United Methodist Top Court to Review Case of Lesbian Pastor
- United Methodist top court to review case of lesbian pastor
A UMNS Report
By Neill Caldwell*
Jul. 27, 2005
The case of the Rev. Irene Elizabeth "Beth" Stroud - who underwent a
church trial last year after disclosing that she is a lesbian - tops
the fall docket for the United Methodist Church's supreme court.
The Stroud case is one of 14 items on the docket for the United
Methodist Judicial Council's Oct. 26-29 meeting in Houston.
Stroud, an associate pastor at First United Methodist Church of
Germantown in Philadelphia, had lost her clergy credentials following
a December church trial, but she was reinstated by an appellate court
of the denomination's Northeastern Jurisdiction on April 29. United
Methodist Church law forbids the participation of "self-avowed
practicing" homosexuals in the ordained ministry. Stroud admitted in a
2003 sermon and in a letter to her congregation that she was "a
lesbian living in a committed relationship with a partner."
The appeals court, voting 8-1, said it overruled the church trial
verdict because of two legal errors, while noting that it found
"overwhelming" evidence in support of the charge against Stroud. The
court said no body of the church had defined the words "practicing
homosexual" and "status." The word "status" appears in the church
constitution as part of an anti-discrimination clause, which states
that the benefits of membership in the church are guaranteed to "all
persons without regard to race, color, national origin, status or
economic conditions ..." Stroud's supporters argued that homosexuality
falls under the "status" designation.
The appellate court also said that a key statement in church law -
"the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian
teachings" - is a doctrinal statement and not an ethical rule for
clergy, and should not be applied to Stroud.
"I expected that my case would go to the Judicial Council," Stroud
wrote on her Web site. "It is a case that could have implications for
the entire church, and so it is only right for the church's highest
judicial body to review it."
Stroud is on voluntary leave of absence as clergy and is serving as a
lay pastor at First Church of Germantown.
The Judicial Council will hold a public hearing on the Stroud case at
9 a.m. Oct. 27 in the Stansbury Building of the Westchase Campus of
First United Methodist Church in Houston. Representatives of Stroud
and the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference, where she
has her membership and underwent trial, will have 30 minutes each to
present oral arguments. Afterward, the court will begin
The court is reviewing the Stroud case following an appeal by the
Eastern Pennsylvania Conference. In its filing, the conference cited
Paragraph 2609.8 of the 2000 Book of Discipline and asserted that the
decision of the Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals
"appears to be at variance with the Book of Discipline and prior
Judicial Council decisions."
The Rev. Keith Boyette, Judicial Council secretary, said that despite
the high profile of the Stroud case, the Judicial Council will not
deviate from its standard procedure for reporting its decisions,
meaning it will not make a public announcement at the conclusion of
the fall session. The council's decisions typically are released very
shortly after the session and posted on UMC.org, the Web site of the
United Methodist Church.
Stroud's trial followed that of another lesbian pastor in 2004. In
that case, a panel of 13 ministers acquitted the Rev. Karen Dammann of
Ellensburg, Wash., after a three-day trial that gained national
Because the jury in the Dammann case said it had found contradictory
passages about homosexuality in the church's Book of Discipline,
several petitions were passed at the 2004 General Conference to
clarify and strengthen the rules. Delegates to the assembly voted
579-376 to declare that "The United Methodist Church does not condone
the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible
with Christian teaching." Meeting at that same time, the Judicial
Council ruled a public declaration of active homosexuality is a
"chargeable offense" for United Methodist clergy. The council also
said it lacked authority to review the Dammann verdict.
Two other items on the council's fall docket are related to issues
surrounding homosexuality. Both concern decisions of law by Bishop
Charlene Kammerer in the Virginia Conference regarding a pastor who
was placed on involuntary leave at the June 13 clergy session of
The Rev. Edward Johnson of South Hill (Va.) United Methodist Church
was suspended for refusing to admit a gay person into membership at
the church. Paragraph 214 of the 2004 Book of Discipline, addressing
eligibility in a congregation, states that "all persons may attend its
worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments
and become members in any local church in the connection."
In other cases, the Judicial Council will:
* Consider another request from the West Michigan Annual Conference
for a ruling on the addition of domestic partner benefits to the
conference's health benefits plan.
* Review of a bishop's decision of law in the Rocky Mountain Annual
Conference concerning conference structure modification.
* Consider a question from the Minnesota Annual Conference on the
treatment of a supervisory file by annual conference officers.
* Review a bishop's decisions of law in the Pacific Northwest Annual
Conference related to the adoption of a petition titled, "Affirming
Our Unity Amongst Diversity of Opinion."
* Address a question from the Tennessee Annual Conference on the
allocation by the General Conference secretary of additional
(at-large) members of general program boards and general agencies.
* Review the revised structures of both the Louisiana and
Baltimore-Washington annual conferences.
* Respond to a request from the Northern Illinois Annual
Conference regarding disabled accessibility in local church and
* Consider an item from the Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference
dealing with the leave of absence of a newly commissioned person
preparing for ordination as a deacon.
Anyone who wants to comment on a matter before the Judicial Council
may submit a brief. The submission of a brief does not make one a
party to the proceeding. Briefs should be sent to Boyette at 10501
Plank Road, Spotsylvania, VA 22553, for receipt on or before Aug. 29.
Ten signed copies of each brief must be submitted. In addition, an
electronic copy in either Microsoft Word or Corel WordPerfect format
must be filed with the secretary at judicialcouncil@... if
*Caldwell is a freelance writer based in High Point, N.C.