LGBTQ Agenda: MCC minister takes helm of LGBTQ religious studies center this year

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday January 31, 2023
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The Reverend Dr. Roland Stringfellow will be the managing director at the Pacific School of Religion's Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion this year. Photo: Courtesy Roland Stringfellow
The Reverend Dr. Roland Stringfellow will be the managing director at the Pacific School of Religion's Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion this year. Photo: Courtesy Roland Stringfellow

The Reverend Dr. Roland Stringfellow was already in Baptist ministry when he came out of the closet as a gay man in 2003.

"I was despondent," he said, telling the Bay Area Reporter that he thought "there's no place for me as an openly gay man."

Then he heard about the Pacific School of Religion, a multi-denominational seminary in Berkeley, and its Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion.

"I sold my house, quit my job as a public school teacher, and moved to California," Stringfellow, 54, said. "I had no idea there was such a place to study LGBT history, theology, and practice."

Today, 20 years later, Stringfellow — now a minister in the Metropolitan Community Churches — is the managing director of the Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion for 2023, while Executive Director Bernard Schlager, Ph.D., is on sabbatical.

"We are excited to have Roland serve in this position during 2023 because he brings a wealth of pastoral, theological, and social activist experience to this work," Schlager stated in an email to the B.A.R.

"During his tenure as managing director Roland will be planning and facilitating our Souls A' Fire 8 Conference, which brings together young Black and queer theologians, and working collaboratively with the coordinators of our six roundtables as they continue to advance the well-being of LGBTQ people and to transform faith communities and the wider society by taking a leading role in shaping a new public discourse on religion, gender identity, and sexuality through education, research, community building, and advocacy," Schlager added.

Though the job is based in Berkeley, Stringfellow will be staying in Detroit, where he is senior pastor at MCC-Detroit, and working remotely. He will be visiting the Bay Area in April for the events Schlager mentioned.

Stringfellow said that at the Pacific School of Religion he learned the theology of John Boswell, a Roman Catholic theologian and Yale professor who focused on the intersection between homosexuality and Christianity in his studies until his death from complications due to AIDS in 1994. Boswell is considered one of the founders of "queer theology," Stringfellow said.

"Queer theology is a way of looking at the sacred text in a way that highlights the minor characters," Stringfellow explained. "For example, David and Bathsheba. Look at the story from Bathsheba's point of view: a woman summoned to the palace, raped, husband is killed, has the baby of the king, who later goes on to be [an ancestor of] Jesus Christ."

Reading the Bible from the perspective of different characters helps answer the question of "How does an LGBTQ person live out religious practices in ways that are authentic to them?" Stringfellow said.

Stringfellow earned his master's of divinity and doctor of ministry from Pacific School of Religion in 2006 and 2016, respectively. He then worked at California Faith for Equality in an attempt to persuade religious people not to vote in favor of Proposition 8, which in 2008 banned same-sex marriage in California until it was overturned in federal court, which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in 2013.

Stringfellow, who'd lived in Oakland, then moved to Detroit so his ex-husband could take a job opportunity there. He also did marriage equality work in North Carolina and Ohio and serves as coordinator of the Berkeley center's African American roundtable.

He said that he wants to help churches, particularly in the African American community, "become more inclusive of LGBT folks in their church" and hopes the Souls A' Fire 8 Conference, which focuses on Black and queer theology, helps.

The conference will be online April 22 and 23.

LGBTQ Agenda is an online column that appears weekly. Got a tip on queer news? Contact John Ferrannini at [email protected]

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