The verdict this weekend in the trial of a Methodist minister
shows that even a church that holds homosexual practice
"incompatible with Christian teachings" is being buffeted by a
The Rev. Karen Dammann, of Ellensburg, Wash. was acquitted by a
jury of 13 clergy in the United Methodist Church (UMC) of violating
church law by living in a homosexual relationship.
The UMC, the third-largest Christian church in the United States
after Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists, has been embroiled in
debate on the issue for three decades. At its last general
conference in 2000, however, two-thirds of the delegates voted
against any change in policy, rejecting both ordination of gay
clergy and blessing of same-sex unions. The trial outcome is likely
to stir tumult leading up to the next conference, in late April,
which most had expected would hew to the status quo.
The action by her peers in the Pacific Northwest stunned church
conservatives, even though many in the more liberal region are known
to be at odds with the policy, which they say fails to embrace all
members in the body of Christ.
"I'm totally shocked, and Methodists across the country will be
deeply disturbed," says the Rev. James Heidinger, president of Good
News, a church renewal ministry concerned with biblical authority.
"Karen is clearly violating the standard of the church, and we
thought this was simply giving her due process." The Methodist Book
of Discipline says that "self-avowed, practicing homosexuals" are
not to be ordained as ministers.
But the defense argued that it was not cut and dried, and that
the church's social principles also strongly backed inclusiveness
and civil rights for homosexuals, according to the Associated Press.
"We're thankful the jury was able to listen to the whole story,"
says the Rev. Troy Plummer, of Reconciling Ministries Network, a
group seeking full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church.
"People try to make this about sex, but it's about a complete person
called by God to ministry, and the church has said she has the gifts
and graces for the job."
The pastor initiated the church action herself by writing to her
bishop in 2001 to acknowledge the relationship, in effect
challenging a "don't ask, don't tell" situation. She and her partner
have a son, and Ms. Dammann has said it was important for her to be
truthful. Now that she is acquitted, the church cannot appeal.
But this is not the only test challenging the Methodists. …