Bishop Easterling,

We do not know each other personally, but we are Facebook friends. So that’s worth something, right? I was so sad this morning when I read that my queer siblings were ruled out of order for ordination at the BWAC.

When you were elected to the episcopacy I celebrated and cheered – because I know that you have made claim to a belief that myself and my queer siblings are valid, chosen, and called as children of God. I celebrated because I know you have seen the gifts of the Holy Spirit at work in LGBTQ persons and validated them. I celebrated because as the BWAC Board of Ordained Ministry made public their intentions to recommend LGBTQ ministerial candidates who met the qualifications, I believed you to be the person who would honor that prophetic act.

Today, I lament. But I get it.

As I read your statement that emphasized the truth that there were no winners in your decision, I had to imagine that that is an easy thing for a straight, cisgender woman to say. But this conversation cannot be reduced to winning and losing. This is a matter of perpetuating harm. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “an unjust law, is no law at all”. But you took a different stance yesterday. And I get it. Living as a queer person in the South, I gave the first 30 years of my life to the same sort of choice you made yesterday. It is easier to play by the rules, even when I disagree with them – hoping that someone else will set things right. It is easier and feels noble to cater to the safe middle ground of “upholding the discipline”. But at a certain point the cost of those “easier” decisions becomes too much and one has to cash in their integrity.

Two years ago, I chose to take my integrity back and live as my whole self – a transgender man. That choice cost me my career, my church family, opportunities for ministry, and a whole lot more. As a current seminary student at the Iliff School of Theology, I continue to accrue thousands of dollars in debt, much like T. C. Morrow and Joey Heath-Mason, unsure if the church I love will ever again fully recognize my gifts for ministry that were celebrated when I lived my life as a female (ironic, isn’t it?). Some probably think I am a lunatic for doing so, and in many ways they may be correct – but I cannot deny the gifts of ministry that live within me and the call upon my life to work for a system that is just and fair, building a church that welcomes, affirms, and includes all people at every level.

But I get it. You’re trying to be patient and honor the work of the Commission on a Way Forward. However, the truth is, your actions just demonstrated the painful result of what is purported to be the “best option” the commission has for LGBTQ persons – the One Church Plan. This is a plan that creates and fosters a reality in which queer people who are called to ministry will have to choose their geographic space not based on where their roots are, where their families live, or where they have built community – but based on where they might be accepted as a ministerial candidate. While you ask us again to wait – for the work of a commission on which, as a transgender person, I was unrepresented – you forfeited the chance to lead. In the name of upholding the discipline, you let the opportunity for prophetic leadership pass you by.

I can only imagine what pressure you are under by the Council of Bishops to toe the line and make the exact ruling that you did, but you can only imagine the gifts your ruling sidelined and the harm it perpetuated. While I get what it is like to try and navigate that sort of pressure in a public light, there is something I don’t get… You say you believe the Discipline is wrong, but you traded your integrity to uphold a law you acknowledge is unjust.

I’ll conclude with an excerpt of your own prayer poem entitled, Righteousness:

May I fully embrace the truth that your
Holy Word names as evil all forms of
injustice and oppression.
May I have the courage to confront
the injustices I witness.
May I be willing to open my mind
and broaden my understanding of
discriminatory practices and positions
of which I was once ignorant.
May I not stand idly by when another
culture, language, or race is used
as the punch line of ill-fated joke.
May I speak out against systemic policies
and practices that continue the oppressive
privilege of the powerful over against the
less powerful.

Bishop LaTrelle Miller Easterling

Ben Weger

Ben Weger serves as the worship leader at Allendale UMC in Saint Petersburg, FL and is a second year seminarian at Iliff School of Theology. In 2014, Ben co-led worship for the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. Ben and his wife Leigh have three children and are passionate about building a more inclusive church for the next generation.
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