March 18, 2021 | by Rev. Karen Dammann
As we continue our “Where Love Lives: Fair and Equal Ordination for All” storytelling project as part of the Western Jurisdiction campaign for a fully inclusive church, we hear from Rev. Karen Dammann, who this week 17 years ago was put on trial for “practices incompatible with Christian teaching” three years after disclosing to then-Pacific Northwest Conference Bishop Elias Galvan that she was a lesbian.
Her trial drew national media attention to a Sunday school classroom at Bothell (Washington) UMC. She was acquitted by a 13-member board of her peers. But as you’ll read in her first-person account, Dammann still wonders if the scrutiny, the fear, the isolation and more were all worth it.
It was 17 years ago this week that my family and a team of supporters arrived at a church north of Seattle for the trial that was to determine whether I was guilty of “practices incompatible with Christian teaching.”
This trial came at the end of a three-year legal process that began in 2001 when I came out to my Bishop. Our child was two-and-a-half years old at that time and had just started to call me “Mama.” This normally exciting development was the point that required me to face the fact that the closet was no place to raise a child. We would not teach this innocent being – our child – to lie, and we could not expect our child to keep his family a secret.
I thought about surrendering my credentials when we decided to leave the closet, but the person who had become our pastor, Rev. John Auer, asked me if I was still called to the ministry. The answer was “yes.” With John’s support, and the help of his congregation, I was able to come out to my Bishop.
I knew there would be consequences for my choice, the main one being the loss of my vocation. We hoped that coming out of the closet, rather than quietly quitting, might help our denomination move toward full inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons. What we were not prepared for was the media scrutiny, estrangement from colleagues, and threats to her safety.