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Appeals committee upholds decision in lesbian pastor case

1/31/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

By United Methodist News Service

A United Methodist appeals committee has upheld the dismissal of a charge against a pastor who had disclosed that she was living in a same-gender relationship.

The United Methodist Church's Western Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals, meeting Jan. 29-30 in Seattle, voted 4-3 to affirm the dismissal of the charge against the Rev. Karen Dammann. The ruling upholds a July 24 decision by the Pacific Northwest Annual (regional) Conference Committee on Investigation.

A member of the Pacific Northwest Conference, Dammann had informed her bishop in 2001 that she was living in a "partnered, covenanted, homosexual relationship." Bishop Elias Galvan, who leads the Seattle-based conference, later filed a complaint against Dammann at the direction of the Judicial Council, the denomination's top court. He cited "practices declared by the United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings." While affirming gays as people of sacred worth, the denomination's Book of Discipline forbids the ordination and appointment of self-avowed practicing homosexuals in the United Methodist Church.

In handling Galvan's complaint, the committee on investigation determined that reasonable grounds did not exist for moving the matter to a clergy trial. The bishop then asked the committee on appeals to determine whether "egregious errors of church law or administration" warranted overturning that decision.

"The Western Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals finds there were not egregious errors committed and affirms the action of the committee on investigation in the matter of Karen Dammann," the Jan. 30 ruling stated.

"I know that this decision may be difficult for some people to understand," Galvan said in a statement after the ruling. "The church has a very rigorous judicial process. We have faithfully followed that process, and I respect the outcome."

Dammann was pleased with the ruling and told United Methodist News Service that she will seek an appointment to a Pacific Northwest congregation for the next church year, which begins July 1.

"I am very happy," she said Jan. 31. She "breathed a sigh of relief" at the appeals committee's decision, she said.

Dammann is on family leave, living with her partner and their son in Amherst, Mass. The uncertainty surrounding her case had prevented them from moving back across the country to Washington state.

"It seems more likely now there would be stability to the situation, without any threat of various (church legal) procedures hanging over our heads," Dammann said.

She had served congregations in Seattle throughout most of the 1990s before going on leave in 1999. Her request in 2001 for an appointment was put on hold because of church legalities related to her disclosure that she was in a same-gender relationship. She later received an appointment to do a research project for a Seattle church from her home in Amherst, but that assignment ended last year and she has been back on leave since then.

The appeals committee comprises nine lay and clergy members, elected by United Methodist churches from across the western United States. The committee's decisions can only be appealed to the Judicial Council.

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