The hotly debated trial of an openly lesbian United Methodist Church pastor began at 9:30 a.m. with the private jury selection session, March 17, 2004. In the past, clergy members who officiate same-sex marriages and/or practice homosexual acts have been found guilty in similar church-court rulings.
Rev. Karen Dammann, who formerly served in Seattle and most recently at Ellensburg United Methodist Church, is accused of breaking church law prohibiting the ordination of "self-avowed practicing homosexuals."
She is thereby charged with "practices declared by the United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings."
The initial complaint was filed against Dammann after she informed her bishop that she was "living in a partnered, covenanted homosexual relationship, in Feb 2001. For more than two years that followed, the complaint wound its way through the denomination's judicial processes.
When the Judicial Council heard the case for a second time in October 2003, it reversed the decisions of two lower-ranking church bodies, the Western Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals and the Pacific Northwest Conference Committee on Investigation. In split votes, both committees had supported the dismissal of charges against Dammann.
The Judicial Council said both committees had committed "an egregious error of church law" by refusing to apply the Book of Discipline and the council's earlier decisions to the case. The court ordered the jurisdictional appeals committee to send the case back to the conference committee on investigation for a new hearing. The Judicial Council also said it was retaining jurisdiction of the matter. After further hearings, the committee on investigation voted 5-2 on Jan. 12 that grounds existed for a church trial.
The trial, which will officially begin at 1p.m. is open to the public.
Presiding over the trial is Bishop William Boyd Grove of Charleston, W.Va, who served the UMCs West Virginia and Albany, N.Y., areas before retiring in 1996.
Grove presided over the 1999 clergy trial of Jimmy Creech, who was charged with violating church law by officiating at same-sex union services. Creech, who had already undergone a clergy trial in 1998 for similar charges, was found guilty in 1999 and lost his ministerial orders.
The jurors and judge will most likely consider the 1987 case where Rose Mary Denman of New Hampshire underwent a trial after declaring that she was a lesbian. The church court found her guilty, and she consequently lost her clergy credentials.
Nine of thirteen jury votes are needed to convict Damman; seven votes are necessary to set the penalty. If she is found not guilty and decides to return to active ministry, she would need to request a change of status according to procedures in the Book of Discipline.