It’s interesting to see how the secular world and the Christian world have reacted to Isaac Simmons — otherwise known as Ms. Penny Cost.
Simmons is the director of operations for Hope United Methodist Church in Bloomington, Illinois. According to Religion News Service, Simmons, 23, is the first gay man certified to a position in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference. He’s also, “as far as anyone can tell, the first drag queen certified in the United Methodist Church.”
Simmons made news when, on April 11, he spoke on the “Drag Sunday” virtual service as his drag alter-ego, Ms. Penny Cost. Other drag performers were involved in the music and prayers.
Left-leaning Christian publication Sojourners reported on Simmons thusly: “Preach the gospel. When necessary, do it in drag.” As far as WMBD-TV was concerned, this was great. Just look at the station’s headline on April 25: “Central Illinois man on path to Church leadership is breaking barriers within the United Methodist Church.”
“Homosexuality is a controversial topic and is something the United Methodist Church is considering splitting over and creating a new traditional denomination. But Simmons is breaking barriers within the Methodist Church,” it reported.
for @Sojourners I talked to Isaac Simmons / Ms. Penny Cost, the 1st out gay man & drag queen running for Methodist ordination, and his push to move the conversation from “whether or not queer folks are condemned”:
“The divine is accessible by all people.” https://t.co/i4012If7gh
— lexi mcmenamin (@leximcmenamin) April 16, 2021
This isn’t how Albert Mohler sees it.
Mohler is head of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Time described him as the “reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the U.S.” He said Simmons’ quick elevation, both in profile and in position within the church, has serious religious, moral and doctrinal implications, none of them positive.
On an April 28 episode of his podcast “The Briefing,” Mohler said the church’s promotion of Simmons is “an intentional refutation and revolt against the very order of creation that God has given us, and a direct violation of the clear teachings of Scripture concerning the fact that those whom God has made as men should identify as men.”
“The new young candidate for ministry said that he sees his candidacy as ‘a sign of validation.’ Well, make no mistake, that’s exactly what it is,” Mohler said.
“And the local group there of United Methodists, that would be in this district or this conference, is intentionally sending a sign of validation. And that just underlines the fact that by the time any kind of church or church body reaches this point, it has already basically embraced doctrinal annihilation. There is virtually nothing left of the historic Christian tradition.”
Mohler went on to say that “Drag Sunday” and the hoopla surrounding it would “have been unthinkable at virtually any point in the continuum of organized Christianity, going all the way back to the first century until well, only the very most recent times could anything like this even be imaginable within the Christian Church.”
“And for all of those centuries, it wasn’t unimaginable because Christians were simply not up to date. It’s because Christians were operating out of a Christian biblical understanding,” he continued.
“This is open revolt, and of course, you’re going to see a division between those who are appalled by it, deeply troubled by it, deeply concerned by it and opposed to it on the one hand, and those who celebrate it and say that it’s arrived far too late on the other hand.”
Mohler went on to say that with the case of Isaac Simmons and his drag queen preaching, “you’re looking not only at two different positions, as we will understand, you’re looking at two different religions and those two different religions cannot possibly continue to exist in one church or in one denomination.”
This is a series of hard truths to swallow — but that doesn’t make them any less true, it just makes them impolitic, outmoded and unpopular. Biblical truth isn’t a democracy, though, and it’s not faddish.
You can take a lie, festoon it in fashionable cultural garb, brand it as a message of hope and unity, get critical cultural momentum behind it and set it against truth — and the truth will remain the truth, no matter how popular the lie is.
Simmons’ back-story hits all of the bumpers on the fashionable lie pinball table. To the outside observer, it’s a story of acceptance and progress.
“They’re saying this person is being called to ministry and has our approval to receive the United Methodist support financially and otherwise,” Simmons told WMBD-TV. “My faith and my understanding of God calls me to be a part of that; to be a part of change-making and to be a part of creating spaces where everyone, regardless of their identities [or] orientations, can be and exist without even an inkling of ‘Am I welcomed here?’”
Simmons doesn’t mention several things here. The first is that the United Methodist Church doesn’t doctrinally believe there’s a biblical justification for homosexuality. Simmons could just as soon leave, however, and breaking the strictures of biblical morality isn’t the same as breaking barriers, particularly when participation is entirely voluntary.
And then there’s the tacit conceit behind Simmons’ pull quotes: That if we don’t accept how he lives his life as biblical, we don’t accept him as a human being — and that’s bigotry.
As unpopular as the distinction is, however, accepting someone as a human being and accepting that human being’s actions as godly are two wildly separate things. Whether or not Simmons or more liberal Christians like it, the fact remains there’s a highly defensible biblical justification for believing homosexual relationships and transgender identity are, to put it mildly, not part of God’s plan.
In fact, even the most perfunctory, casual reading of the Bible would indicate it’s more likely than not a sin.
But then there’s the modern world’s line when it comes to the biblical prohibitions against sex and the blurring of the genders: Isn’t all that just Bronze Age superstition cobbled together by people who couldn’t have known better? That’s not exactly how the Bible calls Christians to believe, however — and more importantly, that’s not how the United Methodist Church views it, either.
If that’s how you feel, however, let me be the bearer of great news — you don’t have to believe it! Just don’t expect other Christians to alter their beliefs accordingly, since they also don’t have to believe what you believe.
As Mohler said, “you’re looking not only at two different positions … you’re looking at two different religions.” The truth may not seem “up to date,” but it remains the truth, no matter what the secular world may say.
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