Lobbing softballs in a Christian Century interview

February 2, 2012

Last year, I wrote about the controversy surrounding Amy DeLong. Her church trial—and the way it was reported—raised troubling questions for me that still haven’t been answered. She asserted in interviews that her same-sex partnership was a well-known secret that her unnamed superiors (who were they?) condoned with a wink and smile.

You think I’m exaggerating? In this recent Christian Century interview, DeLong described being called into her bishop’s office after it came to light that she performed a same-sex union service. She said:

The bishop’s assistant put up his hands and said to me: “Self-avowed practicing homosexual”—that’s the disciplinary language. This is language that as a gay person in the church, I have wrestled with forever and ever. I said, “Val and I aren’t practicing any more.” He said, “What?” I said, “No, we are pretty good at it by now.” He laughed.

Does this bother anyone besides me? Is it easier being an ordained Methodist elder in other conferences? Do other conferences set the bar lower than ours? At times, I feel like I went through… ahemhades during my eight-year long process of ordination. And one of the central questions the church wanted to find out during that process was, “Do you agree with and/or will you abide by the United Methodist Book of Discipline?”

I never got the impression that the North Georgia Conference wanted me so badly that they would tolerate my answering “no” to that question.

Is it all a laugh in Wisconsin? It cheapens my experience of being ordained.

Regardless, the interviewer lobbed nothing but softballs. I wrote the following comment in response. Please note that the questions I raise are good questions irrespective of one’s opinions about the issue of gay equality in church. A good journalist ought to find answers.

I’m a United Methodist elder-in-full-connection. The church’s position on homosexuality is the same today as it was when she was ordained. DeLong wasn’t blindsided by the church’s position after she got ordained. She chose to become a United Methodist clergy knowing that her sexual orientation put her at odds with the same Book of Discipline that she promised to abide by.

As a matter of integrity, why did she go through with it? Did her bishop know she was “self-affirmed” and “practicing” when she was ordained? If not, did she ever have to lie about or misrepresent her sexual orientation to her bishop, the Board of Ordained Ministry, the District Committee on Ordained Ministry, or other authorities who interviewed her during the lengthy process of ordination? Did the question never come up? It seems very unlikely from my experience.

5 Responses to “Lobbing softballs in a Christian Century interview”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    DeLong is wrong because the conduct is wrong, because it is especially wrong since she is a “minister,” and finally further wrong because it is contrary to her agreement. If she lied about her “active” (“practicing”) orientiation to get the ordination, then she is wrong a fourth time. Since she laughs it off, as opposed to acknowledging her sins, wrong a fifth time. Certainly if anyone who ordained her knew of her “practicing” orientation, they are wrong as well. Congratulations to you for standing up to all this.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Thanks, Tom… I already know the push-back from the other side: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. Aren’t we all sinners?” To which I say a resounding “yes.” Of course we’re all sinners! I’m a sinner. Being ordained didn’t magically make me less of one (although I’m working on it, I promise!). So I repent of sin as I become aware of it and try, with the Spirit’s help, to change. That’s a lifelong process.

      By all means, we’re all sinners, but what does that have to do with it? If the pro-gay side were to concede that homosexual behavior is a sin—as the church has always maintained—then… THEN we’d be getting somewhere. I’m pretty sure they won’t do that. That’s precisely the issue.

  2. Curtis Says:

    Brent, it might cheapen your experience, though I hope that is short lived. But your concern does indicate to those of us who read here the depth of respect and understanding you have for the Church as the Body of Christ.

    I applaud your willingness to speak up on the issue. You clearly posit authority outside oneself. That is rare today. Even though it is in fact the issue.

    • brentwhite Says:

      It shouldn’t be rare among clergy! The title of the magazine’s interview with DeLong, “Living My Truth,” was a quote from DeLong herself. It says all we need to know about her view of “authority outside of oneself.”

      Obviously, there is no truth that’s “true” for one person and not someone else. We only have different experiences. And that’s what the debate in the UMC is all about: personal experience. If we don’t feel as if anything is wrong with homosexuality—and, after all, we all know and love people who are gay—then there’s nothing wrong with it.

      Feelings are irrelevant. Give me a real argument!

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