Complaints, trials, and discrimination

Complaints against clergy

Below are the names of clergy who have faced complaints and/or been put on trial for officiating same-sex weddings or for identifying as gay, bisexual, trans or lesbian. Other clergy whose names belong on this list have chosen to remain private. Many more have surrendered their orders under threats and intimidation by the church and even more were forced out of the ordination process or away from their calling to ministry before they even had a chance to be ordained. To add a name to this list, please email us.

Gene Leggett, 1971

GeneLeggett“The word of Leggett’s coming out reached the Board of Ministry and Bishop Eugene Slater in his annual conference.
They concluded that he was “unacceptable in the work of the ministry” while giving no particular rationale for that conclusion.

After a lively debate by the clergy members of the annual conference with opinions ranging from some who proposed ignoring the matter to others pressing for a church trial, they voted 144 to 117 to suspend him from ministry and surrender his clergy credentials. No charge of misconduct or mention of homosexuality was named in the action, simply that he was “unacceptable” as a United Methodist clergy.

Leggett requested consideration for readmission as clergy in 1972 and was refused by  the Austin District Committee.  He applied to the conference Board of Ministry in 1973, which deferred a decision in order to get legal clarification. Leggett’s case went to the denomination’s highest court, the Judicial Council. In April 1974 the Council ruled that since his suspension involved no “charges or complaints of character” he was eligible to be considered for readmission. He did reapply to the conference in 1975 and was voted down.” Read more…

Rev. Paul Abels, 1979

paulabels“On Sunday, November 27, 1977, Abels was featured in a New York Times article entitled “Minister Sponsors Homosexual Rituals.” The article told about four “covenant services” that Paul had performed in recent months. And in the article Paul identifies himself as a “homosexual.”

Controversy arose throughout the denomination with many critics calling for his removal. Bishop Ralph Ward asked Paul to take a leave of absence. Paul refused and his appointment was upheld by vote of the New York Annual Conference. The bishop then appealed to the Judicial Council, highest court in United Methodism, which ruled in 1979 that Abels was in “good standing” and in “effective relation” and could remain as pastor at Washington Square.” Read more…

Paul took early retirement from the pastorate in June, 1984, following the vote of the 1984 General Conference of the United Methodist Church to bar the ordination and appointment of “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals.”

Rev. Greg Dell, 1998

MethodistDellProtest“The Reverend Gregory Dell officiated at a covenant service for to gay men who were members of his congregation, Broadway United Methodist Church in Chicago. He was charged with disobedienceto the Discipline and order of The United Methodist Church. He was convicted and suspended indefinitely but a subsequent ruling limited the suspension to one year. (See chronology.) After the suspension, he returned as pastor to Broadway UMC.” Read more…

Jimmy Creech, 1998

Jimmy-Creech“A jury of 13 United Methodists stripped one of the denomination’s most outspoken ministers of his clergy credentials November 17. The jury found Jimmy Creech guilty of disobeying church law by presiding at a ceremony of a homosexual couple in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, last April. Creech, who made headlines when he was acquitted of a similar charge in 1998, will now become a layman in the harshest penalty the denomination has meted out for blessing a same-sex union.” Read more…

Rev. Mark Williams, 2001

markedwil“A complaint against an openly gay United Methodist pastor in the denomination’s Pacific Northwest Annual (regional) Conference was dismissed after a May 30 hearing.

The conference committee on investigation decided to drop a complaint against the Rev. Mark Edward Williams. Consequently, he will not face a church trial and will continue to serve as pastor of Woodland Park United Methodist Church in Seattle.

The complaint alleged that a statement by Williams about being a gay man, read into the record of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference meeting on June 15, 2001, was incompatible with the denomination’s standards for clergy.

A conference press release announced the decision by its nine-member committee, which deliberated about the complaint following the hearing. In a statement, the committee said it ‘found there was not reasonable cause to forward this matter for a church trial.'”

