A transgender man can remain pastor of his Baltimore church, the United Methodist Church's high court has determined. But the court sidestepped larger questions about whether gender change is acceptable for clergy in the denomination.
No law in the church's Book of Discipline prohibits people who have undergone gender change from serving as clergy, the nine-member Judicial Council said October 30, so pastor Drew Phoenix, 48, cannot be removed from ministry without "administrative or judicial" action.
The ruling affirms Baltimore-Washington bishop John R. Schol's decision to reappoint Phoenix, formerly Ann Gordon, after five years of service at St. John's of Baltimore City.
The decision was quickly hailed by liberals as a historic achievement for transgender people and for the 8-million-member United Methodist Church.
"The adjective placed in front of the noun 'clergyperson' does not matter," the council ruled during its semiannual session October 24-27 in San Francisco. "What matters is that clergypersons, once ordained and admitted to membership in full connection, cannot have that standing changed without being accorded fair process."
The council acknowledged that it was not addressing "the question of whether gender change is a chargeable offense or violates minimum standards established by the [quadrennial] General Conference."
Schol's decision to reappoint Phoenix had been challenged by several ministers in the conference who said the church needs to have a discussion about the theological implications of transgenderism.
Phoenix transitioned from female to male with surgery and hormone treatments about 16 months ago after what he described as a lifetime of feeling he was in the wrong body.
He said he was "happily surprised" by the ruling. "My hope is that this is the first step in all of us coming to the table to have an open, respectful discussion about inclusion in the church," Phoenix said.
The Judicial Council meeting had been widely anticipated in part because the panel's president, Dr. Jim Holsinger, has written critically on homosexual and gender identification issues and is President George W. Bush's nominee for U.S. surgeon general. But Holsinger recused himself from participation because he could become an "'unnecessary and unproductive distraction" to the court's proceedings.
The U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has been awaiting answers from Holsinger to follow-up questions posed to him in August on his views on homosexuality. …