Baptist church ordains first known transgender pastor in denomination’s history

Laura Bethany Buchleiter, reportedly the first transgender individual to be ordained in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, gives remarks at an event in Seattle, Washington in 2019.
Laura Bethany Buchleiter, reportedly the first transgender individual to be ordained in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, gives remarks at an event in Seattle, Washington in 2019. | YouTube/The Reformation Project

An Indiana congregation affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has ordained who is believed to be the first confirmed transgender pastor in the denomination's history.

Laura Bethany Buchleiter, a trans-identified individual who identifies as female, was ordained at University Baptist Church of Bloomington in a ceremony held last month.

In an interview with The Christian Post on Tuesday, Buchleiter credited a meeting with the late progressive Christian writer Rachel Held Evans with helping to reignite a childhood interest in ordained ministry.

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“She introduced me to communities that were both faithful and affirming of LGBTQ people. I began to study with The Reformation Project. I attended conferences, helped to organize and then traveled on the first Free Mom Hugs Tour from Oklahoma to Stonewall Inn,” explained Buchleiter.

“I re-entered Baptist culture through Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, at a time when they were discerning their status as an open and affirming church. It was there the call to serve the Church was revived.”

Buchleiter told CP that the ordination was “not to a specific congregation" and will initially take on the role of “interim pastor” for four months at a United Church of Christ congregation in Green River, Wyoming.

Many, especially theological conservatives such a Texas Baptist megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, have argued that transgender ideology is inherently incompatible with Christianity.

"It's not that confusing,” said Jeffress in a 2016 sermon. “In Matthew 19:4, God's Words are applicable. The Bible says, 'God made them from the beginning male and female,' not male, female and question mark. God has determined how many sexes there are — there are two, not three."  

“Gender identity confusion is an emotional disorder that should be treated professionally and compassionately. Gender identity confusion should not be exploited by social activists like those in the [President Barack] Obama administration who want to deny the God-given distinction between the sexes. This is a rebellion against God's plan.”

In response, Buchleiter told CP that “I believe that to accept the complex expressions of gender we have seen throughout human history is not an affront to God's sovereignty, but a testimony to God's immense creativity.”

“In my case, this was further demonstrated when I was diagnosed with an intersex condition, having been born with both male and some female organs,” continued Buchleiter.

“I either had to view my body as a mistake … or allow for the fact that God is truly the master creator — operating outside the boundaries of gender binaries.”

Buchleiter also drew a parallel to Jesus’ acceptance of eunuchs, as explained in Matthew 19:12. However, the pastor also acknowledged that “LGBTQ identity is not directly equivalent to the status of 'eunuch' in biblical times.”

“My calling into ordained ministry is not intended to cater to the comfort of all; neither does it require the affirmation of all,” said Buchleiter.

University Baptist Church Pastor Annette Hill Briggs explained to CP that the ordination came after Buchleiter had two years of supervised ministry internship and graduated from seminary with a master of divinity degree. 

“[Buchleiter] has been a member of University Baptist Church for four years in total,” said Briggs, adding that the pastor was ordained after "sufficient time and experience to ascertain, experience."

Briggs stressed that the church affirms Buchleiter's "obvious call of God to pastoral ministry" and a "giftedness for the work.”

Briggs explained that the ordination was a popular decision, as it was unanimously approved by the church. As of June, no one had left the congregation in protest.

“Ninety-nine percent of the response we have received locally and online has been joyfully supportive while a handful of strangers have been positively vitriolic toward me, our church, and Reverend Buchleiter,” Briggs continued.

“None have accepted my invitation to talk together about our differences, that we might witness to our Oneness in Christ, and kindly talk about our differences. Only one person who disagrees with us has reached out in a Christ-like manner.”

In 1999, the church left the Southern Baptist Convention after it made Briggs its pastor despite the SBC stance against female ordination. 

Now affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Briggs told CP that the denomination does not have an official stance on LGBT issues, and so there is no expectation of institutional pushback for the ordination.

"For Clarification: I'm not the first transgender person to be ordained in a Baptist church, I may be just the second - and the first in a CBF church," Buchleiter wrote on Facebook. "I'm very grateful for those who have gone before me, and am also very aware that we are all still pioneers in this space."

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