United Methodist minister Amy DeLong on allies, silence, and justice
by Neil Ellis Orts • Photo by Amy Zellmer/Custom Creations
In 2009, the Reverend Amy DeLong, a clergyperson of the United Methodist Church, performed a commitment ceremony for two women. This occurred after she’d begun coming out more publicly as a lesbian in a long-term (currently 17 years) relationship. She had already given up parish ministry when a lesbian couple approached her about doing a commitment ceremony. After meeting with the couple and hearing their story and their commitment to each other, DeLong knew she couldn’t turn them away. She also knew that when she made her year-end report of pastoral duties fulfilled, she wouldn’t leave that ceremony off or otherwise try to mask it. She reported that she’d married two women.
This led to charges being filed against DeLong within the denomination, and changed her work from being a pastor to being an outspoken witness to the need for an inclusive church. The task at hand is not small. Unlike some smaller denominations, the United Methodist Church is a worldwide communion analogous to the Roman Catholic Church. This means that the struggle for LGBT equality within the UMC requires that members from all over the world get on board and support the cause.
While she is aware of the church’s work overseas, DeLong’s work remains within the U.S. where she writes and speaks wherever she can to raise awareness and inspire people to stand up for justice.
Neil Ellis Orts: There’s a lot to this issue of LGBT justice. Where do you focus your energies?
Amy DeLong: The thing I’ve really been trying to talk about is that I’m less concerned about what my enemies are doing—what the religious right is doing. What I’m more focused on is the progressive folks who know better and who aren’t stepping up and aren’t taking the risks and breaking the silence. I think we have the majority, by a long shot. What it will take is the progressive folks who know better, who have gay relatives or who are allies, and for gay people who continue to be closeted—[they all need to] come out and tell the stories and speak the words and not let silence have the day. We need to be motivating the progressives to be more vocal. That may be difficult for them. That may push them beyond their comfort zone. So often we push to the point where we’re uncomfortable, and then we back off. I think we just have to keep pushing through the fear that keeps us silent.
I also think, within the United Methodist Church, we just need people to re-engage their consciences. The majority of the United Methodist bishops know that the discrimination against GLBT people is dead-wrong and they completely and wholeheartedly disagree with the parts of our Book of Discipline that limits the rights of GLBT people, but they are unwilling to say so publicly. So all these people who believe these rules are wrong need to break the rules. My focus is really around the progressives and getting them to push through their fear and be vocal and make a difference.
What is your current official standing within the UMC?
I’m in good standing, I’ve retained my elder’s orders, I’m still ordained. I was found not guilty of being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual.” I mean, I am gay, I’m partnered in a long-term loving relationship, but I was unwilling, on the [witness] stand, to talk about the intimate details of my sex life. I was unwilling to talk about that in a setting that could do me harm. I’m not ashamed of being gay, I’m not ashamed to talk about sex, but I am unwilling to talk about those kinds of details. I struggled with that, because I didn’t want anyone to think that the reason I wasn’t answering had to do with any kind of internalized shame. It was my counsel who said, “Amy, you’re taking on shame that isn’t yours. Shame on the church for thinking they can ask you these questions.” So I didn’t answer the questions and they didn’t have the evidence needed to convict me of being, in their language, a “self-avowed practicing homosexual.”
I was found guilty of marrying [two women]. I was asked to write a document. The document is done and is in the hands of the Board of Ordained Ministry, where they will be reviewing it. So I am in good standing, I’ve done what the trial court has asked of me, and I retain my credentials.
Are you still in danger of losing your credentials?
I don’t know the answer to that. If I did another holy union and reported it, yes, they could bring me up on charges again. I don’t know what you do with the gay stuff because I’ve said I’m a lesbian in a long-term relationship, so I don’t know how they’d try me for that again.
There has been some speculation that your trial might be a turning point for the UMC. Do you feel that?
Truthfully, I do think my trial is one of the last trials for sexual orientation and for doing holy unions. I think that for two reasons. Because they couldn’t make their case about my sexual orientation, I think I’ve given every partnered gay person precedent for how to respond on the stand so the church can’t make their case. And trials are really bad for business. They cost a lot of money and they reveal to society how discriminatory our policies really are, and the church never comes out looking good in those situations. The bad thing about trials ending is that situations like mine will be handled administratively by bishops, which means they’ll be cared for in-house and pushed under the carpet. There won’t be that public platform anymore. I think trial after trial after trial of GLBT people or our supporters who have done holy unions would be a really effective strategy for ending our discriminatory rules, but I don’t think the church is going to let that happen. So I think they’ll handle these situations much more privately, and I think that’s bad.
Any final thoughts?
One of the things I try to say very publicly now is that it would be easy to look at me [and just dwell on] all the stuff I’ve lost and how difficult my journey has been. But I stand as a witness that telling the truth and being faithful are way more rewarding than anything I have lost. There is no greater joy than to live an authentic, undivided life, and I think so often folks are afraid of what they’re going to lose. That’s straight folks, that’s gay folks—we get so fixated on all the things we might lose, but we never look at what we might gain if we stand up and tell the truth. I am here to tell you that the gains are so much more important than anything I have lost. There is not a day that goes by that I regret, in any fashion, being such a public witness for inclusiveness. That is the thrust of my witness. I am alive, I am well, I am not beaten down. There are scars, but I am well and whole and strengthened for the long haul.
Learn more about the Reverend Amy DeLong and her work at loveontrial.org.
Neil Ellis Orts also writes about Archie Comics in this issue of OutSmart magazine.