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 Phoenix 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.
Holsinger, a Kentucky doctor who has been criticized by gay rights groups for such things as a 1991 paper in which he says gay sex was unnatural and unhealthy, bowed out of the meeting, saying his nomination could become a distraction.