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Bishop May Revisit Dismissed Complaint Against Active Lesbian Pastor With Same-sex Lover, and Illegitimate Son Re-appointed To UM Church

Bishop announces unusual review of decision
(Seattle Gay News)

After a church investigative committee dealt another setback for opponents of Gay and Lesbian clergy last week, the head of the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Methodist Church has intervened to "review" the decision not to prosecute Rev. Karen Dammann, a former Seattle minister who came out as a Lesbian on Valentine’s Day, 2001.

Following instruction from the church’s high court, Bishop Elias Galvan filed the complaint against Dammann last November. The complaint was for "practices declared by the United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings," referring to a prohibition that states, "since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church."

The committee on investigation of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church failed to take action forwarding the complaint after a closed hearing on July 24 in Tacoma. Charged with determining whether or not reasonable grounds existed to put Dammann on trial, the committee split, three in favor, three against and one member abstaining. Five votes were needed to refer the charges to trial. Seven ordained ministers, two non-voting lay members of the church, and six alternates, elected to a four-year term, comprise the committee.

Dammann was ordained in 1994 and served as the appointed pastor of churches in the Pacific Northwest between 1992 and 1999, when she requested family leave. In December 2001 she was appointed to Wallingford United Methodist church, with a special research assignment she could work on from her home outside the region. During her tenure at Woodland Park from 1996 to 1999 Dammann began a relationship with her partner, Meredith Savage, and had a son together. The family has lived in western Massachusetts for the past two years.

Dammann admitted in her statement responding to the charges that she was in a committed relationship of which sex was a part. Since first coming out she has wanted to be as open and honest about her family life as anyone else would. Church officials testified Dammann was an excellent minister at Woodland Park but the wear and tear of not being able to be open about her relationship and family had an impact on her ability to be the minister she wanted to be.

"I believe that my calling came from a God who knew before I did that I was a homosexual person," Dammann told the investigative committee in a written statement. "I do not believe God was wrong. I do not believe the church was wrong. I believe that God has called and is calling Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender persons to the life of elders. I do not believe that the God of trust has called these persons to a life in the closet. In its prohibition of homosexual clergy, I believe that the church is not faithful to the work of God’s spirit."

Committee chair Rev. Patricia Simpson told The Seattle Times she abstained because, "I could not in good conscience vote to send this matter to trial because I believe the United Methodist discipline is wrong on this issue." The effect of the committee’s decision was to dismiss the complaint. As a result Dammann remains in good standing as a minister in the United Methodist Church. However, Bishop Galvan announced in a July 26 statement he intends to review the decision to make sure there were no errors of law church law or administration. Simpson told The Seattle Times no committee decisions have been appealed in her six years on the committee, and that she believes no errors were made in the decision.

Determination that one is a "self-avowed, practicing homosexual" requires, under church rules, proof of what has become known as "the Genital Question," about whether the accused has engaged in genital sexual contact with a person of the same sex. The significance of the Dammann case is that it challenged the rule head-on, and Dammann won.

Dammann learned of Bishop Galvan’s decision to "review" the committee’s decision in the newspaper last weekend, although a church spokesman said Thursday that the announcement was emailed to Dammann at the last address they had. Galvan claims authority to review the decision of the committee under a section of the Book of Discipline that gives bishops authority to "ensure fair process for clergy and laity" in all involuntary administrative and judicial proceedings through monitoring the performance of committees carrying out those proceedings. However, the actual section dealing with a committee on investigation dismissing charges makes no provision for appeal or review by the Bishop unless the committee specifically refers the case to the Bishop. An announcement on the results of the review is expected in about 30 days.

The investigative hearing was a difficult, stressful experience for everyone taking part. Dammann described the stress of being in the closet while caring for her congregation, her son and her partner, who suffered medical complications from their child’s birth. The committee had to wrestle with the words of the prohibition, scripture and theological matters as well as their charge to bring justice and healing to the decision of the case. Several witnesses the church called in its case testified they, too, believe the Book of Discipline is wrong but acknowledged they are called as clergy to uphold the order and discipline of the denomination. That the vote was so close demonstrates the difficult decision they faced.

Dammann and her partner, Meredith Savage, have not yet decided what they will do next about seeking a pastoral appointment.

Dammann’s successor at Woodland Park, Rev. Mark Williams, came out as a Gay man at the church’s annual conference last June. He too was the subject of a church investigation that led to dismissal of the charges against him and his continued service as past at Woodland Park.

Article written by Dammann’s Attorney


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