PITTSBURGH – United Methodists (search) ordered their top court to review the case of a lesbian pastor after the court ruled Saturday that gay sex violates Christian teaching.
The denomination's General Conference voted 551-345 to direct the Judicial Council to review the case of the Rev. Karen Dammann (search), whose avowed homosexuality led to church charges of committing practices "incompatible with Christian teaching."
In March, a jury of 13 pastors in Bothell, Wash., acquitted Dammann.
But the Judicial Council, in a 6-3 vote Saturday, said being a practicing homosexual clearly violates Methodist law, and that such a violation could be cause for removal from church office.
The Rev. Maxie Dunnam (search), president of Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky, asked for the General Conference vote in light of the judicial panel's ruling.
It was unclear what action the high court could take in Dammann's case. Methodist law does not allow for an appeal in church trials. However, the council had retained jurisdiction over Dammann's case when it ordered Dammann to be tried, and traditionalists hope that will allow the council to revisit the case.
"There's nothing in (church law) that physically outlines what their options could be but there's nothing that specifically prohibits them either," said Mark Tooley, a conservative with the Institute on Religion and Democracy. "Regardless of the jury verdict, she should still not be appointed as a pastor."
Dammann, reached by phone in Washington, said she would consult with her lawyer Lindsay Thompson to learn what actions the Judicial Council could take.
"This thing just never ends," she said. "I'm disappointed. I can't believe it."
Thompson said asking for the review was an effort "to rewrite the rules."
"The people who are upset about this clearly are inclined to stop at little if anything to undo it and prevent it from ever happening again," he said.
The Judicial Council is expected to rule sometime during the conference, which next convenes on Monday.
Dammann was put on trial after she told her bishop she was in a committed relationship with a woman. She married her partner in Portland, Ore., in March, after county officials there began allowing same-sex marriages.
Damman is now on family leave.
The debate over homosexuality is expected to dominate the agenda of the conference, which is held every four years and runs through May 7.
No one believes that the 8.3 million-member denomination is about to break apart. Delegates have rejected proposals more accepting of sexually active gays by about 60 percent to 40 percent over the years. That voting trend is expected to continue among this year's 1,000 delegates.