Methodist Lesbian Minister is cleared by the Church Jury

After 3 days of proceedings from 17 to 19 March, the trial on the homosexual minister Rev Karen Dammann held at Bothell United Methodist Church (UMC) has come to an end. The jury of thirteen fellow ministers acquitted Dammann of violating United Methodist Church law by living openly as a lesbian.

Eleven jurors voted to find Dammann not guilty while the other two were undecided after deliberating for more than ten hours over two days.

A guilty verdict, requiring nine votes for guilt, could have led to Dammann's defrocking. The church cannot appeal the verdict.

Being a self-avowed practicing homosexual, Dammann was accused of "practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings" stated on the church's Book of Discipline.

Despite of a church official's comment on the second day of the trial that Dammann's "self-avowal" is the church's evidence of fact, the jury considered there is no "clear and convincing evidence".

The Rev. Karla Frederickson spoke for her fellow jurors in the final statement, "Although it found Dammann to be a 'self-avowed practicing homosexual' it did not have 'clear and convincing evidence' that she was guilty of the charge of 'practices declared by the United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings.'"

Continuing the explanation, "we searched the discipline and did not find a declaration that 'the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching'. We did not find that any of other passages that contain the phrasing'incompatible with Christian teaching' constitute a declaration either,"the jury claimed.

On the other hand, one of the disciplines declares, "'Inclusiveness means openness, acceptance and support that enable all persons to participate in the life of the church, the community and the world. Thus, inclusiveness denies every semblance of discrimination.'"

Key defense witnesses included a blind minister, an African American minister and a female theologian has reminded the jury to think of Jesus' actions in accepting those who had been marginalized or considered unclean in his day.

They quoted the 21st chapter of Leviticus, there was a time when church laws barred women and blacks from ministry and that prohibits people with various disabilities, including blindness, from serving as priests.

A clergy counsel for Dammann, the Rev. Robert Ward said, "We are people of the book. One book is the Bible. The other book is the Book of Discipline; let the whole book be your guide." In the same way, he tends to stress God's love and inclusiveness while overlooking the sin of homosexuality taught in the Bible.

The denomination's Book of Discipline forbids "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" from being ordained or appointed to United Methodist ministry.

Dammann told reporters during the trial that she did not fully realize her sexual orientation when she was ordained as an elder or full minister, in 1994. It was only after she met Savage the following year that "my self-understanding came to be what it is now," she said.

Actually, before the trial has started, many church officials and congregation predicted that Dammann would be found guilty. However, the result turns out to be so shocking to most of the parties.

Dammann's civil attorney, Lindsay Thompson has attributed the turning point of the case to the testimony of Rev. Jack Tuell, a key witness for the defense.

Tuell, the retired bishop of Los Angeles and expert on church law, traced the history of all phrases in the Book of Discipline and argued that the General Conference has never been able to reach a definitive position condemning or condoning homosexuality. The jury appears to have been swayed by him and becomes a favor to Dammann.

The final verdict is a boil over, though, at the very end of the statement from the jury, the reason may have been indirectly revealed,"we realize that the church is divided regarding issues related to homosexuality. We, the Trial Court, are far from unanimous regarding biblical and theological understandings."

The three-day trial was held in one of the church's most liberal regions, the Pacific Northwest Conference, following the same pattern as a civil trial. The proceeding was overseen by a retired bishop who sat by a single candle, representing the presence of the Holy Spirit.

The jury added it reached its decision "after many hours of painful and prayerful deliberation and listening for and to the word of God."