The Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church met in October. They reaffirmed a decision by Bishop Schol in the Baltimore-Washington Conference that has caused quite a controversy in the church. Rev. Drew Phoenix will be allowed to continue serving in his/her appointment. If you are not aware, Drew Phoenix used to be Ann Gordon. Ann underwent a sex change operation and returned to her church as a “him”. When Drew returned, he/she found the Baltimore Conference asking the question, “Can a transgender person serve as an elder in the United Methodist Church?” There isn’t anything in the Discipline about this issue, nevertheless; members of the Baltimore-Washington Conference wanted the issue addressed. The Rev. Kevin Baker asked for a ruling of law from the Judicial Council to determine if a transgender person may serve under appointment. The Judicial Council examined this request and their ruling shocked many United Methodists. The Judicial Council affirmed Bishop Schol and stated Rev. Phoenix could remain under appointment.
The Judicial Council did not look at the issue of whether Drew/Ann was eligible to serve as a transgender pastor; rather they stated “a clergyperson’s standing cannot be terminated without administrative or juridical action having occurred and all fair process being accorded.” Simply put – an elder cannot be removed from their appointment without a charge or a complaint filed and a fair process followed. Since the issue of a transgender pastor is not addressed in the Discipline, and the conference brought no complaint or charge, Rev. Phoenix could remain appointed. (See news sites at www.bwcumc.com, and www.umc.org )
Now here is the salient point: due process is a vital part of our tradition – as United Methodists, as Americans, and as Christians (don’t forget Paul’s appeal to Rome in the book of Acts!). I understand completely the attitude that states, “Why should we need any kind of complaint/charge against Drew Phoenix? He/she is obviously in violation of scripture and that should be enough for removal without any kind of due process.” We hear this comment and many of us may agree. But let’s think about this. While some issues may seem clearly out of bounds, others are quite muddy. Who will pick and choose who leaves and who stays? Whose interpretation of scripture, doctrine, and polity will make these determinations? Will we leave that in the hands of one, two, or twenty? No, we need a collective and prayerful time of discernment. We must uphold a fair and due process outlined in our book of Discipline. We may all agree that our church polity is slow and often frustrating, but it is structure that provides a measured and prayerful response.
Next year’s General Conference will be flooded with petitions to address the transgender issue in our church. And I imagine Drew Phoenix will be removed at some point in the future. But it will not happen by the whims of a few in the middle of the night. No, when Drew leaves, we will all know that due process was fairly and justly accorded.