|Transgender issue on Judicial Council's fall docket|
A UMNS Report
By Neill Caldwell*
Aug. 6, 2007
The United Methodist Church’s top judicial authority will again be
considering questions about sexuality — including the case of a pastor
who switched gender from female to male — when it tackles a full docket
at its fall meeting.
The Judicial Council, the top court for The United Methodist Church, is scheduled to meet Oct. 24-27 in San Francisco.
At this year’s Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference in late May,
Bishop John R. Schol reappointed the Rev. Drew Phoenix as pastor of St.
John’s United Methodist Church in Baltimore. Phoenix, 48, had been
minister at St. John’s for five years as the Rev. Ann Gordon. After
surgery and hormone therapy in the past year, the pastor changed his
gender to male and adopted a new name.
"My transition to live fully as the male I know myself to be is very
personal and deeply spiritual," Phoenix told the annual conference. "As I
continue to transition, to fully claim myself as a male, I find myself
coming home to the child God created me to be. I find myself joyful,
whole, and peaceful. And I find myself even more effective as a pastor."
Though the United Methodist Church bars self-avowed practicing gay clergy from appointment and does not support gay unions, the Book of Discipline says nothing about transgender clergy.
During discussion around Phoenix in the Baltimore-Washington
executive clergy session, two requests were made for the bishop’s
decision of law. The first asked whether a name change based on a change
of gender identity should be listed in a category which requires no
discussion or approval, or whether it should be placed under another
disciplinary area that requires consent and recommendation by the
conference Board of Ordained Ministry. The second asked whether
transgender persons are eligible for appointment in The United Methodist
In his ruling, Bishop Schol wrote that "There are no paragraphs in the 2004 Book of Discipline that prevent transgender clergy from serving in an appointment."
Both of these questions are docket items for the council’s fall
meeting. The Judicial Council automatically reviews all bishops’
decisions of law, as is required by the Book of Discipline.
Three resolutions from the Northern Illinois Annual Conference that
deal with the openness of the church to all people are also on the fall
docket. The resolutions — "Affirming All Families," "Conference
Affirming Article IV of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church"
and "Affirming Inclusiveness of the Church Concerning Membership and
Participation in Accord with the Constitution of The United Methodist
Church" — all address inclusiveness. One states a desire to "make it
clear that the definition of ‘status’ in Article IV of the church's
constitution includes heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual and transgender
status of single persons and persons who avow they are in committed,
The paragraph in the denomination’s constitution deals with the idea
that all people "are of sacred worth" and are fully eligible for
participation and membership in The United Methodist Church.
The Judicial Council will review the Minnesota Annual Conference's
approval of adding domestic partners of lay people to the conference’s
health insurance plan. (Asked to rule on a similar plan for the West
Michigan Annual Conference, the council in Decision 1030 simply stated
that each conference has the responsibility to make sure no church funds
are being used to promote homosexuality as stated in Paragraph 612.19
of the Book of Discipline.)
Two annual conferences — Western North Carolina and Pacific-Northwest
— have bishop’s decisions of law questions related to Paragraph 612.19
in the Discipline, which forbids annual conferences from giving church funds to "promote the acceptance of homosexuality."
Other items on the fall docket relate to more traditional issues within the church including:
- A question from the Committee on Nominations of the 2004
Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference on the allocation of membership
on general boards and agencies of the denomination by the secretary of
the General Conference;
- A request from the Memphis Annual Conference as to whether or not
candidates for election as delegates to general and jurisdictional
conference can be compelled to disclose their views on issues;
- A question from the Memphis Annual Conference in regard to a
conference policy entitled "Identifying and Strengthening Effective
- A review of a bishop’s decision of law in the Baltimore-Washington
Annual Conference concerning the constitutionality of its plan of
- A request from the West Michigan Annual Conference concerning the
procedure for a vote for continuance of a local pastor’s licensing;
- A review of a bishop’s decision of law in the Western Pennsylvania
Annual Conference concerning whether procedures used by the annual
conference with respect to complaints comply with the Discipline;
- A review of a bishop’s decision of law in the Iowa Annual Conference concerning a paragraph in the Book of Discipline that deals with conference benevolences;
- A review of a bishop’s decision of law in the South Carolina Annual
Conference Concerning the legality of the standing rule for the election
of the conference secretary;
- A review of a bishop’s decision of law in the New England Annual
Conference concerning the legality of the conference policy on
parsonages shared between local church clergy and conference staff;
- A review of a bishop’s decision of law in the California-Nevada
Annual Conference dealing with "involuntary leave of absence,
administrative and judicial process, and voluntary or involuntary
- A review of a bishop’s decision of law in the Illinois Great Rivers
Annual Conference concerning the confidentiality of supervisory files.
The Judicial Council’s spring meeting will be held during 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.
*Caldwell covers the Judicial Council for United Methodist News
Service and is editor of the Virginia United Methodist Advocate of the
Virginia Annual Conference.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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