Monday, September 25, 2006

Question of the Day

Should transgendered persons be restricted from the ordained ministry?


Richard said...

Why should anyone who is qualified be barred from the ministry?

John said...

So transgenderism should not be a disqualifier?

I don't think that the Book of Discipline has a statement on the subject.

James said...

If you think it should be John, tell us why...

John said...

Well, as I've stated before, I think that transgenderism is a mental illness, and a severe one at that. That should be a disqualifier from ordination.

Dan Trabue said...

I'd suggest you have no biblical basis for such, nor much solid psychological basis either.

So, would you have the church agree with you when your position lacks either?

John F said...

Can someone with more knowledge that I have explain the meaning of "transgender" to me?

Are we talking surgical alterations? Clothing choice?

For the church is the issue chromosomes or physical equipment?

Dan Trabue said...

"Broadly speaking, transgender people are individuals whose gender expression and/or gender identity differs from conventional expectations based on the physical sex they were born into."

" The most widely accepted definition is that transgender includes everything not covered by our culture's narrow terms "man" and "woman". A partial list of persons who might include themselves in such a definition includes transsexuals (pre, post, and no-op); transvestites; crossdressers; persons with ambiguous genitalia..."

John said...

So then, Dan, are you saying that the ordained ministry should be accessible to the transgendered?

John F said...

I was not aware that our culture created the categories male and female. I thought it was either God or evolution or a combination of both.

It seems to me that there are several subcategories of transgendered people, and the church's response may be different to different individuals.

A person with "ambiguous genatalia" seems to present different questions than a biological male who prefers to wear women's clothes.

I'm not even sure what those questions are, but there do seem to be some category differences in this issue.

I guess the real question is what are the qualifications for ministry?

Dan Trabue said...

"are you saying that the ordained ministry should be accessible to the transgendered?"

I'm saying that I don't have the authority to keep ANYONE from serving God who has been called. Nor does anyone else, so far as I can find in the Bible. And I have no intention of trying.

If one of our transgendered friends wanted to become a minister, then I would rejoice in that calling.

Keith McIlwain said...

If a transgendered candidate came before me in Clergy Session, I would have a difficult time voting for him/her, precisely because I wouldn't be sure if he/she was a him or a her. The confusion might be mine, but my discomfort would result in essentially a "no" vote. I might ask the candidate to speak to the issue, giving him/her a chance to give me some clarity.

Dan Trabue said...

The few transgendered folk I've known have felt completely comfortable letting you know that they were a He or a She. And, despite not being brought up around such and feeling awkward at first, it was soon not an issue. "She" was just who she was. My friend, "Mary."

Richard said...

I would rather not pass judgement.

Keith McIlwain said...

When a candidate is brought before the Clergy Session for approval of Full Conference membership & ordination as an Elder (or Deacon), the clergy members of the Conference are required to be discerning. I wouldn't pass judgment as to whether or not the candidate was a sincerely believing Christian with a real desire to serve; that would be inappropriate and sinful. But I would be remiss if I didn't prayerfully consider their fitness and qualifications for ordained ministry, and discomfort with their personal lifestyle choices could be a legitimate reason to vote against the candidate. If they are free to make the decision to become transgendered, then I am also free to vote one way or another .

Dan Trabue said...

Well, not being a Methodist, I don't know your policies, of course. But the question wasn't limited to the Methodist realm, just SHOULD they be restricted from ordination. My only point is that there is no biblical basis for restriction.

Obviously not every person is going to be called to be a minister, but in my tradition (anabaptist), that is more up to the individual and not a committee.

John F said...

Actually, there is a prohibition of cross dressing in one of the books of the Torah.

I am not one to say we should apply all 600+ laws in the Torah to modern life, but there IS one that addresses one variety of transgenderedness. So, there is some Biblical basis if you want to find one.

Of course, there is no prohibition of surgical alterations of anatomy, but that might be because the Israelites did not perform surgery.

