What part of no don't liberals in the 8.4-million-member United Methodist Church understand?
That's a question conservative and moderate UMC members across the country are asking in the aftermath of the latest public display of rebellion against church law by officials sworn to uphold it.
It all started when Rev. Karen Dammann, pastor of Woodland Park United Methodist Church in Seattle from 1996 to 1999, decided to come out of the closet. Following a "family leave" to care for her partner, Meredith Savage, and a new baby son, she wrote a letter in 2001 to Bishop Elias Galvan of the UMC's Pacific Northwest Conference, informing him that she was living in a "partnered, covenanted, homosexual relationship."
At the direction of the Judicial Council, the UMC's highest court, Bishop Galvan filed a complaint against her. The denomination's Book of Discipline says the practice of homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teaching," and it forbids the ordination and appointment of self-declared practicing homosexuals. Rev. Dammann and Ms. Savage moved to Massachusetts with "their" son to wait out the proceedings.
A liberal-stacked conference investigative committee last year dismissed the complaint, saying there weren't sufficient grounds to have a clergy trial. Bishop Galvan and the church's counsel appealed to the UMC's western jurisdiction Committee on Appeals, accusing the investigative committee of "egregious errors of church law." The appeals committee, however, voted 4 to 3 in late January to uphold the decision, opening the way for Rev. Dammann, 46, to return to ministry.
The case may end up in the church's top court. A new conservative group, Faithful Christian Laity, hopes to garner enough support to clean house in the regional conference. Its leaders say the conference's actions have "severely damaged" the UMC's witness and reputation.
Meanwhile, the investigative committee in Seattle also dismissed a complaint against Rev. Mark Williams, Rev. Dammann's successor at Woodland Park. Rev. Williams had proclaimed at the annual meeting of the Pacific Northwest Conference that he was a practicing homosexual. The investigative committee said it lacked evidence to refer him for trial.