The UNC's nine-member Judicial Council — seven of whom heard the case Thursday in Houston — found that the Rev. Irene "Beth" Stroud violated the denomination's ban on "self-avowed, practicing homosexual" clergy. The ruling was issued through its Web site on Monday.
A church panel decided in December that Stroud, 35, by being in a lesbian partnership, engaged in practices that are incompatible with Christian teachings. The panel's decision was overturned by an appeals committee, but the Judicial Council has now backed the original ruling.
Stroud's representatives had argued that taking away her clergy credentials because she's a lesbian amounts to discrimination.
The Judicial Council ruling says the church does not discriminate based on sexual orientation: Gays and lesbians are allowed to become Methodist ministers, but they must remain celibate.
Stroud "could be welcomed back with both arms," United Methodist Church counsel Thomas Hall said. "But she'd have to be celibate." Stroud had acknowledged that the relationship between herself and her female partner was sexual.
Stroud, who became an associate pastor at Philadelphia's First United Methodist Church of Germantown in 1999, has said she never revealed her sexual orientation in documents related to her ordination but didn't keep it a secret, either.
She said she decided to come out in 2003 because she felt she was being held back in her faith by not sharing the complete truth about her life. A complaint was filed against her last year.
"I thought I was prepared for anything, but still the news came as a blow," Stroud said in a phone interview Monday. "It's a sad day for me and for my family and for my congregation and, I think, a sad day for the United Methodist Church."
Eight council members voted to defrock Stroud; one council member was absent. Two members — Beth Capen and Susan T. Henry-Crowe — wrote a separate statement saying they felt badly about the result.
"We do not disagree with the legal analysis of our colleagues, although we deeply regret the outcome," they wrote. "While the Judicial Council must be faithful to its charge from the church we are also sensitive to the hurt, pain and brokenness of the family of God."