An appeals committee has reversed a clergy court verdict in the case of Irene Elizabeth "Beth" Stroud. The Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals announced its decision at 10:30 a.m. Eastern time today, after hearing Stroud’s appeal April 28. Stroud lost her credentials as a United Methodist minister on Dec. 2 after a clergy trial, which stemmed from her acknowledgment that she is a practicing lesbian. The United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline forbids the ordination and appointment of "self-avowed practicing homosexuals."
Stroud had appealed the clergy court’s Dec. 2 decision to the Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals, which met at a hotel near the Baltimore-Washington International Airport April 28-29.
The clergy court had found her guilty of violating denomination law, which forbids the ordination and appointment of "self-avowed practicing homosexuals." Stroud had disclosed that she was living in a committed relationship with another woman.
The appeals committee upheld part of the trial court’s finding but overturned the verdict based on legal error. The committee’s 8-1 vote means Stroud is automatically reinstated as a pastor.
"The verdict and the penalty are reversed and set aside," the committee said in its ruling.
The appellate committee was asked to rule on two questions relating to Stroud’s case: did the weight of the evidence sustain the charge or charges, and were there such errors of church law as to invalidate the verdict and or the penalty?
"Although the committee believes that the evidence in support of the charge was overwhelming and would be sustained in the absence of legal error, the committee concludes that legal error vitiates the verdict on two independent grounds," the committee said in its ruling.
The committee went on to cite an earlier ruling by the United Methodist Church’s supreme court, the Judicial Council, regarding the rights of ordained elders – "members in full connection" – to an appointment or ministry in the church. One of the legal errors involved the deprivation of due process for Stroud, the committee said.
"First, Judicial Council Decision No. 702, which binds this committee, makes it legal error – namely, a deprivation of due process – to try, convict and deprive a member in full connection of her right to an appointment pursuant to Paragraphs 304.3 and 2702.1B of the (Book of) Discipline when, as in this case, neither the General Conference nor the pertinent annual conference has defined the words, ‘practicing homosexual’ and ‘status,’" the committee said.
The General Conference is the church’s top legislative assembly.
The committee then cited the Book of Discipline and the denomination’s restrictive rules.
"Second, it was error to try and convict the appellant on the basis of Paragraph 304.3 because that provision constitutes a ‘new standard or rule of doctrine’ which has not been declared by the General Conference to be ‘not contrary to the present standards,’ in violation of the First Restrictive Rule and Paragraph 102 of the Discipline."
After the committee’s decision was announced, the Rev. Tom Hall, counsel for the church, said he was not sure if the church would appeal. Any appeal would have to go to the Judicial Council.
Digest of The Case
The verdict and the penalty are reversed and set aside. Although the Committee believes that the evidence in support of the charge was overwhelming and would be sustained in the absence of legal error, the Committee’s analysis of two particular questions of law compels it to conclude that legal error vitiates the verdict. First, it is the judgment of the Committee on Appeals that Judicial Council Decision No. 702, which binds this Committee, makes it legal error to try, convict and deprive a member in full connection of her right to an appointment pursuant to ¶¶ 304.3 and 2702.1(b) of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church when, as in this case, neither the General Conference nor the pertinent Annual Conference has defined the words "practicing homosexual" and "status." Second, legal error was committed by trying and convicting Appellant on the basis of ¶ 304.3 because that provision constitutes a "new standard or rule of doctrine" which has not been declared by the General Conference to be "’not contrary to’ the present standards," in violation of the First Restrictive Rule and ¶ 102 of the Discipline.