- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 21, 2004

ELLENSBURG, Wash. (AP) — Congregants in the Methodist church where the Rev. Karen Dammann used to preach celebrated her acquittal yesterday, a day after she was cleared of violating church doctrine by living in a lesbian relationship and “marrying” her partner.

The United Methodist Church has repeatedly voted against changing its policies on homosexuality, but the response to the verdict in this small, central Washington town was warm.

“I’m very pleased,” said Dodie Haight, a member of the congregation who sat through Miss Dammann’s trial about 95 miles away in the Seattle suburb of Bothell. “I don’t think the jury had an easy task, but I think they gave it long, thoughtful, prayerful consideration.”

A 13-pastor jury Saturday acquitted Miss Dammann, 47, of violating a church ban on ordaining “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals.” If nine jurors had voted to convict, she could have lost her ministry.

Miss Haight said she arrived at church early expecting protesters, but there were none.

At one point during yesterday’s service, during the sharing of joys and concerns, choir member Charlie McKinney said Miss Dammann had taught the congregation about the power of truth.

“She did a courageous thing and a difficult thing,” Mr. McKinney said. “She did this as a way to pull bricks from the age-old wall of prejudice, fear and exclusion.”

But there was concern about the fallout for the United Methodist Church, the nation’s third-largest denomination with 8.5 million U.S. members.

Since the late 1980s, Pacific Northwest Methodist leaders have petitioned for eased policies on homosexuality at each of the denomination’s General Conferences, held every four years. During past international General Conferences, most attendees have refused. The next General Conference begins next month.

“I believe the vast majority of United Methodists are in grief and shock today. I’m personally heartbroken,” said Indiana state Sen. Patricia Miller, executive director of the Confessing Movement, a conservative movement within the United Methodist Church.

“I think the issue is, a part of the jurisdiction has broken covenant with the rest of the church and has decided to go the way of the world, as opposed to being faithful to and abiding by church law.”

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