NPR logo Methodists Vote to Keep Transgender Pastor

Methodists Vote to Keep Transgender Pastor

In a potentially landmark decision, the United Methodist Church has ruled that a transgender pastor who applied for a name change can remain in the ministry. The decision in case of the Rev. Drew Phoenix was released on Tuesday by the church's Judicial Council.

The United Methodist Church, or UMC, bans gay people from serving as clergy, but its Book of Discipline makes no mention of transsexual people. "Essentially, they said that I'm a pastor in good standing and therefore I'm appointable," says Phoenix, who leads St. John's in Baltimore.

In affirming Phoenix as an ordained minister, the council left aside the specific question of whether transgender people can serve. What mattered here was that Phoenix faced no "administrative or judicial action" beyond the question of the name change itself. "The Judicial Council does not reach the question of whether gender change is a chargeable offense or violates minimum standards established by the General Conference," council members wrote.

Phoenix says he always felt male. As a girl, the Methodist minister says, he was known as "Dave Gordon's son." Even when he was preaching as Ann Gordon, Phoenix says, people related to the pastor as a man. But it wasn't until last year, at the age of 47, that Gordon decided to undergo surgery and hormone therapy — to formally become male.

After the then-Rev. Gordon was reappointed as Drew Phoenix at the Baltimore-Washington Methodist Conference in May, members of the UMC petitioned to ban transsexuals from serving. Now, with the Judicial Council's ruling, Phoenix plans to continue at his church.

Phoenix says he knows he's something of a test case, but calls his transition a gift to the church. The ruling "is outstanding," he says. "It's historic."

UMC members have been wrestling with issues of gender and sexuality, as have other branches of the wider Protestant church. The Phoenix case was one of several on the Judicial Council docket that dealt with such matters, including one from northern Illinois for an initiative called "Affirming All Familes" and another from the California-Nevada conference about plans to "Welcome and Include LGBT" people in church leadership.

The church could take up the issue of transgender clergy again at its general conference in April. Questions concerning sexual minorities have become regular a feature of national UMC gatherings. "It has come up at every general conference in recent years," says spokesperson Diane Denton, "so I would expect it would be an issue again."



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We are called to be salt and light in this dark world by our Lord Jesus Christ. Salt is used to slow decay and light is used to shine in darkness. Spirit-filled followers of Jesus Christ can only know Him through His Holy Word. I would humbly ask Ann Gordon to put aside the writings and laws of men and look to God's final revelation to His people, the Bible. See Leviticus 20:13; Romans 1:26-32; Romans 6:12; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11;
1 Timothy 1:8-10. In light of these passages, how can you believe that homosexual behavior is acceptable the eyes of a HOLY GOD, except because of 2 Corinthians 4:3? How can you claim to be a "pastor" when you don't know the Bible? Or is this a man-centered religion like Islam. I feel that until you are willing to give yourself wholly over to Jesus Christ, you are simply a "methodist" in my view, NOT a Christian! I would love to give you the Gospel, chat about how wonderful it is to be "alive in Christ" (Romans 6:4). Email anytime and I will do so in LOVE, Gentleness, meekness, and with Christ-likeness.

Sent by Brian K. Carr | 3:41 PM | 10-30-2007

There is only one word that comes to my mind when I think of this story of Rev. Drew Phoenix and his congregation at St. John's of Baltimore City, HURRAH!

Sent by Melanie Trichel | 6:09 PM | 10-30-2007

I am proud to be one of Drew's congregants, and know Drew as a kind and warm person who welcomes and empathizes with all the dispossessed of the world. Nearing 70 years of age, I am glad to have lived long enough to see such a wonderful decision by the United Methodist Church.

Sent by Genie Strache | 7:17 PM | 10-30-2007

I am a United Methodist Pastor and very pleased to hear of this decision by our Judicial Council. Perhaps we will soon end our exclusive ban against any of God's children who are called and ordained to ministry in our church! This is a positive step that restores my faith in Christ as well as my faith in The United Methodist Church.

Sent by Rev. Mike Wright-Chapman | 8:56 PM | 10-30-2007

Brian K. Carr, can spew the venom of the Bible 24/7 just as someone can spew the good parts as well 24/7. What you and anyone else who attempts to argue any logic about the Bible only accomplish is prove beyond a shadow of a doubt is the precise hypocrisy of your God, your Gospel and your Bible. You can pull one or two or three verses condemning homosexuality from your Bible; I challenge you to swallow the whole fish, take it all. Swallow it all and take every single word as the golden word of God. Then come back and let's talk and see what is real and what is absolute disgust.

