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Restorative Justice in the United Methodist Church

This was the week of Amy DeLong’s United Methodist Church Trial. She was charged by the church with being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” and with having performed a union service for two women.

I spent the week thinking of her, praying for her and the entire process, helping to arrange a vigil of two hours each day of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (the days of the trial) at Sparta United Methodist Church. I was there the first two days and the third day a severe storm kept me home.

Each day we lit the seven candles—one for each color of the rainbow. We listened on Tuesday as one person read the sermon that Amy herself had preached the night before. On Wednesday we talked about Amy in connection with the sermon Richard Deats had delivered the Sunday before at Sparta—of how seeds of love eventually can grow into new realities.

I found out the result of the trial—not guilty of the first charge of being a self-avowed practicing homosexual; and guilty of the second charge of having performed a union service for two women. And then I waited for the consequences of the guilty verdict.

She was given a suspension of ministerial duties for 20 days starting July 1st for discernment leading to a process of meeting with her bishop, her district superintendent, the chair of her Board of Ordained Ministry, and a Wisconsin elder (pastor) of her choice—all of these leading to a document that would outline procedures for clergy in order to help resolve issues that harm the clergy covenant, create an adversarial spirit, or lead to future clergy trials. This paper would be completed in time to be presented and acted upon by that Wisconsin Annual Conference at the 2012 clergy session.

It was refreshing to hear on Saturday from Amy’s support team—and that they saw this action of the jury as “an exemplary exoneration of her.” They wrote that the jury wants her “to teach the conference what it has not yet learned (or forgotten): how we pull together to leave this world a better place.”

This trial it seems to me was unlike any that the Church has held so far on this subject. The shift is slow and at the same time it is happening. Somehow it has all fit together for me—from last Sunday’s sermon by Richard (which you can find here); through the week of sitting vigil and talking together; clear through to a jury giving her not a penalty but an opportunity to once again teach with her words and her life about loving each other.

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