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Church Court Upholds Transgender Pastor's Appointment

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    See also: Transgender man can keep post as pastor Methodist council rules after local clergy questioned his appointment Baltimore Sun
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 30, 2007
      See also:

      Transgender man can keep post as pastor
      Methodist council rules after local clergy questioned his appointment
      Baltimore Sun

      NPR Story and Video


      Church court upholds transgender pastor's appointment
      October 30, 2007
      By Neill Caldwell*

      SAN FRANCISCO (UMNS) - The United Methodist Church's supreme court has
      upheld a bishop's decision that a pastor who changed gender from
      female to male remains eligible to serve the church.

      In combining two separate docket items related to the Rev. Drew
      Phoenix, pastor at St. John's United Methodist Church in Baltimore,
      the Judicial Council stated that it was not ruling on whether changing
      gender is a chargeable offense or violates minimum standards set by
      the church's legislative body, the General Conference. Rather, the
      court said "a clergyperson's standing cannot be terminated without
      administrative or juridical action having occurred and all fair
      process being accorded."

      "The adjective (in this case, 'transgender') placed in front of the
      noun 'clergyperson' does not matter," the court states in Decision
      1074. "What matters is that clergypersons, once ordained and admitted
      to membership in full connection, cannot have that standing changed
      without being accorded fair process."

      Because Phoenix is a clergy member in good standing, the ruling means
      Phoenix will continue to serve his church. But the subject of whether
      transgender clergy are eligible for appointment is likely to be among
      issues debated when the church's General Conference convenes next
      April in Fort Worth, Texas. The United Methodist Church bars
      practicing homosexuals from being ordained but has nothing in its
      polity about transgender persons.

      In other decisions related to sexuality issues, the council ruled that
      a Minnesota Annual Conference plan for providing health benefits for
      domestic partners does not violate the church's Book of Discipline.

      The council would not take jurisdiction in challenges to three
      Northern Illinois Annual Conference resolutions affirming
      inclusiveness in the church. The council also remanded a case
      questioning whether Western North Carolina Annual Conference funds
      were being used to promote homosexuality. It upheld a bishop's
      decision in the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference that two campus
      ministry groups receiving conference funds were not part of any
      network that promotes homosexuality.

      Notable absence

      The Judicial Council meeting also was notable for the absence of its
      president, Dr. Jim Holsinger. As President George W. Bush's nominee
      for U.S. surgeon general, Holsinger said his participation could
      become an "unnecessary and unproductive distraction" to the court's

      Holsinger is awaiting confirmation as the country's top doctor as the
      U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee awaits
      answers to follow-up questions posed to him in August on his views on
      homosexuality. His nomination has drawn opposition from gay rights
      groups, among others.

      In a statement issued just before the start of the meeting, Holsinger
      said the "work of the council is too important in the life of The
      United Methodist Church to have its work distracted. While I remain
      dedicated to fulfilling the role to which I was elected, I believe
      this is a time in which my service to the Council can best be
      demonstrated by my absence."

      Sexuality-related cases

      During the 2007 executive clergy session of the Baltimore-Washington
      Annual Conference, a change of name was recorded for Phoenix, from the
      Rev. Ann Gordon, who was ordained in 1989 and had led the St. John's
      congregation for five years. Bishop John R. Schol confirmed that,
      following surgery and hormone therapy, the pastor had changed gender
      and adopted a new name.

      Two requests were made for a bishop's decision of law: one on a
      technical question about how to categorize the pastor's name change
      for the conference's Board of Ordained Ministry, and the other on
      whether a transgender person is eligible for appointment in The United
      Methodist Church. Schol said there is nothing in the church's polity
      that prevents a transgender person from serving as a pastor, and that
      the name change was handled correctly.

      All decisions of law made by a bishop are automatically sent to the
      Judicial Council for review, as required by the Book of Discipline.
      While combining the two questions into one ruling, the Judicial
      Council affirmed both of Schol's decisions. A clergyperson in good
      standing is "required to be continued under appointment," the council
      ruled. In regard to the name change, the council said all name changes
      "regardless of the reason . . . are to be placed in minute question 91."

      In the Minnesota domestic partner benefits case, the council ruled the
      plan did not violate Discipline paragraphs listed in the request for a
      decision because no United Methodist Church funds were being used to
      supply the benefits. The plan offers benefits to lay employees of the
      conference and their families, including domestic partners, and the
      cost of the health care coverage is borne by the employee.

      In the question on whether money from the Western North Carolina
      Conference budget was being used to promote homosexuality through the
      North Carolina Council of Churches and by the campus ministry at the
      University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the council ruled that it
      is up to the individual conferences to determine whether money is
      being used in violation of Paragraph 612.19 of the Book of Discipline,
      which blocks funds from being spent in such a manner. The decision
      directs the conference's Council for Finance and Administration to
      perform its own investigation and report to the council within 60 days.