Sent by Jim-n-Alpharetta | 9:33 PM | 10-30-2007

Thank you for this beautiful glimpse into the love and nurturing spirit this community has for one another. What a world it would be if more of us gave ourselves permission to "love so extravagantly".

Sent by Carol Ann Austin Rubin | 11:07 AM | 10-31-2007

Giving someone the "permission to be oneself" in a religious atmosphere is a wonderful new phenomenon. I hope "religious people" use this story as a way to begin thinking about progressive steps they can take in order for religious life to be more inclusive.

Sent by Kate Pennington | 11:31 AM | 10-31-2007

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you... Love thy neighbour as thyself."

Seems rather simple to me. Call me a hopeless idealist, but if we all took those two passages to heart as our credo, we could REALLY change this world.

Sent by Janet Bozeman | 11:52 AM | 10-31-2007

What a wonderful affirmation for this person.

People are so confused about transexuals. They are not evil or perverted. They are simply people who suffer gender dysphoria. Cross dressing {we all do it oh Metrosexuals and women in pants} name changes, gender role switches, and in some cases medical alterations via hormones and surgery help to make these people happy and more secure about their identities.

We dont criticize people for penis enlargement or boob jobs, why should this be any different.

As long as they are law abiding citizens who contribute, then what's to complain about?

Sent by Sundog | 12:15 PM | 10-31-2007

My first thought is, why Drew would want to be part of an organization that acts so judgementally and is threatened by those who are different? Granted, he won this battle, but it seems that the entire belief system of some "Christian" churches is based on condemnation and not love. I don't think that's what Jesus would do.

Sent by Carrie Tallman | 12:56 PM | 10-31-2007

The Bible says God made us in His image. It doesn't say He made SOME of us in his image.

I'm not sure the UMC was really all that heroic--there were no rules broken. However, as a United Methodist myself, I would love to see the Annual Conference welcome everyone to the UMC. Christ welcomed all and so should we.

Sent by Sandy H | 1:18 PM | 10-31-2007

It would be great if God could just bend and stretch the way we see fit. This just blows my mind. But then again, this is 2007 and it is ALL about the church moving along with what the world sees fit, isn't it???

Sent by Kristina B. | 2:55 PM | 10-31-2007

He would stay in that church because he feels that his ministry is a true calling, a genuine vocation. And his presence there sets a precedent for others like him, who might still be true believers, inspite of the sexual bigotry that is so pervasive in some aspects of the American Body of Christ.

One might say that his presence challenges others of his faith to examine what it is that they believe in.

God, or a person's genitals?

If you believe in a person's genitals, as the map for sacred cosmological order, then homosexuals, women, and others who defy the genital of choice by choice or by birth, will at best be second class citizens. Imperfect copies of a copy of God. Not entitled to the same rights, or privileges of those who are marked as acceptable by their conformity with that divine package.

He has crossed a line. He has challenged the status quo and made hamburgers out of sacred cows.

And in all of that he has made it clear that his devotion to his interpretion of the Godhead is not based on the material, but on the spiritual.

Acceptance is validation, but if this story is any indication, it is not necessary for him to maintain his relationship with his God. That one can hold onto that link no matter what is thrown at them in this life.

What a statement.

Too bad more people cannot see that, and are instead obsessed with aspects of his life that are really none of their business.

Sent by Sundog | 3:04 PM | 10-31-2007

What great coverage! This is a real victory for Rev. Drew, the Methodist church and all who profess a belief in a higher power. Faith cannot be measured, and we dare not be the judges. It is about time that religion served the people. In a world where integrity is often absent and "winners" are more and more dubious, the Methodist church should be glad to have such an active and diverse membership. It always amazes me when those who condemn others continue to live in glass houses built on deception and the backs of those who are less fortunate, while offering the BS "the poor will always be with us." Those unkind zealots must think that heaven is some kind of Forbes 500. What would Jesus do indeed?

