- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 1, 2005

The nation’s highest United Methodist court voted yesterday to defrock a lesbian pastor, saying the church’s commitment to equality does not extend to allowing active homosexuals to serve as clergy.

The church’s Judicial Council, which heard the case involving the Rev. Irene “Beth” Stroud on Friday in Houston and announced its decision yesterday, is the final ruling on a matter that began in March 2003, when Miss Stroud informed her bishop that she is a practicing lesbian.

“No provision of the [Methodist Book of] Discipline bars a person with a same-sex orientation from the ordained ministry of the United Methodist Church,” the Judicial Council said.

“Rather, Paragraph 304.3 is directed towards those persons who practice that same-sex orientation by engaging in prohibited sexual activity,” the council wrote, referring to a section of church law that states “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

In a related ruling, the Judicial Council voted to overturn the July suspension of the Rev. Ed. Johnson, a pastor who refused to admit a homosexual man into membership of South Hill United Methodist Church near Petersburg, Va.

Virginia Bishop Charlene Kammerer suspended Mr. Johnson for his actions July 1 without pay.

The council ruled pastors can reject persons from church membership, even though the church constitution says membership is open to all.

“A pastor in charge cannot be ordered by the district superintendent or bishop to admit into membership a person deemed not ready or able to meet the requirements of the vows of church membership,” the ruling said.

Other mainline denominations have taken a more liberal tack. The United Church of Christ has long welcomed homosexual clerics, the Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly homosexual bishop in November 2003, and the Presbyterian Church USA is delaying until 2006 a final decision on homosexual ordination.

The United Methodist Church’s new advertising campaign — “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” — was seen as a signal toward accepting homosexuals into the 8.2-million-member denomination.

But in May 2004, Methodists voted at a national convention to fine-tune Resolution 304 to forbid homosexual acts. Then on Dec. 2, a regional church panel ruled that Miss Stroud, a 35-year-old associate pastor at First United Methodist in Germantown, Pa., should be removed.

That decision was reversed April 29 by a nine-member appellate church court, meeting in Baltimore, saying church law does not adequately define homosexuality and should it be used as a reason to defrock clergy.

But the Judicial Council struck down the appellate ruling, saying that court had “erred.”

Miss Stroud, 35, called the decision “a blow.”

“I was really trying to be prepared for any outcome, and I knew this might happen, that I might lose,” she said. “I’ve been very emotional this morning. I’ve been very tearful, very sad.”

The congregation will continue to employ her, she added. She and her partner, Chris Paige, have been certified with the state of Pennsylvania as foster parents to a special-needs child with the option of adoption. She hopes she will be assigned a child as early as next month.

“At this point in my life, I will wait for God to show me other ways to serve,” she said.

The Rev. Tom Hall, one of the church attorneys who argued against Miss Stroud in Houston, said the majority of Methodists believe practicing homosexuals should not serve as clergy.

“The larger issue was: Can we come to the Book of Discipline with any sense of integrity?” he said. “That’s what concerned a lot of Methodist clergy, not some kind of homophobia. It was: Can we trust the Book of Discipline and its rule that we all agreed to keep?”

The Rev. Troy Plummer, executive director of the Chicago-based Reconciling Ministries Network, said both rulings show Methodists have chosen “legalism over following the Holy Spirit.”

“Beth Stroud is an authentic witness of the Holy Spirit,” he said, adding that the Virginia decision is “a slippery slope. Any personal prejudice can now come into play.”

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