Baltimore-Washington leaders explore transgender issue
- CALLED OUT INFORMATION SERVICE
From United Methodist News Service
Oct. 1, 2001
Baltimore-Washington leaders explore transgender issue
News media contact: Tim Tanton� (615)742-5470� Nashville, Tenn.
By Dean Snyder*
WASHINGTON (UMNS) � A group of United Methodist leaders is planning
conversations throughout the church's Baltimore-Washington Annual
Conference about the status of transgender clergy.
A 12-member committee comprising representatives from the
conference's board of ordained ministry, the bishop's cabinet, the
order of elders and the order of deacons met with the Rev. Thomas W.
Porter, a lawyer and clergyman who heads JUSTPEACE, a United
Methodist mediation service, on Sept. 4, according to the Rev.
Roberta Scoville, the group's spokeswoman and dean of the order of
The committee of leaders from the Baltimore-Washington Conference
will meet three times this fall to discuss the issue of transgender
clergy in ways that model trust and cooperation and to design "a
means of expanding the circle of conversation," Scoville said. Porter
will facilitate the meetings using mediation techniques developed by
"The group cannot make any decisions or recommendations about a
specific individual," Scoville said. "What we can do is provide
clergy and laity with a way to be well informed, understanding of all
positions, and engage them in a spiritual discernment process so that
when they are confronted by decisions brought to the clergy session
we have a thoughtful and well grounded � spiritually grounded � basis
for the church to address those decisions."
The issue of the status of transgender clergy was raised earlier this
year during the clergy session at annual conference in June. The
board of ordained ministry acknowledged that, despite its rule of
confidentiality, many people were aware that it had discussed the
question of whether the Rev. Rebecca Steen, formerly the Rev. Richard
Zomastny, a pastor who had had a sex-change operation, could return
from a voluntary leave of absence to active service as the appointed
pastor of a local church. Although no action was taken by the board
or required of the clergy session because Steen decided to remain on
leave, the issue had the potential to severely divide the conference,
according to the board.
The board asked the orders of elders and deacons to initiate a
conversation among clergy and lay people "to explore the issues
raised in the hearts and minds of many regarding the responsibilities
of the board of ordained ministry in relation to a clergy colleague
who is transgendered," according to a report issued by the orders'
The orders recommended that the JUSTPEACE Center for Mediation and
Conflict Transformation, an organization established by the
denomination's General Council on Finance and Administration in 1999,
be asked to assist in planning and facilitating the conversations.
After consultation with Bishop Felton Edwin May, JUSTPEACE was
invited to work with the conference.
Scoville said the committee, also known as a "core group," has set
the agenda for three fall meetings. The first meeting will be a
learning session exploring personal experiences, biblical and
theological points of view, medical and psychological perspectives,
sociological and cultural aspects, United Methodist polity and due
process. The second meeting will focus on spiritual discernment with
the goal of identifying affirmations and concerns raised by the
learning session. During the third meeting, the group will design a
means for "expanding the circle of conversation" throughout the
annual conference, Scoville said.
Porter, a retired trial lawyer who specialized in representing
nonprofit and charitable organizations, developed JUSTPEACE's process
for conflict mediation called "Engage Conflict Well" after becoming
disillusioned with adversarial law. He studied mediation at Harvard
University and Eastern Mennonite University, but he said he was most
influenced by a visit to observe the South African Truth and
Reconciliation Commission, led by Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
The Engage Conflict Well process emphasizes small group discussion in
which people agree on a covenant of mutual respect and share peak
experiences before tackling areas of disagreement. The covenant
includes agreement to speak and listen with respect.
"The main thing that people need in life is to be heard," Porter
said. "They don't have to have you agree with them, but people, for a
lot of different reasons, do not feel heard today, and we need to
provide opportunities for them to be heard."
Scoville believes JUSTPEACE offers a way of discussing controversial
issues that will be "more productive and less hurtful." She doesn't
know if anybody's mind will be changed as a result of the
conversations, she said, but "they may perceive people who don't
agree with them in a different way."
Scoville has extended an invitation to the clergy and laity of the
conference to recommend resources, such as scholars, theologians,
physicians or written materials, which they believe should be part of
the core group's learning process. She is also asking people to
identify specific issues or concerns the committee should consider.
The core group, which currently consists entirely of clergy, plans to
add lay people to its membership, Scoville said.
# # #
*Snyder is director of communications for the Baltimore-Washington
Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. This story
originally appeared in the conference newspaper, UMConnection.
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