Standing with Bishop Yvette Flunder as a Queer Woman in Seminary School

by Candace Simpson

I attended a conference in February that gathered pastors, seminarians, professors, and lay people. The yearly conference is meant to provide resources for people of faith as we seek to make sense of the task of social justice.

In one workshop, a question was posed to the audience: “Millennials, what social justice issue serves as the frontier of your generation?"

A brother in his late twenties—dressed as if he had just stepped out of someone’s pulpit—called out, “I mean, it’s the ‘LGBT thing.’ A lesbian sister attends our church. We love her. Now, she can’t lead, but she can come.”

I felt my heart beating out of my chest. I couldn’t sit still. Suddenly, something like the Holy Spirit overcame me. I stood up to respond.

“Why are we questioning this sister’s leadership capabilities? If you’ve been paying attention, queer Black women have been working ourselves to the bone in the Movement. How dare you suggest we cannot lead, when we are so clearly leading a fight for your life and ours?”

I sat down and tried to catch my breath. I realized, I had just outed the fact that I was not straight to an entire room of preachers and church folk.

A few weeks later, I heard about Bishop Yvette Flunder, a queer woman and reverend within the United Church of Christ. Truthfully, I had avoided learning about her story. It was a tale I couldn’t process. A group of pastors who call themselves the National Baptist Fellowship of Concerned Pastors, wrote a public petition against Bishop Flunder’s appearance and sermon at American Baptist College. In their own words, they wrote the petition because “worship for us is the high point of our being with God, and how can we come before God with open, public sin?” The Pastors had made it very clear that they believed this particular “sin” to be so outrageously despicable that she should not even proclaim the Gospel.

I tried to ignore the story for as long as I could, but Bishop Flunder’s story was too close to mine. She’d identify as a “same-gender-loving woman”, while I hover between “queer” and “meh, I’m here.” She’s a respected preacher and loving community activist. I’m finishing up my first year of seminary. The more I reflect on Bishop Flunder’s story, the more I feel both scared and encouraged for whatever may come my way. I’m 24. I’m learning what true love can look like for me. I do know that I’m not interested in talking about the morality of any of my romantic partnerships—past, present or future. On the list of things to do, proving that loving a man or a woman will be “okay by God” is just not important to me. I really think God has more to say about what we did to Latandra Ellington, Tanesha Anderson, Deshawnda Sanchez, and Aiyana Jones. Maybe that’s just me.

I’m tired of talking about the morality of non-heteronormative relationships. Especially when Jamal Bryant’s affairs and Creflo Dollar’s child abuse have been damn near forgiven and forgotten by the public. I’m tired of talking about the morality of non-heteronormative relationships because you can never win with someone who takes the Bible as a literal, chronological history book. I’m tired of talking about the morality of non-heteronormative relationships when the Bible also says to stay away from shellfish, and I know we love Red Lobster. I’m tired of talking about the morality of non-heteronormative relationships because I think it’s clear that we don’t care about morality. We’re just not cool with “the LGBT thing.” And that’s fine. But we need to stop using selected scriptures to back up our own stinky theology. I’m pretty sure God is getting frustrated with our gross interpretation of Her desires for us.

I wonder what can be learned of non-heteronormative relationships. What can we learn from pastors and preachers who are honest about their love? It appears to me that Bishop Yvette Flunder is about integrity. Don’t we want our spiritual leaders to be honest? Queer people have always been in the church, and always will be. So since we're here, we should have more complex discussions that go beyond the "morality" question and delve into the "ethics" question: What does queer identity mean in justice work?

Is it a coincidence that so many of the activists involved in the #BlackLivesMatter movement also happen to identify as queer? How can we see non-heteronormative identities as assets rather than obstacles to get past? And, what will that do for The Black Church if we are no longer distracted by sexual identity? If we’re going to talk about non-heteronormative relationships and romances in the church, I would much rather we sit with those questions than the Sunday School chit-chat of, “Is this okay?” and “What does the Bible say about this?”

God has more in store for our theological and spiritual journey beyond simple “yes” and “no” answers.

I sit on the shoulders of all the women in ministry who came before me, including Bishop Flunder. I am reminded of the words of a great preacher, Rev. Dr. Prathia Hall:
I stood in the authenticity of my being: Black, preacher, Baptist, woman. For the same God who made me a preacher made me a woman, and I am convinced that God was not confused on either account.
I don’t think God is confused about Bishop Yvette Flunder. I don’t think God is confused about me, either.

I think we’re confused about God.

Candace Simpson is a seminary student and a regular contributor to ForHarriet. You can follow her tweets @CandyCornball.

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