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Transgender Issue on Judicial Council's Fall Docket

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  • umcornet
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 7, 2007
      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
      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 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
      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
      Clergy Leadership;"

      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 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.
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