Officials of the United Methodist Church offered different jobs in another area late last spring to a Washington minister now on trial in a Silver Spring church on sexual harassment charges, a church official said yesterday.
The Rev. James S. Webb, chairman of the Commission on Religion and Race for the Baltimore Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, said he and about 14 other black Methodist ministers met with Bishop Joseph Yeakel on May 30 at Asbury United Methodist Church in Washington seeking a settlement on the charges against the Rev. John P. Carter, a conference staff official.
"What we thought should have been offered had been offered, and John had turned it down," Webb said. Webb declined to release more details of the offer, but another minister, the Rev. Joe Gipson, said, "It was not a job comparable to what Carter had."
Neither Carter nor the minister representing him at the trial would comment on the May effort at reconciliation.
Yeakel said in a telephone interview that Carter also made an offer to end the dispute.
"Carter's offer for adjudication was not acceptable to the church counsel or the complainants," Yeakel said. No other information was given about the offer.
Carter, alleged by the church to have regularly made sexual advances toward two white women and three black women while they were employed or seeking jobs on projects he oversaw, has denied the charges.
The trial is being conducted according to the Book of Discipline, which spells out the laws of the Methodist Church. If found guilty by nine of the 13 trial court members, Carter could be stripped of his ministerial credentials.
No criminal charges have been brought against Carter.
Bishop Yeakel described Carter's case as unusual. "This is the first and only complaint of sexual harassment that has come to me," he said.
Officials with the national headquarters of the United Methodist Church estimate that there are only four or five church trials a year in the country. But they said they were unaware of any other trial in which the minister was accused of sexual harassment.
Carter and his supporters -- including black clergy and black church members in the Washington-Baltimore area -- have said the church would not have brought sexual harassment charges against him if he were white.
Carter, 36, first raised the issue of racism during several public rallies last summer, according to people who attended the rallies.
His counsel, the Rev. Irvin Lockman, raised it again during the fourth day of the trial yesterday when he cross-examined the Rev. Dave Andrews, Carter's former supervisor on the conference staff.
"Have you ever called John Carter a nigger?" Lockman asked Andrews, who is white.
"I have never called John Carter that nor have I ever called anyone that," Andrews replied.
Andrews earlier testified that he went to the bishop with secondhand allegations about Carter's behavior. The bishop decided to have a conference about Carter, but only on issues relating to how well Carter did his job, Andrews said.
Several ministers said yesterday the specter of racism haunting this trial is a manifestation of conflict that has been building up between black and white congregations since an all-black conference and all-white conference merged in 1965 to become the Baltimore Annual Conference.
The current conference, which includes the District, most of Maryland and parts of West Virginia, has about 240,000 members. About 30,000, or 12.5 percent, are black, according to a conference historian.
"When the black conference existed in its own right, it had its own black bishop, its own black officials," explained one white official familiar with the history of the merger. "The blacks lost all their leadership with the merger and it became a struggle for power and recognition within the predominantly white conference.