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UNITED METHODIST CHURCH (UMC):

The trial of Irene Elizabeth Stroud:

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Sponsored link.

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Rev. Beth Shroud

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Quotation:

bullet"I believe that even the testimony of Scripture is far from clear on this subject....We have more muddle than clarity." Suppressed testimony by Rev. Alfred Day III,

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Background:

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:

bulletTheir liberal pastor had retired after 37 years of service.
bulletA conservative, Reverend Fred Day, was appointed as the new senior pastor.
bulletThe congregation lost members and was experiencing financial difficulties.
bulletThere was some dissention about the liberal-conservative transition.
bulletThe congregation employed outside consultants to determine whether Rev. Day was a good fit and to suggest new directions for the church.

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.

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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.

The decision was basically pre-determined when the presiding judge, Joseph Yeakel, the retired bishop of Washington, excluded expert testimony by six defense witnesses who were planning to testify that the denomination's ban violates its own legal principles.

Rev. Alfred Day III, the senior pastor at her church, attempted to raise a similar issue at trial. he said: "I believe that even the testimony of Scripture is far from clear on this subject....We have more muddle than clarity." At the request of the prosecutor, Rev. Thomas Hall, the judge ordered the jury to ignore the comment.

Rev. J. Dennis Williams, Stroud's defense counsel, said that "the heart of the issue is whether all United Methodists, regardless of status, are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities." Later, he said: "I only wish you could hear the full testimony we wished to present."

The only defense witnesses who were allowed to testify were senior pastors at her present and previous church. CNN.com reported that "Both lavishly praised her performance in preaching, teaching and pastoral work." Prosecutor Hall agreed with that assessment.

The jury then voted 7 to 6 to defrock Rev. Stroud. Her congregation, the First United Methodist Church of Germantown, PA, permitted Stroud to continue to perform most of her duties, but as a lay pastor. She was unable to perform baptisms and communion. She retained the title of associate minister. She said: "I did not go into this trial expecting to win. I went into it knowing it would be a painful moment in the life of the United Methodist Church." She said that she was saddened by the decision. She regards it as a teaching moment that showed how divided the UMC is over homosexuality.

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:

bulletThe exclusion of people from the jury pool who disagreed with the provisions of the Methodist Rules of Discipline that bar gays and lesbians from ordination.
bulletShe believes that she did not violate the UMC Constitution. She said: "I believe that the provisions of the Discipline that were cited in the charge are superceded by others that say that the Methodist Church abhors discrimination of all kinds and calls upon us to be inclusive of all peoples. Our discipline says that gay and lesbian people are people of sacred worth in the eyes of God."

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

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Documentary movie:

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:
bulletAn interview with Rev. Stroud's mother who discusses her daughter's sexual orientation and about the United Methodist Church.
bulletBeth's comments before and during her sermon when she told the congregation of her sexual orientation.
bulletComments by the president of the UMC Council of Bishops, Bishop Peter Weaver.

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

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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:

bulletAlthough the church's Book of Discipline forbids the ordination and appointment of "self-avowed practicing homosexuals," it did not define what that term meant.
bulletThe charges brought against Stroud had not been formally ratified by the church authorities and thus could not be used against her. 9

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

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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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References:

  1. "Methodist jury defrocks lesbian minister," CNN.news, 2004-DEC-03, at: http://www.cnn.com/
  2. "The Congregation," Video Vérité, at: http://thecongregationmovie.com/
  3. "Methodists to Reinstate Defrocked Minister," Earthlink general news, 2005-APR-29, at: http://start.earthlink.net/
  4. Kristin Colella, "Lesbian minister speaks about coming out speech, persecution," The Digital Collegian, Penn State University, 2005-JAN-21, at: http://www.collegian.psu.edu/
  5. Jason Serinus, "Defrocked Lesbian Minister to Fight. Philadelphia Methodist congregation’s associate pastor, appeals ouster by church court," Gay City News, 2004-DEC-26, at: http://www.gaycitynews.com/
  6. Michael Mishak, "Defrocked minister reaches for the middle. FUMCOG’s Beth Stroud will face an appeals court next week. She hopes her case will bring change to a large cross-section of undecided United Methodists," ChestnutHillLocal newspaper, 2005-APR-20, at: http://www.chestnuthilllocal.com/
  7. The text of her "coming out" sermon, called "Walking in the Light" is available at: http://www.bethstroud.info/
  8. "Methodist Reinstate Abomination," Covenant News, 2005-MAY-02.
  9. "Defrocked lesbian minister wins appeal," Reuters, 2005-APR-29, at: http://news.yahoo.com/
  10. "As Judicial Council approaches, Beth Stroud asks for help," The Reconciling Ministries Network Digest, 2005-SEP-22.

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Copyright © 2004 & 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Date of last update: 2005-SEP-22
Author: B.A. Robinson
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