F.L. “Bubba” Copeland is a Baptist preacher and small-town mayor... with a secret online identity. Does that make him a hypocrite?
(Follow article link to vie access hyperlinks and photos/PDFs/video that accompany article.)
UPDATE 2 (9:33p): More details about Copeland’s death are now available and can be read here.
UPDATE 1 (6:42p): I’m heartbroken to learn that Bubba Copeland apparently took his own life in the wake of this thoughtless and unnecessary “scandal.”
My original story is below. I stand by my defense of Copeland.
F.L. “Bubba” Copeland is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Phenix City, Alabama. Since 2016, he’s also served as mayor of nearby Smiths Station.
When a tornado hit that community a few years ago, then-President Donald Trump paid the city a visit, leading to a photo-op between the two men (below). Copeland said of that time period, “There is no instruction manual for this job. However, I do have my own personal manual and that is my Bible. God will sustain you through anything as long as you commit your life to Him.”
Given that background, you can imagine how shocking it was to discover this week that Copeland spends his free time indulging in a very different kind of hobby: Posing as a “Transitioning Transgender Curvy Girl” on social media outlets, where he shares selfies (and erotica) under the pseudonym “Brittini Blaire Summerlin.”
On Wednesday, the conservative media outlet 1819 News published a lengthy article essentially outing Copeland for his fake online persona:
Reporter Craig Monger captured a number of relevant screenshots—including semi-racy ones—that Copeland had posted on Reddit and Instagram. In some instances, like in the image above, Copeland was literally wearing his wife’s clothing. His writing was also not the sort of thing you’d expect from a Baptist pastor, full of explicit language and R-rated fantasies.
After confronting him with the evidence, those posts were quickly deleted but not before Copeland admitted those were indeed his accounts:
During an interview with 1819 News, Copeland confirmed that he operated the account and was featured in the pictures. He claimed it was only a means of “getting rid of stress” and called the postings a “hobby” and a “fantasy.” He also said his erotica was “purely fiction.” After the interview, Copeland promptly deleted the accounts and asked them not to be made public due to his family and position as a pastor. … “Just my wife knows about it,” Copeland said. “It’s a hobby I do to relieve stress. I have a lot of stress, and I’m not medically transitioning. It’s just a bit of a character I’m playing. … I don’t go out and seek solicitation or anything like that.” He continued, “It’s something that I don’t intermingle with the other. It’s private. I don’t do it in the public or anything like that. … It’s just a fictional character I made up to relieve stress.”
In short, he’s not actually a trans woman (much less a transitioning one). He just enjoys playing that character because it’s an escape from his “normal” life. I’m sure it’s a huge ego-boost when he posts those images online and gets positive affirmation from people on the relevant subreddits.
He’s clearly embarrassed that he got caught, though. Did his wife actually know about it? I don’t know. But I understand why he’d want to keep his secret a secret.
Copeland addressed the article in a brief sermon Wednesday night, telling the congregation he was the victim of an “internet attack”:
I have been an object of an internet attack. An article that was written about my capacity as the mayor [and] capacity as a pastor. The article is not who or what I am. Yes, I have taken pictures with my wife in the privacy of our home in an attempt of humor because I know I'm not a handsome man nor a beautiful woman either. I apologize for any embarrassment caused by my private, personal life that has come publicly. This will not cause my life to change. This will not waver my devotion to my family, to serving my city, [and] to serving my church. I'm thankful for the grace of God [and] the willingness to forgive. I have nothing to be ashamed of. A lot of the things that were said were taken out of context. And in conclusion, I love my family. They're number one. And again, I'm sorry for what my actions have caused, and I’m thankful for the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that have reached out to me today, in love...
Yesterday morning, the Alabama Baptist State Convention and Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions issued a statement of their own saying they are praying for his church leaders to “determine the truth concerning these accusations.”
“We have become aware of the alleged unbiblical behavior related to the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Phenix City. We are praying for the leaders of the church family as they seek to determine the truth concerning these accusations. As the people of God, we pray for the pastor and his family as well. We are in consultation with the Russell Baptist Association’s leadership as they endeavor to assist the First Baptist family during this critical time of need.” Buddy Champion, president, state convention Morgan Bailey, first vice president, state convention Jarman Leatherwood, second vice president, state convention Mel Johnson, chair, State Board of Missions trustees Jim Graham, vice chair, State Board of Missions trustees Rick Lance, state missionary and executive director, Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions
I’m not sure what determination of truth needs to be made when Copeland has already admitted to doing it… but notice that they didn’t say Copeland should be kicked out of his church. They didn’t elaborate on what the “unbiblical” behavior was either: Was it pretending to be a trans woman and dressing in drag? Or was it just the secrecy of it all?
Even the Alabama Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, of which Copeland’s church is a member, didn’t suggest a specific punishment. Instead, they just said, “This would appear to be a matter between pastor and church.”
I don’t have a dog in the fight here when it comes to whether Copeland should resign as pastor or mayor. Hell, part of me is eager to join the pile-on. This is, after all, a Baptist preacher who revels in a hobby that plenty of other conservatives believe is an abomination. Over the past few years, drag queens have been called “groomers” and subject to protests just for reading books to children. Laws have passed in red states banning drag performances. And transgender people have obviously been subject to vicious attacks by religious conservatives, many of whom don’t accept their identities and refuse to use their pronouns.
If a Baptist preacher says one thing in public but does another in private, to hell with him, right?
But this is where the story takes a weird turn.
As far as I can tell, there’s no evidence that Copeland himself has ever participated in those right-wing attacks. I have yet to see a sermon clip where he rails against drag queens or trans people. I can’t find a single policy he’s promoted as mayor that would make life worse for the LGBTQ community. (All of those things may exist, to be clear, but I haven’t found them yet.)
The article in 1819 News never once mentions a single example of his hypocrisy… which seems like an odd omission given the way the article is framed. If this was a slam-dunk story, all those images of Copeland dressing as a woman would be followed by screenshots of, say, his anti-LGBTQ social media posts. But you won’t find anything like that in the article.
If there’s no proof of hypocrisy, then why the hell is this a story?!
Rather than an act of investigative journalism, this appears to be yet another attack on drag queens and trans people... except this one uses a rural mayor-slash-pastor as the vehicle. It’s not that the article is calling out a conservative leader’s lies; it’s that outing Copeland gives them the ability to show his drag pictures and trans persona to a bunch of readers who probably hate drag queens and trans people.
Copeland has a salacious hobby, sure, but it shouldn’t concern anyone unless he spends his time in the pulpit and in the government talking about why those things are supposedly evil.
There’s no smoking gun suggesting that this guy is another conservative Christian hypocrite like Ted Haggard or Jerry Falwell, Jr. or a Catholic priest with a secret family. He’s just a dude who likes to dress up as a woman and write out his fantasies for fun… and while it may not be your idea of a good time, it’s also none of your damn business.
If anything, there’s plenty of reason to think Copeland may be one of the good Baptists.
Hell, just consider this picture posted on Facebook by his church in 2016:
In the comments underneath, someone asked if that meant the church was “affirming.” It’s a fair question! A lot of churches claim “all are welcome,” but members soon learn that restrictions apply, especially to LGBTQ members, and it’s all a giant bait-and-switch.
The church didn’t give a direct response to that question, but it did “like” the post (which, to me, certainly suggests an answer).
But maybe you think that’s nothing. Copeland is still Baptist! Don’t Baptists think LGBTQ people are the worst?!
Well, Southern Baptists do.
However the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship to which Copeland’s church belongs isn’t the same thing. It’s not that the CBF is super-progressive, but members typically support church/state separation. And unlike the Southern Baptist Convention, the CBF doesn’t have some list of positions everyone must adopt; instead, the CBF gives member churches autonomy to decide their own paths forward, even on controversial moral issues.
There’s nothing I found on First Baptist Church’s Facebook page that tells me they’re anti-LGBTQ or anti-drag or anything of the sort. They do take advantage of resources from larger (conservative) Baptist groups, for Vacation Bible School or missionary trips, but again, I’m just not seeing examples of right-wing propaganda emanating from the church.
So I ask again: Who cares what Copeland is doing in his free time?
Incidentally, several years ago, the website Gawker was rightly criticized after outing the brother of an Obama administration official who was caught up in a sleazy sex scandal. What was the purpose of publishing that story? Why was it relevant for readers? Who knows. The website’s owner ultimately decided there was no benefit and the story was taken down.
The point is: Just because someone may be a prominent figure, even locally, doesn’t mean their private life deserves to be made public. There ought to be a damn good reason for it.
That reason doesn’t exist here.
It’s entirely possible Copeland is a hypocrite and I just haven’t seen the proof yet. If that’s the case, then I reserve the right to destroy all traces of this article. Someone send me the relevant links and I’ll gladly celebrate the fact that he was called out for his deceit.
Until then, though, I urge people to hold off on taking a victory lap.
Everyone—even pastors and public officials—should be allowed to indulge in their fantasies without having to worry about what everyone else thinks. If their “sins” aren’t hurting other people, I don’t really care what they do behind closed doors. Even when public officials do something scandalous or immoral, I don’t necessarily think it ought to be a major story unless there’s hypocrisy in play (e.g. Lauren Boebert).
So, yes, Copeland saw Trump after his community dealt with a natural disaster, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he supports the guy. There’s no indication he’s used his position as mayor to advance anti-LGBTQ policies. There’s no sermon I’ve seen where he says LGBTQ actions are inherently sinful.
But there are plenty of pictures of him wearing racy outfits… so I guess we’re supposed to make him a pariah?
Everyone needs to get a grip. Or at least give us a better reason for why his outing is warranted.