A pastor who pleaded guilty in King County Superior Court last fall to a charge of giving false testimony in a road-rage case has been cleared of wrongdoing in a church trial.
A panel of 12 United Methodist clergies decided not to discipline the Rev. Dan Sailer, pastor of Haller Lake United Methodist Church, for lying in court three years ago when he testified in an assault trial about an altercation between his male roommate and a woman.
The decision by the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference to exonerate Sailer of violating the denomination's rule of discipline was criticized by some church leaders from other parts of the country. They say the district's handling of the case illustrates a conflict over homosexuality that threatens to split the church.
The case stems from the assault trial of Kevin Mooney, who was accused in December 1996 of shoving Kathryn Frazier to the pavement in a Federal Way parking lot after she and her mother had chided him for driving too fast.
Sailer, who was then pastor of Sunrise United Methodist Church in Federal Way, testified that he wasn't personally acquainted with either party and that Mooney had acted in self-defense.
Investigators later determined that Mooney and Sailer were roommates. A King County prosecutor testified in court that Sailer and Mooney were "involved in a relationship" and that Mooney had taken Sailer's last name.
A Methodist magazine wrote an article last month, saying Sailer's sons had signed a police statement saying they had witnessed a clandestine wedding ceremony between the two in 1997.
Sailer was initially charged with perjury but entered an Alford plea to a lesser misdemeanor charge of giving false testimony in court. In Alford pleas, defendants don't admit guilt but acknowledge that juries probably would find them guilty.
Sailer was sentenced in September to a one-year deferred sentence and 240 hours of community service.
He has said publicly that his relationship with Mooney is as a pastor and congregation member.
Neither Sailer nor the chairman of his church's staff-parish-relations committee would comment on the church proceedings, held Feb. 7 at Des Moines United Methodist Church. Sailer's attorney, Todd Maybrown of Seattle, said everyone involved had pledged silence.
Pacific Northwest conference Bishop Elias Galvan confirmed that the church jury agreed not to discipline Sailer, despite the court ruling that he gave false testimony. Sailer's private life was not part of the church hearing, and he continues as a pastor in good standing with the Seattle district.
"Everything that we did was in accordance with the Book of Discipline, which is the rules that order the way we do our work together as Methodists," said the Rev. Robert Hoshibata, superintendent of the Seattle District. "It was clearly in accordance with the ways in which the church asks us to proceed in these matters."
But some church conservatives contend Sailer's exoneration is indicative of a national rift between traditionalists and liberals over whether Methodists should accept gay clergies and same-sex unions.
Last spring the denomination leadership voted by a two-thirds margin that homosexuality is "incompatible with church teaching."
But many of those votes came from heartland Methodists, and many churches on the West Coast have tended to hold more-liberal views about homosexuality.
The decision "left a lot of us wondering if this isn't a political thing, that a bunch of (church) jurors who are sympathetic to the homosexual issue weren't just standing by one of their own," said James Heidinger, an ordained Methodist clergyman who is also publisher of Good News, a conservative Methodist magazine.