Will drag queens in the pulpit become "mainstream" in the United Methodist Church?
That's what one Methodist critic is warning after a UMC pastor in Florida invited a man dressed in women’s clothing to preach a sermon with children seated next to him during a recent church service.
Allendale UMC Senior Pastor Andy Oliver said he invited Isaac Simmons, who performs in drag as “Ms. Penny Cost,” to deliver the sermon on Oct. 2 because he wants “all people to see people like themselves called by God to preach the Gospel.”
In a Facebook post, Oliver wrote that Simmons — who was seen in a video clip of the service wearing a wig and a sequin dress — was “an angel in heels appearing to shepherds in the fields on the night shift, telling them that Good News had arrived on their doorstep.”
Oliver compared the decision to have a drag queen teach during Sunday service to other churches “putting a flag on your altar,” and called Simmons “an incredible preacher, grounded as Allendale is, in Wesleyan and liberation theology.”
Mark Tooley, the president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, believes drag queens like Simmons are becoming the “new public face of United Methodism.”
"His children's sermon and role in the Eucharist at a Florida church showcase how drag ministry will now become mainstream in the denomination," Tooley told The Christian Post in an emailed statement. “To my knowledge, no United Methodist official, including Simmons’ bishop, has publicly expressed concern about this United Methodist drag queen."
For Tooley, Simmons and others like him are among the reasons that United Methodism, which, as Tooley put it, “has never enjoyed a single year of growth in its 53 years, is imploding.”
“Traditionalists have been given a one-year window to withdraw from the denomination with church property,” he said. “Thousands of congregations are doing so.
“Dying United Methodism faces only further tragedy ahead.”
At one point during the Allendale church service, after a worship band performed a song with the lyrics “We are building up a new world/ we seek justice for all people,” two young girls wearing face coverings were seated behind Simmons as Oliver asked him about his dress.
“Are you always dressed up like this?” asked Oliver.
Simmons replied, “I wish!” adding, “No, I only get dressed up like this on special occasions.
“I kind of feel powerful when I put on a dress like this and a big wig and lots of makeup. It kind of helps me to say things that I don’t have the confidence to say outside of it.”
Simmons went on to make an apparent comparison between the final days of the life of Jesus to what he sees as the “end of injustice.”
“We, members of the United Methodist Church, any church, or just the common humanity, we have a privilege and a duty to change the very doctrine and systems of oppression which surround us,” said Simmons.
“The time of change-making will likely be uncomfortable for you, but just as the liminal last days of Christ’s life were uncomfortable for him, the liminal days which rest between now and the end of injustice will be uncomfortable for us all.”
He went on to warn that “those of us with the privilege of whiteness, of ‘cis-ness,’ and the privilege of the access to power must be willing to get uncomfortable.”
Oliver then turned to address the children and referenced Romans 12:2, which reads in part, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
“One of the things I think is great about Ms. Penny Cost is that she reminds us that we follow a God who calls us not to conform to things of this world,” Oliver is heard telling the children. “We are supposed to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. That means what I think today may have to change tomorrow if I continue to renew my mind.”
While Oliver declined a request for comment from CP when asked, among other things, whether drag queens are invited to teach children’s studies at Allendale, an image posted on the church’s website shows a man dressed in women’s clothing reading to young children.
It’s not clear how many children attend Allendale, but the church reportedly has a fellowship size of roughly 100 people every Sunday.
Simmons, an associate pastor at Hope UMC in Bloomington, Illinois, has a video on his website in which he declares “the Bible is nothing”, adding, “God must be nothing / Religion must be nothing / It is all nothing / Until we wield it into something."
The United Methodist News Service, which serves as the official UMC media outlet, has touted Simmons as the first drag queen to become a certified candidate for UMC ordination.
Ian M. Giatti is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.