UMC says trans­gen­der priest can stay

Church stops short of rul­ing on gen­der change and church law

The Covington News - - RELIGION - By Michelle Locke

BERKE­LEY, Calif. — A coun­cil of the United Methodist Church has de­cided to al­low a trans­gen­der min­is­ter to re­tain his job, but it stopped short of ad­dress­ing whether a change of gen­der vi­o­lates the de­nom­i­na­tion’s rules.

At a ses­sion over the week­end in San Fran­cisco, the United Methodist Ju­di­cial Coun­cil con­sid­ered whether to re­move the Rev. Drew Phoenix from his post. The coun­cil al­lowed Phoe- nix to stay on the job, re­fer­ring to a church pol­icy stat­ing that a cler­gyper­son in good stand­ing can’t be ter­mi­nated un­less there has been ad­min­is­tra­tive or ju­di­cial ac­tion, ac­cord­ing to the rul­ing, posted on the church’s Web site.

“The ad­jec­tive placed in front of the noun ‘cler­gyper­son’ does not mat­ter,” the coun­cil ruled. “What mat­ters is that cler­gyper­sons, once or­dained and ad­mit­ted to mem­ber­ship in full con­nec­tion, can­not have that stand­ing changed with­out be­ing ac­corded fair process.”

In a re­lated rul­ing, the coun­cil said all name changes should be treated the same re­gard­less of the rea­son.

Phoenix, who learned of the rul­ing Tues­day, said he was “hap­pily sur­prised.”

Be­fore un­der­go­ing surgery and hor­mone ther­apy, Phoenix spent five years as min­is­ter at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Bal­ti­more as the Rev. Ann Gor­don.

Phoenix was reap­pointed this spring by Bishop John Schol of the Methodists’ Bal­ti­more-Wash­ing­ton An­nual Con­fer­ence, who noted that the de­nom­i­na­tion’s Book of Dis­ci­pline said noth­ing about trans­gen­der clergy.

The United Methodist Church bars ap­point­ing “prac­tic­ing” gay clergy and does not sup­port same-sex unions. The is­sue of whether the church can have a trans­gen­der min­is­ter may yet be ad­dressed by the church’s leg­isla­tive body, which meets next spring in Fort Worth, Texas.

Phoenix said he has some­times been dis­cour­aged by neg­a­tive re­ac­tion to his sta­tus but thinks that stay­ing on the job is a way to change minds.

“I’ve al­ways been hope­ful that the church will open its doors more and be more in­clu­sive of the com­mu­nity, and I be­lieve that hap­pens when those of us that are in that com­mu­nity just keep show­ing up,” he said.

The ju­di­cial coun­cil met with­out its pres­i­dent, sur­geon gen­eral nom­i­nee James Holsinger.

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