Lesbian Minister Found Guilty of All Charges

The lesbian United Methodist clergywoman Beth Stroud was convicted of “engaging in practices declared by the United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings” in an open-and-shut case that lasted a mere two days, Thursday, Dec. 2, 2004.

The vote against Stroud was 12-1; only 9 were needed to convict. She was also found guilty of each of the four specifications related to the evidence on that charge.

During a press conference after the verdict, Stroud said she was not surprised of being found guilty because she did not “go into this trial expecting to win.”

“I went into it knowing that it would be a painful moment in the life of the United Methodist Church and in the life of this annual conference. But I believe that it is important for our church and for the annual conference to experience this pain together and to acknowledge this pain. I am hopeful that in time, and that through God’s spirit, that the United Methodist Church will change its Discipline,” said Stroud.

The Book of Discipline contains the denomination’s laws and polity, which prohibit the ordination of “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals.”

During yesterday’s deliberations, Stroud had confessed that she and her lover, Chris Paige, “express our love for each other sexually with our bodies.”

When asked if she felt like a martyr, Stroud said “martyr” means witness, a person who stands for what they believe.

“God created me as a lesbian and God, knowing that about me, called me into the ministry,” said Stroud, who earlier today refused to plead guilty to the charges made against her.

Following the announcement of the guilty verdict, the trial reconvened to start the penalty phase.

The Rev. Thomas Hall, the main prosecutor for the church, told the jurors that “the only penalty possible” was to suspend Stroud’s ministerial credentials because the denomination’s highest court recently reaffirmed that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” cannot be appointed by any bishop. However, Hall stressed that he was not asking for the expulsion or suspension of Stroud from the church, since she would be allowed to serve as a layperson to the denomination.

On the defense side, the Rev. J. Dennis Williams urged jurors to be “creative” in crafting a lesser penalty that will allow her to remain ordained.

“You can fix a lesser penalty,” said Williams, who added that “Beth Stroud is a woman used by God to build bridges of care across canyons of despair.”

Bishop Joseph Yeakel, the presiding officer, told the jurors that seven of the 13 members need to agree on a particular penalty in order for it to take immediately.

Meanwhile, James V. Heidinger II, the president of Good News Magazine – a renewal group within the UMC – said he was not surprised by the verdict.

“This is the verdict that we expected. This case was basically an open and shut case in our view,” said Heidinger. “She was in a relationship with another woman and the standards of the church prohibit that. It seemed to us that there was no real question about the case.”

Heidinger, who explained that “none of us wishes or holds ill will toward Stroud,” said he expects Stroud to lose her credentials, as accorded by the denomination’s Book of Discipline.

“In light of being in this relationship, the United Methodist Book of Discipline says no self avowed practicing homosexual may be ordained or appointed in the church. So it seems clear that she cannot be appointed to a church. I’m not sure if she ought to remain as an ordained elder, and it would seem that her credentials should be removed,” said Heidinger.

Reflecting back on the controversial verdict of a similar trial in March where a open and active lesbian pastor was acquitted of the same charges as Stroud, Heidinger said he was thankful that in the latter case, there were jurors who ruled according to the evidence presented.

“I think that we had jurors who listened to the evidence and then responded and ruled according to the evidence presented. I think the evidence was clear: she acknowledged publicly that she was in this relationship. That is why early in the trial, the counsel suggested they go immediately to the penalty phase. Why go on, there is nothing to determine, she is in this relationship. But this court upheld the book of discipline strongly and we welcome that,” explained Heidinger.

Stroud’s case is the third lesbian clergy trial in the 8.3-million member United Methodist Church. In the first of such cases, the Rev. rose Mary Denman of New Hampshire was found guilty and was defrocked in 1987. The second case was that of Rev. Karen Dammann whose acquittal sparked a firestorm of controversy within the denomination.