Last month, the Rev. Junia Joplin told her Baptist congregation in a sermon about the importance of telling the truth without fear of the consequences. And then she revealed a secret truth of her own: She is a transgender woman.
It cost her the job.
On Monday, 111 members of the Lorne Park Baptist Church in Mississauga, Ontario, voted 58 to 53 to fire Ms. Joplin, who has been their pastor for six years, she said on Twitter.
“I came out as transgender in June, and I got fired in July,” Ms. Joplin said in an interview on Thursday. “But there are a lot of good people in that congregation who made their allyship known, and in some cases stuck their neck out, and it is frustrating this is the way it came out.”
The church said that the vote came after a month of “prayerful discernment and discussions” between the reverend and the congregation.
“The church has journeyed for the past month through a process of attempting to discern God’s will,” it said in a statement published by Canadian news media organizations, adding, “It was determined, for theological reasons, that it is not in God’s will that June remain as our pastor.” The church did not return phone calls on Thursday.
For Ms. Joplin, 41, the journey to sharing the defining truth of her life on June 14 started in North Carolina. She grew up in a small town, Hudson, and regularly worshiped with her family at a Baptist church there.
Around age 11, she said, she had an inkling at a summer camp that she wanted to be a pastor. She gave her first sermon before she turned 13.
Ms. Joplin later studied at a Baptist seminary in Richmond, Va. She married and had two children. In 2014, she was offered the job at Lorne Park.
Ms. Joplin said she presented as a man to the congregation in the six years that she was with the church, wearing her long hair in a tight bun.
“I started to explore feminine gender presentation publicly about two years ago on a rare occasion or two,” she said.
This year, she started to think about coming out to the congregation after May, so as not to distract from the church’s centennial celebration that month. Then, in March, the pandemic caused the sermons to move online.
“Up until June 14, I was perceived as male,” she said in the interview. “I was presenting as male, being called my birth and dead name. That was me presenting male as best as I could.”
In her sermon, unsure of how the congregation would react, she set up a separate livestream in case someone tried to cut her off in the middle of her announcement.
“I was not sure if they would let me get through the sermon,” she said. “It was difficult for me to get a read of my congregation. I have preached sermons advocating for acceptance before and got good reaction, but I just wanted to be ready if anything went sideways.”
After hymns and prayers, she started her sermon. Truth was a hidden “pearl,” a treasure to be sought and uncovered, she said. Once found, it had to be spoken no matter how high the cost, or how painful the consequences, she said.
About 10 minutes into her sermon, she said that with “divine joy,” she had her own truth to impart.
“I want you to hear me when I tell you that I am not just supposed to be a pastor: I’m supposed to be a woman,” she said, visibly emotional. “Hi, friends. Hi, family. My name is Junia. You can call me June. I am a transgender woman, and my pronouns are ‘she’ and ‘her.’”
She continued: “I am saying I want to be the person that God created me to be. I realize, of course, that I might be taking a tremendous risk here.”
“It’s scary, but I read someplace that love casts out fear,” she added.
Sitting at home in front of a chalkboard bearing the words “Black Lives Matter” and a sign reading “Come Holy Spirit!” she also had a message for other L.G.B.T.Q. people.
“I am sorry for the times that you have been told that who you are is sinful or broken,” she said, her voice wavering and eyes filling with tears. “Whether it is some raving fundamentalist in a suit and tie, or his kinder, gentler counterpart in jeans and sneakers at the hip church that meets in the movie theater, those words are not true.”
The sermon lasted over 20 minutes, and then the camera cut to one of the church’s worship leaders, who fumbled, thanking her by her birth name before apologizing and correcting herself.
Ms. Joplin said she had told the congregation and its leaders that she would take the “awkward stage” of inadvertent so-called deadnaming or pronoun misuse with grace.
“One of the things I have tried to communicate is a lot of leaders of the church tried to make this process as gracious as they could,” she said in the interview. “To their credit, they did not cave in to people angrily saying I should be fired on the afternoon of June 14.”
Individual Baptist churches do not work under a unified theology with respect to L.G.B.T.Q. clergy.
Ms. Joplin said she had been inspired by transgender Baptist pastors who have preceded her, including Erica Saunders, who was ordained last year in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Allyson Robinson, who was ordained at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., in 2014.
Ms. Joplin has not preached again since the June 14 sermon, after being told, she said, that the congregation needed to be reintroduced to her.
But other pulpits await.
On July 26, she will deliver the Sunday sermon to congregants at St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, a progressive church, after its pastor, the Rev. Elizabeth Mangham Lott, invited her to fill in while she was on vacation.
“She is certainly not the only L.G.B.T.Q.+ colleague I have,” Ms. Lott said.
“But most of them have been quietly ushered out the side doors, which is how most congregants have chosen to handle it.”
Ms. Joplin said the notoriety was not the point.
“My hope through all this is not seeking attention, but to be visible and let people see that L.G.B.T.Q. people of faith are human beings,” she said.