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Father Shannon TL Kearns

Biography

Father Shannon TL Kearns is a transgender man and an Old Catholic Church ordained priest who has and is living out a journey as a voice in the LGBTQ Christian community for evolution, transition and change. His contributions have been great and the substance of what he has done is massive. He might best be known for his website QueerTheology.com and his podcast by the same name which he has hosted with Brian G. Murphy. Their website is a resource and landing place for so many who are searching and seeking guidance and community within a LGBTQ+ Christian context. This platform is a source of hope and help for LGBTQ+ individuals who are looking to explore the bible, deconstruct what they have learned and be affirmed of their worth in the eyes of the divine. Not only is this a source from a biblical perspective, it is also a general LGBTQ+ source for people looking for help and guidance with their past, present and future journey. This site is a home for people looking to commonality, community and connection in a wide variety of spiritual lanes and religions. In all, Brian and Father Shannon have amassed a significant wealth of knowledge and wisdom from over the years that they are using to help support a wide range of individuals, from various backgrounds, putting tools and resources in the hands of people often marginalized and oppressed, affirming them in who they are and equipping them for their journey ahead.

At ten years running their podcast, Queer Theology is another massive resource. This podcast takes biblical topics and passages and does the work of helping its listeners to see it through a new lens. Brian and Father Shannon dive into these stories and passages and take hold of past narratives and reframe and shape the passages from a queer lens. The queering of biblical passages takes the narrative away from the straight white male perspective always taught and allows audiences to see themselves and their stories in these pages. In addition to using the bible to help tell their story, to help see themselves, they are encouraging others to do so as well. They are shining new light and bring new insight that has and will continue to transform people's experiences with the bible and religion. Not only are they working through biblical passages but they are highlighting and bringing to a new audience, people in the LGBTQ+ theological world. They are often joined by voices in various lanes that bring forward different perspectives and conversations that relate to and connect with the LGBTQ+ community. And finally, they dive into various topics and subjects ranging from sex to politics to life to help and more, navigating the murky, muddy and scary waters of life, religion and self. They were the first queer podcast available, a trailblazer in connecting with a new audience in the LGBTQ+   community and are a force for change in the realm of theology and humanity.

Father Shannon’s work with Brian Murphy has been ground-breaking and innovative for the LGBTQ+ community and is an incredible source of hope, help and light to a community and people group that has been oppressed and marginalized for much too long. They are deconstructing theology and providing one way to reconstruct that will help so much. In addition to this incredible work by Father Shannon, he is also a playwright. At an early age, Father Shannon found interest in the theater. He made connections between his Christian faith and theater production and yet, he didn’t see himself in the writings he came across and he didn’t feel fully at home. Though he was fascinated and found sanctuary in books, movies and plays, he was missing in those scenes. So, he began to write stories and plays about his experiences and what he found engaging and enthralling. In this space he found an accepting community and sacred ground to which he could engage and dialogue about the hard questions on which they were embarking. Yet, it was in this place where his Christian faith and his playwriting passion began to merge. Today, he is producing writings that represent him and his experiences. Stories of individuals transitioning in life, body and identity, navigating the waters of uncertainty, in exploration of their own identity and journey. These powerful and thought provoking writings tackle social and political issues of the day and reframes them within the lenses of trans and queer people. And he has been affirmed in his playwriting work and capabilities in many ways such as receiving fellowships and residencies from Playwrights’ Center Jerome Fellowship, the Lambda  Literary Fellow, HBMG Foundations’, Winter Playwright Retreat, Everwood Artists Retreat, and the Elsewhere Artists Retreat. He has been a finalist and semifinalist for the American Blues Theatre Blue Ink Playwriting award, Princess Grace Award, Bay Area Playwrights Festival, O’Neill Playwrights Festival, Equity Library Theatre of Chicago, TransLab, SPACE on Ryder Farm, and American Stages New Play Festival. In addition to all of the accolades and acknowledgements of his work, he was also the founder and director of the Minneapolis-based Uprising Theatre Company.  Amongst all of the writing and work to elevate and bring to light his and stories like his, shaping plays that are inclusive, engaging and thought provoking, Father Shannon has been an incredible bearer of a platform for LGBTQ+ people needing a voice and influence in the theater realm.

Yet, it doesn’t end there. Recently, Father Shannon took his writing capabilities and theology prowess and wrote a book. “In the Margins: A Transgender Man’s Journey with Scripture” is a juxtaposition on life and scripture. Father Shannon goes about telling his own story of exploration and discovery, challenges and barriers, highs and lows, transition and identity in parallel with biblical stories. He does, in this book, what he has done so well with the Queer Theology podcast. He takes moments in scripture and helps his reader to see him in those stories, to see us in those stories, to see those around us in those stories. Not only that but he provokes us to think and consider what we are doing in our own theological journey. How have our interpretations oppressed others and how might we deconstruct and rewrite that theology today? How has our theology oppressed ourselves and kept at bay who we really are? What might christianity look like when we begin to see it as a liberating force for the oppressed and an empowering message to the marginalized?

Father Shanon was raised as a fundamentalist Christian in a rural town. In a story all too familiar to progressive Christians today, he was raised to think of anyone who was “homosexual” to be a deviant, a sinner and a sham. He was raised to think that his assigned female gender was his only option, that his emotions and feelings were invalid, his body was corrupt and evil, and Jesus was the only way to heaven. Yet, in his younger years, his body was telling him something else. Early on he recognized that his assigned female identity was not quite fitting. He loved pants, baseball, playing in the dirt and wearing a ball cap, yet, everyone around him seemed to be pushing, as society does, back towards his own assigned gender. As he grew up he became less and less comfortable with his body, less and less comfortable being around women and less and less comfortable with his community. However, he remained steadfast to his faith and his assigned gender. He did all of the various christian evangelizing and mission trips, repented for his sins and prayed that these feelings would be removed. All within the context of knowing that something wasn't right but believing that if he wasn't right with God, eternity in hell would be his fate. So he suppressed, compartmentalized and disassociated from those feelings. However, as he clung to his Christian upbringing he began to realize he could no longer suppress his feelings for women. So, he accepted this reality but vowed to remain celibate until marriage to assuage that part of his Christian commitment. He felt, in the moment, that it was his prerogative to challenge the Christian stereotype of queer uncontrolled sex, multiple partners and unfaithful people. He carried that banner into his marriage.

Along the way his theology began to get uprooted by discoveries that the rapture was an idea and creation of an 1800s man, and by someone's mention of the potential that non-christians aren't headed to eternal damnation, to hell. As he states, his theology was a “house of cards” and he wondered when they would fall. When they did fall he realized that the foundation was still there but now he could examine each card and deconstruct them. This theological exploration led him to enter Union Theological Seminary to get his Master of Divinity. So he and his wife moved to New Jersey. They struggled to make ends meet and things were difficult but they made it work. However, his journey of discovery was just beginning.

During his time at Union he discovered that this assigned female gender was not him. What he had been feeling all his life was not just that he sexually preferred women but that he was truly meant to be a man. This difficult decision began a whirlwind of changes, realizing that he had waited all his life to become who he truly was. In no time, he had informed the whole of Union of his decision, began hormone replacement therapy and planned for surgery with the next step of informing his mom. His first coming out to her was an abrupt moment, brought on by signs his mom had caught on to and her blatant questions one evening, but this moment would be different. This time he wrote her an email coming out to her as a trans man and took the power into his hands. Though there would be challenges with her, he had done the really hard thing of telling his mom. However, more challenges arose.

This time with his marriage as he and his wife were on shaky ground. The transition has been difficult for both of them and it had strained their relationship to the breaking point. However, what he realized was that the signs of an unhealthy relationship were all around and despite wanting to maintain his Christian belief that divorce was wrong, and continue to be a symbol that LGBTQ+ relationships were holy, they divorced. This put Father Shannon into a wilderness of challenges and struggles. Moving to Minneapolis after their divorce he struggled with all that had happened over the past few years and more. However, he didn’t run from his faith but embraced it, and began to see these storylines of scripture that, for most of his life were shaped in one manner, now had new life and energy. He began to see himself in these biblical stories, see the struggles of biblical characters in his own light and journey. He began to engage scripture and noncanonical texts and saw the beauty of what was before him: A God out to liberate the oppressed and marginalized. And yet, he makes clear in his book that his transition, this transformation is not over. He is continuing to grow and change, engage himself and find what there is inside him that needs a new resurrection and new life. He is in a process of continual resurrection.

(This biographical profile was written by Jonathan Findley for a Queer & Trans Theologies class at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities from the sources below.)

Biography Date: January 2024

Additional Resources

Hernandez, John. “Fr. Shannon TL Kearns Levels with Us on Christianity.” Bear World Magazine, April 27, 2023. https://bearworldmag.com/fr-shannon-tl-kearns-levels-with-us-on-christianity/.

Kearn, Shannon T.L. In the Margins: A Transgender Man’s Journey with Scripture . Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2022.

Kearns, Shannon T.L. “Artistic Statement.” Artistic Statement | Shannon TL Kearns. Accessed November 24, 2023. https://newplayexchange.org/users/5373/shannon-tl-kearns/artistic-statement.

“Resources for LGBTQ+ Christians and Supporters.” Queer Theology. Accessed November 24, 2023. https://www.queertheology.com/.

“Shannon Kearns - Playwright, Speaker, Storyteller.” Shannon Kearns - Playwright, speaker, storyteller, September 4, 2023. https://www.shannontlkearns.com/.

“Shannon TL Kearns.” Shannon TL Kearns | New Play Exchange. Accessed November 24, 2023. https://newplayexchange.org/users/5373/shannon-tl-kearns. 

Tags

Catholic (Old Catholic Church) | Clergy Activist | Author/editor | Online activist | Trans activism | Union Theological Seminary | Minneapolis | Minnesota

Citation

“Father Shannon TL Kearns | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed May 30, 2024, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/shannon-tl-kearns.

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