The bishop of the United Methodist Church's Pacific Northwest Conference, a focal point of the church's debate over gays and lesbians in the ministry, has appointed a lesbian pastor to the same congregation that two other openly gay ministers once led. Bishop Elias Galvan has named the Reverend Katie Ladd, currently pastor at Crown Hill United Methodist Church in Seattle, to succeed the Reverend Mark Williams at Seattle's Woodland Park United Methodist Church on July 1. Williams, who disclosed he was gay at the annual gathering of the regional conference in 2001, is leaving to pursue a master's degree in social work at the University of Washington. Church charges against Williams were dropped a year after his disclosure, after an investigative panel decided it had insufficient evidence that he had violated church law. He remains a minister in good standing in the conference, which encompasses Washington and northern Idaho.
Ladd's appointment comes less than three months after the Reverend Karen Dammann, who served as Woodland Park's pastor before Williams, was acquitted at a church trial of violating Methodist rules barring "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" from the ministry. Thirteen fellow pastors in the jury said Methodist laws and teachings against homosexual acts were not strong enough to find that Dammann had engaged in practices that were "incompatible with Christian teaching." The verdict thrilled some and dismayed others in the 8.3 million-member denomination. Ladd, 35, said she's eager to focus on her ministry and doesn't want to cause more division. "I'm not hoping to be in the center of any furor," Ladd, 35, told The Seattle Times. "I simply want to be the best pastor I can for the people to whom I'm assigned and the church to which I'm appointed."
Resolutions aimed at broadening acceptance of gays in the church were defeated when the Methodists' policy-making body met in Pittsburgh in May. Delegates voted to affirm church teaching that gay sex is incompatible with Christian teaching, but they also resoundingly voted down a resolution for the denomination to split because of the rift over homosexuality. The church's highest court chose not to review Dammann's case at the General Conference in Pittsburgh, as some delegates had wanted. It did, however, issue decisions making it easier to enforce the ban on actively gay clergy. The court declared that the practice of homosexuality is a chargeable offense for clergy and that local bishops cannot appoint to ministry positions those found at church trials to be "self-avowed practicing homosexuals."
The Reverend Elaine Stanovsky, spokeswoman for the Northwest Conference, said Galvan and his advisers are "not aware of any reason that Katie Ladd is not fully appointable within the church." "In the United Methodist Church, the way the character of a clergyperson is reviewed is through a complaint process," Stanovsky said. "There is not now, nor has there ever been, a complaint against Katie." Galvan made his decision to appoint Ladd as Woodland Park's pastor on May 7, Stanovsky said, stressing that the process--as with any pastor--was based simply on matching her strengths with the needs of the congregation. "Katie Ladd's sexual orientation has never been the topic of conversation,"
Ladd said she disclosed she was gay three years ago because "it seemed like an appropriate and opportune time to add my voice to an ongoing conversation that we had been having in the annual conference around the issue of homosexuality. I wanted to be honest about who I am with my congregation and with my colleagues." She doesn't believe she is violating any church laws. Only a church trial court can determine if a member of the clergy is a "self-avowed practicing homosexual," she said, and she has never faced a church trial. Ladd was first ordained in June 1997 and served as associate pastor of University Temple United Methodist Church in the city's University District. She went on leave in April 2001, then was named Crown Hill's pastor in July 2002.
Mark Tooley, who focuses on Methodist issues for the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy, argued that pastors must obey all church laws. "If she cannot live within those confines, integrity should require her to step aside," he said. "I think the disobedience of church law likely will continue in the Pacific Northwest conference until...the judicial council decides to intervene,"
Tooley said. Based in Washington, D.C., the Institute on Religion and Democracy advocates greater unity among all Christian denominations by focusing on biblical faith and fidelity to ancient teachings.