BOTHELL, Wash. -- A lesbian Methodist pastor was acquitted yesterday in a church trial over her sexual orientation, and will be allowed to continue her ministry.
After about 10 hours of deliberations, a jury of 13 pastors ruled in favor of the Rev. Karen Dammann, 47, who disclosed three years ago that she was in a homosexual relationship.
Church law prohibits the ordination of self-avowed, practicing homosexuals, but the church's social principles support gay rights and liberties.
The jury issued a statement saying the church "did not present sufficient clear and convincing evidence to sustain the charge."
"We realize that the church is divided regarding issues related to homosexuality," the jury said in its statement. "We, the Trial Court, are far from unanimous regarding biblical and theological understandings."
Dammann has been on leave as pastor of First United Methodist Church in Ellensburg, 95 miles east of Seattle. This month she married her partner of nine years, Meredith Savage, in Portland, Ore., where officials have been allowing gay marriages. They have a 5-year-old son. The ruling means Dammann is in good standing with the church.
Dammann did not testify at her three-day trial at Bothell United Methodist Church in this Seattle suburb.
In closing arguments Friday, her church counsel, the Rev. Robert C. Ward, asked jurors to adhere to church principles on inclusiveness and justice, not to the letter of church rules.
"We need to be careful about creating rules that exclude people," Ward said.
The Rev. James C. Finkbeiner, who prosecuted the case, contended that Dammann, by her own admission, is 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."