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
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
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.
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