UM Committee Dismisses Complaint Against Lesbian Pastor
- CALLED OUT
Tuesday, July 30, 2002
Committee Dismisses Complaint Against Lesbian Pastor
By United Methodist News Service
A United Methodist committee has dismissed a complaint against a
Seattle area pastor who told her bishop that she is living in a
same-gender relationship, an admission that put her in conflict with
a church law barring practicing gays from ordained ministry.
The complaint against the Rev. Karen Dammann was dismissed after a
two-and-a-half-hour hearing July 24 in Tacoma, Wash., before the
Pacific Northwest Annual Conference's committee on investigation. In
a Feb. 14, 2001, letter to Bishop Elias Galvan, Dammann had stated
that she was living in a "partnered, covenanted, homosexual
relationship." Dammann had been on family leave and had written the
letter to inform Galvan that she wanted to return to leading a local
At the direction of the United Methodist Judicial Council, the
denomination's supreme court, Galvan filed a complaint against
Dammann last November, citing "practices declared by the United
Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings." The
church's Book of Discipline holds that "since the practice of
homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed
practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained
as ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church."
The complaint was forwarded to the conference committee on
investigation, which was responsible for determining whether grounds
existed for sending the case to a church trial. At the hearing, the
committee fell short of the five clergy votes needed for a trial.
Three of the committee's clergy members supported such a move, three
others opposed it, and one abstained. Church law prevented the
panel's two lay members from voting.
The next day, Galvan said he was reviewing the committee's decision
"to make certain that there were no errors of church law or
administration that might warrant an appeal."
Any appeal would have to be made by the counsel for the church and
submitted to the Western Jurisdiction's committee on appeals,
according to conference officials.
"This decision confirms the Rev. Dammann's status as a clergyperson
in good standing, with the right to a full-time pastoral
appointment," the annual conference said in a statement.
Dammann said the committee's decision not to send the case to trial
left her "in shock" for a while. "I wasn't expecting it," she told
United Methodist News Service.
During the hearing, she presented what she described as "an expanded
version of my letter to the bishop." She told the committee that she
felt called to the life and work of a pastor, and that her sense of
calling did not change after she discovered she was gay in 1995. She
described for the panel how she went through the stages of
discovering her sexual orientation and then settled down "to living
life in the closet."
When her partner had complications while giving birth, Dammann said
she found herself lying in order to get more time off to care for the
mother and their son. She realized she couldn't lie again, she said.
She told the committee about the conflict she had felt. "I addressed
the underlying problems of being an effective pastor when you're in
the closet," she said. "For me, I was not an effective pastor. ... I
was not the pastor I could be and am called to be. We tell one
another that the truth will set us free, and � I was not allowing the
truth to set me free."
She and her partner don't feel ashamed of their sexuality, she said.
She still feels called as an elder, and she believes the church is
wrong for not acknowledging that God has called and will continue to
call gay people to ordained ministry, she said.
The July 24 hearing was closed and the proceedings were confidential.
In a statement afterward, the committee said: "The hearing and
subsequent deliberations included consideration of scriptural and
theological issues as well as church law. "
The committee looked at the "broader context" of the case, beyond the
question posed by the complaint, said the Rev. Patricia Simpson of
Seattle, chairwoman of the panel. The members were guided by The Book
of Discipline, which states, "The judicial process shall have as its
purpose a just resolution of judicial complaints, in the hope that
God's work of justice, reconciliation and healing may be realized in
the body of Jesus Christ."
In addition to Dammann's letter to Galvan and a Judicial Council
decision related to the case, the committee considered other
materials, Simpson told UMNS. "Rev. Dammann provided a much more
detailed explanation. � We also interviewed other witnesses who
provided further insight. We did ask all the committee's witnesses
during the investigation hearing to give us their biblical and
theological insights on the questions at hand as well as church law
and the facts of the case."
In a prepared statement, Simpson said the committee members
"conducted the investigation and made our decision in good faith
according to the procedures laid out in the Discipline. Though the
details of our deliberations are confidential, I can say with
complete confidence that each member's vote was cast with integrity,
after full and prayerful consideration."
Simpson abstained from voting, explaining later that she believes The
Book of Discipline is wrong on the issue. "After hearing Karen
Dammann's response and the other witnesses at the hearing, and after
long discussion in the committee afterwards, I was unable to vote
either yes or no," she said.
"I have deep respect for the rule of law in society, and for the role
of the Discipline in our church," she said. In this case, her legal
reasoning based on the church's rules "would have led me to vote for
a trial," she said. "My moral reasoning would not allow that vote. I
pray each day as Jesus taught us, �your will be done.' I am convinced
that it's God's will to keep Karen Dammann -- a pastor of proven
effectiveness and moral courage -- in ordained ministry in our
church. My decision to abstain honestly reflected this impasse."
Another committee member, the Rev. Sanford Brown of Everett, Wash.,
said the panel had "the unattainable task of trying to uphold two
contradictory passages" in The Book of Discipline. One passage bars
"self-avowed practicing homosexuals" from ordained ministry, while
the other requires the committee on investigation to work "�in the
hope that God's work of justice, reconciliation and healing may be
realized in the body of Jesus Christ,'" he said in a statement. "I
voted against forwarding the relevant charges to trial because I
could envision no other decision that would lead to God's work of
justice being done in this and similar cases," he said.
"During the hearing, it became clear to me that The Book of
Discipline sets our church up for painful conflicts within and among
good people when it effectively tolerates the presence of gay and
lesbian ministers, but forces them to deceive the church about their
sexual identity," Brown said. The denomination's top legislative
body, the General Conference, must remove the "internal
inconsistencies from our church's policies that force members like me
to weigh some portions of our covenant against others," he said.
Ordained in 1994, Dammann had served Pacific Northwest churches from
1992 until going on family leave in 1999. Her request for an
appointment last year was put on hold while the annual conference
awaited a Judicial Council ruling related to her case. After the
court ruled that the bishop couldn't deny appointment to a clergy
member without due process, Dammann was appointed to Wallingford
United Methodist Church in Seattle and worked on a research project
for the conference from her home in Amherst, Mass. Since the
committee's action, Seattle District Superintendent Robert Hoshibata
has been in consultation with her about an appointment.
Dammann said that she and her partner are exploring their options. "I
do feel like God's hand has been in it throughout this whole process,
and things will become obvious about what we should do and how we
should do it and when."
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