Defrocked Lesbian Pastor Appeals Church's Decision; United Methodist Ruling Adds to Gay Clergy Debate

Article excerpt

Byline: Julia Duin, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

BALTIMORE - Irene Elizabeth "Beth" Stroud, a Methodist associate pastor who was removed from her pulpit four months ago for lesbianism, begged a church appeals court yesterday to overturn the decision that resulted in her defrocking.

"I pray the church will do justice in my case," she said. "Gay and lesbian people and their families and people who love them are really prevented by discrimination from receiving the love of Christ as we understand it."

She was not sexually active when she was ordained in 1997, she explained, but when she met Chris Paige in 2000, "I fell in love," she said yesterday. "It took me by surprise."

On April 27, 2003, she announced her homosexual orientation to her congregation, First United Methodist Church in Germantown, Pa.

After more than a year of hearings and church investigations, she was defrocked Dec. 2 by a church court.

Her appeal before a nine-member church court at the Sheraton International Hotel at Baltimore-Washington International Airport lasted three hours. The court said last night that it had made its decision and would announce it this morning.

Church officials said Miss Stroud, 35, had transgressed church law that says homosexual practice is "incompatible with Christian teaching."

"In the case of ministers, [breaking this rule] is a chargeable offense," said the Rev. Tom Hall, a Pennsylvania pastor representing the denomination. Church law as outlined in the Methodist Book of Discipline, he added, orders its clergy to adhere to "the highest standards of holy living in the world."

Many in the 8.2-million-member denomination are watching Miss Stroud's appeal, he said, and "waiting to see if that rule is followed. …