Last week, Traditionalists in The United Methodist Church did what they always do: they bullied someone to benefit themselves. It’s important to give space for the truth to be spoken plainly.
Clutching at Pearls…
Last week at two Traditionalist websites (Traditionalists are anti-gay church leaders who deny the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons in The United Methodist Church), a story came out of a young clergy candidate, Isaac Simmons, that was passed into certified candidacy by his District Committee on Ordained Ministry. Great! Young people in ministry that actually get through the TONS of hoops are the exceptions and exceptional, surely they were celebrating it, right?
Nope. Their purpose wasn’t to celebrate the Wesleyan discernment and accountability that the ordination discernment process offers—indeed, it was to criticize it! Because part of Isaac Simmons’ ministry is alongside and taking Christ to the culture of drag queens. Folks who know drag queen culture can hear the cadence and extravagance that delivers the Gospel message in Isaac’s videos, some of which you can view here and here.
It’s an odd obsession: who cares? One person’s calling and ministry area is as personal as the next. No one is criticizing me for when I share the Gospel using science fiction frameworks, attend Comic-Con in costume, or super-geeky niche references, even though that is as inaccessible to muggles as a drag queen might be. Drag queen culture has been around for decades and recently became mainstreamed via RuPaul’s TV show. So what else is going on here?
Turning to Swords…
It’s important to note that such Traditionalist outrage has a purpose in the church at this time: to turn an individual into a weapon and a wedge issue to benefit one’s own efforts.
- PeopleNeedJesus.net has advocated that their entire annual conference should leave from The United Methodist Church and join a fundamentalist breakaway denomination. One could easily see this as turning an individual’s ministry niche into a wedge issue to try to drive up votes for leaving. If it was just concern over a ministry candidate, there’s Wesleyan accountability processes for that and the author (Rev. Dr. Chris Ritter) is in that annual conference! To use a bullhorn instead of the Disciplinary processes means you are using the individual for your own goals rather than participating in the process of discernment and accountability. If it was a fellow full clergyperson rather than a ministry candidate, that would be a disciplinary violation of undermining another clergy’s ministry.
- If you slog through to the end of the IRD article (search here), its intent becomes clear: the purpose was to criticize the clergy candidate’s district superintendent, who had recently criticized the IRD themselves. The IRD isn’t even a part of the annual conference in question—they are in the Washington, D. C. area. Abusers who are challenged lash out, we know that. So again, we see them bully a clergy candidate to promote their own agenda of bullying a critic. Sad.
This is not a new thing, as Traditionalists have a history of using individuals as weapons in the culture war they keep on fighting even though the rest of the world has moved on. A few years ago, 2/3rds of the Via Media Methodists (now defunct and rebranded as A Wesleyan Way) wrote a letter to a District Committee on Ministry calling for the rejection of a clergy candidate, again for LGBTQ+ equality reasons, even though none of them were part of that annual conference.
This game is sick. And the common folks who support Traditionalist movements may be good people who are just not comfortable with drag queens…that’s fine…but they are sharing in this sick game by encouraging such bullying. Take care of your own people!
Ms. Penny Cost responds
The District Committee on Ministry is to be applauded for the way how they recognized this young Christian is bringing the Gospel to a unique demographic.
I’m thankful to be now connected to the ministry candidate Isaac Simmons who can speak for himself in the role of Ms. Penny Cost. Her essay below should be shared with members of the LGBTQ+ community that see themselves used as objects of culture wars over and over rather than the Beloveds they are.
Receive now this word of affirmation and celebration of the God who calls us each beloved.
Nothing can come between your Beauty and the Beauty of the Divine
When people speak of discerning their “calling,” they often say that it was a time where they felt a nudge or tug from the Divine. Unfortunately for me, as someone who tried their hardest to ignore it, this time felt more like a bombardment from a relentless spam caller that just would not let up. Time and time again, random strangers, dear friends, and everyone in between would ask if I had ever considered becoming a pastor. When I finally gave in to the Holy Spirit and began to walk the path of discernment, I did what any nerdy college student would do: I started talking to the experts in my life. This is when I saw for the first time that the church which baptized me in the Love and Light of God had its limitations. As a queer person, I was told that I was welcome in the pews on Sunday, but I would never serve in any official capacity. I was told I was sinful, I was an abomination, and I was on the fast track to hell.
For the queer folks reading this who have been ran out of their house and pew, their family and congregation, my story is nothing new.
But what came next might be.
At Bloomington, Illinois’s first-ever Pride festival (and my first ever drag show), Hope United Methodist Church provided volunteers as security. They showed up in full love, affirmation, and devotion to the community. The following Sunday, I trepidatiously walked into their building. Every insult, every fear, every moment of anxiety swelled within me… and then… I was welcomed. No, I was celebrated. That day, I heard something I had never heard before… All people, straight, cis, queer, trans, and fluid, are created in the image and beauty of God.
To the queer folks reading this, know that whatever is bubbling up in you, the feelings of fear or anger or sadness or grief, those feelings are real, and they should be honored and unpacked for what they are. Those feelings come because you have faced hate. Those feelings come up because you have been hurt. The swirling insults, the weaponized verses, the conversion therapy, and the demonization of your identity have been a single dominant narrative in our culture.
But Hate shall rule no more.
One sexuality and one gender does not now, has not before, nor will it ever hold a monopoly on the Grace of God. We are all loved. We are all valued. If you are reading this, you know that there are individuals and organizations that wish to speak words of hate and bigotry over your life. But let it also be known that there are just as many people and organizations working to reclaim that narrative. For Christ the Child, God the Mother, and The Holy Spirit without gender has spoken THE word of Love over you. This word shall overcome any insult, degradation, slander, or act of violence against you. This word of Love is made tangible through active advocacy of institutions (like Hope UMC) with power and sway in society. You are not alone. No matter where you are in the world, what your church has said, or what your family has done, there is a community here for you now.
As a person who grew up in a small town, I know access to progressive or even simply validating communities can be hard. This is why a historical narrative of hate has been so easily weaponized against us. But now, in the age of zoom and internet, we can connect like never before.
I chose my drag name, Ms. Penny Cost, because, like in the story of Pentecost, I see the holy spirit moving and allowing us to connect in new ways. I see you. I see Love.
I see a better tomorrow.
No one, no institution, no word, and no act can come between your beauty and the beauty of the Divine.
Ms. Penny Cost
For more conversation, be sure to check out Ms. Penny Cost’s interview with JJ Warren on Instagram Live.
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