Gay Methodist Pastor Has Setback at Trial
The Rev. Beth Stroud (right) with her partner, Chris Paige.
A Methodist minister being tried by her church for announcing last year that she lived with a lesbian partner faced a setback when the presiding judge excluded expert testimony from six defense witnesses who believe the church’s gay ban violates its own legal principles.
The defense witnesses believe the church’s gay ban violates its own constitution. But the judge, retired Bishop Joseph Yeakel of Washington, D.C., said Wednesday that constitutional questions were “not relevant to this case.” He issued no formal explanation.
Given Yeakel’s ruling, Stroud had little doubt what would happen when the jury decides, possibly by late Thursday.
“To win a verdict would be an extraordinary work of the Holy Spirit. I don’t expect that,” she said at a news conference.
Bishop Peter Weaver, formerly of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, then testified that a celibate lesbian can remain in the ministry but someone in a relationship would be violating Methodist law.
Under questioning by Hall, Stroud spoke of her relationship with partner Chris Paige, who listened nearby. “One aspect of our relationship is that we express our love for each other sexually and with our bodies,” Stroud said.
Stroud’s defense attorney, the Rev. J. Dennis Williams of Cornwall, Pa., asked why Stroud insisted on a career with the Methodists. “I felt I was called to go home. This is the church I grew up in,” she said.
Stroud said in an interview that while at Union Theological Seminary in New York City she considered a career with the Episcopal Church or United Church of Christ, which have more liberal practices, but only briefly.
Williams argued that the case might seem “a slam dunk” because church law is specific. But, he noted, “there is no evidence at all that Jesus said anything on this matter, let alone condemned it. He also said Methodist founder John Wesley decided women should preach “if they are under an extraordinary impulse of the Spirit” — despite New Testament passages that appeared to forbid this.