United Methodists lift their anti-gay restrictions. A lady who defied them wants reinstatement as pastor

Twenty years ago, Beth Stroud lost her cherished position as a United Methodist pastor in Philadelphia when she was defrocked. She was deemed guilty of going against “Christian teaching” due to her open acknowledgment of being in a committed relationship with another woman.

Earlier in the month, the United Methodist Church conference made a significant decision by rejecting the UMC’s long-standing anti-LGBTQ policies. This move not only signifies a shift in the church’s stance but also provides an opportunity for clergy members who were previously removed due to these policies to seek reinstatement.

Stroud is choosing to take that path, even as she remembers how her life was disrupted by her removal in 2004. However, not all those who have faced UMC discipline in the past are making the same choice. Stroud remains hopeful that her pastoral credentials will be reinstated by United Methodist clergy from eastern Pennsylvania at an upcoming meeting.

As Stroud prepared for a church service last Sunday, she reflected on the significance of being reinstated and couldn’t help but feel emotional. Tears welled up in her eyes as she contemplated the profound pull she still felt after two decades. “It’s incredible how strong that calling is,” she shared. “Even after all this time, I still have the desire to return.”

At 54, she has no immediate plans to return to full-time ministry. Currently, she is wrapping up a three-year teaching position at Princeton University, where she has been instructing students in writing. However, she is thrilled to share that she will be embarking on a new journey this summer as an assistant professor of Christian history at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio. It’s worth noting that this seminary is one of the 13 seminaries operated by the UMC.

Despite her new teaching job, Stroud still desired to have the same opportunities as an ordained minister. This would allow her to explore the possibility of joining a congregation near the campus in Delaware, Ohio.

“I believe that a church could find value in my skills and qualifications, particularly in situations where the regular pastor is unavailable. For instance, I could be asked to lead Communion services on days when the pastor is out of town. These opportunities would hold great significance for me.”

Stroud was confident that she had made the right decision when she finally reached a conclusion.

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She expressed her satisfaction in writing the email and requesting reinstatement, emphasizing her desire to remain an active participant in the church’s endeavors and its impact on society.

She faced a difficult decision as she closely monitored the UMC’s discussions regarding the anti-LGBTQ policies.

“I was consumed with anger at first, contemplating the alternate life that could have been mine,” she expressed. “Being a pastor brought me immense joy, and I excelled in my role. If only I had been given another two decades of experience, I could have made a substantial impact, providing assistance and finding fulfillment in helping countless individuals.”

Instead of being a pastor, she dedicated several years to pursuing higher education while working in temporary academic positions that offered modest income. Along the way, she faced various obstacles such as battling cancer and going through a divorce from her wife. However, despite these challenges, they managed to maintain a co-parenting relationship for their daughter, who was born in 2005.

“If I hadn’t been defrocked,” Stroud reflected, “my entire life would have taken a different path.”

In April 2003, Stroud disclosed her same-sex relationship to her congregation at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown, where she had been serving as a pastor for four years. The church took action by establishing a legal fund to support her defense and offering her a position as a lay minister following her defrocking.

After relocating to New Jersey, she embarked on a search for a new church to become a part of. Eventually, she found Turning Point United Methodist Church in Trenton, a predominantly Black congregation, and decided to make it her spiritual home.

While Stroud was sitting in the pews on Sunday, she received a shout-out from Turning Point’s pastor, Rupert Hall.

Hall expressed his gratitude for the past 15 years, acknowledging the presence of a remarkable individual within Turning Point. He emphasized the individual’s role as a loving, supportive, and active member of the organization.

Beth’s credentials to be a pastor were revoked by the United Methodist Church, and she has gained global recognition as a martyr for LGBTQ individuals who identify themselves as children of God.

The crowd erupted in cheers as Hall announced that Stroud would now have the opportunity to be reinstated.

The UMC does not have comprehensive data on the number of clergy members who were defrocked for defying anti-LGBTQ bans, nor does it have information on potential reinstatements.

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In 1999, Jimmy Creech had his clergy credentials removed by jurors at a church court for presiding over a same-sex union ceremony in North Carolina. This decision led to his ousting from the UMC, and he will not be exercising the option of joining the new denomination like Stroud.

Creech expressed gratitude for the recent legislation passed by the General Conference during its proceedings in Charlotte, North Carolina. The legislation enables pastors who have been defrocked, like Creech, to be reinstated.

“This act signifies a commitment to reconciliation and restorative justice, aiming to mend the fractured community of the Church,” expressed Creech, who had previously harbored doubts about the possibility of such a move.

But Creech, who is 79 years old, has made it clear that he has no intention of seeking reinstatement.

In an email response, he expressed his contentment with the fact that the Church now offers this provision. He added that reinstating his ordination would not be appropriate since he is not currently involved in pastoral ministry.

In 1970, Creech became ordained and went on to serve in several parishes in his home state of North Carolina.

In 1984, the UMC General Conference passed a law that prohibited individuals who identified as “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from serving in ministry. This decision had a significant impact on Reverend Creech’s congregation, as one member tearfully confided in him that he was gay and felt compelled to leave the UMC.

Creech started delving into biblical studies on sexuality and eventually came to the conclusion that “the church was wrong.” This realization prompted him to become an activist for LGBTQ issues in North Carolina. He briefly served as a pastor in Nebraska, where he faced a church trial for officiating a union ceremony for two women in 1997. Despite being acquitted, Creech faced further consequences when he returned to North Carolina and performed a ceremony for two men. As a result, he was defrocked in 1999.

After that, Creech continued his ministry and frequently served as a guest preacher in various churches across the country.

“I came to the realization that despite everything, I am still the same person deep down. I still hold my identity as a pastor within me. The church may have stripped me of a title, but it never took away my essence.”

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Amy DeLong, a lesbian pastor hailing from Wisconsin, has been a stalwart advocate for LGBTQ inclusion within the United Methodist Church (UMC) for many years. She dedicated her efforts towards this cause by establishing an advocacy organization, actively protesting against the bans during General Conferences, and even going as far as conducting a same-sex union. In 2011, she faced a church trial as a result of her actions, which led to a 20-day suspension from ministry. Despite this setback, Amy DeLong remained resolute in her fight for equality.

In 2019, the bans were once again upheld by the UMC General Conference, which led her to make a significant decision. By 2021, she had reached her breaking point. With almost twenty-five years of experience as a UMC minister, DeLong decided to take early retirement.

“I reached a point where I could no longer tolerate the hypocrisy,” DeLong expressed, as she no longer identifies as a Methodist. “In my opinion, the harm they were causing far outweighed any good they were accomplishing. They no longer have the power to influence or hold authority over me.”

DeLong expresses his approval of the UMC’s decision to lift the bans, however, he points out that LGBTQ pastors within the church still encounter inequality.

“It’s a relief that language is no longer in existence. It was never meant to define us,” she expressed. “However, the sheer magnitude of mindless violence weighs heavily on my conscience.”

The UMC was the final mainline Protestant group to remove policies that excluded LGBTQ individuals from marriage and ministry. LGBTQ religious individuals played a significant role in advocating for change across various denominations. A notable example is the Shower of Stoles exhibit, curated by the National LGBTQ Task Force, which showcases liturgical vestments worn by activist clergy and members from the UMC, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and other churches.

Cathy Renna, spokesperson for the task force, emphasized the immense challenges that queer individuals have encountered within faith communities. However, she also acknowledged the remarkable courage displayed by those who have boldly asserted, “These are my values. This is my faith.”

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