An open conversation about gender, sexuality and faith ... on the radio

Plus, the UCC and gun safes, and an Iliff professor drafts a game-changing resolution for the AME

Rev. Paula Stone Williams, a transgender woman who co-pastors Left Hand Church in Longmont and author of “As A Woman: What I Learned about Power, Sex, and the Patriarchy After I Transitioned.” Williams joined CPR’s “Colorado Matters” for a recent interview that lasted 48 minutes. Photographed above is Williams and her son, Pastor Jonathan Williams, at a TED Talk. Courtesy of Creative Commons

Ryan Warner, host of Colorado Public Radio’s “Colorado Matters,” has a knack for keeping his interviews on schedule, so the daily news show can move quickly to the next story. But on Wednesday morning, he had a whole 48 minutes with Rev. Paula Stone Williams, a transgender woman who co-pastors Left Hand Church in Longmont, leaving plenty of time for an in-depth and personal conversation between the two about gender, sexuality and faith.

“I’m gay. I’ve given a lot of thought to why God or spirit or the flying spaghetti monster, whatever you want to call a higher power. I’ve given a lot of thought to why god makes gay people,” Warner said. “I think we bring all sorts of gifts and are supposed to work through all sorts of challenges while we’re on earth. Have you given similar thought to why God made you?”

The pastor, whose recent book is “As A Woman: What I Learned about Power, Sex, and the Patriarchy After I Transitioned,” said she doesn’t see it that way. “I don’t think God is back behind a curtain pulling all the levers,” Williams said. Plus, whatever the answer to Warner’s question is, Williams said it doesn’t affect the present much.  

“It’s up to me to decide, whether being transgender is going to cause me to be a person of greater character or not. That ends up being the choice that I had to make. It’s the choice that you had to make in recognizing that you were gay,” Williams said. “I think dealing with it with integrity is what matters most.”

The interview also had somewhat confrontational moments, like when Warner used the word “eugenics” to describe a line in Williams’ book that read, “The best solution would be to discover what makes a person transgender and correct it before it begins.” Williams responded to Warner’s description, “Wow, that’s an interesting insight. I never thought of it that way.”

From there, Williams and Warner talked about the tension between celebrating one’s transgender self and dealing with hardships that come with being trans. Williams, who was previously married to a woman who she had kids with before transitioning, saw her life turned upside down when she decided to transition. Because of those painful moments, Williams said, there is part of her that feels “afflicted” (after using that word, Williams said she thinks that’s the first time she has used it to describe her experience).  

Warner and Williams both acknowledged the weight of that word, and that not every trans person feels the same way. Williams said, “When you have met one transgender person, you have met one transgender person.”

More staid than the SBC: the UCC

The United Church of Christ has been holding its General Synod this week, where 715 delegates from the 800,000 strong mainline denomination (including members from the 73 congregations that are part of the Rocky Mountain Conference) convened virtually to vote on racial justice, LGBTQ issues, and other topics. According to reporting from RNS, the Synod is more staid than the Southern Baptist Convention’s contentions annual meeting last month. The convention kicked off by passing a motion declaring racism a public health crisis during its opening plenary.

In Colorado the UCC has been tackling gun violence, an issue once again at the forefront of the state’s consciousness after the mass shooting at a Boulder King Soopers in March. United Church of Christ Longmont is partnering with other community organizations to host a giveaway of at least 100 gun safes on July 24. Storing guns in secure safes has been a longtime goal of gun control activists, as it prevents guns from being stolen from a home or used by gun owners’ children.

“We’re just encouraging anyone who is not currently practicing safe storage to come out,” senior minister Sarah Verasco told the Longmont Times-Call, which previewed the event. “We’re happy to help orient people to the device and to express our appreciation for their willingness to pick up this new practice.”

Community United Church of Christ in South Boulder also hosted a safe surrender in June for people who wanted to relinquish firearms they owned. The event took in 34 firearms, some of which were turned into garden tools in partnership with Boulder Mennonite — you can read more about that in our previous newsletter.

Denverite instrumental in major LGBTQ measure for AME

Last week, the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s General Conference met in Orlando, Florida, where it approved a resolution that establishes an “sexual ethics discernment committee,” Religion News Service reported. 

The committee will review the denomination’s beliefs about sexual orientation and gender identity, and how that meshes with biblical texts about those subjects. The process will include conversations with LGBTQ members of the denomination. 

The resolution was co-authored by Rev. Dr. Jennifer Leath, pastor of Campbell Chapel AME in Denver and assistant professor at the University of Denver’s Iliff School of Theology. Leath, who has been writing about LGBTQ people in the AME for decades, told RNS, “​​I take this as a blessing from on high. It is an opening of a door for so many. There has been silence around our lives, around our identities and around the ways it is part and parcel of our faith.”

Before the “evangelical Vatican,” there were the nun-run TB sanatoriums   

In celebration of Colorado Springs’ 150th birthday on July 31, the Colorado Springs Gazette is running a series of articles about the city’s history. Reporter Debbie Kelley takes a look at how churches helped shape the city. Colorado Springs’ reputation as a bastion of evangelical power is well known, but you might not know that Catholic nuns ran some of the tuberculosis sanatoriums that first brought people to the Springs, that the Congregational Church helped found Colorado College, or that a group of Jewish residents founded an Orthodox congregation in the Springs in 1900. 

Another tidbit from Kelley: Oklahoma megachurch Life.Church, founder of the world’s most popular Bible app (YouVersion, which sits on the front page of your correspondent’s iPhone), is opening a $10.4 million building in northeast Colorado Springs.

Briefly noted

  • Colorado Springs-based evangelical nonprofit Focus on the Family is opening a store in Holland, Michigan, its first retail location outside of Colorado.

  • JEWISHcolorado will be awarding $50,000 worth of matching grants to Jewish organizations in the state.

  • The Rocky Mountain Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has partnered with the Episcopal Church in Colorado to hire a new staff member for multicultural ministry.

  • Centennial Institute think tank fellow Krista Kafer is running for a seat on Littleton City Council.

  • The Colorado Springs Indy spoke to local musician Tensas about growing up in the Bible Belt.

“Have Faith, Colorado” is a weekly roundup and analysis of local religion articles in the Centennial State. It’s by Liam Adams and Carina Julig. Liam covers local news for Colorado Community Media and religion news as a freelancer. Carina covers education and other Aurora news at the Sentinel Colorado. To connect with us about the newsletter please email liamadams.journalism@gmail.com and carina.julig@colorado.edu, and follow us on twitter at @liamsadams and @CarinaJulig.