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By Daniel Burke
Religion News Service

A transgender man can remain pastor of his Baltimore church, the United Methodist Church’s high court announced late Tuesday (Oct. 30), but the court sidestepped larger questions about whether gender change is acceptable in the church.
No law in the church’s Book of Discipline prohibits transgender clergy, the nine-member Judicial Council said, so the Rev. 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 the Rev. Ann Gordon, after five years of service at St. John’s of Baltimore City.
The decision was immediately hailed by liberals as a historic achievement for transgenderism 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 semi-annual session Oct. 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 (churchwide) 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 a lifetime he described as feeling he was in the wrong body.
He said Wednesday he was “happily surprised” by the ruling and called it “a great relief.”
“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.
Conservatives, however, lamented the ruling and pledged to push for a ban on transgender clergy at next year’s General Conference in Texas.
In recent years, conservatives have been largely successful in upholding church laws against sexually active gay clergy.
“Predictably, the Judicial Council chose not to intervene in the Baltimore transsexual case,” Mark Tooley, director of UMAction, a conservative Washington-based activist group, said in a statement.
“But we expect the upcoming General Conference … will respond with legislation that upholds traditional Christian teachings about the sacredness of the human body,” Tooley said.
Copyright 2007 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be reproduced without written permission.

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