- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2002

The Rev. Rebecca Steen is facing stiff opposition to her request to be appointed to a Methodist church in the Baltimore-Washington Conference, and not because she's a woman.

Before going on a voluntary leave of absence in October of 1999, Miss Steen was known as the Rev. Richard Zomastny.

A vote to assign Miss Steen possibly the first transsexual Methodist minister in the country to a chaplaincy, teaching position or new church will be made at a closed session of the Board of Ordained Ministry tonight. It will be officially announced sometime tomorrow morning before an open forum of roughly 1,000 attending clergy at the Renaissance Hotel.

Miss Steen, if appointed to a church, would be the first transsexual clergy member from any mainline American denomination to pastor a church.

She is among a pool of "clergy in good standing" applying for appointments.

"We have a guaranteed appointment system for pastors returning from voluntary leave," said conference spokesman Dean Snyder. "Unless someone files a complaint, all pastors automatically will receive some kind of appointment."

Mr. Snyder, citing confidentiality, could not say whether a complaint has already been filed against Miss Steen. If that is the case, then Miss Steen's appointment decision will be held up in a lengthy appeals process.

The United Methodist Church, whose presiding bishop and board of ministry were unavailable for comment, has downplayed the importance of the vote amid claims that neither the Bible nor the Methodist Book of Discipline specifically addresses issues of "inside/outside difference."

But the Institute on Religion and Democracy, an ecumenical watchdog group that strives to make various church structures more accountable to their memberships, says the Methodist leadership is courting disaster.

"The conference is trying to downplay this as a matter of common procedure, avoiding the ramifications it will have for the church in general," said Mark Tooley, director of the IRD's Methodist committee. "That approach could create a crisis of confidence in church leadership among the laity, who have already endured dogmatic battles over the issue of homosexuality for 30 years."

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