An openly gay United Methodist minister lost her bid to return to the pulpit Monday (Oct. 31) when the church's highest court upheld her conviction on charges of being a "self-avowed practicing" lesbian.

And, in a separate decision that could have even wider implications, the church's Judicial Council said gays and lesbians have no automatic right to church membership and upheld the power of local pastors to turn them away.

The twin rulings represent a major setback for liberals who advocate greater inclusion of homosexuals in the nation's second-largest Protestant denomination, and served to reinforce church policy on homosexuality as ironclad.

The Rev. Irene Elizabeth "Beth" Stroud, the openly gay pastor at the center of the debate, called it a "sad day" for the 8.3 million-member church.

"I think it's clear that the whole policy one day is going to be something that the church is going to be ashamed of," said Stroud, who will remain at Philadelphia's First United Methodist Church of Germantown as a lay minister.

The Judicial Council ruled 6-2 against Stroud, who disclosed her homosexual relationship in 2003. A church court convicted her last December of conduct that is "incompatible with Christian teaching" and revoked her ordination.

An appeals panel later threw out the verdict, citing legal errors, but the high court ordered the trial court's penalty reinstated. The court said the evidence against Stroud was "uncontradicted and overwhelming."

The court rejected Stroud's argument that her "status" as a lesbian protected her from discrimination under church law. "We hold that (church law) is not directed at the status of being a homosexual or having a particular homosexual orientation," the court said.

Two members of the panel, ...

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