DOWNERS GROVE, Ill. -- There were tears and expressions of pain on all sides when a jury of United Methodist ministers decided to suspend one of their own for blessing the "holy union" of two Chicago men.
Now church leaders must decide what to do about a divide that some say only grew deeper when the guilty verdict against the Rev. Gregory Dell was read late Friday.After two long days of testimony, 10 of 13 pastors -- many of them friends of Dell -- found him guilty of disobeying a church law that bans same-sex unions in the United Methodist Church.
His suspension goes into effect July 5, putting Dell's 30-year career as a Methodist minister on hold.
Dell, who hadn't expected such a harsh sentence, said he was disappointed by a ruling he thinks was based on "a kind moralistic rigidity and legalism that shuts people out."
"The church has made a statement today, but it has not made the final word," Dell said outside the Methodist church in the Chicago suburb of Downers Grove where the trial took place.
Methodist pastors in several states, including California, Nevada and Iowa, are facing similar charges.
But Dell's case was the first to test the church's same-sex union ban, which went into effect in August -- one month before Dell presided over the commitment ceremony of Karl Reinhardt and Keith Eccarius, an eight-year member at Dell's Broadway United Methodist Church on Chicago's North Side.
The jury said Dell's suspension could be lifted if he signs a statement promising to obey the ban or if church officials decided to rescind the ban. Dell said he wouldn't.
"I will not abandon the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons in my pastoral care . . . or any other group that our society decides to marginalize out of fear or ignorance," said Dell, whose congregation is a third gay or lesbian.
Dell said he'll find a different job.
The Rev. Stephen C. Williams, a Methodist minister who served as church prosecutor, said Dell's continued unwillingness to obey church law left jurors little choice but to suspend him.