John F said...

Found it:

Deuteronomy 22:5

I'm perfectly ready to hear arguments about how a large number of these laws do not apply today or are not observed by people who cite some of them. I'd agree with many of those arguments.

I am merely responding to the assertion that there is no Biblical basis for disfavoring transgendered people.

Now we can debate how seriously to take or interpret this verse. But there appears to be some basis for starting a discussion based on the Scriptures.

John F said...

Deuteronomy 23:1 might be said to apply to surgical alterations.

Dan Trabue said...

So, dressing in drag's wrong? No one from Monty Python nor Milton Berle could be ministers?

You're right, we don't take the laws in Deuteronomy as applying to us today merely because they're there. We have to have some other basis for our rules other than just an appearance in Deuteronomy.

Dan Trabue said...

And 23:1 would restrict those wounded or otherwise mutilated in the genitals from being a part of any "congregation of the Lord," not a rule that we'd embrace, I would hope.

John F said...

Well my point wasn't whether we should rush to accept these verses as dispositive. It was that there is a conversation to be had that does, in fact, include the Bible.

It had been argued that there was no Biblical basis for making a case against transgendered ministers.

Now, you clearly don't agree with the case that might be made, but the Bible is not totally silent on these issues.

As for Miton Berle, I missed where he had applied to the ministry. I think there might be other reasons than his comic cross dressing that would keep him out of the pulpit.

As for 23:1, I certainly don't want to be the one conducting those inspections before Sunday morning service. But, again, the Old Testament does place a lot of emphasis on issues such as these - fertility, barreness, sexual purity - so I would not want to dismiss all conversation about what those issues mean in our context.

It seems to me that we don't have to be Biblical literalists to say we need to have a discerning and thoughtful discussion about what is and is not important around these issues in the Christian life.

I honestly don't know where that discussion ends. The intersection of ministry and transgenderedness is not a topic I have given any thought before.

But I resist the urge to say it is either simple or obvious what the correct Christian response is.

Dan Trabue said...

Okay, I'll back up and say that there is no real biblical position for restriction based soley on one's transgendered nature. There is ONE verse in a passage full of rules that no one obeys anymore (not out of malice but out of recognition that they no longer apply to us) but nothing throughout the whole of the rest of the Bible to back up that one rule, and we really don't want to be in the business of making policy on the grounds of one otherwise unsubstantiated verse.

At least not in my church.

John F said...


I find myself agreeing in substance with your argument but not your method. There are lots of things in the Bible that almost nobody follows, but I'm not sure we'd toss all them out as completely irrelevant the way we are in this case.

As for the mutilation issue, it seems to me that the Biblical argument is that while the OT law did exclude those with bodily illness and imperfections from the congregation, Jesus clearly set aside these prohibitions, at least in his own ministry.

I wish there were some evangelicals in this conversation. I'm sure they would raise more interesting arguments than I have in my feeble attempts to play devil's advocate.

Dan Trabue said...

"There are lots of things in the Bible that almost nobody follows, but I'm not sure we'd toss all them out as completely irrelevant the way we are in this case."

Well, that's why I said, "Not in malice but out of recognition they no longer apply to us," - as in what foods we eat or what we can and can't wear.

But I'd also argue that there are many rules found in the pentateuch that have nowhere in the Bible have been specifically dismissed (as the food laws have) and yet we rightly don't follow them. For instance, the rule that says we must kill disrespectful children is nowhere (that I know of) invalidated or set aside in the Bible specifically.

We just know intuitively, based upon Jesus' revelation to us of the nature of God perhaps, that doing such would be wrong - despite its presence in the OT rules.

There are other rules that we summarily dismiss (such as the Jubilee Laws) that I think are less easy to dismiss biblically and that we ought to reconsider what those rules ought to mean to us and how the reveal God's nature to us.

Anyway, my point is not that we can ignore rules simply because they've been ignored and I apologize for making it sound that I thought thusly.