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Jurors Weigh Fate of Lesbian Minister

Tenets of inclusiveness, not church rules, should prevail, her lawyer says in Methodist trial.

March 20, 2004|From Associated Press

BOTHELL, Wash. — A lawyer for a Methodist minister being tried by her church for being a lesbian urged jurors Friday to be faithful to church teachings on inclusiveness rather than to rules that said open homosexuals could not be ordained.

"We need to be careful about creating rules that exclude people," the Rev. Robert C. Ward said in closing arguments at the Rev. Karen Dammann's trial.

"You are faced with a choice to make love practical, to make love plain, and to do what is right," he told the jury of 13 pastors, which began deliberating Friday afternoon.

The jury was to resume deliberations today, said Bishop William Boyd Grove, who was presiding over the trial.

Nine votes are needed for conviction, which could mean Dammann would lose her ministry.

The Rev. James C. Finkbeiner, counsel for the United Methodist Church, argued that Dammann had declared herself a practicing lesbian, and that was all the jury needed to consider to find her guilty.

"This is a trial about Rev. Dammann," Finkbeiner said. "The law of the church is not on trial."

Dammann, 47, is charged with "practices declared by the United Methodist Church to be incompatible to Christian teachings." Church law prohibits ordination of self-avowed, practicing homosexuals, although the church's social principles support gay rights and liberties.

Dammann sent a letter to church officials acknowledging her sexual orientation three years ago. Last week she married her partner of nine years in Portland, Ore., where officials began allowing gay marriages earlier this month. The couple have a 5-year-old son.

Dammann pleaded not guilty and did not take the stand during the three-day trial at a church in this Seattle suburb.

Dammann, on leave as pastor of First United Methodist Church in Ellensburg, 95 miles east of Seattle, said homosexuals should be allowed to serve as ministers.

"God called me into ordained ministry and I just can't believe that God makes a mistake," she said during a break in the trial.

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