Judicial Council Decisions Search
Decision No. 1074
October 26 2007
In Re: Review of Bishop’s Decision of Law in the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference Concerning Whether an Elder in Good Standing Who Has Undergone a Gender Change is Eligible for Appointment in The United Methodist Church.
Digest of Case
A clergyperson who remained in good standing in an annual conference is required to be continued under appointment. A clergyperson’s good standing cannot be terminated without administrative or judicial action having occurred and all fair process being accorded. All clergy name changes regardless of the reasons for the name change are to be placed under minute question # 91. The Judicial Council does not reach the question of whether gender change is a chargeable offense or violates minimum standards established by the General Conference.
Statement of Facts
During the 2007 clergy session of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference, a change of name for a clergyperson was reported in response to Minute Question 91. Minute Question 91 states, “What other personal notations should be made? (Include such matters as change in pension credit (¶1506.6), corrections or additions to matters reported in the ‘Business of the Annual Conference’ form in previous years, and legal name changes of clergy members and diaconal ministers.)” One of the clergy members asked if the name change indicated a gender change, and the Bishop indicated that it did. The clergyperson for whom a change of name was reported is an elder in good standing in the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference. The ensuing discussion resulted in two written questions of law and then two decisions of law by the Bishop as follows:
First Question: Please issue a decision of law as to whether transgendered [sic] persons are eligible for appointment in The United Methodist Church. First Decision of Law: I rule that transgender [sic] elders in good standing as required by ¶ 337.1 and that meet the requirements of ¶ 334.2 are eligible for an appointment. Second Question of Law: I request a Decision of Law as to whether a clergy name change that is based upon a change of gender identity is properly reported to the Clergy Executive Session under Disciplinary [sic] Question #91, or should it be placed under a Disciplinary [sic] Question that requires consent and recommendation by BOOM and Conference Relations Committee, for example, Disciplinary Question [sic] 50d or others that may apply. Second Decision of Law: All clergy name changes regardless of the reasons for the name change are to be placed under question 91. . . . . Transgender [sic] clergy may be placed under an additional question if that specific question applies to the particular clergyperson. . . .
All elders in full connection who are in good standing in an annual conference shall be continued under appointment by the bishop unless they are granted a sabbatical leave, an incapacity leave (¶ 358), family leave, a leave of absence, retirement, or have failed to meet the requirements for continued eligibility (¶ 334.2) . . . .In Decision 920, the Judicial Council stated, “Under our polity, clergy once ordained and admitted to membership in full connection, remain in good standing until some action is taken which affirmatively removes the clergy person from that status.” Decision 920 held that “[t]he annual conference must annually review the character and conference relations of all clergypersons holding membership in the annual conference.” The clergyperson that prompted the questions of law here is ordained and admitted to membership in full connection. This clergyperson remains in good standing until some action is taken which affirmatively removes the clergyperson from that status. No such action had been taken as of the time of the annual conference session in question here. Therefore, under ¶ 337.1, the clergyperson was required to be continued under appointment. The adjective placed in front of the noun “clergyperson” does not matter. What matters is that clergypersons, once ordained and admitted to membership in full connection, cannot have that standing changed without being accorded fair process. Any member of The United Methodist Church is able to file a written complaint against any clergyperson who it is believed does not meet the minimum standards established by the General Conference or who has engaged in a chargeable offense. If such a complaint is filed, it is to be handled according to the procedures outlined in the Discipline, and, in that process, a determination is made as to the character and conference relations of that clergy member. Here, the Bishop properly ruled that the clergyperson, having been ordained, admitted to membership in full connection and not having been removed from good standing by disciplinary action, was required to be continued under appointment. A person’s good standing cannot be terminated without administrative or judicial action having occurred and all fair process being accorded. The Bishop’s decision of law is affirmed since it was limited to the appointability of this elder who remained in good standing. In making such a ruling, we do not reach the question of whether gender change is a chargeable offense or violates minimum standards established by the General Conference because that question is not before the Judicial Council. The second question of law dealt with whether a change of name due to gender change must be dealt with in such a way as to require consent and recommendation of the Board of Ordained Ministry and the Conference Relations Committee. The Discipline contains no provisions mandating any review by the Board of Ordained Ministry or the Conference Relations Committee when a clergyperson reports a name change for any reason or for no reason. The circumstances underlying that name change may otherwise result in administrative or judicial proceedings addressing the good standing and/or conference relations of the clergyperson, but such proceedings would occur for those reasons and not simply because there has been a name change. The Bishop’s decision of law, holding that all clergy name changes regardless of the reasons for the name change are to be placed under Minute Question 91, is affirmed.