The Rhode Island State Council of Churches announced Friday that beginning next month, the organization's executive minister, the Rev. Don Anderson, 70, will begin a three-month sabbatical during which he will transition into a woman named Donnie.
"... After 11 years of service our Executive Minister the Rev. Dr. Don Anderson has been granted a three month sabbatical starting on June 1st. Last fall Dr. Anderson shared with the Governing Board that she is transgender and in the process of transitioning. This sabbatical will afford Dr. Anderson the opportunity to do that free of the day to day operations of the council," Chontell Washington, the council's governing board president said in a letter to the public.
"During the sabbatical Dr. Anderson will be changing her name from Donald to Donnie. The council is appreciative of Dr. Anderson's ministry and totally supportive of her transition. Please join us in wishing her well in this time of transition. We look forward to welcoming the Rev. Dr. Donnie Anderson back from her sabbatical in September," Washington added.
The organization notes in its mission statement that it is "seeking to be followers of Jesus" by bringing together "denominations, congregations, organizations, faith leaders, and individuals to serve as a catalyst for ecumenical, cultural, and interfaith dialogue; offer resources to and with each other; advocate for peace and social justice."
Anderson, who has stated that his decision to transition into a woman is a personal matter for him and his family, said he wanted people to know why he would be away from office and promised to discuss his change when he returns in September.
The minister, who is a very vocal and respected voice in Rhode Island on a number of hot button cultural and political issues, suggested in an op-ed for the Providence Journal last December that if Jesus were to be born in a family today, he would probably choose to be born in a same-sex or minority family.
"I have no doubt in my mind that Jesus' family was made up of Mary, Joseph and the other siblings referred to in Scripture, but I wonder what Jesus' family might look like if he came today," Anderson wrote.
"I have always felt that the choice of Jesus' family was a statement by God about those God wants us to care about ... So my sanctified imagination wonders what kind of family might God choose in 21st century America. Might it not be a family with two dads or two moms? Might the family be non-Caucasian, perhaps African-American or Asian? Or how about a Native American family where one of the parents was a "two-spirit" person? That kind of family might represent God's statement about oppressed people today," he wrote in response to a controversial Nativity scene depicting two Josephs dressed in pink and white robes as Jesus' parents.
"I cannot begin to know the motivations of the person who presented a Nativity with two Josephs. But rather than dismiss this Nativity, perhaps we could ask ourselves if this expression of Jesus' birth might teach us a deeper truth about Emanuel: God with us. I choose to see this Nativity as a gift from God to help me find a new and richer appreciation for the true meaning of Christmas, the ultimate expression of divine love for humanity that knows no bounds," Anderson added.