An openly gay man with a drag queen alter ego has been officially certified as a candidate for an Illinois Methodist ministry, an occurrence which is believed to be the first such case in the United Methodist Church.
According to Religion News Service, Isaac Simmons was recently unanimously certified by the Great Rivers District Committee on Ordained Ministry as the director of operations for Hope United Methodist Church in Bloomington, Illinois and, last week, he gave his first sermon in drag as one Ms. Penny Cost.
April 11 was “Drag Sunday,” something which Hope Church celebrated with “a little bit more makeup” than their usual sermon, as the drag preacher quipped during the virtual service.
Marking the occasion was “our way of celebrating and uplifting the voices of drag artistry within the church,” Simmons said during his sermon.
The 23-year-old is one year into a five-year process to be ordained as a United Methodist Minister. The denomination, one of the largest in the United States, has been deeply divided over acceptance of LGBT lifestyles for years and is expected to consider a proposal to split once its General Conference is held in 2022, after being delayed several times due to COVID-19.
Isaac sees his certification as a “sign of validation” for LGBTQ United Methodists, and can’t believe he’s only the first drag queen certified candidate for ministry in a major Christian denomination.
“It is mind-boggling simply that it’s 2021 and I’m the first, but also it’s incredibly humbling,” he told RNS.
“For the amount of pushback and the amount of hate that I have faced — simply by existing, let alone for pursuing ordination — I have received, I’ve been poured into even more love and support,” he also noted.
Pushback there certainly was from conservative United Methodists, who pointed to the denomination’s founders and their particular adherence to scriptural authority.
“How many churches in their district or conference would be comfortable with a minister who is a drag queen? Would the people in the pews say his faith and works honor God and align with the Wesleyan tradition?” wrote blogger Dan Moran of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, according to RNS.
Interestingly, the drag artist and his critics see the pushback as mere affirmation that he has a place in ministry.
“In my book, he is a rock star for being bold enough to open himself to the criticism that he is experiencing now,” Jan Lawrence, executive director of Reconciling Ministries, told RNS in a written statement.
“The intersections of his faith, his queerness, and his performances as a drag queen may be questioned by some. Yet, he brings his full self to his ministry which is exactly what we expect of our pastors,” she added.
Simmons’ drag character, Ms. Penny Cost is a “1960s church lady” who Simmons told the RNS “allows people to think about the ideas they have of a stereotypical churchgoer.”
The name is derived from the story of Pentecost when the apostles of Christ first received the Holy Spirit and they spoke in different languages.
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