Arkansas Episcopal diocese deals with transgender priest

February 28, 2014

An Anglican website reports on a transgendered priest who, until recently, served at an Episcopal Church in Pine Bluff.

The Rev. Greg Fry, priest-in-charge at Grace Episcopal Church in Pine Bluff, told his congregation Sunday morning that he is transgendered and identifies himself as a woman, apparently becoming the only working member of the Episcopalian clergy in Arkansas ever to make such an announcement.

Arkansas Episcopal Bishop Larry Benfield announces that the pastoral relationship between the priest and Grace Church has been dissolved. Benfield observed, “I hope that we never reduce the struggles that we all face in our lives to snap judgments that are best suited to sound bites, just as I hope that we do not make decisions based on fear of the unknown.”

If I may be allowed an observation, and these are my personal opinions, it might be good for everybody to take a long deep breath and try to remember that we profess to be followers of Jesus. Let us presume, for the sole purpose of making a point, that the minister being discussed is the rottenest, low-down, depraved sinner on earth. Would it not follow that he is most in need of our prayers? Are we not required to help restore sinful people to a right relationship with God? Or does that apply only to people with whom we are comfortable?

The reporter notes, “a transgender person is one who identifies with or expresses a gender identity that differs from the one that corresponds to the person’s sex at birth. Transgender orientation is independent of sexual orientation.” This is a somewhat technical matter and one must presume the general accuracy of the definition. All stories have space limitations and every reporter has a deadline. News is never comprehensive.

There is, I think, I general misconception that gender identity at birth is always a matter of instantaneous observation, but there are a surprising number of cases in which determination of gender is not at all straightforward. There are medical experts who routinely deal with such cases. Moving on from that starting point, it is not difficult to imagine that an individual might be misidentified from the earliest stages.

We all need to understand that there is a difference between gender “dysphoria” (the predicament of the priest in Pine Bluff) and cross-dressing. The former is a condition of gender confusion. I learned all this during my almost 40 years in radio, but am by no means an expert. So far as I can tell, the situation this young man finds himself in is yet another symptom of the Fall. Paul reminds us in Romans 8 that the creation is groaning in expectation of a coming time when everything will be back in a proper relationship with God.

Whether this individual should be in public ministry is another question altogether. I am not part of the Episcopal diocese, so it would be wise to show some restraint. As a traditional Anglican, I have nothing to brag about. Our bishops have shown themselves to be broken men. We all struggle against our fleshy nature. None of us have any right to do anything other than pray for the Episcopal Church and get on with the business of spreading the gospel to those who need it most.



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