Judicial Council sends gay pastor case back to committee
A sidebar, UMNS story #512, is available with this report.
By Joretta Purdue*SAN
DIEGO (UMNS) - The United Methodist Church's supreme court has sent a
case involving an openly gay clergywoman back to an appellate committee,
with instructions for that group to follow the denomination's Book of
The case involves the Rev. Karen Dammann, a member of
the Pacific Northwest Annual (regional) Conference, who told Bishop
Elias Galvan in a February 2001 letter that she was living in a
"partnered, covenanted, homosexual relationship."
Methodist Judicial Council, meeting Oct. 22-24, said the rules in the
Book of Discipline must be upheld throughout the church's judicial
process. The book forbids the ordination and appointment of self-avowed
"Where the agreed facts concede a
practice which the Discipline declares to be incompatible with Christian
teaching, reasonable grounds exist to bring a bill of charges and
specifications, and it is an egregious error of church law not to bring
such a bill of charges and specifications," the council said.
council's decision reversed an earlier decision by the Western
Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals and set aside the Pacific Northwest
Annual Conference Committee on Investigation's vote not to certify a
bill of charges in the case of the Rev. Karen Dammann. The case was
remanded to the appellate committee with instructions that it be sent
back to the conference committee on investigation for a new hearing.
Elias G. Galvan, resident bishop of the Pacific Northwest Annual
Conference, where Dammann is a clergy member, filed a complaint against
Dammann based on the letter she wrote to him in 2001. In her letter,
Dammann asked to return from family leave to active ministry.
July 24, 2002, hearing before the conference committee on investigation
didn't produce the five votes necessary to bring charges. Likewise, the
jurisdictional committee on appeals was split too narrowly to overrule
the conference committee.
Judicial Council member Sally Curtis
AsKew added a concurring opinion in which she said that while she agreed
that the decision reflects current church law in the Book of
Discipline, she felt it necessary to state "that I do disagree with the
pronouncements on homosexuality contained in our present Discipline."
No dissenting opinion was issued by the eight council members present. A ninth, Sally Geis, remained at home following surgery.
The Judicial Council held oral hearings on this matter and on two docket items from the California-Pacific Annual Conference.
items from that annual conference concerned the administrative and
judicial processes affecting clergy. In one of these, the council said
that a written request by district superintendents - to put a
clergyperson on involuntary leave - does not constitute a complaint that
would activate either process.
In a related item, the council
ruled that at the start of the supervisory process, a respondent has the
right to seek and keep a copy of the complaint against him or her and
any supporting material. Two people from the California-Pacific Annual
Conference expressed their understandings about both these issues in
oral hearings before the council deliberated.
request was decided as follows: "Where administrative or judicial
proceedings are pending, a clergyperson has the right to select, and
when warranted change, his or her advocate. All persons involved in
administrative or judicial proceedings are bound by confidentiality."
fourth item from the same conference related to the rights of "local
pastors," a group of clergy whose ministerial credentials are tied to
the charge where they are appointed. The item was deferred to the
council's spring session, which will be at the site of General
Conference in Pittsburgh.
In a declaratory decision, the council
advised the East Ohio Annual Conference that the Discipline allows
local pastors to become elders without having a bachelor's degree if
they meet all other requirements. Local pastors have specific
educational requirements set forth in Paragraph 315.6 of the 2000 Book
of Discipline, the council said. They do not need to complete a
bachelor's degree to become probationary members and be commissioned in
the annual conference.
Kansas West Annual Conference had asked
about the legality of a plan the conference adopted to compensate women
pastors for past gender-based inequities. While the council saw no
illegality in the concept, the conference was directed to amend the plan
to take into account individual performance. The amended plan must have
the council's approval before it can go into effect.
docket items grew out of bishops' decisions of law in the various annual
conferences. When bishops respond to questions about church law during
the annual conference sessions, their decisions automatically go to the
Judicial Council for review.
The council affirmed Bishop J.
Lawrence McCleskey's decision that a question about applying the
church's open meeting rule to the clergy session of the South Carolina
Annual Conference was improper because it was not germane to the
deliberation of a specific conference action.
In a West Michigan
Annual Conference matter, the council told Bishop Linda Lee that she had
no authority to remove or renominate people on the conference board of
ordained ministry during the term for which they were elected. A pastor
while under suspension continues to serve on the board because the
Discipline does not provide for removal, the council decided.
council agreed with Bishop Jonathan Keaton that the East Ohio Annual
Conference has the authority to redesignate its Pension Reserve Account
as the Conference Pension and Health Reserve Account, but the court said
the conference must first fund its pre-1982 past service account (for
clergy with service prior to 1982) to meet the donor intent of the
1988-92 fund campaign, the proceeds of which were placed in the reserve
The council affirmed Bishop Sharon A. Brown
Christopher's decision of law that the Illinois Great Rivers Annual
Conference housing policy for conference staff does not violate the
church's constitution and laws.
The council also affirmed Bishop
Susan W. Hassinger's decision, in the New England Annual Conference,
that a purported question of law from the board of the Houlton (Maine)
United Methodist Church was moot and hypothetical, and not to be
answered, because it did not pertain to the business of the annual
The East Ohio Annual Conference Sexual Ethics
Policy for Clergy was found to be in compliance as passed at the 2003
conference session, and the conference received permission for
In another docket item from the Western New York
annual Conference, the council noted that it does not have jurisdiction
because the matter was not a question of law but pertained to a
# # #
*Purdue is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Washington.
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