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CULTURE DIGEST: United Methodists approve transgender pastor; poll examines Bible beliefs

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Leaders in the United Methodist Church apparently have no problem with a transgender pastor leading one of their congregations, and in fact, they applauded the pastor’s bravery in charting new territory within the denomination.

About a year ago, the female pastor of St. John’s United Methodist Church in Baltimore changed her name from Ann Gordon to Drew Phoenix, had a sex change operation and proceeded with hormone treatments. On May 25, Phoenix was reappointed to another term as pastor of the congregation.

“The gender I was assigned at birth has never matched my own true authentic God-given gender identity, how I know myself,” Phoenix, 48, said, according to The Baltimore Sun. “Fortunately today God’s gift of medical science is enabling me to bring my physical body in alignment with my true gender.”

At the annual gathering of the Baltimore-Washington Conference where Phoenix’s reappointment was announced, the pastor reportedly received a standing ovation from fellow Methodists, and he/she said he hoped his situation would spark conversation about sexual identity so that younger clergy who come after him would have an easier time voicing their identity issues.

Phoenix’s congregation is part of the Reconciling Ministries Network, which seeks the inclusion of all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, according to The Sun, and the 50-member church has seen an increase in attendance and financial donations since Phoenix/Gordon became pastor five years ago.

United Methodists as a denomination do not permit non-celibate homosexual clergy, but their Book of Discipline does not mention transgender people. Mark Tooley, director of United Methodist Action, a conservative group affiliated with the Institute on Religion and Democracy, said the decision to approve a transgender pastor “sets a troubling precedent.”

“Once again, liberal church elites, presiding over dwindling churches, are making decisions without regard for historic Christian teaching or a wider consensus among the church’s membership,” Tooley said in a news release May 25. “Rev. Phoenix merits compassion for a lifelong struggle over gender identity issues, as related at the conference. But the church helps no one when it fails to faithfully transmit the Gospel of hope and transformation.”

Tooley also said gender is intrinsically linked to God’s order of creation as described in Genesis.

“The God whom we worship knew us as male or female before He created us. Gender is not a choice but a reality,” he said.

During the annual conference in Washington, some ministers asked for a “ruling of law,” which automatically refers the issue to the Judicial Court, the denomination’s highest legal authority, which meets in October and will decide whether transgender people are eligible for appointment as pastors.

United Methodist Action plans to introduce legislation on the topic at the Methodist General Conference in Texas next year, according to The Washington Times.

“We hope The United Methodist Church will act, where the leadership of the Baltimore-Washington Conference has failed, by establishing clear ethical and theological guidelines about the role of gender in God’s creation,” Tooley said.

ONE-THIRD OF AMERICANS BELIEVE IN LITERAL BIBLE — About one-third of Americans believe the Bible is absolutely accurate and that it should be taken literally word for word, according to a recent Gallup poll, and the majority of those who don’t believe the Bible is literally true believe it is the inspired word of God.

Gallup, in a news release May 25, said Americans’ views on the Bible haven’t changed substantially over the past 16 years that the organization has been conducting polls on the matter. About 1 in 5 Americans believe the Bible is an ancient book of “fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man,” Gallup said.

Analysts say the higher the level of education a person has, the less likely the individual is to believe that the Bible is the actual, literal word of God, but even the majority of those with postgraduate degrees believe the Bible is the inspired word of God rather than just a human creation.

Those who claim to be Protestants, Gallup said, are significantly more likely than Catholics to believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. Of those with no religious identification, 10 percent believe the Bible is literally the word of God and another 26 percent believe it is inspired, Gallup said.

“Church attendance is highest in the South, so it comes as no surprise to find that Southerners are most likely to believe in a literal Bible,” the news release said. “Those in the East are least likely to believe in a literal Bible. There is not a highly significant relationship between age and belief in a literal Bible.”

The Southern Baptist Convention, in its Baptist Faith & Message 2000, states, “The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter.

“Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy,” the statement continues. “It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.”

SCHOOL EMPLOYEES REPRIMANDED FOR ENCOURAGING SEX — School employees in Boulder, Colo., have been warned that their actions were unwise when they required students to attend an assembly where they were told to have sex and experiment with drugs.

“I’m going to encourage you to have sex, and I’m going to encourage you to use drugs appropriately,” Joel Becker, a Los Angeles clinical psychologist and panelist at a Conference on World Affairs at Boulder High School, told students in April. “And why I am going to take that position is because you’re going to do it anyway.

“… Now, what is healthy sexual behavior? Well, I don’t care if it’s men with men, women and women, men and women — whatever combination you would like to put together,” Becker continued.

At least one student and her mother were outraged enough to complain to the school board, saying the panel was too graphic and permissive in tone, according to The Denver Post.

“The panel discussion was a completely irresponsible and dangerous invitation to Boulder High students to have sex and take drugs,” sophomore Daphne White told the board.

While White’s mother, Priscilla, was reading excerpts from the panel, the school board president asked her to stop because the language was inappropriate for the meeting, The Post said.

“But it was at Boulder High School,” Priscilla White said. “If they can listen to it, I think you can listen to it.”

Board members opened an investigation, and employees who were involved in planning the assembly were verbally reprimanded, and the superintendent admitted that mistakes were made.

“Overall, the panel was appropriate for presentation to high school students. Its intent was to discuss with students the risks of engaging in certain behaviors before they are emotionally and psychologically mature enough to cope with their consequences,” George Garcia wrote in a report. “This is not to state that certain comments were not, in any context, unnecessarily crude or that certain points were not in direct contradiction with district health and conduct standards. They were.”

Garcia concluded that students should not have been required to attend the assembly, and as a result of the controversy, they will not be required to attend future events. Also, panel speakers will be more carefully vetted in the future, a district spokesman told The Post.

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  • Erin Roach