On May 4, 2004, the highest court of the United Methodist Church affirmed that while the Rev. Karen T. Dammann trial will not be reviewed, bishops may not appoint a pastor who has been found by a trial court to be a “self-avowed practicing homosexual.” The ruling, while unclear on the fate of Dammann, greatly clarified the standpoint of the denomination on homosexual clergy.
“Judicial Council Decision No. 985 is one evangelicals can affirm, though the accompanying Dissenting & Concurring Opinion would have been even more welcomed,” wrote ‘focus’ newsletter – a day to day update by evangelical leaders at the Pittsburgh conference.
The nine-member Judicial Council decision essentially held that it had no authority to review the outcome of the Dammann trial, rejecting the motion made on May 1 by the Rev. Maxie Dunnam of the Kentucky Annual Conference delegation, who asked the council for a review of the case and verdict.
Dammann’s case, which ended March 20th at the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference, stirred up much emotion prior to the quadrennial General Conference in Pittsburgh, April 27-May 7. The controversial trial ruled that while Dammann is undoubtedly a “self-avowed practicing homosexual,” she is not guilty of “practices declared by the United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings,” even though the UMC Book of Discipline states that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” are not fit for clergy.
In terms of Dammann, the May 4 ruling stated that the while the practice of homosexuality is a chargeable offense for United Methodist clergy, Dammann would remain on good standing since the recent ruling should be applied “prospectively,” not retroactively.
A bishop may not appoint a clergy person who has been found by a trial court to be a self-avowed practicing homosexual, the ruling continued. "It is, however, up to a trial court to make that determination."
However, according to the Focus Newsletter, Dammann would not be allowed to serve as clergy beginning in the spring when she comes off of family leave, because the Judicial Council clearly ruled, “A bishop may not appoint one who has been found by a trial court to be a self-avowed, practicing homosexual.”
“This adds a great deal of clarity,” said Bishop Janice Riggle Huie of the Arkansas Area. “Whether you agree or disagree with the church’s position on homosexuality, these rulings do make it clear in regard to appointments in future cases. If a trial finds a clergy person to be a ‘self-avowed practicing homosexual,’ then that person cannot be appointed. This makes it absolutely clear.”
Retired Bishop Joseph Yeakel, of Hagerstown, Md., said the ruling “provides instruction to bishops that they may not appoint a ‘self-avowed practicing homosexual.’ Once my colleagues see this in writing, it will be clear to them what they can and cannot do, and they will properly administer the Discipline.”
Should a bishop make such an appointment, Yeakel said, then he or she could be subject to charges of failing to uphold the Book of Discipline. “The council’s first (April 29) ruling was very helpful. Whether we like it or not, it is now clear,” he said.
However, Yeakel said that he believes “that Karen Dammann is eligible for an appointment,” under the new ruling.
Huie was less certain as to Dammann’s future. “The (appointment) situation forward is quite clear,” she said. “The situation with Dammann is less clear.”
“It’s pretty muddy,” Yeakel agreed, after reconsidering.
In addition, there were several developments on the issue of homosexuality yesterday. These developments will be the highest law in the denomination, at least for the next four year until the General Conference meets again. The following is the list provided by the Focus Newsletter on May 4.
138 – Add statement of nondiscrimination over sexual orientation and gender identity in the church – defeated 680-217
161G – Removed “although” from the statement “Although we do not condone the practice of homosexuality” – removed an amendment that “Christians disagree on the compatibility of homosexuality” – passed 527-423
161H – Add language protecting rights for same-gender couples (allow civil unions) and nondiscrimination regardless of sexual orientation – defeated 630-311
304.2 – Delete “fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness” – defeated 763-129
304.3 – Omitted “since” in the statement that “Since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” – passed 674-264
304.3 – Add language that “faithful Christians hold differing positions” – defeated 466-436
304.3 – Change “accepted as a candidate” to “certified as a candidate” and retain rest of original language – passed 484-434
304.4 – Delete “fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness” – defeated 806-95
332 – Allow homosexual unions or marriages – defeated 756-159 (and four additional similar petitions)
611.19 – Conference Council on Finance and Administration is to prevent the expenditure of annual conference funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality – passed 497-418
2702 – Add “performing same-sex wedding ceremonies” as a chargeable offense – passed 455-445