Standing in the yard, the early afternoon air already sweltering, we traded small talk about traditional Amish Mennonite dress, the perennials in bloom down at the greenhouse. Then his eyes welled during a pause in the chatter. "You know, I'm sorry," he said. "If there's one thing I'd like to say, it's that I'm very sorry for how many times the church has scorned and abused people with whom they may have profound differences. Our people, we don't want to be that way. We simply want to extend hospitality, friendship and a lot of blessing." The martins darted fearlessly into the plastic gourd nests overhead, their chirps and cackles a shrill accompaniment.
True evangelical faith cannot lie sleeping. So goes the Mennonite hymn. In the courtroom, there would be no fire-and-brimstone moments. The case was not about same-sex marriage, or "homosexual rights," or "homosexual adoption," said Ken's attorney, a boyish young man named Joshua M. Autry. He would argue a tissue-thin defense -- that Lisa had had full custody rights at the time she left the country, and that Ken hadn't believed her foreign travel with Isabella was illegal.
But MillerCase.org broadcasted the real defense. Conscience did not allow Ken and his co-conspirators to ignore a fellow Christian in need, a woman who had disavowed her sinful lifestyle and was trying to protect her daughter from someone who had not. MillerCase.org declared the events of September 2009 an act of mercy for all involved, and this was something Ken and his supporters tried to convey at trial.
What we do know is this: Lisa came to Ken looking for a way out, and Ken helped her hatch a plan.
The government saw things differently, as Assistant United States Attorney Eugenia Cowles told a jury of nine women and three men -- the majority of whom had expressed little concern during voir dire about same-sex marriage or gay couples raising children. Ken and Lisa believed that "they, not the court, should decide which parent should have access to the child," Cowles said. "After six years of scheduled visits that didn't happen, Lisa Miller and her supporters decided to act outside the law."
The observer benches in Judge William K. Sessions III's fifth-floor courtroom during the trial appeared as though they were pews transplanted from Pilgrim Christian Fellowship, with the added presence of Mennonite supporters from southeastern Pennsylvania, Ohio, Brooklyn, and upstate New York. The children played with blocks next to a courtroom security officer in the hallway outside, or sat quietly with their parents, reading books like Henry's Red Sea and Stories for Boys: Tales of Mystery, Suspense, and Adventure.
Sessions, whose felicitous demeanor on the bench reminded me of Judge Vaughn R. Walker's during the Proposition 8 trial in 2010, joked that he'd never seen such well-behaved kids apart from his own. Ken and his brethren included Judge Sessions's name in their daily prayers, along with those of Jenkins, her family attorney, and the assistant U.S. attorneys trying the case. "Well, I've got that going for me," one lawyer muttered during a break.