Trials on gay issue loom for Methodist and Presbyterian pastors

Posted: Friday, September 24, 2004

PHILADELPHIA (AP) The controversy over the role of gays in the church has taken a new twist in two Protestant denominations where officials are scrutinizing the actions of ministers.

The United Methodist Church has ordered a second investigation into whether the Rev. Elizabeth Stroud of Philadelphia should be put on trial because she acknowledged a lesbian relationship in a sermon last year.

Earlier, Stroud had been ordered to face a church trial. But the case's overseer, retired Bishop Joseph Yeakel, invalidated that action because lay members were part of a panel that issued the ruling. Church law restricts the board to clergy members.

Also, some panel members had declared their unwillingness to uphold Methodist law, which bars ordination of ''self-avowed, practicing homosexuals.''

In the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Rev. Jim Rigby of Austin, Texas, faces charges over conducting ceremonies for same-sex couples and ordaining an openly lesbian elder.

Presbyterian law and court rulings forbid same-sex blessings that are akin to marriages, and require officeholders to observe either fidelity within heterosexual marriage ''or chastity in singleness.''

Charges against Rigby were filed by Paul Rolf Jensen, a Virginia lawyer who has pursued accusations against other U.S. Presbyterian clergy in similar cases. A regional investigating committee will decide whether the case proceeds.

Rigby told the Austin American-Statesman, ''Either they have to strip me of my ordination or the church has to change.''

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