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United Methodists find lesbian guilty of violating church law

PUGHTOWN, Pa. (BP)–The United Methodist Church has found a woman minister guilty of “practices incompatible with Christian teaching” and revoked her credentials after she announced she was participating in a homosexual relationship.

A jury of 13 United Methodist clergy members voted 12-1 to convict Beth Stroud Dec. 2. Stroud, who had been an associate pastor at Philadelphia’s First United Methodist Church in Germantown since 1999, also lost her ministerial credentials.

UMC law expects clergy to be celibate if single or monogamous in heterosexual marriage and forbids the participation of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” in the ordained ministry.

“We do not like bringing charges against a colleague, but the [UMC] Book of Discipline is very clear about what it means to be an ordained United Methodist minister,” Thomas Hall, lead counsel for the church, told United Methodist News Service after the trial. “It is terrible that we had to bring charges, but this was about accountability — holding ministers accountable to appropriate behavior.”

The vote to withdraw Stroud’s credentials was 7-6, which she said was encouraging.

“In the divided vote, I feel the dividedness of the church, but I feel hopeful,” she said, adding that the trial should serve as a “teaching moment” for the denomination and that “in time and through God’s spirit,” the church’s laws on homosexuality could be changed.

Fred Day, senior pastor of the Germantown church, testified that Stroud had been faithful in her duties as a minister and should be allowed to keep her credentials based on her record as a leader in the church.

“This is not the United Methodist Church of our past heritage or best future, to be driven by rigid rules and regulations, but by ever-widening circles of grace,” he said after the trial.

Mark Tooley, director of the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s United Methodist program, welcomed the jury’s verdict.

“It’s good news that a United Methodist court strongly upheld church law,” he said in a news release. “This dramatically shows that the United Methodist Church is not going in the direction of the Episcopal Church. We will not surrender to the popular culture on matters of sexual ethics, which would result in the inevitable fracturing of our 8.3-million-member denomination.”

During the trial, Stroud said she had been willing to be truthful about her sexual orientation during the interviews leading to ordination, but no one ever questioned her.

“How sad that this case required a trial,” Tooley said. “And how sad for Beth Stroud that no authoritative church figure during her ordination process or during her pastorate, until she ‘came out’ to her bishop, ever effectively counseled her about the church’s policies. Those who winked at Stroud’s defiance of church policies did neither her nor the church any favors.

“In a culture awash with sexual confusion, which particularly affects the young, it is especially important for the church to make a clear witness about sexual ethics,” Tooley added. “We should expect this of our Christian leaders, especially our clergy.”

Stroud has 30 days following the trial to decide whether to appeal the jury’s decision.

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