New Trial Ordered for UMC Lesbian Pastor

The case of Beth Shroud, a Methodist pastor who defied church law by living in an active lesbian relationship, was issued a new trial over technical complications in the filing of her original case
( [email protected] ) Sep 21, 2004 07:36 PM EDT

The case of Beth Shroud, United Methodist clergywoman who broke church law by publicly announcing her involvement in a homosexual relationship, continues with a new trial at the order of retired Bishop Joseph H. Yeakel, the presiding officer assigned to this case. Shroud, a Philadelphia pastor, faced a church trial after publicly declaring she lives in a “committed lesbian relationship”.

Where Methodists stand on this issue of homosexual ordination was unclear after a previous trial of another lesbian pastor just a few months before the Shroud case, in which the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference Committee on Investigation adopted the following statement.

"We do not believe that a self-avowed, practicing homosexual clergyperson in a monogamous, committed relationship engages in practices incompatible with Christian teachings."

And when taken to the Judicial Council, the decision stated that the council were not able to rule on this case, but still wrote that homosexuality is not compatible with Christian teachings. Additionally, a majority of the Methodists this year voted to uphold the current church law bars the ordination of "self-avowed, practicing homosexuals."

The controversy erupted in a threatened church split during the denomination’s annual meeting in May; eventually, the delegates to the annual meeting voted against the split and rather passed a separate resolution calling for a furthered fellowship and unity within the church.

Shroud’s case, which followed within weeks after the shaky “unity” decision by the delegates, was initially nullified because of complications with the transcript of the committee’s deliberation on the case; a new trial was then issued.

The primary reason to file a new case was that the committee's 5-3 vote on July 23 to file a charge against Stroud did not meet requirements of both church law and rulings of the denomination's top court, the Judicial Council. A Judicial Council ruled in May 2000 that laypeople "do not have the voting rights and parity with clergy members," and church law insists that 7 people constitute a quorum.

While there were 8 members present, two of the committee members were laypersons and therefore, ineligible to be counted in the quorum. Thus, the official number is dropped to 6, below the required quorum minimum of 7.

Furthermore, in a Sept. 9 letter to the committee’s chairperson, Dr. Rev. Kent E. Kroehler of Lancaster, Bishop Yaekel wrote that three of the committee members who voted in favor of homosexual ordination were clergy persons, “raising the question as to their ability to serve on the Committee on Investigation” This statement erases all questions as to which side the Bishop stands on this controversial issue.

He commanded those unwilling to “uphold The Discipline… to step aside” and demanded Dr. Kroehler to inventory the members of the committee. If the necessary number isn’t met because of those unwilling to “uphold the Discipline” in conformity with the Judicial Council, then Dr. Kroehler is to ask either himself or Bishop Marcus Matthews for appointment of necessary people. Bishop Marcus Matthews leads the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference as part of the Philadelphia Area.

This last statement delivers a blow to homosexual ordination in the United Methodist Church.

Beth Shroud, associate pastor of First United Methodist Church of Germantown could not be reached for comment though she told UMNS that "I'm in good spirits and just trying to be faithful as a pastor and a Christian. Nobody ever said it would be easy."

The committee on investigation received the complaint against Stroud from Bishop Peter D. Weaver, who presided over the annual conference until Aug. 31.