Preaching to the choir isn’t always as easy as it sounds: On Sunday, Rev. David Weekley went before congregants at the Morningside United Methodist Church in Salem, Oregon, and told them he was transgender.
Weekley, 60, was invited to preach at Morningside as part of the church’s 17th anniversary as a Reconciling Ministry, a movement within the United Methodists Church to welcome LGBT parishioners.
Transitioning starting in his early 20s, Weekley was ordained in 1984 but didn’t come out about being a trans man until he spoke to his own congregation in Portland three years ago. Since then, he says, reaction has been mixed: “A lot of people have stood by us, offering support, practical advice and hope. Some people rejected me and rejected us.”
Weekely—who is married and helped raise five children—made news when he first came out, which was also when his memoir, In from the Wilderness, was released. Though he gets invitations like the one from Morningside pastor Michael Powell, he’s also seen colleagues question whether he was fit for the ministry—”or even life,” reports the Statesman Journal.
But some have stood by him, and his right to wear the cloth: “Whether a transgender pastor can have a successful ministry [has] been resoundly answered in the affirmative in this story of three decades of effective and inspiring pastoral ministry,” says retired Methodist Bishop Cal McConnell.
While America is grappling with where gays and lesbians fit into organized religion, the role of transgender believers, not to mention clergy, has mostly been sidelined. The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church declares “the practice of homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching,” and only ordains celibate homosexuals as ministers.
But it doesn’t have a specific ban on trans clergy—probably because the issue never came up.
There was an attempt to oust another trans pastor, Rev. Drew Phoenix, at the General Conference in 2008. It failed, as did a measure to declare that transgender people denied “the sacred integrity of God’s good creation.” That resolution was voted down 699 to 175.
Weekley believes God made him transgender for a reason, perhaps to enable him to understand people who walk a different path. “As a person of faith, I believe God creates people with much diversity,” he told ABC back in 2009. “Doing his work means accepting all of those people.”