Mississauga pastor dismissed from church after coming out as transgender

 

A pastor at a Mississauga church has been dismissed from her position just weeks after coming out as a transgender woman. 

Junia “June” Joplin, who came out during a live-streamed Sunday worship on June 14, was dismissed from her position with the Lorne Park Baptist Chuch on July 20 after members of the church voted 58-53 in favour of termination. 

"I was anxious that [the vote] would go the way it did, but I wasn't really sure what to expect," Joplin told insauga.com. 

Joplin, a mother of two who hails from North Carolina, joined the Mississauga church as a pastor six years ago. She's been involved in ministry since the age of 19 and got her first job as a senior pastor in 2007. 

Last month, Joplin decided to come out to her congregation in a sermon about the difficulties inherent in real, authentic and potentially dangerous truth-telling.

"Maybe truth-telling isn't as highly valued as we think. When you live much of your life in the pulpit, you constantly deal with the temptation to sidestep or gloss over or make compromises with the truth. You've seen and you've heard how it can go wrong, so you develop a preference for truthiness, a phrase coined by Stephen Colbert about 15 years ago. It's that which seems true without actually having to be true. Tell the truth, recognize that it comes at a cost," she said.

A few moments later, Joplin told viewers that she is a woman.

“I want you to hear me when I tell you that I’m not just supposed to be a pastor. I’m supposed to be a woman. My friends, my family, my name is Junia. You can call me June. I’m a transgender woman and my pronouns are she and her,” Joplin said.

Joplin said that after the sermon, some members of her congregation went silent. 

"I didn't hear from everybody. I'm sure there were people who just didn't say anything to me, but a lot of folks reached out with messages of love and support and said we're with you and this doesn't change anything. It seems there are folks who did not share that view who were not talking to me much," she says. 

Joplin said that Baptist churches typically function as democracies and that members (which include staff and some congregants) can vote to hire and fire pastors. 

"I was offered the job in 2014 by congregational vote and I lost the job by a congregational vote that went 52 per cent against me," she says. 

In a statement, the Lorne Park Baptist Church confirmed that Joplin was fired from her position.

"The Corporation of Lorne Park Baptist Church confirms that the congregation has voted to terminate the employment of Rev. Junia (June) Joplin as Lead Pastor of the church. The Church has journeyed for the past month through a process of attempting to discern God’s will resulting from June’s announcement of June 14, 2020, that she is a transgender woman," the statement reads. 

"The vote concludes the first stage of that process. After a month of prayerful discernment and discussions between June and the congregation, it was determined, for theological reasons, that it is not in God’s will that June remain as our pastor. We wish June God’s grace and peace as she departs from us."

Joplin says that some people that she worked with at the church were supportive. 

"On the Sunday that I came out, one church staff member had wonderful, supportive words to say and she's our worship leader and youth minister. She wrote a letter to the church asking the church to keep me on as pastor," she says.

But although Joplin received some support from staff and congregants, it was not enough to keep her on as lead pastor. 

"I was disappointed, I was sad. There has been a range of emotions, but I am hopeful about what comes next for me. Also, it's hard to know that that chapter of my life is coming to a close. I'm a little worried that I might not hear from some of [the Lorne Park Baptist Church community] ever again, which is tough."

Joplin says that over the course of her time with the church, she became close with people and even visited members of the community when they weren't well. 

"That's kind of the whole point of pastoral ministry, being close to people. It's hard to kind of put a close to that." 

Joplin said that although she suspected her announcement might not be well-received by all members of a denomination that tends to lean more conservative, she didn't want to step down and then come out.  

"History suggests the reaction would not be entirely positive. I'm not aware of another instance where a lead pastor like myself came out and transitioned and kept their job. It's often the case that a minister will step down and then come out, but that seemed wrong to me, like a betrayal of conscience, a betrayal of the trans community, and a betrayal of my call. I wanted the church to make that decision themselves," she says. 

While Joplin was disappointed in the vote, she hopes that by telling her story, she'll empower not just churches to be more inclusive, but religious LGBTQ+ people to become more involved in faith communities. 

"The visibility that this story and my message are getting can help churches that maybe are on the fence about LGBTQ+ people and move towards a more open and accepting position," she says, adding that her story might inspire a young LGBTQ+ person who feels called to ministry to accept that calling.

"In 150 years, [the church] has evolved on race relations and misogyny. That's not to say it's perfect or it doesn't have issues. I grew up in the southern United States and to think of where they were just 50 years ago, a lot of change has happened but this is one area where there's room for a lot more change." 

Joplin said that although she hopes to continue to serve in the Baptist church—a church that she calls her home—she's open to joining other denominations that welcome LGBTQ+ pastors and ministers. 

"I hope to continue to serve in the Baptist church. The United Church has had LGBTQ+ clergy for years, so if I were to be a minister there, I wouldn't be the first transwoman," she says, adding that the Anglican church has also had transgender pastors.

"Wherever I can land I'll be open to." 

But although Joplin isn't yet sure where she'll land full-time, she has no plans to stop preaching anytime soon.

"Because church workshop services tend to be happening on Zoom these days, that means I can go to church anywhere in the world, so I'm able to connect with congregants to do guest preaching," she says, adding that she will be peaching at St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans on Sunday, July 26.

Joplin says that outside of the church, many community members have been supportive. 

"I received a lot of messages from people in Mississauga. I've heard from my kids' hockey coaches and other hockey parents, as well as folks we know from the neighbourhood and strangers who saw the story and wanted to reach out," she says.

"The church might be experiencing some backlash and that must be hard for them because almost half of the congregants said they should keep me as a pastor. I wish people would be kinder in their comments, but I understand why they're angry." 

Ultimately, Joplin—who says she first entered the pulpit when she was just 11-years-old—hopes her story will compel change and make room for trans and other LGBTQ+ community members in churches and places of worship. 

"These days, just about everyone in a church has someone in their circle who is part of the LGBTQ+ community," she says.

"Many people have an issue with the church after seeing how LGBTQ+ family members are treated. People are trying to find meaning in a faith community and they want to do it without having to compromise or deny an essential part of their identity."

While she admits it can be difficult for LGBTQ+ people to share their truth while practising their faith, she knows it's possible—even if it's hard.

"Putting yourself out there can bring some risk, but it's worth it for that reason. Visibility is important for our equality and liberation." 

Cover photo by John Cullen

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