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Few clergy lose credentials in public cases


Editor's note: Information on the Beth Stroud case has been updated.

5:00 P.M. EDT June 24, 2011

Former United Methodist pastor Jimmy Creech leaves Peace United Methodist Church in Kaukauna, Wis., after the first day of the Rev. Amy DeLong's church trial.  A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.
Former United Methodist pastor Jimmy Creech leaves Peace United Methodist Church in Kaukauna, Wis., after the first day of the Rev. Amy DeLong's church trial. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.
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At least six different times during the past 20 years, disciplinary action against clergy accused of violations of the discipline or law of The United Methodist Church took place in a public forum. It is possible that more than six such cases have occurred. However, the accused determines whether the accusations and trial will be made public. Here is a brief overview.

Jimmy Creech—1997

Jimmy Creech, a pastor in Nebraska, was charged with “disobedience to the order and discipline of the denomination” for performing a same-sex ceremony in September 1997. After a Jan. 23, 1998, hearing, the committee on investigation of the Nebraska Annual (regional) Conference determined that Creech’s case should go to a church trial.

On March 13, 1998, Creech was acquitted of the charges.

The jury voted 8-5 in ruling that Creech violated church discipline, but nine votes were necessary to convict. Creech was reinstated as pastor of First United Methodist Church in Omaha and preached the next Sunday.

Greg Dell—1998

Greg Dell
Greg Dell

The Rev. Greg Dell, a clergyman from Illinois who had been “a member in good standing” since 1970, was charged with “disobedience to the order and discipline of the denomination” for performing a same-sex ceremony in September 1998.

On March 26, 1999, after a church trial, Dell was found guilty and was suspended indefinitely effective July of that year unless he signed a pledge agreeing not to perform same-sex ceremonies or “until the church no longer prohibited the action.” Dell refused, saying such a pledge would be a “violation” of his ministry.

The North Central Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals amended the suspension to one year and, on July 1, 2000, Dell returned to a local church pastorate. He is now retired.

Jimmy Creech—1999

While on leave of absence and living in North Carolina, Creech performed a same-sex ceremony in Chapel Hill in April 1999. The Nebraska Conference’s committee on investigation once again determined that Creech should face trial.

On Nov. 17, 1999, Creech was convicted in a unanimous vote of “blatantly disobeying the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church” and was immediately stripped of his credentials as an ordained United Methodist minister.

Karen Dammann
Karen Dammann
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Karen Dammann—2001

Mark Williams—2001

In December 2001, now-retired Bishop Elias Galvan, who was then episcopal leader of the Seattle Area, announced he had filed complaints against the Rev. Karen Dammann and the Rev. Mark Edward Williams, both members of the Pacific Northwest Conference. The filing followed a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council in October 2001 that the admission of being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” was sufficient cause for a pastor to undergo a ministerial review.

In February of that year, Dammann, a pastor in the Seattle area, sent a letter to Galvan saying that she was in a “partnered, covenanted, homosexual relationship.” The Pacific Northwest Annual Conference’s committee on investigation dismissed the complaint in July 2002.

The committee on investigation’s dismissal was twice appealed by the church to the Western Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals. After the appeals committee both times upheld the committee on investigation’s action, the case made its way to the Judicial Council, which overturned both committees’ decisions and ordered a new investigation.

In January 2004, the committee on investigation forwarded charges for trial.

Dammann was acquitted on March 20, 2004, of the single charge of committing “practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings.”

In April, General Conference 2004 asked the Judicial Council for two rulings related to the case. In Decision 984, the council said the practice of homosexuality is a chargeable offense under the 2000 Book of Discipline. In Decision 985, it said it did not have the authority to review the findings of the trial court when the appeal came from the church. It also said a bishop may not appoint one who has been found by a trial court to be a self-avowed practicing homosexual.

In June 2001, Williams, then pastor of Woodland Park United Methodist Church in Seattle, announced during the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference session that he was gay. After a May 30, 2002, hearing, the conference committee on investigation dismissed the complaint against Williams. “In a statement, the committee said it ‘found there was not reasonable cause to forward this matter for a church trial.’” After the dismissal, Williams told United Methodist News Service that the statement he had made to the annual conference referred only to his sexual orientation and “at no point have I ever intended to discuss my sexual behavior.”

Beth Stroud—2004

In April 2003, Irene Elizabeth “Beth” Stroud, a clergywoman in Philadelphia, announced in a letter to her congregation that she was “a lesbian living in a committed relationship with a partner.” In July 2003, Stroud acknowledged to the Eastern Pennsylvania committee on investigation that the relationship included sexual contact.

On Dec. 2, 2004, a trial court, in a 12-1 decision, found Stroud guilty of engaging in “practices that are incompatible with Christian teachings.” In the penalty phase, the jury voted 7-6 to immediately strip Stroud of her credentials. She remained on staff at First United Methodist Church of Germantown as a layperson.

Stroud announced on Dec. 27, 2004, that she would appeal the court’s decision.

On April 29, 2005, the Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals upheld part of the trial court’s finding but overturned the verdict in an 8-1 vote, citing legal errors.

The appeals committee wrote, “The verdict and the penalty are reversed and set aside.” However, it said, “The evidence in support of the charge was overwhelming and would be sustained in the absence of legal error.”

The decision reinstated her clergy standing, but Stroud said she would not exercise the ministry of an ordained person until “the whole process is concluded.”

Eastern Pennsylvania Bishop Marcus Matthews then appealed that decision to Judicial Council. On Oct. 29, 2005, the Judicial Council permanently removed Stroud’s credentials, reversing the appellate court’s decision and stating she had been accorded fair and due process.

* Snell is a United Methodist Communications intern, and Noble is editor of Interpreter and Interpreter OnLine.

News media contact: Kathy Noble, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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  • HHH_AAA 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    in every of these cases those accused ADMITTED their behavior. It is amazing how these bodies still voted in their favor.
  • piousperch 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    I'm fed up with "holier than thou" people in the institutional church who would criticize a widowed minister desiring to marry again.  (His fiancee was a good woman in her early thirties, never married.)  We were married at a minister's home.  The hypocrites then criticized the couple for not having a church wedding!  I've found more genuine Christian charity among agnostic scientists, and wonder why it took me so long to accept my true calling as a chemist.

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