The United Methodist Church has taken another step in its longstanding push for full inclusion of gay and transgender leaders by commissioning its first transgender deacon.
The church instilled M Barclay at its Northern Illinois Conference last Sunday, a move made amid a year-long denominational shakeup.
Barcaly identified as a straight woman when she entered Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary 12 years ago but wrestled with how to fit her gender identity into Christian ministry.
"I really struggled for the next year about whether I was going to stay in the church at all," M said.
M's commissioning is one of the most significant in the Methodist LGBT community in the last 12 months, as more than 100 leaders have come out, including Rev. Karen Oliveto, the church's first lesbian bishop. The movement continues to chip away at a once traditionally hard line against gay clergy.
Barclay came out as a lesbian after a time in feminist and queer studies and went to work as a youth pastor, living what she defined as marginalize life she attributed to the church's view of homosexuality.
She sought ordination anyway, but hit a brick wall in 2012 in form of a Texas commission that blocked the effort because she was in a lesbian relationship. It wasn't until she came out as transgender and started working for Chicago's Reconciling Ministries Network did Barclay get back on track. While the role as deacon is an active one, Barclay's ordination won't be official until 2019.M now only uses the pronoun "they" instead of "he" or "she," and is employed as provisional clergy, authorized to give sermons and perform various pastoral duties.
Meantime, according the Methodist Book of Discipline, the church prohibits "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" from becoming ordained ministers. However, as more leaders come out as part of the growing progressive-Christian movement among non-Catholic denominations, leaders like Oliveto and Barclay will break barriers. And because there are more than one version of Methodism, an official position on gay and transgender clergy doesn't really exist.
And as more ordained leaders identify as gay and transgender, officials say it is a matter of time before the church adopts full inclusion of both lifestyles.
"I hope the church will find itself at a new place in the near future when it comes to full inclusion," Bishop Sally Dyck said in a statement. "That said, M and the other candidates for commissioning and ordination are all a part of the church's witness and outreach to people who need the good news of Jesus Christ."
Unlike the Methodist Church, which still affirms that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, many protestant organizations are now identifying as LGBT affirming.
Last week, pro-LGBT group Faith in America announced it will lobby the Southern Baptist Convention to remove homosexuality and transgender from its list of sins at its June 13-14 gathering in Phoenix.
The group claims the inclusion of homosexual behavior as sin diminishes the lives of those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
Southern Baptist Convention leaders said they would not comply with Faith in America's request, saying they will "hold fast to biblical teachings on sexuality," but "Christians are encouraged to share the love of Christ with everyone, including the LGBT community."
A number of mainstream denominations have already loosened their guidelines. The American Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Episcopal Church, and the United Church of Christ allow same-sex marriage.Catholicism, the world's second-largest religion behind Islam, continues to grow even as the Vatican toes the line on the matter. Not only has the church reiterated its stand against gay priests, Pope Francis last year approved a faith-wide affidavit that bans anyone with gay tendencies from serving or even entering the Catholic seminary. The document came as a shock to some, as Francis previously stated that the church owes the LGBT community an apology for years of mistreatment.
[Featured Image by Frank Franklin II/APImages]