Defrocked minister gets final hearing

A top United Methodist court will decide whether Beth Stroud, a lesbian, can remain a pastor.

For the third tempestuous time in a year, a court date is nearing for Germantown minister Beth Stroud.

Stroud, 35, is the United Methodist pastor defrocked for violating a church ban on “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals,” then reinstated on procedural grounds by a church appeals panel.

Tomorrow morning, in what will be the final step in her high-profile case, the denomination’s top court will convene in a Houston church to hear arguments. Its ruling is expected within several days.

If she prevails, Stroud said yesterday, she will don her pastor’s robes again and resume duties as associate pastor at First United Methodist Church of Germantown.

Should she lose, she said, she will remain a lay minister on the Germantown church staff. A lifelong Methodist, Stroud vowed to remain in the fold but said she would continue her travels as a guest preacher “to work for change in the United Methodist Church.”

Stroud brought on her church trial – and became a celebrated figure in Protestantism’s long-running conflict over gay rights – when she gave a sermon in 2003 announcing that she was living in a “covenant relationship” with another woman.

That defied the denomination’s ban on non-celibate homosexual clergy, a ban it has repeatedly upheld despite opposition from gay-friendly “reconciling” congregations like her Germantown church.

In December, a jury of pastors convicted Stroud of “engaging in practices declared by the United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings” and ordered her to be defrocked.

In April, however, an appeals panel set aside the verdict. Its surprise ruling held that the trial court had improperly disallowed some constitutional issues and that United Methodist governing bodies needed to clarify some of the key concepts in the same-sex debate.

The Philadelphia Area bishop, Marcus Matthews, appealed that ruling to the denomination’s highest court, the nine-member Judicial Council.

The council is considered solidly conservative, and it is likely to reinstate the trial court’s decision to defrock Stroud, according to Mark Tooley, who directs the Methodist project for the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a conservative advocacy group in Washington.

The Rev. Thomas Hall, an Exton pastor, presented the church’s case at the trial and appeal. He will do the same in Houston.

Hall said yesterday that Stroud “violated the covenant we [Methodist clergy] all agree to be governed by.” The appellate ruling, he said, was “astonishing and very confusing.”

Though the appellate ruling freed Stroud to resume her work as a pastor, she decided to keep her clerical robes in the closet pending the Judicial Council’s final word.

Stroud, Hall and others agreed that the church’s regional and national governing conventions may still need to clarify issues.

In any case, Stroud said, she will continue to be on the lecture circuit, speaking to friendly audiences but also trying to address “congregations that are not open and reconciling yet.”

Her hope, she said, is “to do some relationship-building, and maybe move people further along so the whole church can move further along.”

To prepare for the Houston hearing, Matthews declared last Sunday as a day of prayer for area Methodists. Stroud’s supporters will hold a prayer service tonight at 7:30 at Chestnut Hill United Methodist Church, 8812 Germantown Ave.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Philadelphia Inquirer, USA
Oct. 26, 2005
Jim Remsen, Inquirer Faith Life Editor

Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday October 27, 2005.
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