An increasing number of individuals who identify as “gender non-binary” have emerged among the clerical ranks in mainline Protestant denominations.
Following the ordination of transgender clergy in the United States, non-binary clergy appear to be the next wave of sex and gender revisionism.
While clergy already ministering within Christian communities have come out to their churches as non-binary, a number of non-binary identifying individuals have made headlines as the first to be ordained openly within their denomination.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, non-binary is relating to or being a person who identifies with or expresses a gender identity that is neither entirely male nor entirely female.
In the United Methodist Church, The Rev. M. Barclay is the first non-binary transgender individual to be commissioned and to be ordained a deacon. Barclay first made news when commissioned as a deacon in 2017. Initially Barclay, then known as Mary Ann Kaiser, was denied a commission by the board of the Southwest Texas Conference in 2014 on account of being a “self-avowed, practicing” lesbian in a same-sex relationship. Later in June of 2017, Barclay was commissioned in the Northern Illinois Conference as a provisional deacon.
Barclay explains a change in identity to non-binary, saying: “For me, once I was exposed to the reality of non-binary gender, it was for the first time recognizing who I am…and what made sense for me in how I carry my body, how I explain myself to the world and how I know myself to be internally. It’s certainly not man nor woman.”
Barclay now specifies the pronouns “they/themme/theirs.”
In the summer of 2019, Barclay moved from provisional clergy and was ordained in the Northern Illinois Conference as the first non-binary United Methodist deacon.
The Rev. Anna Blaedel is another member of the United Methodist clergy who identifies as queer and uses “they/them” pronouns. She was a pastor in Iowa before taking a leave of absence and is now the theologian in residence for the organization Enfleshed, which authors liturgies for non-binary persons.
Another notable member of the non-binary clergy is Jess Cook. Cook was the first non-binary Minister of the Word and Sacrament to be ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA) in June of 2019.
Speaking about her ordination, Cook says, “I’m acutely aware of the people who worked tirelessly to make it possible for an openly non-binary person to be ordained in the PC(USA), and of the young people who feel a call to ministry and will now see themselves in a person leading worship.
Cook is currently the Program and Communications Manager at More Light Presbyterians, the unofficial LGBTQ caucus within the PCUSA.
In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Megan Rohrer is a pastor and writer. In 2006, Rohrer was ordained and became “the first openly transgender/non-binary person to be ordained by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.” She is currently the chaplain of the San Francisco Police Department after pastoring Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Francisco for three years.
In the United Church of Christ, according to the UCC 2019 Statistical Profile, 0.2% of ordained ministers are transgender/gender variant. Among the commissioned ministers, 0.9% are transgender/gender-variant.
A few years ago, The Rev. Ryan Dowell Baum came out as non-binary to his church in Iowa. But, according to an article Baum wrote, “The Holiness and Heartbreak of a Nonbinary Pastor,” his church asked him to resign a few months later in 2018. It seems that, despite the UCC’s progressive views, individual churches and congregations are not always of the same opinion.
These few individuals indicate the shift towards a wider acceptance of non-binary clergy in mainline Protestantism. Time will tell if this trend makes it beyond that confine.
Update [2/12/2020]: The circumstances surrounding Baum’s resignation from his position are in dispute. An interim pastor currently serving his former United Church of Christ congregation weighs in that there was “a lot more going on” before Baum came out to the church as non-binary. Baum, she suggests, was a new pastor and inexperienced. According to the Pastor’s Report for 2019, his decisions and those of the church council led to the deterioration of the church’s internal structure and support system. During turmoil following Baum’s unexpected announcement, the church provided him and his family (he is married to a woman and has two children) more than $52,000 in support, including his “transition,” in the seven months before his resignation.