Church law too vague to convict lesbian pastor, expert says
March 20 2004 1:00 AM ET
Clergymen testifying on behalf of a Methodist minister being tried by the church for declaring herself a lesbian said the law is too vague to be enforced. The Reverend Karen Dammann, 47, is charged with "practices declared by the United Methodist Church to be incompatible to Christian teachings." Church law prohibits ordination of practicing lesbians or gays. Dammann has pleaded not guilty and is being tried before a jury of 13 pastors. Nine votes are needed for conviction, which could mean the loss of her ministry. Dammann has said she will not testify.
Retired bishop Jack Tuell testified on Thursday that church law and the social principles on which it is based are ambiguous. "It is my opinion that the United Methodist Church has never declared the
practice of homosexuality to be incompatible with Christian teaching," said Tuell, who has a law degree and wrote a book on Methodist Church law. At a news conference, the Reverend Jim Finkbeiner, church counsel, said Tuell's testimony would not sway the jury. "His testimony is simply his opinions about the law," Finkbeiner said. Several other church leaders also testified that the law is unclear and at times
in conflict with itself, said Dammann's lawyer, Lindsay Thompson. "The law is faulty as written, to the point of being unenforceable," Thompson said.
Dammann, on leave as pastor of First United Methodist Church in Ellensburg, Wash., 95 miles east of Seattle, said gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve as ministers. "God called me into ordained ministry, and I just can't believe that God makes a mistake," she said during a break in the trial. Dammann sent a letter to church officials acknowledging her sexual orientation three years ago. Last week she married her partner of nine years, Meredith Savage, in Portland, Ore., where officials began allowing gay marriages earlier this month. The couple has a 5-year-old son.
The jury also heard testimony on the church's earlier struggle over admitting minorities to the ministry and how that debate paralleled the turmoil over gays. "I, being an African-American, was incompatible, both in the nation and within the church," said retired reverend Gilbert Caldwell. He said the church must move on from its focus on homosexuality when there are more important issues facing the ministry, such as hunger and war.
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