Aligning Psyche and Sex

By Daniel Burke
Religion News Service
Saturday, October 20, 2007


The Rev. Drew Phoenix is many things to many people.

To congregants of St. John's of Baltimore, he's the fun-loving pastor who counsels them, takes their children hiking, explains Scripture and plunges into worthy causes.

To conservative Methodists, Phoenix embodies another front in the culture wars: a rebel who has defied God and nature and should be removed from ministry.

To mainstream society, Phoenix is an enigma who transcends traditional sexual boundaries, provoking uncomfortable questions about the interplay between body, mind and soul.

To the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church, he's number IV on the docket for its Oct. 24-27 session: "A Review of Bishop's Decision . . . Whether Transgendered Persons Are Eligible for Appointment in The United Methodist Church."

The issue of transgenderism seems too hot to touch for religious Americans already bitterly divided over sexual orientation. A number of Methodist theologians and ethicists asked to comment for this article declined.

But as scientific advances and changing sexual mores allow transgender people to slowly move into the mainstream, religious leaders will soon have to grapple with the theological implications of sexual identity, scholars say.

In practical terms, they have to consider Phoenix and whether he should remain in ministry. The judicial hearing of the United Methodist Church, one of the largest Christian bodies in the United States, may be a high-water mark for transgender awareness in the pews.

"The theological issues here are very important," said Mark Jordan, a professor of Christian ethics at Emory University in Atlanta. "It's not just an issue of church discipline, and it's not just a freak show."

About 18 months ago, after 46 years of feeling trapped in the wrong body, the Methodist minister had sexual reassignment surgery, at last aligning psyche and sex.

The Rev. Ann Gordon became the Rev. Drew Phoenix.

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