Support for Isaac Simmons (aka Ms. Penny Cost)
On behalf of the board of IGRC for Unity, we wish to share our joy in seeing Isaac Simmons pass his DCOM interview and officially begin his journey towards ordination within the UMC. As an openly queer man who embraces his self-expression through the art of drag, Isaac will be able to speak a word of life and hope to many in the LGBTQIA+ community and beyond with his unique voice. This has been and will likely continue to be a difficult season for him to navigate due to the many who believe these actions to be outside the “Christian worldview” and seek to end his inclusion in the ordained ministry that God has called him to. We lament the needless pain he will encounter on this journey, but we stand beside him on this journey.
IGRC for Unity board member Rev. Randy Robinson answered a few questions that you may find yourself answering in the near future. Feel free to use this information in guiding your congregations or fellow laypeople.
1. What approach should pastors and congregations take in responding to those who ask, “Where does your church stand in relation to Isaac Simmons, the “drag queen” who has recently been certified for candidacy as a minister in the United Methodist Church?”
As a committed United Methodist layperson who feels God’s call to pastoral ministry, Isaac becomes a test case for the depth and breadth of our understanding of God’s love in Jesus Christ and our desire that this love be experienced by all and shared with all. Isaac’s pastor testifies to the fact that he is already engaged in the ministry of sharing God’s expansive and inclusive love through his local church, Hope UMC in Bloomington. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to express this radically inclusive love of God by welcoming and affirming those whose life experience varies from the “norm.” So, the question for the church is, at what point do we place limits on the all-inclusive love of God?
2. The official stance of the UMC is to not ordain “practicing homosexuals.” What about our Methodist tradition supports the idea that all people, including LGBTQIA+ folks, are fully loved by God and called to ministry just as much as heterosexual people?
In our baptismal covenant, we promise to serve Jesus Christ as Lord in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations and races. There are many other conditions of life that this vow implies, and certainly sexual orientation is one of them. The often-ignored word “all” carries the connotation that Christ’s Church is open to all people, and this includes people of all sexual orientations. God’s love has no limits.
Additionally, in our UMC ordination service, the bishop states, “All baptized Christians are called to share in Christ’s ministry of love and service to the world, to the glory of God and for the redemption of the human family and the whole of creation.” Once again, the word “all” is full of implication for the church’s understanding that Isaac and other LGBTQIA+ people have the same responsibility and joy to fulfill their call to the ministry of Christ as does the rest of the church! I hope our pastors and churches will find their voice, speak with courage and conviction in the face of strong opposition and be prepared to model the church for all that our baptismal covenant envisions.
3. What is the position of IGRC for Unity? Won’t the polarizing presence of a “drag queen” shift the focus of our conversations, causing IGRC for Unity to assume a defensive posture?
IGRC for Unity is working diligently to bring together faithful United Methodists who understand that “all means all.” IGRC for Unity has a vision for the Illinois Great Rivers Conference where all churches delight in God’s diversity of creation, Christ’s inclusive sacrificial love for all people and the prophet Joel’s vision that God’s Spirit has been “poured out upon all flesh,” echoed by Peter on the Day of Pentecost. We do not have to defend God’s love in Jesus Christ, but we do have to make clear that our churches will not deny the giftedness of all God’s children, no matter their sexual orientation. This giftedness has many expressions and in the current discussion, Isaac Simmons may have the gift of an evangelist and be empowered by God’s Spirit to reach others in the LGBTQ+ community that many of the rest of us would be unable to reach. If God calls a gay evangelist to work in the gay community, who are we to question how the Holy Spirit moves? (Didn’t Jesus make this clear to Nicodemus in John 3?)