Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 3 April 2004

Methodist group wants gay pastor removed

by John Blake
Staff Reporter

A group of United Methodist pastors in Georgia has banded together to protest what may become the most volatile issue at their upcoming General Conference --- a church jury's decision to acquit a lesbian pastor.

Led by the Rev. Randy Mickler, pastor of Mount Bethel UMC in Marietta, 36 pastors from the North Georgia Conference released a four-paragraph statement this week demanding the censure of the Rev. Karen Dammann, a 47-year-old UMC pastor who revealed three years ago that she was in a lesbian relationship.

Dammann, of Ellensburg, Wash., was acquitted two weeks ago by a jury of 13 pastors who concluded that while she had engaged in homosexual practice, their church law does not clearly declare that such practice is incompatible with Christian teachings.

But Mickler said the jury's decision ignores the UMC Book of Discipline's clear declaration that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teachings. He said the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference, where the trial was held, is known for being a "rogue" conference.

"The Pacific Northwest Conference has just openly rebelled against our church law with this verdict," Mickler said. "It's made a mockery of the whole covenant bonds that unite Methodist ministers to each other and the church."

The statement calls on the UMC's Judicial Council, the denomination's supreme court, to move against the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference and enforce church law. Mickler said the council could cause that conference to lose its vote at the upcoming General Conference and its denominational funding.

Mickler said he expects the denomination's General Conference to take some action against Dammann to show that it "has some teeth in its authority."

With 279,000 members, the United Methodist Church is the second largest denomination in metro Atlanta behind the Southern Baptist Convention and just ahead of the Catholic Church. The UMC is the third-largest Christian denomination in the United States with 8.3 million members.

At the two-week conference, which takes place every four years, Methodists vote on provisions in the Book of Discipline. At its previous conference in 2000, delegates decisively voted against the ordination of gay clergy and the blessing of same-sex unions. This year's meeting starts on April 26 in Pittsburgh.

Despite previous General Conference votes, the Dammann decision was not unexpected, said the Rev. Allen Hunt of Mount Pisgah UMC in Alpharetta, who signed the statement.

"It was probably inevitable because of the culture in which we live," Hunt said.

Last summer, the Episcopal Church USA ignited a barrage of criticism when it voted to accept New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay bishop living in a relationship with another man.

Methodists shouldn't allow Dammann the same opportunity the Episcopal Church gave Robinson, Hunt said.

"Karen Dammann should not be allowed to serve as a United Methodist minister," said Hunt. "She should be removed because of our church teaching."