The date for the second lesbian pastor trial in the United Methodist Church (UMC) this year has been set for Dec. 1. The trial of the Rev. Elizabeth Stroud, a Maryland pastor who is in a sexually active relationship with another woman, will be open to the public and will determine whether her relationship violates the laws of the 8-million member denomination.
The UMC, like most other mainline denominations, has struggled over the contentious issue of homosexual clergy for the past several decades. This year, the denomination’s highest governing body voted to uphold the church law that forbids the ordination of “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals.” The highest judicial body of the church also determined that the practice of homosexuality is a chargeable offense for clergy since the statement that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” is “unambiguous”
The decision of the judicial and governing bodies followed the highly publicized trial and acquittal of an openly lesbian pastor from Washington, Karen Dammann, in March. During her controversial trial, the jury decided that the Biblical and church teachings against homosexuality were “ambiguous” and could therefore not determine whether Dammann was guilty, despite the fact that she herself admitted her being in a sexual relationship with another woman; her acquittal, as expected, spawned a higher level of dissention between the traditional Methodists who vie to uphold the church law and the liberals who fight for gay “rights”. The touchy debate nearly split the denomination into two parts.
Stroud’s case, therefore, comes at a highly sensitive moment in the history of the UMC.
Stroud has been an associate pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Germantown since 1999. Last April, she told her congregation that she was living in a “covenanted relationship” with her lesbian partner, effectively asking for a trial.
"I knew when I preached that sermon that this day might well come," Stroud said. "I'm spiritually and mentally as prepared as I can be."
The trial, which will be open to the public and news media via Stroud’s request, will take place at Camp Innabah, a Methodist retreat center in Spring City, Maryland.
The retired bishop Joseph H. Yeakel of Smithburg, MD., will preside at the trial; the jury of 13 pastors will be drawn from the UMC’s 16-county Eastern Pennsylvania Conference.
Stroud chose to be represented by the Rev. J. Dennis Williams, a retired Methodist pastor, and Alan Symonette, a civil lawyer and labor arbitrator; her congregation set up a “legal defense fund” for her case.