“Ethiopian Eunuch” by Jeremy Whitner. Used with permission of the artist.
“Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?”
These are the words the Ethiopian eunuch speaks to Philip in Acts 8:36. We are not told the name of this important person who handles the treasury for the Candace, the queen of Ethiopia, but we know the story well. Their words are as much a challenge as a question. “What is to prevent me…?”
There is a tone implied in this question some have called Holy Sass. Within the question is a challenge to the practices and norms of the church and its institutions. It is the same challenge we hear in the words of the Canaanite woman—another nameless person who, in Matthew 15 counters to Jesus, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Holy Sass might be delivered with a tenacious inflection because the speaker is someone at the margins, steeling themselves for the possibility of rejection. The questioner is pushing the boundaries. They are really asking, “are you willing to tell me no to my face when it would be so obviously wrong to do so?”
In the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference, we’re hearing about a little Holy Sass. Isaac Simmons, a 23-year-old openly gay man has responded to God’s claim upon his life and answered this calling to move forward on a path toward ordination. He has taken the courageous step of going before his District Committee on Ministry to share his calling story and to tell them he wants to live into that calling in the United Methodist Church. This bold move, like the biblical characters above, offers the same question, “What is to prevent me?” Isaac’s district committee has responded to the Spirit’s prompting and said yes. Isaac tells his story in his own words on the Reconciling Ministries Blog that can found here.
Isaac’s Holy Sass sometimes takes on a particularly creative flair. Isaac finds ways to convey Christ’s message of love and inclusion through the voice and persona of a drag queen who goes by the name Ms. Penny Cost—get it? Pentecost? His willingness to speak through this particular artform has made him an effective evangelist with the LGBTQ+ community and young people who are looking to find faith, community and acceptance.
But Isaac’s courageous decision to put himself forward as a ministry candidate has put him squarely in the crosshairs of the traditionalists. They cannot seem to imagine that God can call such a person, despite the biblical witness of so many outsiders and outcasts who God has used. Sadly, the fundamentalists’ disagreement doesn’t end with a simple lack of imagination. Their condemnation has taken a decidedly harmful turn. Isaac has received emails and other communications using epithets too crass to repeat. He has even been sent messages implying that he should not live.
The Indiana Room for all Coalition stands against the damaging and intolerant speech that is being directed at Isaac Simmons. As we seek to build a more just and inclusive church in Indiana, we welcome Isaac and those like him whose authenticity and creativity show the world that the Holy Spirit is active in the lives of all people.
We celebrate that young people are being called and are responding. As the Indiana Room For All Coalition is in the process of dreaming what is possible, we share our desire for an annual conference in which ALL people are welcomed on the basis of Jesus Christ’s reconciling acts and in which ALL people are engaged in transforming community by the power of the Holy Spirit in dynamic dialogue with God and one another. We believe we can do this through acts of celebration, grace, justice, connection and dialogue.
Celebrating is always first. The Room For All Coalition celebrates those, like Isaac, who have been excluded and we affirm that God has already made room for all our siblings in the banquet which is the Church. We believe that United Methodism in Indiana must do the same. Marriage, ordination, and ministry appointments must be accessible for LGBTQIA+ siblings. We must not only “make room,” but listen to the witness of these persons in our midst and empower our annual conference to be guided by it.
We celebrate the Vermillion River District Committee on Ministry in the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference who have affirmed Isaac Simmons’ calling and recommended him for candidacy.
We challenge the United Methodist Church in Indiana to allow our LGBTQ+ siblings to no longer be nameless but instead to invite them to be their authentic selves in their ministries and in their lives. We condemn the unstated practice of “don’t ask, don’t tell” but instead call upon the Bishop, Cabinet, Board of Ordained Ministry and District Committees on Ordained Ministry to join the Vermillion River District and the many other districts, annual conferences, and jurisdictions who have removed these barriers to ordination.
The Room For All Coalition of Indiana believes we can be transformed by our conversation, conferencing, and covenanting with one another. And we are reminded that sometimes those conversations need a little Holy Sass.
 Jeremy Whitner describes himself as a gay, Christian mystic. He is on the ordination path with the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ denomination.  Suzanne Dewitt Hall suggests that pronouns for eunuchs are they/them/theirs. See Dewitt Hall, Suzanne. Transfigured: A 40-day journey through scripture for gender-queer and transgender people. DH Strategies, 2018. 31  I first heard this term from Jonah Overton. Jonah attributes the term to Austen Hartke. Jonah is one of the leaders in The Liberation Project, a diverse group of people who are working to equip individuals and congregations to see and join in God’s work of liberation and freedom.