Today's guest blogger is PFLAG National Board Member Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell, a retired United Methodist Minister of the Rocky Mountain (Denver) Conference:
Amy DeLong, an ordained United Methodist Minister, will go on trial on June 21, 2011 for performing a Holy Union of two women in 2009. and because she has been open about her committed relationship to her female partner of 15 years. The United Methodist Church has for many years abided by language and legislation enacted by the legislative body of the denomination, a General Conference of many years ago, that prohibits United Methodist clergy from performing Holy Unions for same sex couples. The denomination also puts on church trial, clergy who have been charged because they acknowledge that they are in a same gender relationship. Many of us are praying and hoping that Amy Delong will be judged not guilty in 2011 as Tituba was in 1692 in the Salem witch trials.
Who was Tituba? I first heard of her in one of the classrooms of a racially segregated school in Texas where I grew up many,many years ago. Our teachers, all of whom were black as was the student body, felt that it was important for their black students to become acquainted with black persons whose names and lives were an important part of history.Too often their stories were made invisible by a culture and practice that rendered them second class. Tituba was a slave who belonged to a Rev. Samuel Parris. She was one of the first three women to be arrested who were accused of engaging in witchcraft during the beginning of the Salem Witch Trials. Tituba, who in some writings is described as the "black witch" was dark of skin because of her ancestry that was thought to be South American Indian. Before arriving in Salem, she spent time as a slave in Barbados. Tituba was not hanged as were many of the women, but the visions that she described and the demons she claimed she saw, made her a "witch" in the minds of many of those who knew her.
The coming trial of Amy DeLong cannot help but cause me to remember what I have heard and what I have read about those long ago trials in Salem.The United Methodist Church in its language and legislation and its trials, has made of clergy who help same sex couples celebrate the love from God that they express toward each other, Witches. And, if those clergy acknowledge that they are in a same-gender loving relationship themselves as Amy has done, their "Witch-ness" is compounded. We now regret the insensitive irrationality of the Salem Trials. I wonder how will The United Methodist Church express its regret, when in that time that is certain to come, performing a same sex union and/or being open about one's same gender relationship, will no longer be considered "incompatible with Christian teaching" as our current United Methodist Book of Discipline states?
How ironic it is that in a year when The Presbyterian Church (USA) through voting at the regional level, affirmed the ordination of same gender loving clergy, we in The United Methodist Church are bringing Amy Delong to trial?
My hope is that the Rev. Amy DeLong will be found not guilty as those who judge her remember how wrong the Methodist denomination was when some in the Church once used the Bible to support slavery, racial segregation and prohibitions against the ordination of women. And, if those memories are insufficient to render her not guilty, may her judges recognize that if the military now believes that the practice of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is morally unjustifiable, why cannot The United Methodist Church do the same?
We used to sing in the marches and the protest lines of the Civil Rights Movement, a Spiritual that ended with these words; "Before I'll be a slave, I'll be buried in my grave, and go home to my Lord and be free." I have known Gay United Methodist clergy who because of the restrictions of their Church against them being open about their Gay sexual orientation, in death have experienced the affirmation and acceptance of a loving God, that was denied them by their Church while they lived.
May the members and friends of PFLAG, those related to other Gay rights organizations, and those in religious bodies that now accept clergy like Amy DeLong, let The United Methodist Church know they are watching and hoping and praying as she is being tried. May her trial be "The Last United Methodist Trial" of a clergyperson whose "Call to Ministry" compels them to be in ministry to and with all persons and to be open about their sexual orientation.**********
For more information about Amy DeLong, including her personal statement on the trial, please visit www.loveontrial.org.To read the UMC's position, please click here to visit www.umc.org.