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United Methodists drop anti-gay bans. A pastor who defied them seeks reinstatement.

Twenty years ago, Beth Stroud was defrocked from her beloved job as a United Methodist pastor in Philadelphia. In a religious trial, she was found guilty of violating “Christian teaching” because she admitted to being in a committed relationship with another woman.

Earlier this month, delegates to a United Methodist Church conference reversed the UMC’s longstanding anti-LGBTQ policies and opened the way for clergy ousted because of them to demand their reintegration.

Stroud – while recalling how his 2004 ouster disrupted his life – is taking this path, although other past targets of UMC discipline have chosen otherwise. Stroud is optimistic that United Methodist clergy in eastern Pennsylvania will reestablish their pastoral credentials at a meeting next week.

Before a church service last Sunday, Stroud thought about what reinstatement would mean and shed a tear. “That’s how compelling this appeal is: After 20 years, I still want to come back,” she said.

Beth Stroud, left, waits for the start of a news conference in Philadelphia in 2005 while her partner, Chris Paige, stands beside her.Joseph Kaczmarek / AP file

At 54, she has no plans to return to full-time ministry – at least not immediately. After teaching writing for three years at Princeton University, she is excited to start a new job this summer as assistant professor of Christian history at the Ohio Methodist Theological School, one of 13 seminars managed by the UMC.

Yet even with this new teaching position, Stroud wanted to rediscover the options available to an ordained minister as she searches for a congregation to join near the campus in Delaware, Ohio.

“I think a church will be able to use me in some way when my credentials are important – like when they are asked to celebrate communion on a day when the regular pastor is out of town,” he said. she declared. “Those would be really significant opportunities.”

When Stroud finally made her decision, she knew it was the right one.

“It felt really good to write that email asking for his reinstatement,” she said. “I want to continue to be a part of the Church and its work in the world.”

But the decision didn’t come easily because it followed the UMC’s deliberations on anti-LGBTQ policies.

“The first thing I felt was just anger – thinking about the life I could have had,” she said. “I loved being a pastor. I was good at that. With 20 more years of experience, I could have been very good, helped a lot of people, and been very fulfilled.

Beth Stroud attends a service Sunday at Turning Point United Methodist Church in Trenton, New Jersey. Luis Henao / AP

Instead of being a pastor, she spent several years in graduate school, while earning a modest income in temporary, non-permanent academic jobs. There were challenges, including a battle with cancer and divorce from his wife, although they decided to co-parent their daughter, born in 2005.

If she hadn’t been defrocked, Stroud said, “My whole life would have been different.”

The process that led to Stroud’s ouster began in April 2003, when she spoke to her congregation, the First United Methodist Church of Germantown, about her same-sex relationship. The church – where Stroud had been pastor for four years – established a legal fund to help her defend herself and hired her as a lay minister after she was defrocked.

When she later moved to New Jersey, she looked for a new church to join and settled at Turning Point United Methodist Church, a predominantly black congregation in Trenton.

On Sunday, as Stroud sat in the pews, she received a shout-out from Turning Point pastor Rupert Hall.

“You may not realize it, but over the last 15 years we have been fortunate to have – as a loving, supportive and active member of Turning Point – a rock star,” Hall said .

Beth Stroud and Rev. Rupert Hall, pastor of Turning Point United Methodist Church.Luis Henao / AP

“The United Methodist Church stripped Beth of her pastorate, and her name is known throughout the world as a martyr to those of God’s self-identified, LGBTQ-identified children. »

There were cheers when Hall said Stroud now had a chance of being reinstated.

The UMC says it does not have overall figures on how many clergy have been defrocked for defying anti-LGBTQ bans or how many reinstatements might take place.

It’s an option that won’t be exercised by Jimmy Creech, who, like Stroud, was ousted from the UMC decades ago. Jurors of a religious court stripped him of his clergy credentials in 1999 after he presided over a same-sex union ceremony in North Carolina.

Creech is grateful that the General Conference, as it neared the conclusion of its recent work in Charlotte, North Carolina, passed legislation allowing the reinstatement of defrocked pastors in cases like his.

“This is an act of reconciliation and restorative justice, a move to heal the broken community of the Church,” said Creech, who previously doubted such a move would ever happen.

James Raymer, left, places a ring on the finger of his partner Larry Ellis during a recommitment ceremony Nov. 16, 1999, in Grand Island, Neb., as the Rev. Jimmy Creech officiated. The couple married in April 1999 in Creech, North Carolina. Jennifer Bruno/Grand Island Independent via AP File

However, Creech, 79, said he would not seek reinstatement.

“Just knowing that the Church is now providing for this is satisfaction enough for me,” he said by email. “Because I am not and cannot exercise pastoral ministry at this time in my life, I do not believe reinstating my ordination is appropriate. »

Creech was ordained in 1970 and served various parishes in his native North Carolina.

In 1984, the UMC General Conference approved a law banning “self-described practicing homosexuals” from holding ministry. Creech said the action prompted a member of his church to tearfully confide that he was gay and had decided to leave the UMC.

Creech began doing biblical studies on sexuality, concluded that “the Church was wrong,” and became an activist on LGBTQ issues in North Carolina. He briefly became a pastor in Nebraska, and was soon judged by the Church for presiding over a 1997 union ceremony for two women. He was acquitted, but after returning to North Carolina, he presided over a two-man ceremony. This led to his defrocking in 1999.

Reverend Jimmy Creech in 1999. David Zalubowski / AP file

Creech said he remained in ministry afterward, often serving as a guest preacher in churches across the country.

“I realized I was still the same person. I am still a pastor. The Church never took that away from me. This gave me a title.

Amy DeLong, a lesbian pastor from Wisconsin, has fought for LGBTQ inclusion in the UMC for years. She formed an advocacy organization, protested bans at general conferences, pursued a same-sex union – and underwent a church trial for it in 2011. She was suspended from ministry for 20 days and continued to fight.

In 2019, she observed the bans confirmed once again by that year’s UMC General Conference. In 2021, she was done. After nearly a quarter century as a UMC minister, DeLong took early retirement.

“I couldn’t stand the hypocrisy anymore,” said DeLong, who no longer considers himself a Methodist. “The evil that they were doing, in my opinion, outweighed the good that they were doing. They lost the right to shape me and have more authority over me.

DeLong welcomes the lifting of the UMC bans, but says LGBTQ pastors in the church still face inequities.

“It’s good that the language is gone. … It was never meant to be a part of who we were,” she said. “But damn, all this senseless brutality is weighing me down so much.”

The UMC was the last of the mainline Protestant groups to repeal policies that excluded LGBTQ people from marriage and ministry. LGBTQ religious people have participated in the fight for change across faiths, as illustrated by the Shower of Stoles, an exhibition curated by the National LGBTQ Task Force featuring liturgical vestments of clergy activists and members of the UMC, Presbyterian Church (USA) and other churches.

“You can never underestimate the challenges queer people face in faith communities,” said Cathy Renna, a spokesperson for the task force. “And on the other hand, the courage of those who stood up and said, ‘No, these are my values.’ It’s my faith.

News Source : www.nbcnews.com
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