This smiling face is Rev. Jay Wilson who has special cause for joy this week as he was formally called to service at First United Lutheran Church in San Francisco this week. It is always a joy when transgender people of faith are allowed to express their talents in their denominations and their congregations. Congratulations Pastor Jay.
There are many transgender ministers who serve, so in that regard, Jay's call isn't groundbreaking. But what is important is that he has had to accept a different path to ordination and call from the traditional process of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. In fact, ELCA won't ordain Jay even though they have no rules addressing transgender ministers. His call is through Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, an inclusive group that embraces and supports the pastoral gifts of lesbian, gay and transgender people.
In the ELM's news release, I saw this statement:
"Wilson was removed from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) candidacy process due to his status as a transgender person even though there is no official policy against transgender clergy."
Now, ELCA does not ordain lesbian or gay candidates who do not renounce their sexuality via celibacy - something that I oppose, but at least that's the rule and everyone knows it. But there is "no rule" regarding transgenders? Just how then do they deny ordination to someone who is transgender?????
I was involved in softball for nearly two decades as a coach, player and umpire. Can you imagine playing softball - or any sport for that matter - whereby the umpire could simply make up the rules as they pertain to you, and you only? Just how would you be able to fairly participate or compete? Can you imagine police officers who could simply make up the rules regarding driving a car as they pertain to you, and you only? Just how would you be able to effectively and safely drive your car? Such is the situation that Pastor Jay encountered with the ELCA. And that is all any of us, clergy and laity, faithful and secular desire, to be able to fairly participate in our careers and our communities.
Other denominations have explicitly or tacitly endorsed transgender ministers, both those who transitioned before ordination and those who did so afterward. Still, the ELCA certainly has the right to determine fitness for service, but to have no rules and then deny ordination without any Scriptural or denominational foundation is absurd. I won't even grant the ELCA any lattitude for not having considered transgender ministerial candidacies, we've been around too long now with too many other higher profile cases to plead ignorance...its more like intentional ostrichism.
I began this blog to make the case that there is no Biblical prohibition to gender transitioning and I'd like to think that I have done so persuasively. In fact, I have pointed to certain verses and passages that seem to understand and accept just who we are. And I frequently raise eyebrows when I suggest I have more respect for people like Fred Phelps, James Dobson, Peter Labarbera and the like than I do for those who claim support and betray that promise, or worse yet simply make up the rules as we go along. While I do not, and never will, respect the message offered by those divisive and spiteful detractors, they at least have integrity in their beliefs, however odious they may be.
I am unfamiliar with the polity of the ELCA, but my guess is that our status within the full life and participation of the denomination - including ordination - won't be something they will consider any time soon. Accept us, or reject us, that is your choice - but don't make up the rules on the fly. That's all any of us want.