Karen Dammann--the lesbian pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Ellensburg, Wash., about 100 miles from Seattle--will face a church trial for disclosing that she is living in a "covenanted homosexual relationship." This could lead to her removal after the church's Northwest Committee on Investigation voted 5-2 to pursue a complaint against her.
The council's decision came on an appeal from Dammann's bishop, Elias Galvan, the one to whom she had disclosed her committed relationship with a woman in 2001. The couple have a young son. The church's Book of Discipline bars "self-avowed, practicing homosexuals" from being ordained or serving as pastors on grounds that being gay or lesbian is incompatible with church teaching. Ruling in the case in October, the Judicial Council said it was "an egregious error" not to pursue charges when church law
Dammann was out of town and could not be reached for comment, but a news release from the denomination's Seattle office quoted her as saying that "trying someone for being gay is bound to shake the tree--I hope in the direction of inclusiveness." The time and location of the trial will be decided after Galvan names a presiding officer--likely not before the end of the month, said Seattle church spokeswoman Elaine Stanovsky. Galvan and other church officials also will select a pool of 35 ministers from which 12 jurors and an alternate will be selected.
The Judicial Council retained jurisdiction in the case after ordering it returned to the regional committee, said Dammann's attorney, Lindsay Thompson of Seattle, "which means they can continue to involve themselves in it." While it would appear a decision against his client is likely, Thompson said Thursday, "God moves in mysterious ways sometimes.... I'm sure the committee struggled with it, since two members voted no anyway."
The local committee reached its decision Monday but has not yet provided a bill of charges, Thompson said. Stanovsky said it was not yet available for public scrutiny. There's no question Dammann's congregation supports her, Stanovsky told the United Methodist News Service: "The overwhelming majority of the church is supportive of Karen's ministry and want her to continue as their pastor."
"In terms of the core issues, we have an uphill battle," Thompson said of the upcoming trial. "But I think--and Karen has said this as well--whatever happens will be good for the denomination because it's going to force a broad airing of these issues," which have been the subject of an active debate within the church "for many years."
"This case has become bigger than Karen now because of the way the church has handled it," he said, adding that some church members feel the council may have overreached its authority by "setting itself up as the arbiter of ministerial qualifications on the local level."
Church officials have said the trial would be the first against a gay or lesbian pastor since 1987, when the credentials of the Reverend Rose Mary Denman of New Hampshire were revoked.