- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 2, 2004

PUGHTOWN, Pa. (AP) — The United Methodist Church yesterday defrocked a lesbian for violating the denomination’s ban on actively homosexual clergy — the first such decision by the church in 17 years.

A 13-member jury made up of Methodist clergy convicted the Rev. Irene Elizabeth Stroud on the second day of her church trial. Methodist law bars “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” from ministry. Nine votes were necessary for a conviction, and the jury voted 12-1 to find Miss Stroud guilty.

It then voted 7-6 to defrock Miss Stroud, the bare majority necessary in the penalty phase of the trial, though her congregation in Philadelphia has said Miss Stroud can continue performing most of her duties.

Miss Stroud said she hasn’t decided whether to appeal the verdict, which she can do at any point during the next 30 days.

The last time the 8.3 million-member denomination convicted a cleric on charges of homosexuality was in 1987, when a New Hampshire church court defrocked the Rev. Rose Mary Denman.

Last March, a Methodist court in Washington state acquitted the Rev. Karen Dammann, who lives with her lesbian partner, citing an ambiguity in church law that the Methodist high court has since eliminated.

The Methodists are just one of several mainline Protestant denominations in the United States — including the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches — that are struggling with the issue of homosexuality.

Miss Stroud, 34, an associate pastor at Philadelphia’s First United Methodist Church of Germantown, set the case in motion last year when she announced to her bishop and congregation that she was living in a sexual relationship with another woman, Chris Paige.

At her trial, presiding judge the Rev. Joseph Yeakel, the retired bishop of Washington, D.C., excluded testimony from six defense witnesses who were prepared to argue that the church’s ban on active homosexuality by clergy violates the church’s own legal principles.

“I believe that even the testimony of Scripture is far from clear on this subject,” the senior pastor of Miss Stroud’s church, the Rev. Fred Day, testified at the trial.

But the Rev. Thomas Hall of Exton, Pa., the prosecutor, asked Mr. Yeakel to strike Mr. Day’s statement, and the judge instructed the jury that “constitutional issues are not before this court.”

Mr. Hall told jurors they had a duty to “hold a good pastor accountable to the standard with which we all live” under the Methodist Book of Discipline.

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