Like it or not, this brings us back to the ministry of Isaac Simmons, who is currently associate pastor at Hope United Methodist Church in Bloomington, Ill. Here is their online bio:
Isaac (They/Them) also known as Ms. Penny Cost (She/Her/Hers) studies Business Management and Religious Studies at Illinois Wesleyan University. They are reportedly the first Drag Queen in the world to be Certified as a Candidate for Ordination within the UMC. Passionate in the fields of community development and social equity, Isaac is committed to working across lines of difference to enact change at all levels of the community. Isaac has spoken to congregations across the United States, Canada, and the UK on the topics of Queer Theology, The Spirituality of Drag, and Our Collective Call to Liberation.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, conservatives are saying that contents of one online poem by Ms. Penny Cost — the drag queen preacher’s name is a take on the sacred Feast of Pentecost — raises big questions about several essential doctrines.
Let’s flash back to my earlier post:
“God is nothing,” the self-described “dragavangelist” repeats throughout the poem, adding, “the Bible is nothing” and “religion is nothing.” In the end, he concludes God and the Bible are nothing “unless we wield it into something.”
“God must be f***ing nothing,” he says, “if her boundaryless, transubstantiated bodies of color are run down, beaten, and strewn in the streets of America instead of ruling the runways of life.”
He speaks of God not as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but rather as the source of queerness, describing him as “nothing but a drag queen with a microphone of biblical f***ing proportions,” “nothing, but if she were, she would be ‘yes, queen’-ing her way down the runways of Paris and Montreal,” and “nothing, but if she were, she would be a seamstress of divide couture, weaving together string theory and self portraits to form the fiercest gowns of queer existence.”
Needless today, there are some interesting tweaks to ancient doctrines — such as the Holy Trinity — in that poem-sermon.
Now there is a viral video clip with Ms. Penny Cost addressing children with this message (as stated in one Twitter post): “Romans 12:2 (“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”) is now a pro-drag queen Bible verse.”
Thus, here is the big journalism question: Does Ms. Penny Cost speak for the UMC establishment, on matters of church doctrine?
That’s a complicated question. The key is that Simmons is poised to be ordained by a regional branch of the United Methodist Church, in violation of the doctrines contained in the current Book of Discipline. However, the establishment’s stated goal is for local and regional UMC leaders to have more freedom to make decisions that fit with the majority of their churches, but would offend many other churches in other regions. This would be possible under the proposed super-flexible form of a future United Methodist Church.
When Ms. Penny Cost is ordained, they will be a pastor with UMC credentials. Period.
This leads to another journalism question: How can reporters cover the current debates in UMC life without including some details about the case studies that conservatives are citing as evidence of major doctrinal changes that are ahead? If there are “falsehood and inaccuracies” in conservative complaints, journalists really need to include verbatim transcriptions from digital materials linked to these events and comments.
Will including these materials in mainstream news reports offend many people? Yes, they will offend United Methodists on both the left and the right, for very different reasons. The left wants silence. The right wants debates out in the open.
But consider this passage in the AP report:
Bishop Karen Oliveto of the UMC’s Mountain Sky region — who in 2016 became the UMC’s first openly lesbian bishop — said via email it is “extremely wounding to LGBTQ persons that our very personhood is being used as a wedge to disrupt unity in the church.” She expressed hope that UMC churches “will be safe places for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Conservatives have lamented that UMC has failed to enforce its Book of Discipline on standards for ordination and marriage.
Oliveto said, however, that sometimes “the Holy Spirit runs ahead of us and gives us a glimpse of the future to which we are called. This is certainly the case across the denomination, where LGBTQ persons have been examined at every step of the ordination process and found to possess the gifts and graces for ordained ministry.”
In other words, doctrinal progressives in the United Methodist Church believe they are seeing evidence of a new Pentecost, with the Holy Spirit leading the denomination into a new era.
If this is the case, how do journalists leave the work of Ms. Penny Cost, and other activists at seminaries and in other official UMC structures, out of news reports about these conflicts?
FIRST IMAGE: Uncredited illustration with an AmericanPress.com feature with this headline — “A church divided: Split of Methodist denomination already underway.”
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