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Appeals Panel May Re-Frock Defrocked Confessed Lesbian UM Pastor

Lesbian minister's advocate: Church prefers secrecy to honesty
By: FOSTER KLUG (Thu, Apr/28/2005)

LINTHICUM, Md. - An advocate for a defrocked lesbian minister argued Thursday that the United Methodist Church would have preferred she live in a "cloak of secrecy" rather than be honest with her congregation.

Irene Elizabeth Stroud is appealing a December ruling by a church court that she broke church law when she told her Philadelphia congregation two years ago that she was living in a committed relationship with a woman.

A regional appeals panel heard her case Thursday morning at a hotel near Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

"Why did Beth share her homosexual status?" her ministerial counsel, the Rev. Jim Hallam, asked the panel. "She didn't want to live in secrecy anymore, under that cloak of silence. She wanted to live as she was created to be."

"It seems the church would have preferred her to be deceptive - 'Don't ask, don't tell,'" he said.

The ministerial counsel for the church, the Rev. Thomas Hall, called the defense's argument "circular" and an attempt to cloud the meaning of church law: "The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers it incompatible with Christian teaching."

Hall said Stroud, 35, understood the consequences of her actions, "that her role as a minister was jeopardized" when she violated the law against self-avowed, practicing homosexuals in the clergy.

Hall argued that church law is clear on the issue. "We may not like the boundaries. We may think they're ... too un-loving, too exclusive. But the fact is, the boundaries are clearly in place."

Hall added, "This trial is not about how good we are at ministry. It's really about a good person who has stepped over the line and contested the boundaries."

As she headed into the hearing, Stroud said, "I know there are a lot of people who are praying for me today and that gives me strength."

Fred Day, the head minister at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown, where Stroud has kept the title of associate minister but now works in a lay capacity, said a prayer vigil was to be held at the church during the hearing.

Stroud has explained her decision to come out, even though she knew she'd be defrocked, by saying: "If I believe that God created me this way and God called me into the ministry knowing I was a lesbian, then I had no choice but to publicly embrace myself the way I am."

The United Methodist Church accepts gay and lesbian ministers as long as they are celibate. But when Stroud publicly announced her sexuality, her bishop was forced to start the defrocking process, Hall said in an interview before the hearing.

Methodist law is "very, very clear on homosexuality being incompatible with Christianity," Hall said.

The panel hopes to have a decision by Friday.

Stroud contends that her trial judge inappropriately prevented experts from arguing that the section of church policy banning noncelibate gay people from being clergy is inconsistent with the overall Methodist message, which is one of inclusiveness for all people, regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation, according to her attorney, Alan Symonette.

The Rev. William "Scott" Campbell, chairman of the appeals panel for the church's Northeastern Jurisdiction, which covers 12 states and the District of Columbia, says one of several things could happen once his panel makes a decision. Either side could appeal to a UMC supreme court or the case could be remanded for a second trial. The appeals panel could also reverse the earlier verdict, change the penalty, or do both.

There are 1.5 million United Methodists in the Northeastern Jurisdiction and 8.3 million United Methodists nationwide, making it the second-largest Protestant denomination in the United States.

Stroud is one of three homosexual clergy members tried since the Methodist General Conference passed a ban on gays in 1984. The Rev. Rose Mary Denman of New Hampshire was defrocked in 1987. The Rev. Karen Dammann of Washington state was acquitted last March because of an ambiguity in church law that the Methodist supreme court has since eliminated.


On the Net:

Stroud's defense: www.bethstroud.info

United Methodist Church: www.umc.org


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