Transgender Issue on Judicial Council's Fall Docket
- Transgender issue on Judicial Council's fall docket
August 6, 2007
A UMNS Report
By Neill Caldwell*
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
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 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 Church.
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, loving relationships."
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
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
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 retirement;"
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.