but also financial checks, health checks, marriage checks, etc…things that other businesses in the private sector are not legally allowed to base employment choices off of.)
However, the reality remains the same: she agreed to hold to a value and behavioral system. In exchange for her agreement (and hard work), the church agreed to give her a job, insurance, and a house for the rest of her employable life. Setting aside any spiritual aspect of the role of the pastor (of which there is obviously much of), she didn’t hold to her side of the deal.
If you read her material on www.loveontrial.org, you’ll notice that she is a talented speaker. She has a gift for writing sermons and has a real heart for ministry. I feel for Amy. She’s in a tough situation. There’s not a great way out at this point, except to gain a following and leave the UMC in a big way. If she can gain followers, perhaps she can make a difference in the future. I personally wonder, that if this is where she is, why is she still so “called” to the UMC? If I felt as if a church body wasn’t including me, I’d look somewhere else.
There is one more thing, though. In a sermon Rev. DeLong gave the other night, she said this:
You see, they don’t want my ordination back, they want my baptism back. They don’t want me included. They don’t want me to feel beloved. They don’t want the Holy Spirit to be poured out on me and they certainly don’t want God saying, “Amy, in you I am well-pleased.” They aren’t after my ordination. They’re after my baptism. They’re saying God’s grace isn’t sufficient. (Link)
I see that Amy is in the midst of perhaps the most emotional time in her life. I get that she is using the argument that the UMC is being a legalist and she is being “spiritual.” I see why she says what she says. I don’t always agree, but I can see where she is coming from.
But, in the quote above…I think she is wrong. The Book of Discipline explicitly states that homosexual people ARE to be welcomed. Remember the “implore” line above? They do want her ordination back, not because they have a political stance, but because the General Church agreed that that was what was required. To let her keep her job after what she is done is not being fair to her, it’s being unfair to the rest of the church.
They do not, in any way, want her baptism back. I can see why she might feel that way, but to explicitly state that the church is unable to keep her from being a Christian is not only a misrepresentation of the situation but it is also extremely out of line.
My only hope is that somehow some sort of reconciliation can come out of this. I’m not sure the church is completely right. I’m not sure that Amy is completely right. Somehow, the Church is going to have to learn how to deal with the changes in culture in order to continue to be effective witnesses for Christ in the world.
Here’s to hoping that actually happens.
ADDITION: I don’t like the “incompatible with Christian teaching” language. Not because I don’t think it’s true (who defines “Christian teaching” anyway?), but because I think it is only used to call out the homosexual lifestyle explicitly. I personally think that divorce is incompatible with Christian teaching, (and in a strict sense, MUCH more than homosexuality) and yet the UMC ordains divorcees every year. I go to school with several. If the UMC were to not allow self-avowed divorcees to be ordained, hell might break loose. There are many many options and times when divorce is the right situation. When divorce is the only way out of an abusive or unhealthy situation. I do not choose to judge those times. I simply wish to point out that the “incompatible” language does not include all things, as it should.