Pughtown, Pa.--Following an emotional two-day ecclesiastical court trial, Rev. Beth Stroud was defrocked as an assistant minister in the United Methodist Church on December 2.
The 13 clergy members serving as her jury voted 12-1 that she violated the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s laws, by being a “self-avowed, practicing homosexual.”
The prosecution used three points to prove their case. On April 19, 2003, Stroud sent a letter to congregation members at First United Methodist Church in Germantown, Pa., talking about reconciling her calling to ministry while “living in a committed relationship with a partner.”
She also gave a sermon a week later talking about coming to terms with her sexual orientation while at Bryn Mawr College in 1990, and introduced her partner to the congregation.
In both of those instances, she expressed knowledge of the possibility that her honesty could mean the loss of her ordination.
This past summer, she was asked by an investigative committee whether her relationship with her partner Chris Paige, had a physical element to it.
“Yes, that is a part of our relationship,” she told them. “It’s a part of who we are as a loving couple and as partners.”
Stroud indicated that she would continue to provide pastoral care in a lay capacity. Methodist rules allow her to fulfill most of her previous functions that way, with the exception of giving Communion or performing weddings or baptisms.
Stroud has 30 days to appeal the decision, but has not decided if she will do so.
The complaint against her was filed by her former bishop, who now presides over a different region.
The Book of Discipline declares that being gay and sexually active is “incompatible with Christian teachings,” and precludes one from being ordained in the denomination.
The last conviction of an openly gay pastor in the United Methodist Church was in 1987, when Rev. Rose Mary Denmen was defrocked. Last March, Rev. Karen Dammann of Seattle was acquitted on similar charges, despite finding that Dammann “admitted” to being gay.
“The United Methodist Church’s deceptive marketing slogan is ‘Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Open Doors,’ but the church’s heart, mind and doors are not open to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people,” said Laura Montgomery Rutt, communications director for Soulforce, a non-denominational group that works to make churches more inclusive.
“This verdict shows the blatant hypocrisy of the United Methodist Church and poignantly illustrates the spiritual violence that the church perpetuates against LGBT people, both inside and outside the church,” she continued, noting that Soulforce defines spiritual violence as “the misuse of religion to sanction the condemnation and rejection of any of God’s children.”
Lutheran church is ejected
Having a lesbian associate pastor also resulted in a Los Angeles church being ejected from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The Central City Lutheran Mission, an inner-city church working with the poor, was booted from the denomination by an October 29 decision by Pacifica Synod Bishop Murray Finck. He claimed the action came because the associate pastor was not on a list of officially recognized Lutheran clergy, admitting that she was not on that list because of her sexual orientation.
Like the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America bars the ordination of non-celibate gay men and lesbians.
It’s the first time a church has been stripped of its membership in the ELCA since 1990.
Pastor David Kalke indicated that Central City would remain Lutheran but become an independent congregation.
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