The Rev. Dr. Joanne Carlson Brown is a retired United Methodist minister in the Pacific Northwest Conference. She was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, adopted by loving parents when she was six months old and told she could do and be anything she wanted. Joanne learned unconditional love from her parents and, therefore, knew that from God. This was a crucial concept that shaped the rest of her life. She has a tattoo on her arm that says "Beloved No Matter What." Knowing she was a lesbian from a very early age, Joanne never hid her sexual identity and found both acceptance and rejection from friends, one especially painful time in seminary from the very women she counted as friends.
Combining ministry and academics, she earned a BA degree from Mount Holyoke College (1975), the first institution of higher education for women founded by Mary Lyon in 1837--a very important formative aspect in Joanne’s life; an M.Div. degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (1978) in Evanston, Illinois, where she was co-convenor of the women’s caucus at a time when women were first coming into seminaries in significant numbers. While at G-ETS, Joanne was active in the protest surrounding the G-ETS policy banning "self-avowed homosexuals" from attending the school and when two students were dismissed in 1978 for being openly gay. Her Ph.D. is from Boston University (1983) in historical theology and church history.
Dr. Brown’s historical work has been in Methodist studies, but she has lectured and published extensively on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues within Methodism and general church history. Her ground-breaking essay critiquing the concept of the atonement, co-authored with Rebecca Parker, "For God So Loved the World?" in her co-edited book, Christianity, Patriarchy and Abuse (Pilgrim Press, 1989), has had a wide impact, especially in feminist theology.
Never wanting to have to choose between being a pastor and being a professor she spent her first 18 years in ministry as a full-time academic at Boston University School of theology, Pacific Lutheran University, St. Andrew's Theological College in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (where she took out Canadian citizenship becoming a dual citizen). After those academic stints she served churches in the Pacific Northwest: First Church Seattle, Eatonville, United Church in University Place ( a joint UMC UCC congregation. "Everything I did that the UMC barred I said I was doing it in my capacity as a UCC minister - I had received dual standing - and in the UCC part of the church."), Tibbetts UMC in West Seattle, Des Moines UMC in Washington. All of her congregations were fully supportive of her ministry as a lesbian pastor and all but Eatonville became Reconciling Congregations. But she was able to include her professor side by being an adjunct faculty member at Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry helping the school to start a program for Protestant students. She served in that capacity for 22 years.
Joanne was among the early members of Affirmation, United Methodists for LGBT Concerns and served on the national board as well as being active in local chapters.
Joanne was the first openly gay or lesbian person to be ordained by the United Methodist Church. Bishop Melvin Wheatley ordained her in the Rocky Mountain Conference in June, 1982. Her ordination was appealed to the denomination's Judicial Council. Its subsequent ruling that there was nothing in the UMC Discipline, i.e., church law, barring lesbian or gay ordination resulted in the restrictive legislation adopted by the United Methodist General Conference in 1984.
She found her anam cara late in life. Their marriage caused quite a stir in the repressive UMC context and even in secular corners. It was a marriage between two lesbian ministers in Joanne's church at the time (Tibbetts), and it was performed by their District Superintendent. They broke all the rules causing it to be covered in UMC publications (positive and negative) and the local news including interviews on television. They were married December 7, 2013, a day that will live in infamy for some Methodists. Unfortunately, her wife, Rev. Christie Lagergren Brown developed a very rare brain tumor in 2017 and died March 21, 2018 with Joanne by her side having been her caregiver 24/7. Thanks to hospice she was able to be home when she died.
In her retirement Joanne plans to relax, write, and volunteer with animals. She currently lives with her wee Westie, Brigid whom she rescued at age 11.
(This biographical statement provided by Joanne Carlson Brown.)
Biography Date: February 7, 2003; rev. August 2021
Methodist (UMC, United Methodist Church) | Affirmation (United Methodist) | Author/editor | Ordination/clergy
“Rev. Dr. Joanne Carlson Brown | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed January 30, 2023, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/joanne-carlson-brown.
“I remember my first encounter with Joanne in the late 1980s at Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, WA. I had enrolled in her "Christian Classics" class. My first impression of Joanne was that she was bigger then life. She was/is a strong womyn with theatrical flair and knowledge of the back story of each classic. Her lectures made each reading come to life and enabled me to make a real life connection between the past and the present. Joanne also presented me, in another class, with the concept of God as a metaphor. It was through this consideration that I was able to connect with my own spirituality which had long been shoved to the side. She is an incredible teacher, mentor, and friend.”
– as remembered by Mildred Smith on December 22, 2011
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