Nine years ago, Karen Dammann quietly moved in with her lesbian lover. She didn’t advertise the fact because, as a United Methodist pastor, she risked losing her job if she did so. The denomination’s Book of Discipline condemns homosexual acts and prohibits ordination of practicing homosexuals.
For six years Ms. Dammann kept her secret from church officials. Then in February 2001, while seeking a new pastoral appointment, in a letter to her bishop she confirmed that she was a practicing homosexual. Against his own wishes, but compelled by church law, Bishop Elias Galvan filed a charge against Dammann. The case came to trial in a church court, and last week a jury of thirteen Methodist pastors, eight women and five men, declared Ms. Dammann not guilty.
The jury demonstrated a remarkably flexible attitude toward the facts. It declared, “The church did not present sufficient, clear, and convincing evidence to sustain the charge.” In other words, Dammann’s letter, her frequent public statements about her homosexuality, and her visible public behavior do not prove she has engaged in homosexual acts? Or what about the fact that she and her partner obtained a “marriage license” from the city clerk of Portland, Oregon?
The jurors also indicated they were puzzled about the meaning of the words incompatible with Christian teaching. They decided that the words don’t mean what they seem to say and are open to various interpretations. Explaining its conclusions and decision, the court stated, “We depended on the leading of the Holy Spirit.”
Well, I can understand the assault on biblical morality by secularists. After all, they consider the Bible irrelevant to their lives. But to witness the same assault from people who identify themselves as Christian pastors and spiritual leaders is heartwrenching — and outrageous. It’s a claim that the Holy Spirit who inspired the Scriptures also contradicts His own word and welcomes gross sin into the heart of the Church.
With 8.5 million members, the United Methodist Church is the third largest denomination in the United States. Its history goes back to one of the most godly and effective preachers of all time, John Wesley. Wesley’s immense influence transformed the moral and social landscape of England in the mid- to late-1700s. Countless lives were salvaged from crime, drunkenness, and debauchery.
From the beginning the Methodists identified themselves as a “holiness movement.” They aspired to experience the life of Jesus Christ working in and through their consecrated hearts. From them other laudable movements have sprung, including the Salvation Army.
The United Methodists have repeatedly voted against relaxing policies on homosexuality. But their decisions have been severely undermined by this court that found ambiguity where there was none and has sown confusion in the lives of Methodists who read the Bible as a source of morality and truth.
In the midst this relativism in the culture and now in the Church, believing Christians must stand firm. If you’re a United Methodist, protest to your bishop. If you are in another denomination, be forewarned: This fight will not stop with the Methodists.
For further reading and information:
Cal Thomas, “Spinning John Wesley,” Modesto Bee, 28 March 2004.
Kevin Eckstrom, “Methodist Bishops Say Rules on Gay Clergy Unchanged,” Beliefnet.com, 26 March 2004.
Richard Vara, “Sunday sermons to decry lesbian pastor’s acquittal,” Houston Chronicle, 25 March 2004.
Linda Green, “Individual bishops voice disappointment over verdict,” United Methodist News Service, 26 March 2004.
Shannon Dininny, “Methodists cheer, jeer lesbian pastor’s victory,” Arizona Central, 22 March 2004.
Read more response from Methodists on the Confessing Movement’s website.
Read the United Methodist Church’s position on homosexuality.
BreakPoint Commentary No. 040205, “As Long As We All Get Along: Selling Truth for Unity.”
Roberto Rivera, “Love, Marriage, and Family,” BreakPoint Online, 24 March 2004.
“Trouble in the Church” — In this interview with “BreakPoint” Managing Editor Jim Tonkowich, Dr. John Yates II, senior minister of the Falls Church in Falls Church, VA, discusses the current crisis in the Episcopal Church: the election of Gene Robinson, a practicing homosexual, to be bishop of New Hampshire. They discuss how the Church should approach the issue of homosexuality.
Visit One Hundred Thousand Ministers for ideas that churches and pastors may use in addressing the issue of homosexuality and same-sex “marriage.”
Robert George, The Clash of Orthodoxies (ISI Books, 2001).