Parishioners at the church where the Reverend Karen Dammann used to preach say the lesbian minister, acquitted in a church trial that could have ended her career, has taught them about the power of truth. "She did a courageous thing and a difficult thing," said Charlie McKinney, a choir member at First United Methodist Church in Ellensburg, Wash., where the congregation celebrated Sunday, a day after Dammann's acquittal.
Dammann says she's drawn strength from worshippers at the church in this central Washington town, several of whom attended her three-day church trial in Bothell, 95 miles away. "The people of the congregation have been incredible to us," Dammann said Saturday after a jury of 13 pastors cleared her of a charge of practices "incompatible with Christian teachings" for declaring she is a lesbian in a committed relationship.
During the trial, the church prosecutor argued that Dammann, by her own admission, violated the church's Book of Discipline. Church law prohibits the ordination of so-called self-avowed, practicing homosexuals, although the church's social principles support gay rights and liberties.
Dammann--who married her partner of nine years, Meredith Savage, in Oregon earlier this month--did not attend Sunday's service. She said they and their 5-year-old son, Beckett, planned to lie low with family in Oregon for several days. She hopes to eventually return to her Ellensburg congregation as pastor. She's been on family leave for more than two years, caring for her son, who has a respiratory illness.
Dammann, 47, declared her sexual orientation in February 2001, when she sought a new church appointment. After receiving Dammann's letter, Bishop Elias Galvan, under church orders, filed a complaint against her. The United Methodist clergy of the Pacific Northwest Conference voted to retain Dammann, but the denomination's Judicial Council reversed that decision last fall.
The United Methodist Church, the nation's third-largest Protestant denomination with 8.5 million U.S. members, has struggled publicly with the issue of gay and lesbian members since 1972. In that year, the General Conference declared gays and lesbians to be "persons of sacred worth" but found the "practice" of homosexuality "incompatible with Christian teaching."
Still, the denomination's social principles support gay rights and liberties. Since the late 1980s, Pacific Northwest church leaders have petitioned to ease policies on gays and lesbians at each of the denomination's General Conferences, held every four years. During past international conventions, most attendees have opposed change.