Court gives clarity in dealing with gay pastors, bishop says
- CALLED OUT INFORMATION SERVICE
From United Methodist News Service.
Oct. 31, 2001
Court gives clarity in dealing with gay pastors, bishop says
A UMNS Report
By Tim Tanton*
Following the latest United Methodist Judicial Council decisions
regarding gay clergy, a few things have become clearer to Bishop
Elias Galvan, leader of the denomination's Seattle Area.
First, statements made by two pastors regarding their sexual
orientation are sufficient to initiate a review process of their
ministerial standing and relationship to the Pacific Northwest Annual
Conference, Galvan told United Methodist News Service on Oct. 30. The
Seattle Area comprises the annual conference.
Second, the bishop said it's clear that he cannot deny the two
pastors ministerial appointments. "Therefore, they will be appointed
immediately, as soon as possible," he said.
Meeting Oct. 24-26 in Nashville, Tenn., the Judicial Council
clarified for Galvan's conference the relationship between two
passages of the denomination's Book of Discipline. The Pacific
Northwest members had asked the church's supreme court for a
declaratory decision on what they viewed as conflicting rules: One
states that "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" should not be
ordained or appointed to serve in the church; the other requires that
all clergy members in good standing receive appointments. The two
pastors, the Rev. Karen Dammann and the Rev. Mark Edward Williams,
were deemed in good standing.
In a lengthy and complex decision, the nine-member court ruled that
the passages are not contradictory. Neither Williams nor Dammann was
mentioned by name in the decision.
"We certainly have a little more clarity now as to how those two
paragraphs relate, given the Judicial Council decision," Galvan said.
The decision has given the conference a sense of direction about how
to proceed, he said. "We're going to begin to implement the decision
of the Judicial Council as best we understand it at the present time.
It's a long decision, and I'm not sure we understand all the
implications at this time, but there are a few things that are clear
Williams is being reappointed pastor of his congregation, Woodland
Park United Methodist Church in Seattle, Galvan said. Williams, who
had served as pastor, was assigned to a different staff position at
the church following his announcement at the Pacific Northwest
Conference's annual gathering last June that he is a practicing gay
man. The Rev. Bob Hoshibata, Seattle District superintendent, was
named interim pastor.
Negotiations are under way with Dammann for an appointment, Galvan
Dammann had led a Seattle-area church in 1999 before going on family
leave. In a Feb. 14 letter to the bishop, she asked to be taken off
family leave and given an appointment with a local congregation. She
also told the bishop that she was in a covenanted same-gender
relationship. Galvan responded that he didn't see how he could give
her an appointment without violating the Book of Discipline, but that
her case would be handled through the appropriate process. During the
annual conference clergy session in June, she was taken off family
leave, effective July 1, and Galvan did not give her an appointment.
Following the annual conference, the bishop's office negotiated with
Williams and Dammann to ensure that they had church work, though not
clergy appointments. The conference was willing to give Dammann an
assignment with the full salary and benefits that a pastor would
receive, but she declined, based in part on the expense involved in
relocating and the tenuousness of the job pending the Judicial
Council meeting. Dammann is living in Amherst, Mass., with her
partner and their small son.
A third clergyperson, the Rev. Katie Ladd, declared her same-gender
orientation during the Pacific Northwest's June meeting, but she
didn't state that she was a practicing lesbian. She was kept on
In an Oct. 30 interview, Dammann said Hoshibata had contacted her and
that they would be discussing her situation.
"I don't want to shut any doors. I do want to be honest, though, and
say we have commitments here now," she said, explaining that her
partner started a new, permanent job two months ago.
Besides the expense of moving, an additional factor is the awareness
that "there are people waiting to file charges."
"The (court's) decision seems to say that my membership should be
reviewed in light of my revelations," Dammann said. "I think that
there's a mandate for it in the decision, so I know some sort of
process will certainly be initiated."
Though gratified that the court ruled she should be appointed,
Dammann said, "I certainly don't want to receive an appointment in
Seattle and then be suspended immediately or shortly thereafter. That
doesn't seem to be very reasonable."
The court stated that while the review is under way, "the bishop,
with the recommendation of the executive committee of the board of
ordained ministry, shall place the clergy person on suspension" in
accordance with the Book of Discipline. "The clergy person shall be
relieved of all clergy duties, but not from appointment during such
suspension. If the process is not concluded within the period of
suspension, then the clergy person should be placed on an involuntary
leave of absence."
How quickly the review processes for Williams and Dammann will unfold
is unclear. No one has filed complaints against either pastor, Galvan
said. The council has said that the bishop or district superintendent
should file complaints if no one else does.
A review takes time, and the Book of Discipline specifies a process
designed to protect the rights of the person involved, Galvan said.
"We're dealing with the lives of persons and their careers. We want
to be careful and responsible and follow the Book of Discipline and
Damman said she was pleased that the Judicial Council came out
strongly in favor of fair and due process "for people like me."
However, she also encountered again the strong language of
incompatibility, she said, a reference to the denomination's official
stand that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with
Christian teaching. "My family and I are being told again ... 'you
are not compatible with Christian teaching,'" she said.
"There are some ominous parts to the decision," Dammann continued. "I
think the mandate to ask questions about genital sexual activity is
going to be interesting. ... I, for one, don't intend to answer
questions about specific genital practices with anybody." Such
questions would be an "incredible invasion of privacy," she said.
In the decision, the council stated: "If, in the course of such
(ministerial) review, such person affirms that she is engaged in
genital sexual activity with a person of the same gender, she would
have openly acknowledged ... that she is a self-avowed practicing
Dammann put the court's decision in the context of the nation's
current problems. "The thing that really is sad is I think the world
is watching," she said, "and I think the country is watching, and I
think they're watching in the backdrop of the real issues of our time
� terrorism and war and peace and justice. I think it's going to be a
blow to the church, ultimately." She said people are going to ask:
What is the United Methodist Church's message?
Trained in Army chaplaincy, Dammann believes her background would be
valuable at a time like this. "I have skills that I would love to put
to work in this time, in this day and age."
# # #
*Tanton is news editor for United Methodist News Service
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