"Leave the church? To Who?"
That’s what the Rev. Amy DeLong said when I asked her if she ever considered leaving the church. Her words were emphatic. “Leave the church? To who?” I knew then that Rev. Amy DeLong had an unparalleled amount of resilience…resilience that was in full display earlier this year when she stood up to a church body that quite literally put her life, love and faith on trial.
In September 2009, Rev. DeLong, an out and proud ordained lesbian minister in the United Methodist Church, was asked to perform a Holy Union for a lesbian couple. Rather than endorse the UMC’s exclusionary doctrine forbidding such unions, Rev. DeLong acted with love. Treating the couple as she would any straight couple, she performed the Holy Union. In response, the UMC put her on trial, not only for her role in the ceremony, but for her sexual orientation. The trial and aftermath have had a profound effect on Rev DeLong, her ministry, Kairos Co-Motion, and the institution of the church itself. As a result, she has strengthened her own faith, while forcing the UMC to face the challenge of LGBT-inclusion.
Last week, we had the pleasure of speaking with Rev. DeLong. Following is the transcript of our powerful and uplifting conversation:
Kenny: What is Kairos Co-Motion and what kind of work are you doing there?
Rev DeLong: Kairos Co-Motion was founded 11 years ago, and started as a way to connect progressive minds at the annual Methodist conference. We wanted to get people together, so that those with the same ideas no longer felt isolated. As time went on, we turned into a grassroots organization and advocacy group. We have also held conferences with world-renowned theologians on specific topics; but we then turned our focus to legislation at the annual conference. Since 2010, however, the trial has been all consuming, and many of the Kairos Co-Motion board members served on my defense team. We are now in the process of re-examining our priorities and the opportunities ahead of us. The trial and its outcome have given us new meaning and direction going forward.
Kenny: Are you a member of, or do you preside over a welcoming and affirming church?
Rev. DeLong: As an ordained elder in the Methodist Church, you must be appointed to a particular ministry. I have left local church ministry, and am now appointed as the Executive Director of Kairos Co-Motion. As ordained clergy, elders are allowed to serve in ministries beyond the local church setting, and that is what I have elected to do.
Kenny: How do you feel about the Methodist Church and its acceptance or lack thereof, of the LGBT community?
Rev. DeLong: I love the United Methodist Church, but it has legislative practices and policies which are discriminatory and oppressive; the church is falling short. I am here to work to change that. I have been a Christian my entire life, and I am not leaving the church, only working to change it and make things better.
Kenny: Many say that your sentence, the first in 20 years that did not involve a complete de-frocking and/or suspension, is a shift in thought for the church. Do you think so?
Rev. DeLong: Yes, I am the first person in 20 years who has not been de-frocked. What the Wisconsin Conference did was send a message to the church that was realistic while also being non-punitive and legalist. De-frocking a minister over an act of love is something I equate to the death penalty. My sentence presented a restorative opportunity in the church that shows a new level of consciousness taking place. People of good faith everywhere are saying that they are no longer willing to blindly discriminate.
Kenny: You were acquitted of one charge; can you explain the charge and its significance?
Rev. DeLong: As an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, you can’t be a “self-avowed practicing homosexual.” This language is reductionist. It reduces the breadth and depth of my relationship with my partner to only what happens in our most private and intimate moments. I was asked during the trial if I’ve had sexual genital contact with someone of the same gender; I refused to answer that question, particularly because it was asked by someone who meant to do me harm. The charge was dropped because I refused to answer. My hope is that we have established the right of every couple to maintain the privacy of their most sacred and intimate moments.
Kenny: What do you hope to accomplish within your denomination as an out and proud lesbian?
Rev. DeLong: I hope to help the church move closer to being authentic to its proclamations. God loves us all, we don’t have to change, and that is what grace is all about. The church should operate out of grace, not legalism and punishment. I want to help the church become better than it is. Right now the church is hurting a lot of people; it’s killing a lot of people. We know that the suicide rate among gay youth is 3-4 times higher than that of their heterosexual peers. I believe this is due, in no small part, to the negative messages they receive from the church. We need to help the church send a more positive message, one that assures all people that they are loved and accepted.
Kenny: Do you have any words of encouragement for people working to effect change in the church and broader society?
Rev. DeLong: For those working in the church, keep at it. Make yourselves vocal and visible and stay that way. It is exhausting; take time away when you need to, but understand that this is a marathon, not a sprint. We need people who are willing to stay engaged in the whole, slow, tedious, steady process. We don’t need friends who are silent and complicit. We need people who are vocal and visible, who will speak up. People and circumstances start to change based on personal relationships and personal experiences, so maintain gritty persistence. Make it clear that blanket discrimination is not acceptable. And remember, change only comes when you risk really tangible things. Change only comes when people are willing to risk! In the months before the trial, I was often asked, “What are your chances of success?” I always answered, “100%”. I am called to tell the truth, to stay faithful and to break the silence. I have a 100% chance of doing that. These kinds of situations call for a different economy. Success will be based on authenticity and truth, not on someone else’s ideas about winning and losing. “What are our chances of success?” 100%.
Amen to that! Believe Out Loud would like to thank Rev. Amy DeLong for taking the time to share her story and to encourage all of us to keep working for change! Until next time, continue to break the silence and Believe Out Loud!
To learn more about Rev. DeLong's story, read her article "Shattered, Refashioned and Free"
Image courtesy of Rev. Amy DeLong