The decades-old discussion of sexuality in the United Methodist Church will include a new wrinkle — transgender laypeople and clergy — when the nation's second-largest Protestant denomination meets next week in Texas.

Methodists will meet for their quadrennial General Conference from April 23-May 2 in Fort Worth, Texas. Beyond sexuality, they are expected to discuss possible divestment from companies operating in Israel, questions related to their increasingly international membership, and possible statements on the Iraq war.

Resolutions related to sexuality and gender number in the hundreds, but an increasing number deal with transgender people after the church's highest court permitted Baltimore pastor Drew Phoenix to remain in his pulpit. Gender change had not been addressed in the church's constitution, the Judicial Council ruled last October.

In light of that decision, some conservative Methodists now want to see church rules codify that transgender people should not be allowed as clergy.

"It illustrates that the proposed liberalization of the church's standard doesn't stop with homosexuality," said Mark Tooley, director of the Institute on Religion and Democracy's UMAction, a conservative group.

"We proposed legislation that would, in effect, disapprove of a sex-change operation and would affirm biological gender as a divine gift."

Affirmation, an advocacy group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Methodists, is fighting those efforts, saying such a move doesn't reflect a denomination whose slogan is "Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors."

"I'm concerned about the church, that it's going down a path of exclusion and that people like Drew who have clearly exhibited the gifts and graces of the ministry … ...

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