UNITED METHODIST CHURCH (UMC):
The trial of Irene Elizabeth Stroud:
Rev. Beth Shroud
||"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,
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:
||Their liberal pastor had retired after 37 years of service.
||A conservative, Reverend Fred Day, was appointed as the new senior
||The congregation lost members and was experiencing financial
||There was some dissention about the liberal-conservative transition.
||The 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.
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:
||The 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.
||She 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
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:
||An interview with Rev. Stroud's mother who discusses her daughter's sexual
orientation and about the United Methodist Church.
||Beth's comments before and during her sermon when she told the
congregation of her sexual orientation.
||Comments by the president of the UMC Council of Bishops, Bishop
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:
||Although the church's Book of Discipline forbids the ordination and
appointment of "self-avowed practicing homosexuals," it did not
define what that term meant.
||The 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."
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
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."
"Methodist jury defrocks lesbian minister," CNN.news, 2004-DEC-03,
"The Congregation," Video Vérité, at:
"Methodists to Reinstate Defrocked Minister," Earthlink general
news, 2005-APR-29, at:
Kristin Colella, "Lesbian minister speaks about coming out speech,
persecution," The Digital Collegian, Penn State University, 2005-JAN-21, at:
Jason Serinus, "Defrocked Lesbian Minister to Fight. Philadelphia Methodist
congregation’s associate pastor, appeals ouster by church court," Gay City News,
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:
The text of her "coming out" sermon, called "Walking in the Light"
is available at:
"Methodist Reinstate Abomination," Covenant News, 2005-MAY-02.
"Defrocked lesbian minister wins appeal," Reuters, 2005-APR-29, at:
- "As Judicial Council approaches, Beth Stroud asks for help," The Reconciling
Ministries Network Digest, 2005-SEP-22.
Copyright © 2004 & 2005 by Ontario Consultants on
Date of last update: 2005-SEP-22
Author: B.A. Robinson