Sent by abracadeborah | 4:14 PM | 10-31-2007

Wow! Thank you for this coverage. What a breath of fresh air it is when people can live authentically. We are ALL called children of God - black, white, brown, gay, straight, male, female, whatever - God's love isn't for nice little boxes. God's love transcends boxes, it wraps each of with the warmth of grace. God's Word comes to us as a message of love, not hate; of reconcilation, not alienation. God revealed in Christ challenged the established social and political order of the day - why are we so comfortable and cozy with the injustice that surrounds us?

Drew and his congregation have the "radical" notion that being open, accepting, and affirming is something new. It's not new, it's only been forgotten, buried along with the true Gospel message. Let's reclaim love.


Sent by Brian Rossbert | 7:44 PM | 10-31-2007

The Bible is rife with name changes -- Saul becomes Paul, for example.

In both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament, names have meaning. Names get changed. It is part of how God works.

I really fail to see how this pastor's transition from female to male (on which Scripture is silent) has much to do with the more challenging issue of homosexuality (on which scripture has been traditionally misinterpreted).

If Jesus changed water into wine, what is to prevent God (acting through the miracle of modern medicine) from changing the outward appearance from female to male.

Rev. Drew looks and sounds like a guy to me. I can't imagine there really being much of a controversy.

Sent by JL | 10:55 PM | 11-1-2007

In response to the question why would Pastor Drew want to be part of an organization that acts so judgementally and is threatened by those who are different, I offer the following: Pastors are persons who answer a higher calling - perhaps Pastor Drew's calling to minister to the people who need him is a higher calling that that to find a place to work where there are no challenges to be met and to rise above. If you listen to just one message from Pastor Drew, you'd understand why he chose to listen to his calling. I, for one, am thrilled that he did!!
We are, indeed, all children of God, and should be accepted as we are. The Bible is a fantastic guide, and like the U.S. Constitution, is a living breathing document that has survived countless re-interpretations, some better than others. It would serve us well to listen to some of the words Jesus said, rather than their interpretations: He said, "whatever you to to the least of these, my people, you have done unto me." This to me, is an indication, among so many others, that we all should strive to be more instrospective and really look at how we accept people and all their varied and wonderful differences. If all people were the same as me, I would not have very many friends, that's for sure!

Sent by Lexa newman | 11:22 AM | 11-2-2007

As a United Methodist, a pastor, AND and a Christian, I am so proud of what my church has done here through the Judicial Council. May this be a sign of even better things to come!

Sent by Rick Miller | 9:45 AM | 11-3-2007

It is becoming uncomfortable to admit to other Christians that I am a United Methodist. How can the Judicial Council and the Baltimore-area Bishop not recognize that this "clergperson" is trying to deceive everyone into thinking God made some mistake with her gender? Yes,HER gender...she is and will always be female; she is only acting the part of male. One cannot change one's genetic makeup with surgery or hormone treatment, and, as a creation of God, she should glory in what God created her to be, not what SHE wants to role-play. John Wesley is probably rolling over in his grave.

Sent by Jan Howe | 6:49 PM | 11-3-2007

I believe that God doesn't make mistakes and that God doesn't make junk. Ann(drew) is precious in the eyes of God but her actions are a sad commentary on how we try to become God ourselves. When Jesus returns I fear that he will not recognize his "Church" nor "Drew" for both have fallen and bowed down to a religeon of culture and not the Gospel.

Sent by Aden Wertz | 6:51 PM | 11-5-2007

I hope and pray that thte General Conference will take this matter up and deal with it appropriately by making it clear that changing your sexual identity is a chargable offense and not in line or consistent with Christian teaching or lifestyle. Obviously the Judicial COuncil found a gap in what we consider chargable offenses and chose to address that if his annual conference hadn't brought him up on charges there was nothing that they could do about it. As a United Methodist Pastor of 24 year in Ohio I would have brought a complaint up to the bishop if this had occurred in my annual conference. Each annual conference is required by the discipline to deal with its own issues . Now the General Conference will have the opportunity and responsibility to deal with this and take any ambiguity out of the Book of Discipline. While we are at it there may be some other things that we should anticipate and list as chargable offenses. The failure of the Judicial Council to adequately deal with the cituation is understandable because the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference failed in its duty and connectional trust with other United Methodists. Their annual conference is not alone in failing to address these matters wisely and the decline of the United Methodist Church will join the Episcoplaians, Presbyterians and Lutherans in the slippery slide of bowing down before the altar of the idol called tolerance.