Rev. Karen Dammann, 2004

karendammann“Methodist clergy members said that a fellow minister did not violate church law by being in a lesbian relationship, concluding a proceeding that put on trial the church’s stance on homosexuality as much as it did the minister’s relationship.” Read more…

Beth Stroud, 2005

beth-stroud“Beth Stroud served as an ordained United Methodist pastor for six years before losing her clergy credentials in a 2004 church trial. In the trial, Beth was found guilty of “practices declared by the United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teaching” because she acknowledged living in a committed relationship with another woman.” Read more…

Rev. Drew Phoenix, 2007

drewAfter a ruling of law was issued in regards to Rev. Drew Phoenix’s gender transition while an appointed UMC elder, the Judicial Council responded: “A clergyperson who remained in good standing in an annual conference is required to be continued under appointment. A clergyperson’s good standing cannot be terminated without administrative or judicial action having occurred and all fair process being accorded. All clergy name changes regardless of the reasons for the name change are to be placed under minute question # 91. The Judicial Council does not reach the question of whether gender change is a chargeable offense or violates minimum standards established by the General Conference.” Read more…

Rev. Amy DeLong, 2011

360_amy_delong_0628“After more than six hours of deliberations, a jury of 13 United Methodist clergy voted 9-4 to suspend the Rev. Amy DeLong for 20 days beginning July 1. The suspension, the jury wrote, is to be used for spiritual discernment in preparation for a process seeking to restore the broken clergy covenant relationship.” Read more…

Rev. Dr. Thomas Ogletree, 2013

ogletree-211x300In a huge victory for all United Methodists, charges against Rev. Dr. Tom Ogletree were dismissed without any conditions. Ogletree was facing a church trial for officiating the same-sex wedding of his son. Bishop Martin McLee of New York said in a statement, “I call for and commit to cessation of trials for conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions or performing same-gender wedding ceremonies and instead offer a process of theological, spiritual and ecclesiastical conversation.” Read more…

Rev. Cheryl A. Fear, 2013

rev-cheryl-a-fear-headshot-263x388“Two United Methodist pastors in the Pacific Northwest Annual (regional) Conference under complaint for officiating at same-sex unions in violation of church law will face not a trial but a 24-hour suspension without pay.

That was the conclusion of the Rev. David Orendorff, appointed by Greater Northwest Area Bishop Grant Hagiya as the counsel for the church in the case — roughly the equivalent of a prosecutor.” Read more…

Rev. Dr. Rose Mary Denman

RoseMaryDenman“The jury, in effect, decided not to immediately terminate Denman’s ministerial status and gave her ample time to complete the transfer of her credentials to the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). On November 12, 1987, Denman was granted preliminary ministerial affiliation with the UUA. Denman was told that the UUA was prepared to accept her ministerial credentials as valid for transfer, regardless of what actions were taken by the United Methodists. They also said that they were prepared to ordain her, if that would feel like a more healing action to her. They left the decision on how to handle the transfer up to Denman. She chose to ask that her ministerial credentials be recognized as valid and transferred.

Denman was the first United Methodist clergyperson brought to trial for her identity as a “self-avowed, practicing homosexual.” Read more here.

Rev. Rebecca Steen, 2002

“One of the earliest documented case of clergy gender transition in Mainline Protestant traditions is the case of the Rev. Rebecca Steen in the United Methodist Church. In June 2002, charges were filed against Steen by a former secretary, causing Steen’s appointment to be put on hold pending an investigation. Additional charges were brought by the Bishop’s cabinet, including the cabinet’s request for her to take an involuntary leave of absence. Rather than face the continuing scrutiny, Steen resigned her credentials as United Methodist clergy on June 28, 2002.” Read more…

Rev. Steve Heiss, 2013

Rev. Steve Heiss. Photo courtesy Reconciling Ministries Network.From UMNS: “Since the summer of 2013, Heiss has spoken out to local and national media about his willingness to perform such weddings. That year, the Rev. Richard Barton filed a complaint against Heiss, and, in October, the bishop referred the complaint to a church counsel, raising the possibility the case would go to a church trial…”

The complaint was eventually dismissed in June 2015. Read more…

 

Rev. Gordon Hutchins, 2013

rev-gordon-hutchins-headshot-263x388“Two United Methodist pastors in the Pacific Northwest Annual (regional) Conference under complaint for officiating at same-sex unions in violation of church law will face not a trial but a 24-hour suspension without pay.

That was the conclusion of the Rev. David Orendorff, appointed by Greater Northwest Area Bishop Grant Hagiya as the counsel for the church in the case — roughly the equivalent of a prosecutor.” Read more…

Rev. Frank Schaefer, 2013

_DUB3226“Rev. Frank Schaefer is an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church where he ministered for 20 years (in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference) when, in 2013, he was tried by a highly publicized United Methodist church court for officiating at his son’s same-sex marriage. He was defrocked on December 19th, 2013 when he refused to uphold the Book of Discipline in its entirety, which would have meant to denounce gay marriage rights. With the stripping of his credentials, he lost his parish, career and security. Subsequently, Frank became a nation-wide speaker and activist. Though his credentials were reinstated by the Church’s highest court in the fall of 2014, Pastor Frank continues to advocate for human rights while also working in a new United Methodist parish in Isla Vista California.” Read more…

