Transgender Minister Reappointed to Lead Church

A group of United Methodist pastors in the Baltimore area want a church court to review the reappointment of a transgender man to lead a congregation in the city, reports

The Rev. Drew Phoenix, formerly the Rev. Ann Gordon, has been reappointed to lead St John’s United Methodist Church in Baltimore after last week’s annual conference. Phoenix, who for the last year has been undergoing medical procedures for his transition from female to male , was ordained in 1989 and has lead St. John’s for nearly five years. At the annual conference, the 48-year-old pastor said “last fall, after a lifelong spiritual journey and year of prayer and discernment, I decided to change my name from Ann Gordon to Drew Phoenix in order to reflect my true gender identity and to honor my spiritual transformation and relationship with God.”

Phoenix hopes that by sharing his story, that people “will commit themselves to becoming educated about the complexity of gender and gender identity and open ourselves to those in our congregations who identify as transgender.”

The decision, announced by Bishop John Schol, was not without controversy, during the closed door portion of the conference, some ministers asked for the issue to be taken to the Judicial Council, the United Methodist Church’s highest court. While the United Methodist Church does not have specific policies regarding gender assignment, Schol said, “The cabinet and myself have done everything to ensure that the Discipline (the UMC Book of Discipline) is being carried out.” Ironically, while not having a policy for transgendered clergy, the United Methodist Church does prohibit sexually active gay clergy.

Mark Tooley, director of The Institute on Religion and Democracy’s UMAction, disagrees with the ruling of Schol and said; “gender is not a choice but a reality. The church’s calling is to facilitate healing, not echo the secular mantra about diversity.” Tooley, who was critical of the decision process for such a weighty issue, is calling for “legislation at the 2008 General Conference of The United Methodist church to full address the issue of sexual identity change.” No stranger to liberal Methodist policy, Tooley concluded by adding that “liberal church elites, presiding over dwindling churches, are making decisions regard for historic Christian teaching.”