Archive for Friday, December 3, 2004

Methodist Church jury defrocks lesbian minister

December 3, 2004

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— The United Methodist Church defrocked a lesbian minister who lives with her partner Thursday for violating the denomination's ban on actively gay clergy -- the first such decision by the church in 17 years.

A 13-member jury made up of Methodist clergy convicted the Rev. Irene Elizabeth Stroud on the second day of her church trial. Methodist law bars "self-avowed, practicing homosexuals" from ministry. Nine votes were necessary for a conviction and the jury voted 12-1 to find Stroud guilty.

It then voted 7-6 to defrock Stroud, the bare majority necessary in the penalty phase of the trial, though her supportive congregation in Philadelphia has said Stroud can continue performing most of her duties.

"I did not go into this trial expecting to win," Stroud said. "I went into it knowing it would be a painful moment in the life of the United Methodist Church."

Stroud hasn't decide whether to appeal the verdict, which she can do at any point in the next 30 days.

The last time the 8.3 million-member denomination convicted an openly gay cleric was in 1987, when a New Hampshire church court defrocked the Rev. Rose Mary Denman.

Last March, a Methodist court in Washington state acquitted the Rev. Karen Dammann, who lives with a same-sex partner, citing an ambiguity in church law that the Methodist supreme court has since eliminated.

The Methodists are just one of several mainline Protestant denominations in the United States -- including the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches -- undergoing turmoil about the role of gays and lesbians in the church, particularly gay clergy. The Stroud case will likely make the debate about the issue among Methodists that much more intense.

The Rev. Irene Elizabeth Stroud, left, hugs her partner, Chris
Paige, center, and Carolyn Paige, mother of Chris. A jury made up
of United Methodist Church clergy convicted the lesbian minister
for violating the denomination's ban on actively gay clergy.

The Rev. Irene Elizabeth Stroud, left, hugs her partner, Chris Paige, center, and Carolyn Paige, mother of Chris. A jury made up of United Methodist Church clergy convicted the lesbian minister for violating the denomination's ban on actively gay clergy.

Stroud said she was saddened by the verdict, but also saw it as a teaching moment that showed how divided her denomination is about homosexuality.

Stroud, 34, an associate pastor at Philadelphia's First United Methodist Church of Germantown, set the case in motion last year when she announced to her bishop and congregation that she was living in a committed relationship with her partner, Chris Paige.

At her trial, Stroud's defense was dealt a blow when presiding judge Joseph Yeakel, the retired bishop of Washington, D.C., excluded expert testimony from six defense witnesses who think the church's gay clergy ban violates its own legal principles.

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