- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 21, 2004

BOTHELL, Wash. (AP) — A lesbian Methodist pastor was acquitted yesterday in a church trial over her sexual orientation, and will be allowed to continue her ministry.

After about 10 hours of deliberations, a jury of 13 pastors ruled in favor of the Rev. Karen Dammann, 47, who disclosed three years ago that she was in a homosexual relationship. Two pastors were undecided and the rest found her not guilty.

Church law prohibits the ordination of self-avowed, practicing homosexuals and the church’s Book of Discipline declares homosexuality to be “incompatible to Christian teachings.” But the church’s social principles support homosexual rights and liberties.

The jury issued a statement saying the church “did not present sufficient clear and convincing evidence to sustain the charge.”

“We realize that the church is divided regarding issues related to homosexuality,” the jury said in its statement. “We, the Trial Court, are far from unanimous regarding biblical and theological understandings.”

The jury said it made its decision “after many hours of painful and prayerful deliberations, and listening for and to the word of God.”

Miss Dammann has been on leave as pastor of First United Methodist Church in Ellensburg, 95 miles east of Seattle. This month she “married” her partner of nine years, Meredith Savage, in Portland, Ore., where officials have been allowing homosexual “marriages.” They have a 5-year-old son.

The ruling means Miss Dammann is in good standing with the church and available for new assignments. Miss Dammann said her immediate plans are to continue caring for her son, who has a respiratory illness, but she hopes one day to return to the Ellensburg church.

About 100 people attended a prayer service immediately after the verdict was announced. The Rev. Rody Rowe, pastor of Queen Anne United Methodist Church in Seattle, told the gathering they could pray silently or voice their thoughts.

The pastor did not testify at her three-day trial at Bothell United Methodist Church in this Seattle suburb.

In closing arguments Friday, her church counsel, the Rev. Robert C. Ward, asked jurors to adhere to church principles on inclusiveness and justice, not to the letter of church rules.

“We need to be careful about creating rules that exclude people,” Mr. Ward said. “You are faced with a choice to make love practical, to make love plain, and to do what is right.”

The Rev. James C. Finkbeiner, who prosecuted the case, argued that Miss Dammann, by her own admission, is a practicing lesbian and that was all the jury needed to consider to find her guilty.

“This is a trial about Reverend Dammann,” Mr. Finkbeiner said. “The law of the church is not on trial. I admit this will make this decision much more painful to reach.”

The trial is the first against a homosexual Methodist pastor since 1987, when the credentials of the Rev. Rose Mary Denman of New Hampshire were revoked.

Miss Dammann declared her sexual preference in February 2001, when she sought a new church appointment. After receiving her letter, Methodist Bishop Elias Galvan, under church orders, filed a complaint against Miss Dammann.

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