From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[PCUSANEWS] Synod reviewing Baltimore judicial dismissal

Date 2 Dec 2002 15:02:46 -0500

Note #7528 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

Synod reviewing Baltimore judicial dismissal
November 26, 2002

Synod reviewing Baltimore judicial dismissal

7-member panel will examine presbytery's handling of defiant minister's case 

by Alexa Smith

LOUISVILLE - The Synod of the Mid-Atlantic will review Baltimore Presbytery's
actions in the case of a gay minister who has said publicly that he will not
comply with a provision of the Presbyterian Church (USA) constitution that
requires ordained leaders to abstain from sex unless they are married.

The Rev. Donald Stroud was received by the presbytery in 1999 to work for
That All May Freely Serve, an organization that advocates the full inclusion
of gay and lesbian Presbyterians in the church, including ordained office.
Earlier this year, he was cleared of a charge that he had refused to be
governed by church polity.
Immediately after the case against him was dismissed, Stroud announced that
he would not comply with the PC(USA) constitution. He has told reporters that
he is in a relationship with a man.
Church courts have permitted ministers to officiate at services uniting gay
and lesbian couples, but have said that such ceremonies may not be equated
with marriage.

Stroud is one of several PC(USA) ministers who have said publicly that they
will not comply with the constitutional standard as a matter of conscience,
because they do not believe that homosexual sex is sinful.

The synod has named a seven-member committee to review Stroud's case; it will
begin its work on Dec. 2, according to the Rev. Barry Van Deventer, the synod
executive, who said the review is purely administrative and "not judicial in
any way."
Van Deventer said the synod routinely reviews the work of its presbyteries,
serving in a pastoral role and helping them to "better carry out their
constitutional responsibilities." He said the committee has no deadline, but
will "probably do the work rather quickly."

The original charge against Stroud was filed by Paul Jensen, a lawyer in
Washington, DC, who is pressing about 10 presbyteries to discipline gay
church officers or those who he says intend to ordain gays or conduct
marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. Jensen accused Stroud of "willful
and deliberate violation of his ordination vows." He also alleged that
Baltimore Presbytery packed its investigative committee with liberals,
including at least one financial supporter of Stroud's ministry.

The assignment given to such an investigating committee is to decide whether
allegations are substantive enough to warrant the filing of formal charges
within the denomination's disciplinary system.

Jensen has also claimed that the process was flawed because the presbytery
disposed of the case without talking to him, although he was the complainant.
He cites a constitutional provision that says investigating committees "shall
 ascertain all available witnesses and inquire of them."

Jensen's appeal to the presbytery's Permanent Judicial Commission was denied
on Oct. 25, a decision the presbytery didn't make public until Nov. 14.
Charles Forbes, the presbytery's stated clerk, said that is when the action
became "an official document." 

Forbes told the Presbyterian News Service that the four-member committee
represented the "majority votes of the presbytery over time," referring to
Baltimore's stance on the question of ordaining gays and lesbians. He said a
member of the committee did make a $35 contribution to That All May Freely
Serve sometime during the three years that Stroud has served in Baltimore

A pastor of a More Light - or gay-affirming - church left the committee when
he moved from the presbytery. The committee then voted to do its work with
three members.

The committee was appointed by the presbytery's moderator and approved by a
vote of the presbytery - although the latter step is not required by the
constitution. Anyone in the presbytery who thought the committee was unfairly
constituted could have raised the issue before the vote. "No one did," he

"I can't answer questions about what went on with the committee," he added.
"Believe me, I'd like to, (but) with it rising to a synod review committee,
it makes (talking to the press) even more sensitive."

Jensen, previously unknown on the national scene, has been in the public eye
for much of the past year. In addition to filing charges against those he
says have openly defied the constitution, he has questioned the competence of
the denomination's stated clerk, the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick.

 He has also supported the call for a special General Assembly to address
what he contends is a "constitutional crisis." The constitution provides for
a special Assembly, but the denomination has never convened one. Alexander F.
Metherell, of Laguna Beach, CA, a commissioner to this year's 214th GA, has
led the campaign for a special session.

Metherell and Jensen both belong to St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in
Newport Beach, CA. However, neither the congregation's session nor its
pastor, the Rev. John Huffman, has officially endorsed their actions or the
call for a special Assembly.
Huffman issued a statement last week saying: 
"Although I share with both men a common concern that there be full
compliance with our constitutional and theological standards, neither alerted
me or the Session of St. Andrew's before they initiated their individual and
separate actions. I and the Session of St. Andrew's have already
disassociated ourselves with the methodology of Mr. Jensen. And I have shared
in private conversations with Mr. Metherell my personal opinion that a recall
of the General Assembly is not only unwise but could be counterproductive to
our constitutional procedures."

While Huffman believes that the denomination ought to be concentrating its
efforts on mission - expecting that judicial compliance will be enforced in
due time - Jensen disagrees and keeps pushing for action.

"Baltimore is the most pressing case," Jensen said in an interview shortly
before learning that the synod would review Stroud's case.  "Someone needs to
tell these people in Baltimore and elsewhere that they've got to follow the
letter of the law."

Jensen has pressed Kirkpatrick to require Presbyterian officials to abide
precisely by the language of the constitution. Recently he has chided
Kirkpatrick about the Baltimore presbytery's failure to hand down its
decision within a 90-day period specified in the constitution; he had not
been notified of the decision reached on Oct. 25.

Kirkpatrick has said that the constitution does not give him authority to
override due process, and that any case must pass through all the appropriate
governing bodies before it can be addressed by the General Assembly's
Permanent Judicial Commission - the church's highest court.
Jensen said several presbyteries, including San Gabriel, Yellowstone and New
York City, have asked him to meet with their investigating committees, but
Baltimore didn't give him a chance to speak, even by telephone.

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