"The church has not easily embraced those like Junia Joplin"
June 27, 2020 3:27 PM   Subscribe

Vox's Emily VanDerWerff: A trans Christian minister came out in a sermon. Now, she’s bracing for what comes next.
I spoke with June on the evening of Saturday, June 13, less than 12 hours before she would leave her current wilderness and enter another entirely, by coming out in the form of a sermon. She’s been asked several times by the clergy she’s trusted enough to confide in why, precisely, she wanted to come out in a sermon, rather than telling her church’s leadership board, then going on up through the denomination’s official chain of command to let everyone know she would be transitioning. Only then would she come out, possibly in a sermon, if everybody was cool with that.

The truth is that this plan is June’s best chance at keeping her job. When I asked her why she wasn’t going through official channels, she rattled off the names of several trans women pastors who tried to do so and were summarily removed from their jobs, before they could become a news story and create an uncomfortable situation for their churches.

So here I am. This is now a news story. You are part of June’s story, too, her bulwark against an easy dismissal.
Thanks to COVID-19, Rev. Joplin's coming out sermon is on YouTube.
posted by Frayed Knot (12 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
The first female apostle? The first people Christ appeared to after the Resurrection were women! Take youR misogyny and femme phobia to the Devil. He’s got a place for you.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:37 PM on June 27 [9 favorites]


Worth pointing out that she is specifically a Baptist minister. I know a trans Episcopalian minister who has been out for over a decade, and while she hasn't always had great experiences with the church higher-ups, it's not nearly the same situation as this. (The article does discuss this.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:47 PM on June 27 [6 favorites]


BtW, that was not directed at Rev. Junia, just Christians who don’t no their own scriptures.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:51 PM on June 27 [2 favorites]


It looks like her church is affiliated with the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec.

Baptists vary wildly. I grew up in an American Baptist church, where I'm pretty sure the national leadership would have some but not a lot of leverage over a pastor who was not at odds with their individual congregation. That's historically the norm for Baptist churches.

Other Baptist groups have more hierarchy; Southern Baptists particularly. I don't know much about Canadian Baptist groups. Any Canadian Mefites know much about her denomination in particular?
posted by vibratory manner of working at 5:21 PM on June 27 [3 favorites]


Worth pointing out that she is specifically a Baptist minister. I know a trans Episcopalian minister who has been out for over a decade, and while she hasn't always had great experiences with the church higher-ups, it's not nearly the same situation as this. (The article does discuss this.)

For the folks in the audience who haven't spent much time in churches, this is an important distinction. Unlike many other denominations, Baptists generally place a great deal of importance on the autonomy of the local church. Individual congregations do sometimes differ quite a bit (on aesthetic matters, liturgical matters, and ideological/political matters).

Crucially, there are no bishops in Baptist life, no one your minister must "answer to" in a strict hierarchical sense, other than your own church's board and congregation. There are conventions--the Southern Baptist is the most (in)famous, but the American Baptist convention and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship are somewhat more moderate (YMMV), and the Alliance of Baptists is fairly progressive. Many Baptist churches choose to affiliate with one convention only, but others affiliate with multiple conventions, or with none. These conventions don't "own" their member congregations; they offer various benefits to their member churches, who pay membership dues, and they can (and do) expel congregations for a variety of reasons, including what they consider to be heretical teachings and practices. The churches often survive (or thrive) even after expulsion.

All of this is to say, even the Southern Baptist Convention, politically powerful and culturally influential as it may be, doesn't have as much control over its member churches as other common (non-Baptist) American denominations (Episcopalians, for example). On the other hand, church congregations can be every bit as toxic as top-down church hierarchies can, and without the veneer of clean, orderly operations.
posted by sugar and confetti at 5:29 PM on June 27 [11 favorites]


While no longer involved in such things, I was raised in a CBOQ church and involved in various boards and leadership roles until my mid-twenties. That's decades ago now though, and I haven't lived in area since the 90s, so consider any insights appropriately dated.

The Baptist church in that region had a big schism back in first half of the 1900s over the same modern/fundamentalist fight that was happening across the rest of Protestant Christianity. This left two primary Baptist groups in the area. The 'Convention' ones, who were the modernists, represented by the CBOQ and the 'Fellowship' ones, who were the fundamentalists. That doesn't make them liberal in the bigger picture though. They are 'liberal' enough that they ordain women, unlike the Fellowship churches, but not enough to be affirming of LGBTQ folks in general. It's a low bar. They are also less hierarchal that the SBC, but more so than they like to admit to themselves.

