The Rev. Irene Elizabeth Stroud of Philadelphia could be defrocked.

More clashes like this are going to occur as people come out. Her church wouldn’t place her in this position if she had lied and kept her relationship on the DL. Coming out is forcing the church to acknowledge and either accept or punish their clergy.

The latest clash in the struggle among mainline Protestant denominations over gay clergy hits a critical point today with the church trial of a United Methodist Church minister who declared in a sermon last year that she is a lesbian living with her partner.

The Rev. Irene Elizabeth Stroud of Philadelphia could be defrocked if she loses at the trial, which is expected to run two or three days.

It’s the third test of the church’s 1984 law barring “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from the ministry. The policy was reaffirmed by a 72 percent vote at the Methodists’ General Conference in May.

Given that language, conviction might seem automatic. But last March, a church court acquitted the Rev. Karen Dammann, a pastor in Washington state who also lives openly with a same-sex partner, and the Methodists’ national supreme court decided it had no power to review the verdict.

In the other such trial, the Rev. Rose Mary Denman of New Hampshire was defrocked in 1987.

Stroud, 34, was ordained and assigned in 1999 as associate pastor of Philadelphia’s First United Methodist Church of Germantown. Two years later, Stroud held a “covenant ceremony” with her partner, Chris Paige, at Paige’s Tabernacle United Church in Philadelphia.

Stroud notified her Germantown congregation of the relationship in a sermon on April 27, 2003. “I know that by telling the truth about myself I risk losing my credentials,” she said, but decided “my walk with Christ requires telling the whole truth.”

Stroud says if she is defrocked, the congregation has promised she can continue her educational, pastoral and preaching work under lay status, though she would no longer be able to preside at baptisms or communion services.

The presiding judge at the trial is Joseph Yeakel, the retired bishop of Washington, D.C., who in 1996 joined 15 bishops in saying “it is time to break the silence” and protest their church’s stance on gays.

As the story says the church’s policy on her homosexuality is clear cut, but this trial highlights whether committed individuals that wish to serve honorably and honestly in the church leadership should be penalized for living openly gay lives. This is a difficult challenge, as it has been for the Episcopal church, which is dealing with a schism over the first openly gay (non-celibate) bishop, Gene Robinson.

Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding