The Rev. Dr. Joanne Carlson Brown is a United Methodist minister currently serving 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.
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.
Joanne married Christie Lagergren Brown on December 7, 2013. Christie died on March 21, 2018. Joanne currently lives in Burien, WA.
(This biographical statement provided by Joanne Carlson Brown.)
Biography Date: February 7, 2003
Methodist (UMC, United Methodist Church) | Affirmation (United Methodist) | Author/editor | Ordination/clergy
“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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