Understanding how the name Junia was erased from scripture for centuries is an important detail in realizing how deep the misogynism in Christianity runs. The centuries of official church slander of Mary of Magdala is another. I'd expect practically no-one in the typical CBOQ pew is aware of either.
posted by bcd at 7:02 PM on June 27 [7 favorites]


The first female apostle? The first people Christ appeared to after the Resurrection were women!

Yes, but they're always referred to as "disciples" and not "apostles." Apparently Junia was called an apostle. Maybe I'm mistaken. I'm no biblical scholar, but I was surprised to see a woman referred to as an apostle. Or for that matter, maybe, I suppose I don't know if the original versions used the same word and it is translated differently when it refers to women vs. men.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:14 PM on June 27 [1 favorite]


For those who are interested but haven't followed down the various rabbit holes. Junia has not been vanished off her church's website, but neither has her name been corrected. I'm not sure how to read that, but I think it's better than the memory hole.

Her latest YouTube update from two days back indicated she won't be in the pulpit for a few weeks but is continuing to meet with church leaders and engage in pastoral ministry during the week. She'll be guest speaking at MCC Toronto tomorrow morning, via Zoom or such.
posted by bcd at 9:16 PM on June 27 [3 favorites]


Or for that matter, maybe, I suppose I don't know if the original versions used the same word and it is translated differently when it refers to women vs. men.

They are different words with different meanings. Roughly, disciple connotes 'learned from' and apostle is 'sent by'. They aren't originally titles. The same terms are used for students of others or people/things sent by others. There's no dispute (that I'm aware of anyway) that 'disciple' applied to a larger, growing, and certainly not just male group.

Who constitutes "the apostles" is, on the other hand, less clear. The verse in question in this case reads something like, "Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was", but the "outstanding among" is a bit vague and could be read "are of note among".

Unlike the Junia/Junias bit, which is an intentional erasure of a female name, whether those two are meant to be apostles themselves, or well-thought of by the apostles, is an open debate. Add this to the fact that this was written before any of the gospels, and the earliest gospel doesn't say there were twelve apostles. That's only added in Mathew, who has a habit of embellishing things.

Not open to debate: that Paul thinks Junia is an important leader of the early church, and that was scandalous enough amongst the patriarchy that she was written out of the story.
posted by bcd at 10:10 PM on June 27 [7 favorites]


I am not a Christian, though there was a time when I was. My journey and troubles are stories for a different time; I do not want to center myself in this thread as I am not Christian or trans. But I remember the deep pains of not conforming. I remember my yearning to belong and to serve and help. I remember the indescribable agony of feeling that I failed God.

I didn’t have the strength to be all of my selves at once. And I am not regretful; I am more myself now than I would have ever been on that path. But when I read this story, I cannot imagine the inner strength Pastor June carries. I wish her all the blessings in the world. She must be a rock of faith and love in a world of sands.
posted by skookumsaurus rex at 5:11 AM on June 28 [4 favorites]


I was raised in a conservative church, although not Baptist, which is where some of my irritation at the erasure of women in Christianity comes from. However, that is a derail. Having grown up in that environment, I can guess at at some of Pastor June’s concerns before coming out so publicly. A friend of mine struggled mightily to stay in the church while being gay; it must be even harder for Pastor June, since she is even more invested.

And that she built a sermon around her struggle, urging her parishioners to find their own “pearls of immense price” makes me think her congregation would be much poorer if she is forced to leave.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:32 AM on June 28 [3 favorites]


A very positive update: the church has updated their website. It now uses Junia's correct name, pronouns and has a happy new photo.

Other positive details, their youth pastor has spoken out in support and I understand took the new photo. (Plus, completely inside-baseball, the youth pastor in question's last name indicates he's a scion of an influential family in the denomination.)

While this looks good at the local level the next question will be how the denomination responds. Baptists historically have a congregational polity, as sugar and confetti explained above. While the denomination doesn't have the authority to order a local church to fire a pastor, it does have lots of softer power. This includes, ultimately, kicking the local church out of the convention. Lorne Park was, last I knew, one of the larger and better financed churches there, which will make CBOQ less willing to push that hard. Only time will tell.

More inside baseball: the anti-LGBTQ+ folks who wrote the current denominational policies probably didn't really understand trans people exist. The language is all about denying same-sex marriage and is pretty much silent on trans issues. That void, even if it didn't come from a supportive place, might be useful in resolving this in a positive way.
posted by bcd at 12:20 PM on July 1 [6 favorites]


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