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UM Committee Dismisses Complaint Against Lesbian Pastor

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    CALLED OUT ... Tuesday, July 30, 2002 Committee Dismisses Complaint Against Lesbian Pastor By United Methodist News Service A United Methodist committee has
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 30, 2002

      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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