This truth cannot be stated too many times: This whole religion-beat thing is complicated.
Take the gazillions of complicated facts and potential errors hidden in one simple word -- "polity." In addition to having countless doctrinal differences, the world's thousands of organized religions also have their own systems for laws and governance.
One flock's bishop fills a completely different role than another flock's leader with the same title. Each of these "bishops" has completely different powers and tasks, according to the laws or his or her flock. Church history matters. Scripture matters. The words in vows matter.
So what about that recent headline in The Washington Post? The one that proclaimed: "The United Methodist Church has appointed a transgender deacon."
Well, there is the United Methodist Church -- a global denomination. There are also local United Methodist churches, with a lower-case "c." To understand what happens at the various levels in between means wrestling with UMC polity.
As I said in a 2014 post: "United Methodism doctrine? Think location, location, location."
So, has the United Methodist Church -- the whole shooting match -- appointed (or even approved the appointment of) it's first trans deacon? Let's look carefully at the top of the Post story on this complicated event:
The bishop spoke the traditional words as she placed her hands on the new deacon named M with just a slight difference from the way those words have always been spoken before.
“Pour out your Holy Spirit upon M,” the bishop said. “Send them now to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, to announce the reign of God and to equip the church for ministry.”
Not “send him now” or “send her now.” “Send them now.”
That’s what M Barclay has been working for 12 years to finally hear.
Barclay, a transgender person who identifies as neither male nor female and thus uses the pronoun “they,” was commissioned on Sunday as the first non-binary member of the clergy in the United Methodist Church.