The United Methodist Churchs highest court defrocked a lesbian minister, overturning a lower panels ruling that had reversed the penalty, and reinstated a pastor who was placed on involuntary leave for refusing to admit a homosexual person into membership, the church announced on Monday.
Elizabeth Stroud was accorded all fair and due process rights and the regulation of the practice of homosexuality does not violate the provisions of the denominations constitution, the ruling read.
Conservatives within the Methodist Church applauded the ruling and said it is proof that the denominations systems and processes are working correctly.
We were pleased to see the Judicial Council action though we were not surprised, said James V. Heidinger II, President of the conservative Good News United Methodist magazine and group. I think the churchs processes have worked as they should have and so we are grateful.
The decision by the nine-member Judicial Council finalizes Strouds case and marks the latest development over an issue that has divided some of the largest Christian denominations.
Strouds case began in early 2004 when she revealed during a sermon at the First United Methodist Church in Germantown, Penn., that she is living in a sexually active relationship with a female partner. She was stripped of her ministerial credentials in December 2004 by a lower court that found her guilty of violating the churchs Book of Discipline, which forbids the ordination and appointment of self-avowed practicing homosexuals.
Stroud appealed the ruling, and in April the Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals reversed and set aside the verdict, nullifying the penalty on technical matters. The Judicial Council decision, which was made Saturday, upholds the initial lower court ruling.
According to Heidinger, the entire process was handled in a compassionate and caring manner.
The churchs standards have been worked out with an effort to be compassionate with persons that were dealing with the issue of homosexuality, said Heidinger. We acknowledged that they are persons of sacred worth, but the focus is on the practice, and the church has said for two thousand years that the practice is incompatible with Christian teachings.
Accordingly, in its decision, the Judicial Council included a paragraph acknowledging the sensitivities involved in the case.
The Church continues to struggle with the issue of homosexuality, the ruling stated. While the Judicial Council must be faithful to its charge from the Church we are also sensitive to the hurt, pain and brokenness of the family of God.
Meanwhile, in a separate ruling that same day, the Judicial Council reinstated a Virginia minister who refused church membership to a homosexual person, overturning a decision by a bishop who had placed the minister in an involuntary leave of absence.
The decision of law of Bishop Charlene P. Kammerer is reversed, the Council ruled. This case is remanded to the Virginia Annual Conference to terminate forthwith the involuntary leave of absence of the Elder.
The case involves the Rev. Edward Johnson of South Hill United Methodist Church, who had been on an involuntary yearlong leave since July 1, 2005.
The Judicial Council did not review the ethics of Rev. Johnsons actions, but instead nullified Bishop Kammerers decision on the basis that the bishop had no authority to consider a judicial complaint.
Heidinger said he believed the Judicial Council had done the right thing in considering the rights of the minister.
We expected this ruling to happen as well, said Heidinger. In the case of Ed Johnson, the board of ministry put him on involuntary leave of absence and they removed him from the ministry as if he was guilty of that charge, but there was never a trial. So he was given a verdict, a judgment, a penalty without the right to a trial, which is due all pastors.
We believe the judicial council has helped the church be just and righteous in its administration.