Her defense team says the trial judge excluded testimony and deprived her of a jury of peers.
BALTIMORE – Lawyers for Beth Stroud, the lesbian minister from Philadelphia defrocked in a United Methodist Church trial in December, leveled an all-out assault yesterday on the trial process and the rule that bars “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” from ordained ministry.
Her lead counsel, the Rev. James R. Hallam, told an appeals panel meeting here that Stroud was convicted under “an exclusionary church law which is diametrically inconsistent with the mission of the United Methodist Church to be inclusive of all people regardless of race, gender and status.”
The church’s counsel, the Rev. Thomas Hall, countered that the law has been repeatedly affirmed by denominational leaders. “In the end,” Hall said, “this trial was about accountability – holding a minister accountable to the very laws that we have vowed to uphold.”
At her trial, which drew national attention, a jury of 13 ministers stripped Stroud of her ordination. It followed her announcement in a 2003 sermon at First United Methodist Church of Germantown that she was living with another woman.
Methodist officials said that appeals of church trials are rare, and that this is the only one of three cases involving lesbian clergy to reach that stage.
Stroud’s defense team argued to the nine-member appellate panel that the trial judge, retired Bishop Joseph Yeakel, had improperly excluded testimony from expert witnesses who would have said the charges brought against Stroud violated “other, superior provisions” of the church’s rules.
Further, the defense said the trial judge had deprived Stroud, 35, of a jury of peers by rejecting any pastors who could not promise to enforce the ban on sexually active gay clergy.
Hall, the church counsel at Stroud’s trial, responded that Yeakel’s decisions were procedurally correct, and that a local trial was not the proper forum for deciding church policy.
He said in his brief, “This trial was not about ‘a teaching moment’ for the church nor for the purpose of raising questions of law, or of claiming exceptions based on fine pastoral ability.”
The panel could reinstate Stroud’s credentials, impose a new penalty, or send the case back for a retrial. A decision is expected today
Stroud sat silently through the three-hour hearing. At a news conference afterward, she said she was “fairly certain” she would appeal a negative ruling to the denomination’s highest court, the Judicial Council. That body is considered conservative on the issue.
We appreciate your support
Our website includes affiliate links, which means we get a small commission — at no additional cost to you — for each qualifying purpose. For instance, as an Amazon Associate Religion News Blog earns from qualifying purchases. That is one reason why we can provide this service free of charge.