Sent by Pastor Steve Nelson | 12:13 PM | 11-6-2007

I hope and pray that decisions like this will cause our church to split. Satan wins battles everyday, but as told in the bible he will lose the war. So enjoy your short satanic victory, because christ truth will prevail. I pray for the misguided minister and his misguided congregation.

Sent by Haskel Hicks | 2:27 PM | 11-6-2007

Pastor Nelson,
With all due respect, gender identity and sexual orientaion are two completely different matters. What saddens me the most is that you are quick to judge Rev.Phoenix's worthiness as a pastor when you have no personal knowledge of his many spiritual gifts and his effectivenss as a pastor in a growing urban congregation...which is so exciting to witness and be part of as we all know that if the UMC continues to preach intolerance and hatred, it will surely die with its aging membership.

Sent by Kara Ker | 2:41 PM | 11-6-2007

Pastor Nelson,
With all due respect, gender identity and sexual orientation are two completely different matters. What saddens me the most is that you are quick to judge Rev.Phoenix's worthiness as a pastor when you have no personal knowledge of his many spiritual gifts and his effectivenss as a pastor in a growing urban congregation...which is so exciting to witness and be part of as we all know that if the UMC continues to preach intolerance and hatred, it will surely die with its aging membership.

Sent by Kara Ker | 3:29 PM | 11-6-2007

As a former United Methodist pastor - now a part of the more inclusive United Church of Christ, I am thrilled to hear the decision of the Judicial Council. Issues of gender identity and transgenderism are not well understood in general, and it's frightening to see how quickly people judge and call fowl on a decision like this. I am blessed to have a transsexual clergywoman as part of the congregation I serve, and I know St. John's is blessed by the leadership of Drew Phoenix.

Sent by Rick Danielson | 9:22 AM | 11-8-2007

"....if the UMC continues to preach intolerance and hatred..." Hmm...Kara, how quickly you label disseenting opinions as intolerant and hateful!. Perhaps, my sister, you need to consider who is realy being intolerant! As one who thinks this pastor's behavior is unacceptable, I think the UMC needs more pastors whose behavior and pastoral leadership is BIBLICAL, not societal. Then, and only then, will our pews start to fill again.

Sent by Jan Howe | 10:18 PM | 11-11-2007

Saying that Rev. Phoenix is trying to enact the role of god with his own body is outlandish. People get plastic surgery to enhance their bodies and fix physical problems. Drew is only enhancing his body so that he may feel more comfortable. He isn't deceiving anyone, if he had fulfilled "his duty to society" to dress and act like a woman then he would only be deceiving himself. This isn't a work of Satan either because Satan doesn't exist. You can put the blame on the evil and differences in the world on the "devil" but then you would be missing the underlying issues. It also reflects one's inability to think rationally. Do not call yourself one of God's children if you cannot accept people like Drew as people of God.

Sent by Amy | 1:21 PM | 3-5-2008

From childhood I thought I was girl in a mans body, had the surgery became a woman worked for FDIC in San francisco and discovered the sex change surgery is not at all a sex change. I recoverd and went back to my birth gender. It is impossible to prove the surgery changes anything. I'm for helping people, sex change surgery is a lifestyle choice not treatment for gender disorders.

Sent by Walt Heyer | 7:11 PM | 3-11-2008

"The Church" is a place where lives are transformed into the likness of Jesus Christ. The Church was never intended to be transformed by the world, that would suggest we have lost or purpose.
I am a former transsexual who recovered and was restored to christ. That is a gift for anyone and everyone who is willing to be wrong and be restored.
My book "Trading my Sorrows" is the blue print for the church in restoring broken lives.
Walt Heyer
Director of Care Ministries

Sent by Walt Heyer | 4:19 PM | 3-25-2008

I am a 25 yr. old transman, a humanist with a jewish background. I am so heartened to learn of Rev. Pheonix and proud of the methodist church. One side of my family is methodist and full of ministers who I consider to be human rights activists on the front lines. They support and love me. Furthermore, as someone who is admittedly prejudiced against and frightened by "christian values" because they all too often seem hateful and oppressive, it has been an invaluable experience for me to see religion work in a positive way and to learn about people like Rev. Pheonix and his community. I love you all!!!!!

Sent by Olin Winn-Ritzenberg | 10:16 PM | 7-4-2008