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Reinstatement does not reverse church’s standards, bishops say

May 2, 2005

WASHINGTON (UMNS) — A decision to reinstate a United Methodist pastor who lost her clergy credentials in December under church law concerning the practice of homosexuality "does not in any way reverse the standards in our Book of Discipline," according to the denomination’s Council of Bishops.

In a statement issued May 1 as the bishops gathered for their spring meeting in Washington, the council’s executive committee said the April 29 decision of the Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals was based on legal error, not lack of evidence. "This means that the reasons for the guilty verdict were not questioned, but the case was reversed on two questions of legal process," the statement said.

Irene Elizabeth "Beth" Stroud of Philadelphia appealed her case after a trial court of the United Methodist Church’s Eastern Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference found her guilty on Dec. 2 of violating church law, which forbids the ordination and appointment of "self-avowed practicing homosexuals."

Stroud continued to work at First United Methodist Church of Germantown in Philadelphia as a lay person when the court stripped her of her clergy credentials. She had informed her congregation in April 2003 that she was living in a committed relationship with another woman,

In its ruling, the appeals committee set aside both the verdict and penalty, which automatically reinstated Stroud to clergy status. It upheld part of the trial court’s finding but overturned the verdict in an 8-1 vote, citing legal errors in the trial.

The Eastern Pennsylvania Conference has 30 days to file an appeal of the committee’s decision to the Judicial Council, the denomination’s supreme court.

In an April 29 statement Bishop Marcus Matthews, who presides over the conference, said, "We will now take time to thoroughly and thoughtfully digest the Committee on Appeals decision and will take into consideration United Methodist Church law and Judicial Council rulings as we consider our options and make a decision on how to proceed."

The Council of Bishops encouraged church members "to be patient with the important legal processes involved" and pointed out that the appeal process "is an important part of our Book of Discipline."

The full statement follows:

As the Council of Bishops gathers today in Washington, DC for our spring meeting, we will continue to focus on "Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world." Most of our meeting will center upon sharpening this focus, including sharing reports from each bishop's Area about our progress in making disciples.

However, the announcement of the results of the hearing by the Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals in the Beth Stroud case has been received, and we as the Executive Committee of the Council of Bishops want to encourage all United Methodists to be patient with the important legal processes involved.

The Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals has reversed the Stroud trial decision based upon some technicalities. It also found that "the evidence in support of the charge was overwhelming and would be sustained in the absence of a legal error." The committee concluded that "legal error vitiates the verdict on two independent grounds." This means that the reasons for the guilty verdict were not questioned, but the case was reversed on two questions of legal process. The Eastern Pennsylvania Conference has thirty days to appeal this decision.

The decision of the Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals does not in any way reverse the standards in our Book of Discipline. In fact, the appeal process is an important part of our Book of Discipline.

We as the Executive Committee of the Council, affirm our commitment to uphold all of the provisions of our Book of Discipline, while inviting everyone to join us in patience and prayer for a just and fair outcome.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.