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Thursday, December 30, 2004

Planet Out: Church convicts, defrocks lesbian cleric

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Planet Out
Church convicts, defrocks lesbian cleric

Thu Dec 2, 8:41 PM ET
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Tom Musbach, PlanetOut Network

SUMMARY: The United Methodist Church trial of a lesbian minister who violated church law by being honest about who she is ended Thursday with a guilty conviction and a vote to defrock her.

The rare United Methodist Church (UMC) trial of a lesbian minister who violated church law by being honest about who she is ended Thursday with a guilty conviction and a vote to defrock her.

A jury of clergy from the UMC voted 12-1 that Rev. Irene Elizabeth Stroud, 34, violated a church law that forbids "self-avowed, practicing homosexuals" from ministry. During the penalty phase, the jury voted 7-6 to defrock, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

The trial, which lasted two days, took place in Pughtown, in Eastern Pennsylvania. Dozens of protesters held vigil outside the building, some shielding themselves from the rain under rainbow-colored umbrellas.

Stroud had come out to her congregation during a sermon last year, admitting that she was in a long-term relationship with a woman. "I have come to a place where my discipleship, my walk with Christ, requires telling the whole truth, and paying whatever price truthfulness requires," she said.

Her congregation in Philadelphia was mostly supportive, but Stroud told reporters after the verdict she didn't anticipate the same reaction from the entire church.

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

A ruling on Wednesday in the case put her at a disadvantage, when the judge barred her attorney from calling witnesses who would challenge the church's 1984 law against openly gay ministers. The decision by presiding judge Joseph Yeakel, a retired bishop, eliminated six of Stroud's defense witnesses, the AP reported.

She has 30 days to appeal the verdict.

Unlike the Pennsylvania proceeding, most trials in the 8.3-million member denomination are held in private. The last time the church defrocked a lesbian minister was in 1987, in the case of Rev. Rose Mary Denman of New Hampshire.

In March of this year, however, another church court acquitted Rev. Karen Dammann, a minister in Washington, after she came out. Dammann's case angered so many conservative Methodists that the church's general conference approved language that said, "The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching."

Citing the church's slogan of "Open hearts, open minds, open doors," Laura Montgomery Rutt, director of communications for Soulforce, denounced Thursday's verdict.

"This verdict shows the blatant hypocrisy of the United Methodist Church and poignantly illustrates the spiritual violence that the church perpetuates against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, both inside and outside the church," she said.

Members of Soulforce, a national group dedicated to ending "spiritual violence" against LGBT people, were among the protesters outside the trial.


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