From French major to Episcopal church

The Rev. Justin Cannon, an ordained Episcopal priest, says majoring in French had wonderful surprises.

“I was originally going to be a religion major and French minor but switched those around for two reasons,” he says. “First, after a semester abroad in Martinique my sophomore year I realized I was already more than half-way to a French major, so it would be practically more feasible. I also realized by doing so I could take the religion classes I wanted to take, as opposed to all the classes I would be required to take as a religion major. “

As an undergraduate at Earlham, Cannon was able to enroll in graduate level courses at Earlham School of Religion.

“Also by majoring in French, I was able to explore French religious literature and did an independent study wherein I worked on translating the book "Mémoires d'Espérance" by Olivier Clément, a French theologian I met when I spent time in Paris,” he explains. “I found him in the phone book, and next thing I knew I was in his study with him talking for three hours, in French, of course.

Hearing a call

Cannon says his call to the ministry unfolded with time.

The initial indicator came during the difficult middle school years, when Cannon says he had a powerful experience of God’s love.

“I decided shortly thereafter that I wanted to be a ‘lover,’ which I defined as one who shows God’s love to the world,” he says. “It wasn’t until late high school and early college when I realized I needed to find a career, and ordained ministry seemed the natural path toward committing my life to sharing about God’s love with people.

“I am drawn to my vocation as it seems a place where all my gifts and talents can come together to open people to the reality of God’s presence in their lives.”

“In my early college years, being gay and having a strong sense of call to ordained minister was quite troubling to me,” he continues. Cannon spent a lot of time during his first two years at Earlham studying scripture.

“I came to learn that nothing in the Bible condemns loving, gay relationships, and every mention of same-sex relations in the Scriptures was tied to contexts of abuse and pederasty,” he says.

A published author as a junior

During his junior year at Earlham, Cannon compiled his research, and his bishop had it published as “The Bible, Christianity, & Homosexuality.” Also in 2005 he began his “Truth Sets Free” ministry to disseminate the study. In 2007 he relaunched the ministry as “Inclusive Orthodoxy.” In 2006 Cannon was named one of Out Magazine’s Top 100 most influential gay people, and in 2005 he was selected as a Future Gay Hero by The Advocate.

“I feel I am where I belong and where who I am and my gifts can best be used,” he explains. “Being a clergy person isn’t always something you want to do per se, but more something you know you are called to do. It’s like that notion: ‘Here I stand, I can do no other.’ It’s not always the easiest work, but it is deeply rewarding and is very much who I am, not just something I do.”

Justin Cannon
Justin Cannon 2006

Hometown: Orinda, Calif.

Major at Earlham: French

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