Transgender Rev. Paula Stone Williams to Speak at Christ Church Cranbrook
Rev. Paula Stone has made a career out of talking from her unique point of view, and teaching congregations across the U.S. about being one’s authentic self and advocating against gender- and sexuality-based discrimination — particularly in religious organizations.
When Rev. Paula Stone Williams made her decision to start living as a woman six years ago, she knew explusion from the evangelical Christian community would be “swift and short,” but she said she ever expected it to be “quite so complete.” Once the CEO of a nonprofit that formed churches worldwide and a well-known religious leader, Williams said that she not only had to deal with the loss of authority over a largely self-built empire, but come to terms with the fact that when she began to present as female, she’d be forced to fight to assert her knowledge on topics in which she already had expertise.
“I was working with a $4 million budget when I took (the nonprofit) over and I specialized in starting the churches from scratch that grew very quickly … there were not many organizations in the world that were having that kind of success, and I was with that organization for 35 years and CEO for 25,” she said. “I was in a meeting last summer and it was getting a little frustrating because people were kind of questioning my knowledge and I said, ‘I just want to remind you that I did this work for 40 years and have done hundreds of these. So, I do tend to know how they work.'”
Williams said that instances like these have been consistent reminders of the former white, heterosexual male privilege she had unwittingly benefitted from before her transition. However, she has made a career out of talking from her unique point of view, and teaching congregations across the U.S. about being one’s authentic self and advocating against gender- and sexuality-based discrimination — particularly in religious organizations.
Upon reading about her advocacy in a New York Times article, Bloomfield Hills’ Christ Church Cranbrook Rev. William Danaher knew that she would be the perfect guest speaker for his congregation, and scheduled for her to speak on Sunday, May 6. Danaher said that Williams is well-equipped to teach about inclusion and acceptance.
“Her real gift is that she integrates fully her experience as a trans woman with her experience as a Christian, and her Christianity is completely meshed with her identity and that was remarkable for me because, in that way, she bears witness,” Danaher said. “Out of her own particularity, for what does it mean to be a human and Christian. And I think that Christianity is most powerful when it preaches a gospel that we become fully human when we know ourselves as we are known in Christ.”
Danaher also said that having Williams speak at his congregation will provide great representation for the members of his congregation that identify as LGBTQ and might not have many religious leaders they can directly relate to.
“My congregation has been blessed with a few people who identify as trans and we’ve been blessed by people who work with the trans community, so I think it’s important for us to lift up the people that we already love and love us,” he said. “And I think it’s also important for us to lift up someone like Rev. Paula because her witness is so powerful.”
Danaher also said that although his church is a progressive one, he does have congregation members who have a less progressive view of sexuality and gender. He said that his last intention is to polarize his audience, but rather, introduce them to a new point of view through Williams’ teachings.
“I think this is about lifting up Christians everywhere and people who need to have a relationship with God everywhere. I believe that all should be welcome at Christ Church Cranbrook and my congregation believes that as well,” he said. “But I will never cast someone out for having a more conservative view on sexuality, just as much as I would never refuse anyone who has a more progressive view of sexuality.”
“Her real gift is that she integrates fully her experience as a trans woman with her experience as a Christian, and her Christianity is completely meshed with her identity and that was remarkable for me because, in that way, she bears witness,” Danaher said. “Out of her own particularity for what does it mean to be a human and Christian, and I think that Christianity is most powerful when it preaches a gospel that we become fully human when we know ourselves as we are known in Christ.”
The now 67-year-old Williams is heavily involved in the growing world of post-Evangelicalism, which sticks to traditional evangelical theology, but has progressive views when it comes to LGBTQ community. She said that her time in that community and her ability to own her new identity has not only made her a better preacher, but a better religious leader.
“I’m a better preacher, I’m a better counselor and I probably have a deeper faith,” Williams said. “You know, it’s never come easily for me and I find that post-transition it’s been much easier for me to look at God … but, really, I mostly focus on Jesus. I really believe that the Jesus meta-narrative is the meta-narrative that gives hope to our world, because it is the only meta-narrative that is written from the powerless, from the perspective of the loser, from the perspective of the victim.”
Maybe it is a testament to her preaching ability, but Williams said that despite all her daily struggles, the one arena in which she feels she still retains just as much control as in the height of her pre-transition career is when she is preaching to a congregation. It’s something that she has no explanation for.
“I find it fascinating that I don’t see a difference in the way people respond to my preaching. Not the tiniest bit. I had no idea what to make of that,” she said.
Perhaps, it is because Williams focuses on narratives first and foremost, structuring her sermons like stories above all else.
“So, I think our need for narrative is biological and for me that is where I think my greatest strength comes, and my greatest source of information is from narratives,” Williams said.
Storytelling like this, is exactly what Danaher is excited about when she visits next Sunday.
“I think that the message that I hope she delivers will be not just one for my congregation but for people of faith everywhere,” Danaher said. “My hope is that Rev. Paula will resonate with people in a powerful way who are struggling with anything that keeps them from being fully human. So, I don’t see her as delivering a single message, I see her delivering a message that is full of the gospel, as it were.”
Rev. Paula Stone Williams will be at Christ Church Cranbrook on Sunday, May 6 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. More information can be found online at christchurchcranbrook.org/events/.