The Church and Me  —  Pride Month Ramblings #30

It’s June 30, so today will be my last post for Pride Month. Thanks to everyone who read along and especially to those who commented and messaged me. I’m blown away by how many people were challenged or moved or encouraged or even frustrated with these posts this month. My whole goal in writing this month is to help people to see that this is far more than an “issue.” I’m a person who many of you have known and loved, maybe even respected and trusted, for many years. At the very least, I hope you find that you can’t talk about “the gays” anymore, because you’re talking about me and millions of people just like me. People with names and faces and families and histories and stories. Annie (by way of Janie Spahr) calls this “personing the issue.”

I want to spend a little time tonight writing about my relationship with the church. For nearly my entire life, church has been a foundational part of who I am. My weeks, seasons and years have been marked by the church calendar… Sunday morning and Sunday night church, Wednesday night youth group, Advent, Christmas, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost… As an adult, my life has been centered around the church. It has been my entire world in many ways. My friends, my co-workers, my family… all deeply rooted in the church.

So when I came out of the closet publicly and told people that I was planning to leave my marriage, I knew that I was making a choice to leave this world. I am not stupid. I knew what I was doing. But even though I was prepared, even though so many of my “mentors” who had gone through this before me, told me it would happen, I think I was unprepared for the sudden and complete silence. With very few exceptions, the resounding response from the church (my local church as well as former churches and “the church” in general) was… silence.

Now, speaking as a former longtime church employee, I understand. When something like this happens, people are watching closely. And as much as I hate it, this is definitely an “issue” for the church. I know at Redwood (and probably at all the churches I’ve served) there were very liberal people who couldn’t imagine why I would even have to resign, people in the middle who were just honestly confused about what was going on and why things had to be the way they were, and people who were vehemently opposed to anything that might move the church in a more progressive/liberal direction on this. And let me tell you, people are watching. If a pastor “likes” a page or a post or a comment, you can bet someone will notice it and make assumptions about what that pastor thinks or feels. I remember years ago “liking” the Coming Out Covenant page on Facebook and getting called out by a conservative church member. This was back when I was still conservative on this “issue” myself! But this couple was terribly concerned about what it looked like when one of their pastors “liked” a page that promoted what to them was clearly a sinful lifestyle.

It makes sense that since I came out last July, I can count on one hand the number of former colleagues who have “liked” or commented on ANY of my posts… Not just the gay posts… It’s very important that church staff members don’t do anything that could appear to be supporting my choices. I understand.

I have a friend who was asked to “denounce” me on Facebook. Just to make sure her Facebook followers were clear on her “stance on the issue of same-sex relationships.” I know another of my former churches was pressured to write a formal statement responding to my resignation letter, just to make sure the congregation was clear about how I was “distorting biblical truth.” There was, apparently, great concern that a false teacher like me might lead unsuspecting sheep astray. I have had five different former ministry colleagues reach out to me on Messenger with words of support and encouragement. They say things like “If I could comment on your post, I would…” and “Since I can’t post this publicly, I’ll say it here…” There is a very real self-censorship among church ministry staff. Their jobs and their families’ livelihood are on the line; I can’t blame them. I used to do it too.

To be fair, a few people reached out to me. I’m so grateful for those of you who had lunch or coffee or a drink with me. Thank you for showing me that you care for me and my family. Thank you for asking me about my journey, for trying to understand how I got to where I am. And thanks for understanding that I was going though the most traumatic thing I had ever experienced and for not expecting me to do everything perfectly.

One of the things that frustrated me was the assumptions people made. I remember running into a church friend at our TEDx talk in November. She asked me what was going on, where I was living, etc. She was astonished to hear that I was living at home with Luanne and the kids, that, in fact, I had never left. She said she had heard several people say how disgusted they were that I had “abandoned my family.” I was like “You mean how I drive the kids to school and pick them up every day? You mean how all of us have dinner together? How exactly have I abandoned my family?” Even now that I live in Rohnert Park (since February), I see the kids almost every day, and we make it a point to have family night once a week if possible. I never moved to San Francisco. I never left my kids. This was easily observable, and all people had to do was ask. We are all very open about our lives and how we are doing this “modern family” arrangement. Just ask.

I have learned not to speak for Luanne. She is capable of speaking for herself, and I have no doubt that when/if she wants to, she’ll do just that. But I can say that she has been supportive publicly. She did the original blog post with me, the Mission Friends 4 Inclusion video and the TEDx talk. And our kids have also been very supportive, both privately and publicly. I’m so fortunate to have a family that understands and supports me in this painful but necessary journey.

But this is problematic too. My theory is that the church simply doesn’t have a playbook for this story. They know how to respond when a man is a jerk and has an affair and abandons his family. They know how to support grieving wives and hurting children when those wives and children are angry and unsupportive of the philandering husband. But what do you do when the wife and kids, although they are hurting, although this is difficult, are ultimately supportive? What if the wife and kids think that this “sinful lifestyle choice” is ultimately best? My family actually thinks that it’s perfectly good and healthy for gay people to be gay. How do you handle that? You don’t want to send the wrong message that what their dad is choosing is OK. You don’t want to somehow indicate that this tragedy might turn out OK in the end. I remember someone looking me in the eye and saying, “Sure your kids are doing OK now, but just give it time. They’re going to be a mess.” Like he wanted that to happen! How messed up is that? Someone wants our family to fall apart just to prove his understanding of scripture and sexuality is correct.

I’ve been told by more than one person that I have “brainwashed” my kids. That they are secretly miserable. That I have destroyed my family. Sometimes I think that’s what people want. Because wouldn’t it be oddly fulfilling if I was miserable? If the kids lived messed up lives? It would prove, once and for all, that “sin” is destructive, that you can’t “shake your fist in God’s face” and expect to get away with it.

To be perfectly clear, the church has been wonderful to the twins. Even if it might be awkward sometimes, Emily and Zach are cherished members of the church and their youth group, Emmaus. They play and sing in the band, and they love and feel loved by their church community. I have expressed gratitude for this privately, and I want to say it publicly too.

Now I’ll make my confessions and ask for your forgiveness. Because the thing is, I understand. I get it. I don’t blame you, church. I know why you believe what you believe. I know why you act the way you do. Don’t ever forget. I AM ONE OF YOU. I’m an insider. I’m a true believer. I gave 17 years of my life to full-time Christian ministry in local churches. I know all about church scandals and burnout and people management and financial challenges and membership/attendance/giving concerns and “hot-button issues” and the politics of church leadership. I know you.

And the thing is, I vanished too, didn’t I? That letter came out on July 15 and that’s really the last you ever saw of me outside of social media. I never had a chance to say goodbye. I never had a chance to explain myself face-to-face. It’s one of the hardest things about the last year. I have grieved the fact that I basically vanished, leaving destruction and pain in my wake. I regret the pain I caused you, church family. I wish I had it all to do over again. I would certainly make different choices. I would certainly serve and love you better. I would certainly communicate more clearly. The conclusion would be the same, but the way it happened would be different.

I’m sorry for the pain I caused you. Especially to my colleagues, band, worship team and tech crew… I genuinely loved you, and I’m so grateful for all you did to lead people in worshipping God at Redwood during my years there. Thank you for your friendship and your service to me, the church and, ultimately, to God. Please forgive me for the ways in which I failed you.

Ultimately I believe that the church will come around, just like we have done on issues of slavery and women in ministry. I believe it’s only a matter of time. But in the meantime, I will continue to speak out, to advocate for what I believe to be true. This is a justice issue. It’s a righteousness issue. It’s time for the church to change its stance.

I want to close in this way: You have been invited into the story of my life over the past 30 days. Now I invite you to continue (or come back into) your relationship with me. I’m not going anywhere. I’m right here. I welcome your questions and your concerns. I’ll be a friend to you as best I can, and I’m happy to be a resource and support to you when your kids and grandkids and husbands and wives and nieces and nephews and best friends come out of their closets. Because, my friends, this “issue” is not going away. We LGBTQ folks are everywhere: In your churches and workplaces and schools and homes. And God is here too… Listen for the voice of the Spirit and look for the Spirit’s fruits. You might be surprised what God reveals to you as we all continue to walk this road together. ❤️