Transsexual Methodist Minister Resigns
A United Methodist minister suspended in June has given up her bid to become the first transsexual pastor of a Protestant church in America.
According to a short statement released by Bishop Felton Edwin May of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, the Rev. Rebecca Ann Steen - formerly the Rev. Richard Zomastny - left the Methodist Church Friday and has no plans to return.
"The Rev. Rebecca Ann Steen voluntarily surrendered her credentials as a United Methodist clergy person and withdrew from the denomination during the opening minutes of a hearing on June 28, 2002," wrote Bishop May.
"I think her decision brings some resolution to this for everyone," said the Rev. Barry Hidey of Bel Air, Md., who helped lead the opposition to Miss Steen's reappointment. "But there's still a lot of hurt and pain on both sides. This forced us to deal with an issue that hadn't been addressed in the past."
"This is a victory for traditionalists," said Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a lay Protestant watchdog group that monitored the case. "The bishop did the right thing in the end."
Bishop May stressed that the confidential complaint filed against Miss Steen did not address her sex change "but issues of pastoral effectiveness."
He added that members of the conference are drafting new legislation on transsexual clergy for presentation at the nationwide 2004 United Methodist General Conference, which meets every four years.
Morris Hawkins, a layman who is president of United Methodist Men, said he is "hoping this will resolve the issue for good."
"The legislation would officially restrict transgendered persons from serving in the pulpit," he said. "But it will not prevent the conference from continuing to compile learnings about transgendered Christians."
Mr. Hawkins said Miss Steen's case is particularly sad because "when she was a man, he served with distinction at churches in our Frederick, Annapolis and Washington West districts."
Miss Steen, who went on voluntary leave in 1999 to have the sex-change operation, was originally accepted by the Baltimore-Washington Board of Ordained Ministry on June 6 for reassignment to a local Methodist church yesterday.
"It is time [for transsexual clergy]," the Rev. Gayle Annis-Forder told the media.
But on June 8, eight local Methodist ministers - six men and two women - publicly released a "Renaissance Affirmation" calling for opposition to Miss Steen's reappointment.
"While we affirm that a transgendered person is and always will be a child of God and a person of sacred worth, we do not believe that such a person is able to fulfill the necessary requirements, gifts and graces to serve as a United Methodist clergy person," it stated.
When an unidentified member of the conference subsequently filed a confidential complaint, Bishop May on June 9 placed Miss Steen on involuntary leave in preparation for closed-door hearings that would have culminated in a rare church trial.
Before Miss Steen's announcement at the opening hearing this weekend, most observers had expected the process to last up to a year. Some sources within the conference believe she resigned in an effort to avoid the public embarrassment of such a process.
Miss Steen - who, as Mr. Zomastny, was the father of three children - has refused repeated offers for print, radio and television interviews, and her phone number remains unlisted.
Related Stories:June 10, 2002 - Methodist Minister Seeks Return to Work After Sex Change
June 9, 2002 - Methodist Church May Expel Minister Who Had 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