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UM Churches Want To Leave Homosexualized Conference

Published on Sunday, April 18, 2004

Methodist Group Asks to Separate From Annual Conference



A church verdict last month acquitting a Lesbian minister of charges that her sexual orientation violates church law may fragment the regional United Methodist Church.

Clergy and lay church members from about 25 United Methodist churches in the region, meeting in Yakima Saturday, urged the church's governing body to allow them to separate themselves from the Pacific Northwest Regional Annual Conference, a regional governing body.

The churches represented at Saturday's gathering about 10 percent of the denomination's churches in Washington and Northern Idaho approved two letters expressing their dissatisfaction with the acquittal of Karen Dammann of Ellensburg.

The Rev. Gary Starkey, senior pastor of the Westpark United Methodist Church, said after the meeting the verdict has created anguish and alienation among some churches. Starkey said evangelicals within the church now feel cut off from the regional body.

A jury of 13 pastors, following three days of testimony, found a lack of evidence to prove Dammann's sexual orientation is incompatible with Christian teachings. Church law prohibits ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals.

Dammann, who is on leave from the First United Methodist Church in Ellensburg and visiting in Oregon, could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Starkey called Saturday's gathering unprecedented in the history of the church.

"We didn't come together to wring our hands and express sorrow, but to say the dialogue is over and the conference needs to stop going in further disobedience," he said.

One letter is to the regional bishop and the district superintendents who oversee the region's seven districts.

The other is to the General Conference, the worldwide church's legislative body, which convenes its conference in Pittsburgh on April 27. The General Conference, the only body that can make church law, meets every four years.

The General Conference letter is signed by the Rev. Colleen Sheahan of the Westpark United Methodist Church.

Her letter said pleas for the church to follow its teachings has fallen on deaf ears.

"The ship is sinking the only life boat available for us on the West Coast is strong action by General Conference delegates to provide for departure a clean separation allowing for some to remain faithful to the United Methodist Church," the letter said.

The letter to the bishop, signed by the Rev. Daniel Foster of Covington, Wash., warned the annual conference has rejected Scripture and church law.

As long as that goes on, the letter said, "evangelicals like myself will have no choice but to seek alternatives to our present way of doing business."

A telephone message left at Foster's residence was not returned Saturday evening.

Starkey said opponents of the verdict are hoping the General Conference will take a strong stand on the church's historic stance.

"Perhaps there will be a remedy that will help to resolve the anguish of these churches," Starkey said. "If it isn't resolved, I don't believe churches will be able to remain in communion with what is taking place."
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