Queer Women Pastors and Transforming the Church-with UMC Pastor, Bailey Brawner

One of the many things I love about Erin is her passion for helping people see the Bible differently––not as a weapon that is used to oppress identities, but as a tool to bring healing and restoration. In the LGBTQIA+ community, that work is vital to us existing as Queer Christians. The work being done within our communities, produces real change.

As a Queer pastor, I see how needed this work is on both a major and a micro level. Daily, I am tasked to ask the question of who we are not allowing at the table and why? You’ll hear pastors talk about church growth, about evangelism, and about stewardship. These words essentially mean they want more members, but we are asking the wrong questions, and we have the wrong goals. Our focus on membership has become more important than our members themselves.

Being a Queer Christian means we often have one foot inside of the church and one foot outside. It means we are both included and excluded, aligned with, and seen as in conflict with. Too much of our society isn’t there yet. They are caught up in these small, misused verses in this ancient book not written for our context, and they use these verses to inflict harm, to take away someone’s worthiness and God-given salvation and love.

In my role, I am not immune from these people and these comments. I hear homophobia spread around in the name of God. I witness exclusions being placed on people and their roles in the church because of who or how they love. And at the same time, I have a privilege many do not, in that I can be a part of dismantling those systems of harm in a very tangible and direct way. And I am called to do just that, which humbles me everyday.

Being a Queer pastor means I get to take the reins on how the church should be. It means that in my day to day life, I get to interact with my queer family, many of whom are feeling broken, left out, or even traumatized by spiritual abuse. I get to be their pastor.  I get to take those sacred stories into a space which historically has been the cause of that pain. Then, little by little, my existence and others’ stories I carry with me can slowly change the systems from the inside.

The choices I make are never done perfectly, and as a cisgender white woman, I recognize that the questions I’m asking only scratch the surface. I have blind spots and see the world from a level of privilege. I can listen more. I can elevate other voices more. Still, I know what it means to have someone tell you that your humanity is not okay, and further, tell you that God says it’s not okay.

These past few months, my denomination, the United Methodist Church, made a very public statement that my humanity, and our collective humanity as queer people was not okay. This institution is a huge part of what I’ve always known. The people and the churches inside the institution have raised me, helped me grow, and helped me recognize my call to pastoral ministry. And then they told me, and they told millions of people around the world, that there was something not okay with who I am, who we are.

We can’t erase that harm, and erasing it won’t fix the problem anyway. In the same way that muting all the people who use clobber texts to harm us on Twitter won’t make the homophobia go away in the church, systems of oppression cannot be ignored. If any good can come out of it though, it’s that we know what we are up against. We have been granted an opportunity to see exactly what is happening. We have clarity, and now we can do the work, being a part of the resurrection that so desperately needs to happen.

Slowly, baby step by baby step, we are changing the way God can be accessed. We are changing the collective of people who are granted authority to lead, to worship, and to redesign what church will be like in twenty years. Being a queer pastor means I get to help with that, and I get to highlight the work that is being done. Being called to do that work feels especially important now, as we are seeing more and more spiritual abuse being done in a more public way than we’ve ever seen.

If you would have asked me five years ago, when I stood up to preach for the first time, that this would be the work I was doing, I would have ran away from the question before I even had time to respond. And still today, I’d like to run away a lot of the time. And yet, this work needs to happen, and as a queer pastor, I am honored to have the opportunity to ask those questions and widen that table or build a new table altogether or a bar or a park bench, all so that together, we can do the work.

And so, we do the work. We change God’s historically male pronouns. We force change by our existence in broken systems. We tell stories that don’t seem very ‘churchy’ to people, real stories. We expose the harm being done through hashtags and campaigns. We wear the t-shirts and listen to the podcasts. We support queer Christians doing this work through our prayers, presence, our money, our service, and our witness. We educate ourselves, and we educate others. We give a microphone to the voices that aren’t being heard. We gather together at conferences, and at drag shows, and on Twitter. We dream together, and we show up for one another. We see the Holy Spirit in all her shining, glittering glory in the faces of our queer siblings.

We are doing this work together. We are being liberation. We are existing, and what a holy miracle that is.

What I really want to say is thank you. Thank you for partnering with me as we work towards liberation for ourselves and others. Thank you for existing. Thank you for doing this work.

May we continue to offer our gifts, whatever they may be, as tools for healing and restoration. Like Erin, and like so many of you, may we believe that we can affect change, and then go after it. And most importantly, may we live, move, and exist in our world exactly as we are, full stop, knowing you are a reflection of the Divine in all their goodness, love and light, your queerness especially included.

*To learn more about Pastors Bailey’s work, visit baileynbrawner.com

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