      In the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference decision, the council
      upheld the bishop's decision that the conference's Council for Finance
      and Administration had properly investigated two ministries at the
      University of Washington and the University of Puget Sound and
      determined that they were not affiliated with groups promoting

      In the Northern Illinois Annual Conference item, the council said it
      did not have jurisdiction because the three resolutions were not
      debated separately but were handled together as part of the consent
      calendar. All three were related to the inclusiveness of the church
      and in response to the Judicial Council's earlier Decision 1032, which
      supported the actions of a pastor who blocked an openly gay man from
      joining the church.

      Other issues

      The council ruled that candidates for the church's General Conference
      and jurisdictional conferences cannot be compelled to disclose their
      view on controversial issues.

      In Decision 1083, the council declared a motion adopted by the Memphis
      Annual Conference unconstitutional because it directed the annual
      conference to create a survey for prospective candidates. "Any attempt
      on the part of an Annual Conference to add to or change the procedures
      for the election of clergy or lay members to General or Jurisdictional
      conference is unconstitutional," the council ruled. The decision noted
      that candidates can choose to ignore or respond to surveys from
      various caucus groups.

      The council also rejected as unconstitutional a new policy from the
      Memphis Annual Conference titled "Identifying and Strengthening
      Effective Clergy Leadership." The strongly worded ruling lists seven
      points in which the policy does not conform with the Book of
      Discipline, including that the "twelve-month whirlwind process . . .
      suggests that the real purpose of the proposal is to weed out
      ineffective clergy rather than developing the skills and abilities
      which would enable them to become effective."

      In a review of a bishop's decision of law in the Western Pennsylvania
      Conference on a report titled "Faithful, Effective and Fruitful
      Clergy: A Working Definition" - and the relation of that report to a
      proposed discontinuance of a probationary member - the Judicial
      Council ruled that the questions were hypothetical because the
      conference did not adopt such a report in final form. The questions
      related to the effort to discontinue the pastor were moot once the
      clergy person requests and is granted a voluntary leave of absence,
      the council said.

      In other rulings, the Judicial Council:

      * Affirmed a bishop's decision of law that the plan of
      organization for the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference is
      * Determined there is no conflict in the voting requirements of
      Disciplinary Paragraphs 319.2 and 663.6, saying a simple majority vote
      is all that is required for a conference board of ordained ministry or
      clergy session in approving the continuance or discontinuance of a
      local pastor's license. Paragraph 663.6, which requires a
      three-fourths majority vote, applies only to district committees on
      ordained ministry. The case stemmed from the West Michigan Annual
      * Ruled that questions of law put to the bishop in the Western
      Pennsylvania Conference were moot and hypothetical because they
      concerned a first draft of a report that had not yet been approved by
      the conference. The case also involved actions taken by the conference
      on the discontinuance of a probationary member, and the council said
      that such questions are "moot once the clergy person requests and is
      granted a voluntary leave of absence";
      * Said that a bishop's decision of law in the Iowa Conference
      regarding a legislative question during the annual conference session
      was "moot and of no effect because subsequent action deleted the
      provision that was the subject of the question and decision of law."
      The final action of the Iowa Annual Conference on a substitute motion
      was in compliance with the Discipline, the council said;
      * Affirmed a bishop's decision of law in the Illinois-Great Rivers
      Conference that a question was improper because it did not relate to
      the business of the annual conference;
      * Said that the standing rule of the South Carolina Annual
      Conference - which delegates the nomination of the conference
      secretary exclusively to the bishop and cabinet without any input of
      the annual conference - conflicts with Paragraph 603.7 of the Book of
      Discipline. The court directed the conference to correct the rule;
      * Did not affirm a bishop's decision of law in the New England
      Annual Conference since questions were submitted on which a decision
      of law could not be rendered;
      * Would not take jurisdiction in a question regarding a petition
      from 11 members of the Committee on Nominations of the 2005
      Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference because "the record does not
      indicate that a duly called meeting of the Committee on Nominations
      was held to authorize the petition."
      * Continued a docket item from the California-Nevada Conference on
      an involuntary leave of absence question because the minutes were not
      provided in the materials sent to the council.

      The council will meet next during the 2008 General Conference, set for
      April 23-May 2 in Fort Worth. The Judicial Council meets twice a year
      and is in session throughout each General Conference to respond to
      requests for rulings that may come from the floor.

      During the council's meeting, clergy and laypeople from across the Bay
      Area gathered at the Hilton Hotel in San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf
      area - where the council convened - for prayer vigils and worship and
      held a candlelight march. The activities were organized by local
      participants in the Reconciling Ministries Network, an independent
      organization favoring participation of people of all sexual
      orientations and gender identities in The United Methodist Church.

      In addition to Holsinger, Judicial Council members Jon Gray and the
      Rev. Paul Shamwange were absent. Participating instead were the first
      clergy alternate, the Rev. C. Rex Bevins from the Nebraska Conference,
      and first lay alternate, Dr. Solomon Christian from the Memphis

      *Caldwell is editor of the Virginia United Methodist Advocate magazine
      and covers the Judicial Council for United Methodist News Service.
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