MILWAUKEE — Methodist pastors who have defied a church ban on marrying gays were dealt a setback Wednesday when clergy members hearing a church trial found a colleague guilty of marrying a lesbian couple in 2009.
The 13-person jury of clergy members unanimously convicted the Rev. Amy DeLong. They found the 44-year-old not guilty of a second charge of being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual.” That vote was 12-1.
After the verdicts were announced, church officials heard a second round of testimony to help jurors recommend a penalty that could range from suspension to defrocking. Their decision was expected to be announced Thursday morning.
The Rev. Tom Lambrecht, the pastor who conducted the prosecution, called the conviction “a just verdict.”
“Speaking personally and not as counsel for the church, I think the Scripture is clear on how we’re called to exercise the gift of human sexuality,” he said. “The church is quite consistent that we exercise that gift in the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.”
Efforts to reach DeLong by phone were not immediately successful.
Robbins, of the Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church, is one of several Methodist leaders across America encouraging his colleagues to disobey the church ban on marrying gays. The efforts have gained momentum, as hundreds of pastors from areas including Illinois, Minnesota, New York and New England signed statements in recent weeks asserting their willingness to defy the rule.
While other mainline Protestant denominations have become more accepting of openly gay leaders, the Methodist church has been reluctant to join them. Its rulebook, called the Book of Discipline, forbids clergy to officiate at same-sex marriages, under penalty of discipline or dismissal from the church.
The chances of reversing the rule are far from certain. Rule changes must be approved by delegates at the church’s General Conference, held every four years. Because a growing number of delegates come from Africa, the Philippines and other theologically conservative regions, voting patterns reflect strong resistance to change.
DeLong’s acquittal on the charge of being a self-avowed practicing homosexual appeared to be based on the fact that she declined to answer in court whether her relationship involved sexual contact, Lambrecht said.