A recent article in the Des Moines Register reports that in September of last year a housekeeper at a Catholic student center at Drake University was fired by the parish bishop. Susan McIntyre, a transgender woman, is a certified social worker and counselor who felt pulled to "work with the sickest of the sick and poorest of the poor." A housekeeper at the Newman Center for ten years, she also counseled transgender persons. She was given permission a few years ago to use the center's offices on Saturdays to meet with and lead a transgender support group. Last fall, a priest new to the parish found a letter on a copier. The letter, written on the center's letterhead, authorized hormone therapy for a transgender person about to undergo a sex change. The letter was written by McIntyre. In a brief meeting with the bishop and his attorney, McIntyre was fired.
The reason given for McIntyre's dismissal was for using church letterhead stationery in her counseling work, "indicating that [she was] employed by and operating on behalf of the Newman Center as a counselor or social worker." Debate and dissension has swirled around this event as parishioners and residents discuss the church's stance.
The basic story is this: the bishop feels that McIntyre's use of the letterhead opened the church to lawsuits that might stem from dissatisfied clients. Since the church asserts that transgenderism is a psychological problem that should be fought with counseling and not with surgery, the bishop felt McIntyre appeared to be misrepresenting the church by using its letterhead and facilities.
The arguments about this affair run from legal to doctrinal. A parishioner states that if the bishop was truly basing his argument on connection to the church, he could have accomplished his goal by simply asking McIntyre to counsel her clients offsite; her job as a housekeeper had nothing to do with the case at hand. Joel McNeil, the priest who found the letter, states that "It's about 2,000 years of consistent teaching...we are not free to reinvent Christianity."
Here we have the question facing all Christian churches today: do we try to jam the modern world into a Bible-shaped box, changing the world to fit; or do we use the Bible as a structure upon which to build a new understanding of the world? Those who claim to maintain fidelity to the Bible forget that, as they crammed the world into that box (which itself has changed, but that's another post), they had to chop off those bits that didn't fit over the years: slavery, equal rights for women and people of color, and so much more as our standards changed with the culture. Not free to reinvent Christianity? We've been doing it for thousands of years. There's your tradition.
A 2007 study done by research firm The Barna Group found that the vast majority of young people (age 16-29) surveyed perceive Christianity as anti-gay. Interestingly, a 2008 Harris Poll for GLAAD states that 57% of mainline Christians (and 51% of Catholics) support enactment of nondiscrimination laws for gay and transgender people. There appears to be a dichotomy as to who constitutes "the church:" is it the people or is it the hierarchy? Is Christianity pastoral practice or is it doctrinalism?
Hat tip to AndrewW for the lead and link.