Philadelphia 33, 2013

RNS-METHODIST-GAY a“A group of 33 Eastern Pennsylvania clergy members (along with 19 UMC clergy from other conferences participating by proxy and 21 clergy from other faith traditions – 74 in total) co-officiated a same-sex wedding at Arch Street UMC in Philadelphia on November 9, 2013. The participating clergy, and also the happy couple who were united in Christian marriage, viewed the service as an act of love and solidarity with Frank Schaeffer and LGBTQ persons in the church and beyond.” Read more…

Rev. Sarah Thompson-Tweedy, 2013

stt“In March 2013, an official complaint was filed against Tweedy accusing her of being a ‘self-avowed practicing homosexual,’ a chargeable offense under the denomination’s Book of Discipline. Bishop Martin McLee referred the case to a counsel for the church, roughly the equivalent of a prosecutor, for investigation. Tweedy received a letter from McLee telling her the complaint has been dismissed.” Read more…

Rev. Bill McElvaney, 2014

BillMcElvaney“The Rev. William McElvaney, a retired United Methodist pastor and seminary president who faces a complaint under church law for doing a same-sex wedding, is undergoing hospice care. McElvaney, 86, was diagnosed in 2011 with liver cancer, and received a radiation treatment three days before he presided at the wedding of Jack Evans and George Harris in Dallas, on March 1.”  Read more…

Rev. Ed Rowe, 2014

edrowe“On the heels of the nationally observed Methodist trial of Rev. Frank Schaefer, a bishop has reached resolution with two clergy who officiated same-sex weddings. Even though United Methodist clergy are required to provide the ministry of the church to all persons, current church law forbids presiding over same-sex weddings—an action that in other areas has led to church trials and defrocking.

Bishop Deborah Kiesey who oversees the Michigan area United Methodist churches was able to settle the complaints out of court, reaching a “Just Resolution” between the clergy and complainants. Part of the agreement charges the two clergy persons in cooperation with the Church to host a series of events that will emulate the ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ model used in South Africa following the end of apartheid.” Read more…

Rev. Mike Tupper, 2014

tupper2“On the heels of the nationally observed Methodist trial of Rev. Frank Schaefer, a bishop has reached resolution with two clergy who officiated same-sex weddings. Even though United Methodist clergy are required to provide the ministry of the church to all persons, current church law forbids presiding over same-sex weddings—an action that in other areas has led to church trials and defrocking.

Bishop Deborah Kiesey who oversees the Michigan area United Methodist churches was able to settle the complaints out of court, reaching a “Just Resolution” between the clergy and complainants. Part of the agreement charges the two clergy persons in cooperation with the Church to host a series of events that will emulate the ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ model used in South Africa following the end of apartheid.” Read more…

Bishop Melvin Talbert, 2014

btalbertJanuary 5, 2015–Complaints filed against Bishop Melvin Talbert alleging he violated the sacred trust of his office for officiating a same-sex wedding have been resolved, avoiding trial. In the agreement, Bishop Talbert “holds steadfastly to the conviction that his actions were just and right,” and Bishops Wenner and Wallace-Padgett maintain that “pain exists throughout the entire connection, including among those who support the actions of Bishop Talbert, and those who object to the actions.” Read more…

Rev. Amanda Garber, 2014

amanda“Two clergy in Virginia will not face trial for officiating same-sex weddings, according to a statement today by conference officials. Rev. Amanda Garber was given a one-month suspension without pay for presiding over the wedding of Brittany and Lindsay, two of her congregants.” Read more…

Rev. Dr. John Copenhaver, 2014

john“Two clergy in Virginia will not face trial for officiating same-sex weddings, according to a statement today by conference officials. Prof. Emeritus at Shenandoah University, Rev. Dr. John D. Copenhaver, was suspended for three months for officiating at the wedding of Sarah and Rev. Delyn Celec who married in part to care for their niece and two nephews in need of family following the murder of the children’s mother.” Read more…

Rev. Larry W. Sonner

rsonner“Methodist Pastor Larry Sonner married a lesbian couple He tells why he decided to perform the wedding as an act of civil disobedience within the church and what he hopes to accomplish for his faith.” Read more…

Rev. Pam Hawkins

Rev. Pam Hawkins, in the Tennessee Annual Conference, was suspended without pay for 90 days for performing a same-sex marriage.  Read more… wedding2 (1)

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