An appeals committee of the Methodist Church has upheld a decision to dismiss a complaint against a lesbian pastor. The Reverend Karen Dammann, whose revelation of her sexual orientation spurred a complaint against her, expects to return to the Northwest this summer to serve. The 4-3 decision Thursday by the appeals committee means that Dammann, a former pastor at Woodland Park United Methodist Church in Seattle, will not face a church trial. The United Methodist Church's Western Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals voted to uphold an earlier decision to dismiss a complaint against Dammann, who had been accused of violating a church law that prohibits "self-avowed, practicing homosexuals" from being ordained or serving as pastors.
"We're very happy with the decision and happy to see the appeals committee uphold the investigative committee," Dammann, 46, said by phone from her current home near Amherst, Mass. She took a family leave to move to Amherst with her partner, Meredith Savage, 43, in 2000 to help look after Savage's mother. The couple have a 4 1/2-year-old son, Beckett. Dammann expects to hear by summer where her appointment will be within Washington State and northern Idaho, the area covered by the church's Pacific Northwest Conference.
In February 2001, Dammann wrote in a letter to Bishop Elias Galvan, head of the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Methodist Church, that she was in a "partnered, covenanted, homosexual relationship." Under church orders, the bishop filed a complaint against her. An investigative committee of the conference dismissed it. The church appealed on the grounds that "the facts were so overwhelmingly obvious that to not refer to trial was an egregious error," wrote the Reverend Marv Vose, chairman of the Western Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals. Vose and two others wrote in the dissenting opinion that the committee had "made an egregious error of church law by dismissing the complaint." However, the majority opinion favored the broad discretion given to the investigative committee and the inappropriateness of the appeals committee to second-guess those decisions.
"The current legal position of the United Methodist Church is morally and theologically untenable," said the Reverend Jeff Procter-Murphy of Phoenix, a member of the committee. "It encourages duplicity and disqualifies those who are open and honest. The church has long ordained and been well served by gays and, more recently, lesbians. There is nothing extraordinary about this case. The Reverend Karen Dammann should not be punished but commended for her courage and honesty." The latest decision can be appealed only to the church's Judicial Council, its highest court.