Irene Stoud was a pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Germantown. The church serves a racially mixed neighborhood with a history of promoting social justice.
The congregation recently experienced a number of stressors:
Still another stressor surfaced on 2003-APR-27 when their associate pastor, Rev. Beth Stroud told the congregation that she is a lesbian, and was involved in a committed relationship with her partner, Chris Paige. 7 She was aware of the current church legislation which expels sexually active pastors with a homosexual orientation. She received solid support from the congregation.
The trial of Rev. Irene Elizabeth Stroud:
In a two day trial which ended on 2004-DEC-2, Rev. Irene Elizabeth Stroud, 34, was found guilty by a
13 person jury of fellow Methodist clergy from the region. UMC regulations forbid "self-avowed, practicing
homosexuals" as clergy. The vote was 12 to 1. Nine votes were required
to find her guilty.
Later, on on 2005-JAN-21, she spoke at a public meeting, saying: "I knew if I had come out in a very public way, I could lose my job...The day I came out was one of the most wonderful, freeing, joyful days I had ever experienced....I knew God made me special and different from everybody. I knew God had some special purpose, ... a calling for me." During a question and answer session, she cited the church's acceptance of slavery in the 19th century as an example of how it has incorrectly justified its views with the Bible. She said: "The church has been wrong before. I think, on this issue, the church will look back and have the same experience." 4
She has decided to appeal her conviction to a higher church court. 1 A key event that motivated her to appeal was a statement by retired Bishop Joseph Yeakel who was the presiding judge at the trial. He told her: "The day will come when the church apologizes for this decision." She planned to appeal on two grounds:
She concluded: "The UMC laws on homosexuality were adopted by majority vote in general conference. But how do we live together as a church community when a significant minority views the decision barring lesbian and gay men from ministry as morally wrong? How do you honor the minority and hold the church together?" 5
Video Vérité has produced a movie about Rev. Stroud titled "The Congregation." It was shown on most PBS stations on 2004-DEC-29. It contains:
The Video Vérité website says that "THE CONGREGATION offers an intriguing look at the behind-the-scenes work of a church in transition and the intimate stories of its two ministers. It is a complex portrait of a Protestant church moving into the 21st century....the...documentary by Alan and Susan Raymond, profiles a progressive United Methodist church in the midst of profound change as it struggles with the arrival of a new minister and must reinvent itself under new leadership." 2
The appeal to the Committee on Appeals:
Before her appeal, Stroud said: "I feel really tired and unsettled, physically and emotionally. I don't have the same sense of focus I had going into the trial."
She said that even if she continues to be barred from the UMC clergy, she will remain in the denomination. She said: "I feel inclined to stay, even as a lay person. I feel a connection to the church more now than I did before the trial.....As part of the church, you're not always going to be with like-minded people. Sometimes it means being with people that are seriously wrong. Faith is given to us as a community. We may disagree but in the end we're all connected."
The denomination's Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals conducted the public trial in a hotel ballroom. It was composed of four clergy and five laity. The committee had already received written testimony from Stroud. They heard a brief oral argument from both sides, and then deliberated in private. Groups in at least five states organized prayer vigils.
On 2005-APR-29, the appeals panel voted 8 to 1 to set aside Beth Stroud's previous conviction. The committee issued a 14-page ruling. Their decision was based on two technicalities:
She commented: "The church is not free to disregard the standards of justice and inclusiveness that are preached by Jesus Christ ... and are a part of church law. The ruling gives us hope that the United Methodist Church has the resources to do justice." 6
The denomination is expected to appeal the case to the Judicial Council, the denomination's highest court. She has decided to continue as a lay member of the Germantown PA church until the legal process is completed.
Covenant News, a Fundamental Christian news source on the Internet, assigned the title "Methodist Reinstate Abomination" to their description of this case. 8
Appeal to the United Methodist Judicial Council:
Beth Stroud's case is expected to be heard at the United Methodist Judicial Council in Houston, TX in 2005-October.
The Reconciling Ministries Network commented: "While we can't know how the Judicial Council will rule, we believe that The United Methodist Church will one day become a church that is truly welcoming to all people and all types of loving families. Whether we win or lose, Beth's case will be one step toward that day. So our prayer request is that you ask God for healing, learning, and growth for the whole church."
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