Monday, December 27, 2004

A Methodist minister who was defrocked for declaring that she is a lesbian living with her partner is taking her case to a church appeals court.

The Rev. Irene Stroud, of Philadelphia, was ousted Dec. 2 for violating the United Methodist Church’s law against “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” in the clergy.

Ms. Stroud decided last week to appeal, but delayed the announcement until after Christmas weekend. Notice of appeal must be filed this week.

Ms. Stroud said she hesitated to appeal because she is tired and dislikes being in the spotlight, but “there are questions the larger church needs to discuss and wrestle with.”

She said one factor in her decision was something retired Bishop Joseph Yeakel, the judge who presided at her church trial, said to her after the verdict. Bishop Yeakel told Ms. Stroud “the day will come when the church apologizes for this decision.”

Ms. Stroud was tried by her own Eastern Pennsylvania Conference. The case now goes to an appeals panel of the Northeastern Jurisdiction, which covers 12 states and the District of Columbia.

At the trial, Bishop Yeakel barred testimony from six witnesses for Ms. Stroud who oppose the Methodist ban, citing both legal and theological arguments. But the six filed material that is part of the trial record and the Northeastern Jurisdiction will review that.

Ms. Stroud wants the appeals panel to consider that Methodist law, known as the Book of Discipline, “calls us a church to stand against every form of discrimination” and “treat all people as equally loved by God.”

“When you look at those provisions of the Discipline and some of the prohibitions on homosexuality, you have to make a choice,” she said. The six witnesses’ filings made similar points.

If the Northeastern Jurisdiction decides trial procedures were mistaken, it could direct a second Pennsylvania trial, Bishop Yeakel said. It could also refer questions on interpretation of Methodist law to the church’s national Judicial Council.

The case originated last year when Ms. Stroud announced her same-sex partnership in a sermon. At the trial, an all-clergy jury voted 12-1 that she was guilty of violating Methodist law. In a subsequent penalty phase, jurors voted to defrock her by 7-6.

Ms. Stroud is one of three homosexual clergy members tried since the Methodist General Conference passed its homosexual ban in 1984. The Rev. Rose Mary Denman of New Hampshire was defrocked in 1987, and the Rev. Karen Dammann of Washington state was acquitted last March.

Philadelphia’s First United Methodist Church of Germantown has continued to employ Ms. Stroud as a lay worker.

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