This Sunday, June 4, the Northern Illinois Conference commissioned for deacon’s orders someone who was reportedly the “first openly non-binary trans person” for ministry in the United Methodist Church.
And the full inclusion of such persons in ordination could potentially be mandated in every region of our denomination if the United Methodist annual conferences meeting this month vote to adopt Proposed Amendment #2. This amendment would change the UMC Constitution – the narrow section of the UMC Discipline that trumps all other parts of church law – to mandate absolute inclusion at all levels of our denomination’s governance regardless of “gender,” without making clear that this is limited to only male and female.
The individual now using the name “M Barclay” does not personally identify as male or female, and insists on using “singular they pronouns” as Barclay no longer accepts being referred to with such feminine pronouns as “her” or “she.”
Such pronoun preferences can get so confusing that reportedly even leading LGBTQ activists in the denomination could not agree on how to do it. When in my writings, I decline to join Miss Barclay in denying the good, God-given gift of her female identity, it is NOT because of any personal ill will or any desire to hurt anyone’s feelings. But among the things at stake in the language we use in such matters are such fundamental questions as whether or not is such a thing as objective, physical reality about people, or if people actually have the ability redefine their own realities as radically as an XX-chromosomed woman declaring that she is no longer a woman. I understand that a key principle of psychological care that when patients experience unhealthy fantasies of not accepting certain realities, it is actually harmful to “play along” and speak and act as if their fantasies were realities.
Barclay is no stranger to controversy. I have previously reported on her publicity stunt of seeking (ultimately unsuccessfully) to be ordained in the more theologically diverse Southwest Texas Conference, while she was at that time openly cohabiting with her lesbian partner.
While seeking the affirmation of the United Methodist Church, Barclay is not seeking to pastor any of our congregations. United Methodist deacons find their own employment and normally do not work as full-time congregational pastors. Instead, this clergy status gives Barclay a personal sense of affirmation, as well as a sort of validation of her work in full-time LGBTQ activism, as the communications director for the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN). RMN is the largest unofficial liberal caucus group within our denomination, and recruits United Methodist clergy to openly break the United Methodist standards they have vowed to uphold against homosexual practice and other forms of sex outside of marriage.
The declining Northern Illinois Conference has long been a hotbed of theological radicalism. Its former bishop, Joseph Sprague, was notorious for publicly denying such core Christian doctrines as the eternal divinity of Christ and His physical resurrection. Sprague’s successor, Hee-Soo Jung, appointed an incredibly “stacked” board of ordained ministry then went on to unanimously approve a policy of publicly welcoming “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and straight candidates” for ministry.
To their credit, in response to the Judicial Council’s recent rulings about how boards of ordained ministry MUST screen ordination candidates for their compliance with biblical standards of sexual self-control, Bishop Sally Dyck (the current bishop) later ruled this policy “out of order” and the Northern Illinois Conference board of ordained ministry said that they would do the required work of fully examining ordination candidates for their commitment to these standards.
However, it is important to note that this approval of a transgendered individual for ministry is NOT quite the same sort of defiance as ordaining someone who is openly homosexually active.
The United Methodist Church’s governing Book of Discipline is very clear that homosexual practice is inherently “incompatible with Christian teaching,” that we do not recognize homosexual marriages, and that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” are not to be ordained. These standards were strengthened by recent Judicial Council rulings.
However, the UMC’s teachings and standards are currently less explicit as they relate to transgenderism. The last few General Conferences have rejected petitions that would have put our church on record as more clearly affirming or as more clearly rejecting transgenderist ideology about there being allegedly more than two genders or about the “fluidity” of how people can allegedly change their gender over time.
So we are left in a less clear place. I have urged Christians within and beyond my denomination to think about ministry with individuals struggling with their gender identity (as with other forms of mental illness) in ways that are both truthful and compassionate. But I have observed rather little discussion of such concerns in the UMC at large.
There is little doubt that if Proposed Amendment #2 is adopted, some activists will then try to use the language of full inclusion at ALL levels of church governance, regardless of “gender,” to mandate imposition of transgenderist ideology throughout the United Methodist Church, in a way of heavy-handedly ending this important discussion before it has even really begun in our denomination.
UPDATE: The Washington Post reports that “Barclay is not in a romantic relationship now, so is not violating the church’s rule that clergy can have sexual relationships only in heterosexual marriages.”