Rev. Shanea Leonard is a Teaching Elder in Pittsburgh, PA. She holds a Master of Divinity Degree from the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and a Bachelor’s Degree in Religious Studies from the University of Pittsburgh. She is currently pastoring a new faith community called Judah Fellowship on the Northside of Pittsburgh.
How has your personal journey to fully accepting who God made you to be challenged or strengthened your faith?
It certainly has challenged my faith journey. I’ve had to internally confront everything I’ve ever known. I then had to understand myself all over again in the context of the Holy Spirit working within me rather than the context of doctrine.
What I mean is that, regardless of how others see me, it is the Holy Spirit in me that legitimates my call and my purpose, despite those who deem me unworthy.
I am fully everything that God says I am and has created me to be.
Is there a prayer or meditation that helps you make it through trying times?
My understanding of the first chapter of James has been very motivational. It has taught me that the pressures and trials I go through will ultimately produce who and what God has created me to be. It is through this process that my faith will be perfected and my witness grows even more.
What is one of the defining moments in your life as a Christian?
There have been many. One had to have been in 2008 during a very difficult situation concerning my former call. At that point I was questioning my faith, my call and my heart for ministry. It was devastating to someone so fresh in ordained ministry. However, what I didn’t realize is this was a starting point for me. The journey after that reshaped me and redefined my zeal for the liberating gospel and thirst for my purpose in the church. I came to understand that I did not have to live a closeted life. I could be everything Shanea is supposed to be and be called by God to God’s purpose as well.
Do you have a story of a person who embodies Christ’s teachings?
Gratefully, I know many common people who have lived extraordinary lives for Christ. However, the one who sticks out the most is Bishop Yvette Flunder. She has become such a role model for me. In authentically being a Christian by caring for the least of these in our society, she has created a place where the outcasts have become the accepted. Yvette Flunder is a champion for the multi-cultural LGBTQ community who have been hurt and ostracized by religion and society. Just as Christ came so that we may have life more abundantly, He has called Bishop Flunder to nurture others into that promise and not to be hidden in the shadows anymore.
In your mind, what are the Biblical foundations for LGBT inclusion in the church?
I think the main premise is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that whoever who believes in him may not perish but have everlasting life.” It is the core vision of Judah Fellowship. The “whoever” in that is simply the “whosoever.” There is no stipulation, prerequisite or parameter. The message of the gospel is an inclusive invitation to every human being.
What would you say to those Christians who have a different view on inclusion?
This is one thing I say to my Dad.
It’s entirely hypocritical for any confessed Christian to impose any segregated brand of belief system on any group. I believe that lack of inclusion in any form is entirely contradictory to the message of love Christ came to bring.
If we’re going to provide a questionable and problematic interpretation of scripture so that we force all to adhere to out of context and culturally unfaithful, then I should have my head covered, not teach any men and be a slave.
What can we do to foster dialogue and build bridges with people with different views on inclusion?
We really need to make sure that any conversation we attempt comes out of a place of love, faith and hope. Love for our fellow human beings, brothers and sisters, in Christ draws us together. Faith in a God whose wisdom passes all of our understanding is our shared humility. And our passionate hope in the kingdom of God on earth one day, being a unified body void of any petty differences as I know God wants us to be.