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United Methodist Church Deals Multiple Blows to Homosexual Agenda

UMC Court Deals Multiple Blows to Homosexual Agenda in the Church Stroud's Credentials Stripped Again; Also, Minister's Right to Bar Homosexual's Membership Upheld

By Jim Brown and Jenni Parker
November 1, 2005

(AgapePress) - The Judicial Council, the United Methodist Church's highest court, handed down another defeat to homosexual activists in the denomination yesterday when it defrocked Beth Stroud, a lesbian minister from Pennsylvania, for violating the UMC ban on "self-avowed, practicing, homosexuals" in ordained ministry.

At its regular fall meeting October 26-29, the United Methodist Judicial Council overturned the earlier appellate court ruling that had reinstated Stroud and once again withdrew her ministry credentials. It was one of several cases involving homosexuality that the court considered during the meeting.

Another of these cases involved a conservative Virginia clergyman, Pastor Ed Johnson, who had been suspended without pay for denying church membership to an unrepentant homosexual. Johnson was serving as senior pastor at South Hill (Virginia) UMC up until last June, when he was required to take an involuntary leave of absence.

According to United Methodist News Service reports, Johnson had been meeting with a man who wanted to transfer his membership from another denomination. However, after extensive discussion about the prospective member's homosexuality, the minister ultimately refused to receive the man into membership, saying he refused either to repent or to seek to live a different lifestyle.

A Discipline Question or Clerical Authority Issue? The associate pastor of South Hill UMC disagreed with Johnson's decision and contacted the district superintendent. This began a disciplinary process that eventually resulted in the senior pastor's suspension, formalized through a vote of his fellow ministers at the 2005 clergy session of the Virginia Annual Conference.

As a result of requests for rulings of law from Virginia Bishop Charlene P. Kammerer, Johnson's case came before the Judicial Council, which examines all UMC bishops' decisions of law. Kammerer's contention was that the United Methodist Book of Discipline "requires" membership for the homosexual man seeking to join the South Hill congregation.

The bishop accused Rev. Johnson of singling out one sinful behavior to exclude the man and of offering him "second-class citizenship" by inviting him to participate in church without allowing him to join. During the oral arguments in the case, she told the court that the church "should err on the side of grace" in deciding whether to accept homosexuals into membership.

Nevertheless, in both cases, the Judicial Council reversed Kammerer's decisions. The church court ruled that Johnson should be reinstated and that Bishop Kammerer had overstepped the authority of her office in punishing the pastor.

In one of the rulings issued in the case, the Council addressed due process problems in the way the Virginia clergyman was disciplined. And in the other, more sweeping decision, the court declared that the United Methodist Book of Discipline "invests discretion in the pastor-in-charge to make determination of a person's readiness to affirm the vows of membership."

A Ruling of Historic Significance for the Church Although the defrocking of the lesbian pastor in Pennsylvania is the culmination of a lengthy, controversial, and highly-publicized matter, Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) feels the ruling in the other case is unparalleled in the Judicial Council's history. "The Ed Johnson decision was probably more significant than the Beth Stroud decision in that it had very little precedent," he says.

The very fact that the UMC court addressed this issue was historic, Tooley asserts. "Basically the Judicial Council said that local church pastors do have discretion in terms of who they accept into membership," he explains. Bishop Kammerer, on the other hand, had said no Methodist minister "has the authority to exclude anyone from joining the church."

However, the IRD spokesman says the Judicial Council ruling contradicted the Virginia bishop's opinion. Instead, he notes, the court said Kammerer "was exceeding her authority when she, in essence, told Reverend Johnson that he must accept the openly homosexual man as a church member -- or that, in essence ... all pastors must accept all applicants for church membership."

The Judicial Council ruled that Johnson must be immediately reinstated to the status he held before he was placed on suspension and that he be once again entitled to receive appointments. The court also required that the Virginia Annual Conference of the denomination reimburse the pastor for all salary and benefits lost during his four-month suspension.

END

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