Monday, October 31, 2005

Methodist Court Defrocks Lesbian Minister, Upholds Church's Standards on Sexual Ethics

Beth Stroud (left) and her partner Chris at press conference (Photo Courtesy UMNS / Mike Dubose)

The United Methodist Church’s highest court defrocked an openly lesbian Philadelphia minister, Beth Stroud, who defied the church’s prohibition against clergy sexually active outside of marriage. The Judicial Council, meeting in Houston, also ruled that the bishop of Virginia was incorrect to suspend a pastor, Ed Johnson, who refused to accept into church membership an openly homosexual man who would not accept the church’s teachings.

“These rulings show that United Methodism is NOT moving in the direction of the Episcopal Church and declining liberal Protestantism in the West,” said Mark Tooley, who directs the IRD’s program for United Methodists. “Instead, America’s third largest religious body is moving in the direction of global Christianity, which is robustly orthodox.”

What do we make of the Judicial Council decision? For years Methodists have been making a perceptible move to the left. Some will read this decision as a swing of the pendulum back toward the orthodox center. However, since many of these kinds of rulings get decided on exceedingly fine points of procedure and church law, it is difficult to draw generalizing conclusions from this session of the ecclesiastical court. In this instance, the Stroud case was determined 6-2, with the Johnson decision more narrowly decided by a 5-3 majority.

Mark Tooley, of the Institute of Religion and Democracy, observed: “Thankfully, the Judicial Council has upheld the clear meaning of United Methodism’s standards on marriage and sex, which have been repeatedly ratified by the church’s governing General Conference every four years since 1972. Undoubtedly, some in the declining regions of the church will continue to try to find ways to circumvent church law. The debate over this issue will certainly continue for some years. But the future of the church, whose membership is increasingly international, belongs to theological orthodoxy and historic Christianity.”

With revisionist theologies prevailing in the seminaries and among much of the bureaucracy, declarations of final victory for orthodoxy would seem premature.

No comments: