It must have been a startling revelation when Rev. Ann Gordon stood before her congregation and told them that she was planning to become a man. Then when she came before them as a ‘he’ -now known as Rev. Drew Phoenix- many in her/his congregation accepted the new chosen gender and name and even gave the Reverend a party.
However, when the Bishop reappointed the transgender reverend to another year of ministry at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Baltimore, it started a major controversy in the United Methodist Church. Many disagreed with the appointment and reasoned that the Methodists’ Book of Discipline bars even non-celibate gays and lesbians from serving as clergy and transgender people would seem to fit the same classification, and therefore be ineligible for appointment.
The highest judicial body of the United Methodist Church, the Judicial Council, announced their ruling on Tuesday (Oct.30) that the transgender man could continue serving as pastor of the Baltimore congregation. They found no reason to reverse the decision of the Bishop since the Book of Discipline contains no references to transgender people.
The controversy is not really over. The Council did not specifically address whether gender change violates minimum standards for clergy in the United Methodist Church. It only ruled that this specific case needed to be addressed more fully and concluded:
“a clergyperson’s good standing cannot be terminated without administrative or judicial action having occurred and all fair process being accorded.”
Rev. Phoenix gave the following comments in response to the ruling:
“To me, it’s a historic day in the life of our denomination, and I think the Judicial Council decision is a very important first step in opening the doors of our churches to the transgender community,” also
“open the doors further to gay men and lesbian women”
Comments: The doors of the church are open and should always be open for ministry to gays, lesbians, and transgender people. However, ordination and clergy appointments are a different matter entirely.
What is really disturbing are the comments made by Rev. Phoenix. It shows that he has an agenda beyond ministry to people.
His statements indicate that he would like to see the door open for gays and lesbians to be ordained in the United Methodist denomination. This would potentially bring major division and schism within the United Methodist Church. The prospect doesn’t seem to be a concern for the reverend who seems to celebrate this ‘first step’ toward the brink of denominational controversy and trouble.
If division and schism does come as a result of this situation, it will largely be the fault of Bishop John R. Schol who reappointed Rev. Phoenix and seemed rather disingenuous in his response:
“I’m pleased that the conference continues to abide by the discipline.”
It indicates that the Bishop was well aware that he was using a ‘loophole’ within the Discipline and seemed to have a ‘gotcha’ attitude about the controversy that he perpetrated upon the denomination.