Wesley Blog recently responded to my piece on Rev. Beth Stroud, a United Methodist pastor who is facing a church trial because she is an open lesbian. A number of issues were raised but I thought I'd focus on the crux of the matter. Should she receive censure by a church jury? We both agree that the General Conference is clear in it's rejection of gay and lesbian ordained leadership. And there is no question about her sexual orientation either. So for a jury to not censure her would be to reject the position of the national body. Is this legitimate?
If it's in a jury's power to render such a verdict, then they must be excercising a power which the denomination has given it. So it's not a case of being in violation of the requirements of such a body. But it still is going against the democratic decisions which were made at General Conference. This makes me hesitant to be sure. But what if these decisions were themselves immoral? If so, the nature of obligation to such decisions are at least called into question. Why would they be immoral?
They would be immoral to the degree that they make gay and lesbian members of the church into second class citizens. To the degree that they rob a congregation of a much beloved pastor. I know my bias as a congregationalist is showing. To the degree that they fail to evaluate the nature of individual relationships as opposed to debates on sexual labels. To the degree that the church fails to build up and support loving, committed, mutual relationships because they don't follow patterns set up in the past. To the degree that such decisions send the message that certain people are not wanted in the church.
Do I hope that a jury does not follow the decisions of the General Conference in such an instance? Clearly this issue has been a source of pain and hostilities in the denomination. An innocent verdict would bring up these issues again in a manner which has torn people apart. And this is not a good thing. But I don't think I can endorse a peace, a sort of lack of conflict that fails to address such a fundamental wrong. A peace which would sacrafice this minister's work and ministry and which is secured by continuing to exclude folks from the church is no peace at all.
My hope is that such trials would become a thing of the past. Trials are not a place, for either side, to work over these issues. I suppose that makes me a supporter of a local option. I think if there is a desire for a denomination which can include folks from across the spectrum, such an option needs to be more closely examined. But for now I'll make a plug for the Beth Stroud Legal Defense Fund, which is working to defray the personal costs of this trial. If you want to help out send by a check to the First United Methodist Church of Germantown. Please make sure to indicate “Beth Stroud Legal Fund.” on the check. FUMCOG 6023 Germantown Avenue Philadelphia, PA 19144