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Methodist Church May Expel Minister Who Had Sex Change

[WASHINGTON, DC] - The Baltimore-Washington United Methodist Conference has delayed action on the request of a transsexual minister to be reappointed to active ministry in the conference.

Also yesterday, Bishop Felton May announced that a separate process has begun to suspend the Rev. Rebecca Steen, formerly the Rev. Richard Zomansky, who took a leave of absence in 1999 to have the sex-change operation.

Bishop May had stated Thursday that Miss Steen had returned from a sex-change operation and that he would consider her for reassignment to a pulpit by July 1. However, he announced after a special clergy session at the Renaissance Hotel yesterday that a complaint has been filed against Miss Steen, which delays any appointment indefinitely and could result in her being expelled from the ranks of Methodist clergy.

"The Baltimore-Washington Conference Cabinet is currently beginning the due process to place Rev. Steen on an involuntary leave of absence," Bishop May said through a spokesman. "I am treating other matters discussed within the clergy session as confidential; my rulings on questions of law will be published at a later time."

If Miss Steen is placed on involuntary leave, she could not perform the duties of a Methodist minister. Meanwhile, the conference would decide whether the complaint constitutes a chargeable offense that goes before the national Methodist Judicial Council.

That council would decide whether to hold a trial, with Bishop May presiding, on the matter.

According to the Book of Discipline, the Methodist law book, which is revised every four years, there are numerous bases for a chargeable offense: immorality, practices incompatible with Christian teaching, crime, failure to perform the work of the ministry, disobedience to the order of discipline in the United Methodist Church, dissemination of doctrines contrary to established church doctrines, relationships or behaviors that undermine the ministry of another pastor, racial harassment, child abuse and sexual misconduct.

The complaint process can take up to one year, according to conference spokesman Dean Snyder.

Miss Steen, who the National Board of Ministry says would be the first transsexual to pastor a United Methodist church, has faced opposition from laity and clergy alike. A public declaration against Miss Steen's appointment was handed out at the hotel yesterday, but organizers withdrew it after the bishop's statement, apparently satisfied by its content.

"We sort of jumped the gun a bit," said one author, who declined to confirm whether the statement will be revised.

Another signer of the declaration was more explicit about his thoughts.

"I have compassion for Rebecca, but I don't think appointing her would be a wise decision," said the Rev. Kevin Baker of Deale, Md. "I think that it would hinder our ministry and outreach to the community."

The 702 churches in the Baltimore-Washington Conference, even more than the Methodist church at large, have been losing both ministers and members steadily for 30 years. In the past year, average weekly church attendance dropped by 177 and membership by 1,126.

The Institute on Religion and Democracy, a lay watchdog group on mainline Protestant churches, called this transsexual battle an example of the political correctness it blames for declining Methodist membership.

"The liberal trends in Methodist conferences, especially those in the Northeastern U.S., have been driving traditionalists away for years," said Mark Tooley, director of the Institute's Methodist committee. "This appointment would provide an even more confused moral witness to people."

But speakers at the annual conference last week told audiences that they can solve these problems only if members display "open minds, open hearts, and open doors."

"Where is our inclusiveness?" the Rev. Ed Ankeny asked during a presentation Friday.

"I have a problem with silencing any kind of voice," the Rev. Gayle Annis-Forder said in the United Methodist Connection, a daily conference newsletter, also on Friday. "The church may not be ready for a transgendered clergyperson in the pulpit, but it wasn't ready for women or cross-cultural appointments and we went forward with those."

"It is time," she said.

Related Stories:

June 10, 2002 - Methodist Minister Seeks Return to Work After Sex Change

June 8, 2002 - Transgendered Minister in Line to be a Pastor

June 6, 2002 - Methodist Conference to Rule on Transsexual Minister's Fate

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