When I first sat down to write my thoughts and feelings, I learned that they were simply too raw. Losing my candidacy was too recent. All I was writing was a painful recount of everything the church had taken from me. I was falling back in to the victimhood mentality that is all too familiar to so many marginalized people when the subject of the Church is brought up.
I decided that I needed to give myself some time, so, it only seemed appropriate that the point in which I was ready to finally start writing was during Pride month, June 2019. So many of us have similar stories of how we were shunned or shut out of our church communities as soon as we reached our conversion moment, and we cast aside the idea of who we were told to be in favor of who God knows us to be.
For me, that moment began in 2017. I was half way through my first year as a licensed local pastor in the Great Plains and my third year in ministry overall. I had been wrestling with how to respond to the call to authenticity that had been placed upon my heart. After a lot of prayer and discussion, my wife and I understood the only way to answer was to be me in the fullest sense of the idea.
It was a life-altering time, and a time of theological explosion for me. I read scripture with an authentic lens and listened to God with a new understanding. I had been baptized in the Southern Baptist Convention a couple of times, but it wasn’t until I began to be me that I truly experienced the strange warming of my heart that John Wesley famously wrote about. I found conversion in finally being authentic.
So, feeling freshly empowered, my wife and I made an appointment to meet with our District Superintendent. On February 9th, 2017, I came out to her as a transgender woman over a wonderful lunch. The tone shifted slightly from a light fellowship to a surprised but affirming tone. I was asked by my Bishop to tell no one else until the end of the appointment year — not family, not friends, not my congregation — and an attempt would be made to find a new appointment for me. So, I agreed.
In July of 2017, I found myself with no appointment and a lot of bitterness. I was open to the world and the Army, though that was the month of President Trump’s tweets announcing his ban of transgender soldiers in the U.S. military. So, even that was in question at the moment.
It’s interesting the impact that relocating your family from their home, friends, schools, and support systems can have. I found myself unable to listen to sermons without hearing only hypocrites. I could not find God in the sanctuary or during worship.
The punishment of the Church led my oldest daughter to reject the teaching and God. She now professes to be an atheist because she “cannot understand how God could allow the church to do that to us.” My wife has experienced the same disillusionment with the church as the whole. Perhaps more disappointing was the lack of care given to my family in all of this. We quickly discovered that often those in the collateral damage of the fallout are forgotten in the support. Spouses and children also lose pieces of their identities, and they lose the security of a stable income and respected position.
On top of the rejection of the Church, we dealt at that time with the rejection of the government I served for 17 years. Because of the agreement made with the Bishop, I was unable to tell the Army that I was transgender until May of that year. I sat my commander down, told him, and again found professional support. After coming out, I was denied the ability to help with worship services due to my chaplain’s denominational endorser. I also found some hesitancy among the chaplain corps to my service, however, unlike the Church, that was really all that I experienced when I came out to the Army.
Since 2017 I have lost the following things as a transgender soldier in the Army:
Since 2017 I have lost the following things as a transgender person in The UMC:
- My appointment
- My pastoral license
- My ability to answer my call as a Methodist chaplain in the Army
- My ability to answer my call to be a pastor in the local church
- My ability to be a candidate for ordination
- My status as a certified candidate for ordination
Not the End
My therapist once told me, “Caroline, you know the army isn’t your problem right? It’s the Church.” Friends warned me not to come out until I was ready to lose everything. They all understood that inauthenticity is a condition of employment within The United Methodist Church. Now I sit in disbelief, realizing that they were correct.
However, losing my ministry and affiliation is not the end of the story.
See, I learned that the prejudices of humanity cannot stop the call of God. Since losing my appointment, I have been involved with the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus. I was involved in promoting the Simple Plan. I have advocated for transgender inclusion in discussions about a way forward. I have written theologies and spoken to congregations. My ministry with transgender people who are trying to reconcile a hateful God they were taught about with a love for who they are has only just begun to gain traction.
I also learned that individual congregations have resolved to be better. After losing our sending church, my family and I found a new home at Countryside UMC in Topeka. They were more than accepting: they were affirming. My call was affirmed, my life was affirmed, and in that setting, my family and I found a safe space to heal and grow and listen for new directions being drawn for our lives.
It was from there that I watched the implosion of our denomination and the resultant resolve to resist and start something new. Sadly, I have also watched progressives gain hope that they could regain the denomination. I watched as queer people were once again told to wait.
Personally, I am done waiting. Since coming out, I have retained my status in the U.S. military, but lost my status in The United Methodist Church. I survived the military’s transgender ban but could not survive the United Methodist Book of Discipline. What does it say about the state of our denomination that we are once again behind the military in regards to inclusion of LGBT+ people?
Throughout Pride Month in June 2019, I watched as our denomination patted itself on the back because it has finally done something. I do believe in separation to enable growth. I do believe that more needs to be done than just the election of delegates. And I do believe that we must not rest upon the relatively small progress made at annual conferences, and that we must begin to work on a contingency plan so that, no matter the outcome of the 2020 General Conference, we do not find ourselves again telling oppressed people to be patient. We can instead offer a future of hope and progress for all of the people called Methodist.
Her call is to serve and bring the Love of God to the world… and that call hasn’t changed, even as she has.