27-Year United Methodist Pastor Comes Out Publicly As Transgender

TRANSGENDER MINISTER - Images by Pamplin Media Group

When Rev. David Weekley visited Minidoka, the site of an old Japanese internment camp in Idaho, and heard the stories of exclusion from Japanese-American members of his congregation who lived through World War II, he began to reflect on his own untold story of being transgender.  And, when the pro-LGBT group Reconciling Ministry Network (RMN) announced that they would like to nominate him for a service award, he knew it was time to tell his story publicly.

So, after 27 years of service, as a United Methodist pastor—and as a transgender man, Reverend David Weekley came out in his sermon at Epworth United Methodist Church in Portland, Oregon, on August 30th.

GLAAD, RMN, Transgender Religious Leaders Network, his family and others provided resources and support. But what might surprise some people is that officials of the United Methodist Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference (the regional church body) issued a media release affirming Rev. Weekley’s continuing status as “an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church in good standing.”  The Bishop Robert T. Hoshibata, leader of the Conference, was quoted in the release which was read to the congregation following Weekley’s sermon:

We believe that God has called David Weekley to serve as an elder in The United Methodist Church. In response to God’s call, Reverend Weekley has effectively served his congregations for 27 years. He is choosing now to share this earlier part of his life journey honestly and openly. This decision does not, in any way, change his faith or his commitment to the ministry to which he was ordained, nor does it change his status as an elder in good standing… I prayerfully ask that his congregation, his colleagues and The United Methodist Church continue to uphold him and his family at this time.

Congregation leaders were well prepared.  Ruth Ann Tsukuda, a member of Epworth for 26 years said in The Oregonian article, that she was among those who had been briefed on the topic of Rev. Weekley’s sermon and had intended to observe the response of other members, "But I was fixated on David and how powerful his statement was. I couldn't stop crying, thinking of him maintaining his faith through all of that. That's when people usually lose their faith.”

In a few days, Rev. Weekley will travel to Denver as a finalist for the ‘Voice in the Wilderness Award’ from the Reconciling Ministry Network for his column on their website, which he had been writing anonymously as “Transgender Clergy Person.”  And, whether the official recipient or not, his future columns will carry his by-line.

Weekly and the other 400+ participants are part of the movement described in The Portland Tribune that is moving the United Methodist church toward full inclusion of LGBT members.  Two waves of legislation in 2004 and 2008 to pass prohibitions against transgender clergy failed but there is much need for education on the topic.  Gay and lesbian members still face barriers to ordination and even to membership. 

Reverend Weekley said to an Examiner.com commentator:

I am very positive about sharing my story, because I believe it is the best way to help educate our society about transgender persons; there is so much misinformation out there, and fear, that it seems imperative to become active. Because some segments of the Church are responsible for a portion of this misinformation and fear, it seems even more critical for others to hear a positive and personal faith story from a transgender person.

Weekley’s sermon comes almost two years after the Reverend Drew Phoenix became the first United Methodist Minister to openly identify himself as transgender.  Phoenix’s transition drew immediate national attention and legal challenges by conservatives in the denomination.  But, as a clergy person in good standing, and with no prohibitions on the books, the high court of the United Methodist Church threw the charges out.

Transgender people of all faiths have been rallying together in recent years to combat the transphobia they commonly encounter in their respective denominations.  Online resources, such as the Trans Faith on Line and Trans Episcopal are expanding this effort.

Weekley closed his sermon by reflecting, “I am a man in some ways different from other men," he said. "But most people are different from other people in some way. And God still loves us.”

GLAAD will continue to assist Rev. Weekley as media covers his story and the United Methodist Church responds.  We will keep you informed of any new developments.

Issues: