“Surviving the Care of the Church” : Jack Woodin

woodinfamI grew up in the Catholic Church, and discovered the Evangelical Covenant Church 29 years ago when I met a wonderful young woman who would eventually become my wife.  Amazed by the Christian love and fellowship that I had not had in my life of faith, I embraced the ECC whole-heartedly.  I joined the church and in 1986, I was married at Bethany Covenant Church in New Britain, CT.  I had dreamed of this ideal life for all of my growing up years, and the icing on the cake was that it came with the incredible bonus of a new journey of faith.  In that church which eventually relocated to Berlin, CT, I learned about what it meant to follow Jesus.  A whole world of faith and family was opened up to me! Over the years of our marriage, through many struggles, the constant that kept us afloat was that abiding love of God and the gift of a loving, caring church family that walked with us down every road. I have worshipped, laughed and cried in that place and served in numerous leadership roles including a few years as church chairman. I have been heavily involved in the music programs and the eventual evolution of contemporary worship for the church.  As our church motto states, for me Bethany Covenant Church was truly a place where “people come to life!”

After 20 years of marriage, I found myself growing increasingly unhappy.  I had everything I had wanted, and still something was wrong.  My joy was leaving and I could not get it back.  I sought counseling and spent a lot of time praying and working through childhood issues and emotional challenges but not really getting to the root of my pain. I took a break from that counseling and in my alone time and prayer time I began to realize what was so terribly wrong.  I returned to counseling and in that first meeting with a new therapist I sat down and said, “this is what I’m here for”; “I have been married for 24 years and have a great life and family but I am terribly unhappy because I have realized that I am gay!” Just saying those words aloud was both one of the most frightening moments of my life and one of the most liberating ones.  This was not in my plan for my life and yet everything within me told me that this was the missing puzzle piece. That summer while vacationing at Pilgrim Pines in New Hampshire, a Covenant Camp and Retreat Center, our pastors Adam Phillips and Aaron Johnson talked about rewriting your story through the prism of your faith; looking at your past life, mistakes, patterns and trials and prayerfully setting out on a new path.   “The rewrite happens when you realize that the program for the first act of your life does not work for the second half”, they said, and I realized that this was true of my story!  I could not keep silently fighting the battle. My story was flawed.  I spent 2 years in that therapist chair exploring this new reality.  I worked through the question “how in the world can I change my life and somehow not lose all that I relied on?”  I struggled to know “ what the “right” thing to do was for both  me and my family? “ Not only did I fear the loss of my family, I feared that I would have to give up my church and that worst of all, that Jesus would not love this new me.

With the help of a great Christian therapist, I knew what I needed to do to make sense of my life.  I made a plan to have the “coming out” conversation with my wife. In January of 2013, we sat down and I dropped the bomb. There was no explosion!  She listened intently, quietly cried and then told me that she really knew or suspected for some time and told me it was okay and gave me the most gentle and affirming hug.  What a gift.  The conversation I had dreaded for so long was behind me and I could share with the person with whom I discussed and confided everything for so long the one thing I had kept  secret from her.  Together we talked and solicited help from our counselors to prepare for the eventual separation, and to make a plan for how and when we would include our kids then 17 and 12 in the story.  In June of 2013, we told them the reality about Dad and that ultimately we would divorce.  My kids have been a marvel.  They love and support me and are ready to take on anybody who does not.  They know that the same man who loved and cared for them and taught them about the love of Jesus is still with them. It is just that life at home will look different.

I had spent many years singing with the praise team at Bethany and I continued in that role.   My wife and I kept our reality very close to the vest and inside our family for many months. At the end of the summer of 2013, I decided that out of love and respect it was time to let the church know what was happening in our home.  After all, I had shared with the people I loved the most, my wife and my kids and the world had not stopped turning, rather I received love and support.  I felt empowered to have the same conversation with my pastor and include my other love, the church, in the loop.  My conversation with the senior pastor was very kind and I was greatly relieved.  At that point, suddenly the dam began to crack and the mood changed.  The pastor met with church officers to discuss our situation, and they made the decision that I could no longer lead worship and sing with the praise team.  Church leadership asked me to step out of my role in the music ministry. The message was that this “break” was only about the dissolution of our marriage and a breach of our marriage vows not about the fact that I was gay.  At the same time leaders and church staff learned of our situation, we found that questions about our marriage and our problems were a topic of discussion both inside and outside the walls of the church. Because of this, I chose to tell my story and sent messages to people within the church that I valued and told them what was happening with us. This proved to be very painful for our family. A private matter that we had been handling with great care and gentleness was now under a spotlight.  Forced to explain my absence from the worship team, we had to endure the watchful eyes of many in the congregation. I received hateful communications from a member whom I hardly knew.  Dear friends who once lovingly engaged with me now completely turned away and ceased all communication.  A letter stating the “decision” of the church was hand-delivered to us.  It felt like our innermost concerns were now “posted” at the church for all to see. The letter referred to a period of reflection and “care” from the church, but it felt like punishment and rejection. I had heard that term “under care” used before when clergy members were involved in personal struggles, but the difference was that I am not a pastor and not even on church staff.  My only public role was singing worship songs on Sunday mornings. How could this church, where I had learned about Christian love, and  faithfully following the teachings of Jesus, now push me away? I was blindsided.

Where we are now is complicated.  I have moved out of the home and we are finalizing the legal separation that is inevitable for our family.  We are a family forever and our love and care for each other has not diminished. Initially in our pain and surprise during this period of “care”, we avoided being present at the church, but we realized that our kids loved it and wanted to be there. We wanted to support them as well as teach them about how you face adversity particularly within a family and what we do when the going gets tough.  “No running away.”  We also knew that the majority of our social connections and extended “family” were there. Being absent from there was a tremendous loss for us all.  Last fall, I attended a men’s retreat at Pilgrim Pines lead by Pastor Judy Peterson from North Park Seminary.  Judy and her preaching has had a tremendous impact in my life.  My thought going into that weekend was that I needed to find some private time with Judy to ask “what do you do when you know that Jesus loves you and the church doesn’t?” I never asked the question because in her message she gave me the answer.  The message was that Jesus loves me and wants care for me in a gentle and loving way.  I do not always have to be strong and just as Jesus told the disciples in the boat when they were afraid of sinking “do not be afraid.”  Judy said Jesus is telling us, “don’t focus on the storm, don’t look at the wind; don’t look at the waves… look at me and you won’t be afraid.  I wept as Judy prayed and I knew we were going to be okay.  This message was so simple and yet so profound.  Jesus is my strength; the church and all the politics and awkwardness are the storm and I can endure if I keep my eyes on Him.

We continue to attend and wait for God to show us if this remains our home.  So many dear friends in the congregation have stood with us and loved us, and for them I am eternally grateful.  Will I ever return to full “citizenship”?  The answer is unclear. In January 2014, I again met with the pastor and church chair.  I posed the question, “when my divorce is behind me, when and how will I be fully welcomed back?”  The reality is that I am a gay man.  “When the day comes that God blesses me with a new partner, will it be okay for me to worship with that man in my church?” The State of Connecticut says I can be married to that man if I choose, but the church does not.  “Would I be asked to take another break?” The response was that this is something that the church will need to work through before I will have my answer.

I know in the depths of my heart and soul that when God created me he did not make a mistake – I just did not understand or see the beauty in his creation for a very long time.  In my early years, I neither saw nor wanted to see it, and then later when I did see it, I fought so hard to live the life to which I thought I had been called.  Doing so nearly destroyed me.  I am a child of God and a follower of Jesus.  I am a sinner saved by grace that can now live life to its fullest and trust that God is pleased with me. The Covenant church has been my teacher, my pastor and my friend for 29 years, so I would like to stay and help the denomination evolve in their position on homosexuality, but I also know that I need to be somewhere that I can be my true self.  I believe in the value of the Covenant Church, and my prayer is that time and good communication will shed a positive light on the subject and lead to change.  I believe the people in leadership in my church are truly people who desire to do what is right and do not harbor ill feelings toward me but they are people with their own preconceived notions, fears and baggage.  The challenge will be for leadership within the local church and the denomination to discern when it is time to lead the people through this difficult discussion and to take a stand from a place of love. Then, the “care of the church” will look much more like love and acceptance rather than punishment and judgment. I would like to think I would be there when it happens but time will tell.  At the moment I am standing tall under the “care” of the church and resting in the knowledge that I am a child of God… fully loved and fully accepted.  This church struggle is only the storm, the wind and the waves, because when I lift up my head, I see Jesus and I am not afraid!

Posted in Allies, Family, LGBT, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Calling All Parents…..

“Mom, I have something to tell you…I’m gay”.  ”Dad…I think that I am in the wrong body, I think that I am really a boy”.  

(Coming Out Covenant is pleased welcome guest poster Laura Statesir from the Marin Foundation and to invite your participation in developing resources for families of LGBTQ children.)

One of the most difficult and life changing statements a parent can hear is that of their child coming out to them.  When your daughter tells you she’s bisexual or your three year old son insists that God made a mistake and he is really a girl, what do you do?  Like a bomb being dropped, this revelation has the potential to tear families apart.  Parents often feel scared, angry, confused, anxious, hopeless, and very alone.  Their hopes and dreams for their children are shaken and replaced with fears of discrimination, AIDS, and stigma.  For parents of the Christian faith, the questions may be even more complicated.  What does the Bible say?  How will my church react?  Will my child go to hell?  What does this mean for my faith?

The Need:

Over the years the Marin Foundation has received numerous requests for help, guidance, and advice from the parents and families of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) children.  Most of these parents identify as Christian and are struggling to reconcile their faith and the sexuality or gender identity of their child.  Although many resources exist for the parents and families of LGBTQ children, few of these resources offer a framework for exploring this issue from a loving Christ-like perspective.  Therefore, the Marin Foundation is launching a Parent Resource Initiative to identify the needs of Christian parents of LGBTQ children and then develop new resources to help them keep their faith AND love their child at the same time.

The Marin Foundation: 

The purpose of the Marin Foundation is to help build bridges between the LGBTQ community and the church in a non-threatening, research and biblically oriented fashion.  More information can be found on our websites, www.themarinfoundation.org and www.loveisanorientation.com

WE NEED YOUR HELP!!!  

Our goal is to interview 200 Christian parents of LGBTQ children as well as others involved in supporting families (therapists, support group leaders, etc.).  We want to hear your story! 

We are looking for a representative sample of parents from all over the United States, of all ages, ethnic backgrounds and ranges of Christian beliefs.  Whether your child came out to you two days ago or twenty years ago, we would love to hear about your experience. 

Participation consists of a written survey and an interview.  The interviews generally take 1 to 2 hours and can be done in person (within the Chicago area), over the phone, or through Skype at your convenience.  The survey is online and takes about thirty minutes to complete.  All information is kept confidential.

A Safe Space

We would like to provide a safe space for you to share your story without fear of condemnation or judgment.  Regardless of your religious, cultural, political, or other views on this subject, we want to know what this experience has been like for you.

To Participate: 

Please contact Laura Statesir at the Marin Foundation for more information.   You can email her at Laura@themarinfoundation.org or call 773-572-5983.

Posted in Allies, LGBT, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Rev. Alden Johnson: “A Grandfather Speaks”

“Grandpa, can I hold your hand?” asks my four-year old granddaughter as we walk on the sidewalk of South Street in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. “Of course!” is my enthusiastic response. Soon her twin sister catches up to us and wants to hold my hand as well. Not much can make a grandparent happier that holding hands with his twin granddaughters. Of course, they know that at a street crossing, they must hold the hand of an adult. They’ve been taught that by their mothers.

“Their mothers” is not a typo. My granddaughters have two mothers. One is, of course, our daughter. They live in a neighborhood where a two-mom family doesn’t raise eyebrows. Their preschool has two-mom families, two-dad families, single-parent families, mom-and dad families. It’s just the way things are. The church that our daughter and her spouse attend has the same family diversity. The lead pastor is openly gay and lives with his same-gender partner. It is not an issue! A walk in the park reveals ethnic diversity and different family constellations. Could this be a fulfillment of the prayer we repeat Sunday after Sunday, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven?” I’m confident the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”

Yes, the word “spouse” was not a mistake either. Our daughter and her partner were united in marriage by a Presbyterian clergywoman who later made national news when she was reprimanded for performing another same-gender wedding. (Charges against her were recently dismissed.) It was a lovely ceremony with about 100 family members and friends gathered to celebrate the occasion. Incidentally there were eight ordained Covenant clergy at that wedding as well as several members from the congregation that I previously served.  Everyone from our family was in attendance and wonderfully supportive of the newly married couple. It was a great party!  It is legal in Massachusetts for same-gender couples to be married. Shouldn’t it be that way everywhere?

Well, we mean to do our part!  This past June my wife and I co-hosted a house party sponsored by Mainers United for Marriage. This is a coalition of groups banded together to support the ballot initiative this November to allow same-gender marriage in the State of Maine, which was defeated three years ago. We and many others hope and are working for its success this time.  We believe that folks are increasingly aware that being gay or lesbian is innate and not a choice and that no one should be denied a lifelong commitment through marriage.

The picture may be becoming clearer–not only am I a grandfather and a father but also an ordained Covenant pastor, a graduate of North Park Seminary (Class of 1964), and have served Covenant churches for almost 30 years. Furthermore, I am passionately committed to the notion that people, no matter what their God-given sexual identity, have the right to formalize Their love for another person through marriage. As for many, this stance and these convictions didn’t just happen. There are stories, events along the way, that helped to mold what I stand for now.

The religious stance in my childhood home was conservative and evangelical. We didn’t talk about sex and most certainly didn’t discuss alternative sexual identities. I have faint recollections of high school locker room comments about someone being “gay,” but I’m not sure I was aware of what that meant. Reflecting on my two years at North Park College(1956 – 58), I don’t recall thinking of classmates being lesbian or gay. However as time went on and my awareness progressed, I began to hear that some were. Later, with further thought and exposure, my rational response to the “gay issue” was one of openness and acceptance, although my visceral reaction to same-sex couples showing affection was discomfort.

Another “marker event” occurred in March, 1987. I had served the Covenant Congregational Church of Waltham, Massachusetts for 13 years. Two other churches, both American Baptist, and our church sponsored a Lenten Study Series entitled, “A Christian’s Look at Social Issues.”  I was the primary organizer. One session topic was “Alternative Life Styles—Homosexuality.”  Twenty five years later that doesn’t sound very dramatic, but if any readers can place themselves in that moment in time in a Covenant church along with two Baptist churches bringing in a resource person (an ordained Southern Baptist and PhD candidate at Boston University) to address this topic and lead a discussion, you realize that although it probably wasn’t quite “cutting edge,” it wasn’t far behind.

My exposure and comfort level were greatly enhanced in the early 1990’s as my wife worked in the graphic arts department of a nationally known magazine. Several co-workers were openly gay. Often at social gatherings with these folks we would be in the distinct minority as a straight couple.

Many of you have read Lynda McGraw’s poignant piece “My Beloved Brother” on Coming Out Covenant. I presided at her brother’s memorial service in the Covenant Congregational Church of Waltham in 1996. Mark had been in a confirmation class that I taught. His parents were close friends, so I had been aware of Mark being gay through many conversations with them. I knew that he had become ill and suffered beside them. I remember vividly gathering with Mark’s family and his partner, James, to plan the service. I wanted to be fully supportive. I hope that I was. It was a beautiful moment in the sanctuary of the Waltham church.

Because I’m a Covenant pastor, some will wonder how I can assume this open, affirming stance on LGBT issues. How can I disregard Scripture passages that seem to condemn homosexual behavior? My answer is neither profound nor unique. I simply ask, “How can we expect the biblical authors to have a positive approach to homosexuality without the evidence and insight we have now?” Why can we not label these verses as culturally tainted as are passages presuming that the earth is flat, slavery is acceptable, women must not speak in church  (certainly not with an uncovered head), divorced people must not be pastors, etc., etc.?  Peter Gomes’s The Good Book brought clarity to my thinking about these Biblical injunctions. He calls typical church views of homosexuality “the last prejudice.” I’m not sure I agree it’s the “last prejudice,” but it’s surely a prejudice the church should fight to eradicate. I’m absolutely convinced that, facing a choice of Scriptural interpretation, love of neighbor trumps everything.

Obviously I am very troubled by the current stance of our denomination, but I am confident that as our society progresses in understanding and affirmation, so the Covenant church will eventually grow. Other denominations have taken the lead and yes, have paid a price, but I suspect God cares more for people and principle than for impressive statistics!

In my 74 years, I’ve shed notions here and there and acquired new understandings along the way. I thank God and the people who have aided my growth. I intend to work and support to the best of my ability in my remaining years those principles that have become part and parcel of my being.  Of course, there will always be time to enjoy my beautiful granddaughters, watch them grow and become gracious women, and be thankful for their mothers who have given them life and, like all mothers, want all that is good for their children. That makes me as happy as my grandaughters wishing to hold my hand does now!

Posted in Allies, Clergy, Family, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 21 Comments

I Am Being Weaved: Matt Vickers

I am Gay and I am Christian.

I am done hiding. My past has laid a lot of burdens on me and I couldn’t be happy and I couldn’t be myself.  For so long, I had no idea who I was, I was afraid to be who I was and was afraid what people would think of me. I battled with identity issues for a long time and was afraid to confront them.

So here I am and here is my story. I graduated from North Park Spring 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Advertising and a Certificate in Nonprofit. Like I said, my past has laid a lot of burdens on me. For 20 years, I kept a lot of pain and suffering to myself. I did not want it to contain me any longer so I told a few of my friends and began questioning my sexuality and began drinking heavily to ignore my insecurities. As I continued to drink heavily and created a new addiction to porn I did what I knew best and that is to run. I continued to run from my insecurities and ignored all the emotions and issues that were bottled up. I didn’t know how to deal with my emotions and never had friends that cared about my personal life. As I continued to run, I pushed away friends and did not allow anyone in.

At this time, I wasn’t part of a community until I transferred to North Park. The community at North Park was loving and supportive but I was too afraid to expose myself.  I just continued to drown my emotions and pain with alcohol and continued my porn addiction. I did what I knew best, and that was to not allow people in my life and continue to drink. As I continued these habits, in the fall Semester Junior Year I began to slowly collapse and slipped into depression and took off the semester. As I began counseling, I was afraid of the outcome so I did what I knew best and that was to run, yet again. It wasn’t until I met Amy (North Park Student), that I really trusted that there was a person in this world who would love me for whoever I was and whatever I went through.  She was the very first person I allowed into my personal life and she was my very best friend from that point on.  I relied on her prior to graduating where things began to collapse quickly and I slipped into a deep dark depression that changed my life dramatically.

At this time, I left my pride behind me and began counseling again. At that moment of joining counseling I knew I had issues that would resurface especially my sexual identity. This was frightening because I had never allowed myself to be true to my sexuality or let it be exposed because I thought my family would deny me. When the sexual identity issues started to resurface I began to think I was ill for having same sex attraction. At the same time, I thought I would overcome the same sex attraction through counseling and the support of family and friends. As I continued to attend counseling the depression worsened and I began to have severe anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and no hope. Here is a blog from the midst of depression (October 27, 2011):

“Through this process, I have felt alone and afraid. More and more, I want to end my life. I feel that I have no support with friends and family; no one seems to understand. I repeat and repeat my feelings of sadness, suicide but nothing seems to trigger friends and family. Simply, I just need support. The hard part is not knowing what support I need. You can continue to try an help but it won’t be enough. It’s a continuous feeling of not having enough support and love. This continues to be a battle.

When I continue to reach out to family and friends; nothing seems to be done. When will family and friends support me, when I try and commit suicide? This is not what I want to do but when will they get it. I don’t want friends and family only there when something tragic happens, i need the support now.”

This is just a small glimpse of the depression I encountered.

Looking back, I think, how did I get through this? When I really think about it, I realize that it was a God thing. Each day Christ was carrying me through the depression. I say this because in retrospect I know there was absolutely no way I could have carried myself through the depression. (James 1:2-8)

When I really began questioning my sexuality and coming to terms with it I began to pray daily. I researched about homosexuality and watched documentaries. I knew if I was gay, I needed to know where it came from–in the terms of history and understand what the bible says about it. As I began to slowly come to terms with my sexuality I continued to pray and allow God to be part of this.

I remember the day; I finally admitted it to myself. I was sitting in my parent’s basement and admitted to myself that I am gay. At that moment, I knew for a fact, that Christ had planned that for me and I was born that way. I was proud and stood strong in my sexuality because Christ created me this way and so, I came out to my friends. All my fears and thoughts about being abandoned, abused and not loved by friends were torn apart. I remember my friend Becca saying, “Matt, I missed you and I love you,” and I knew that I had friends that were supportive and would love me no matter what. I felt comfortable in my own skin for the first time in my entire life.

Through the coming out process, my North Park Community was the biggest support system through the coming out process to my family and without them I would have never made it. My coming out process went something like this:

On November 9th: My parents asked me to stay home and wait for a delivery but fortunately the delivery ended up coming in the evening. I prayed all day and talked to my (North Park) friends and they prayed for me over the phone and told their friends to pray too. I was loved and blessed. On this day, I wrote my coming out letter and came out to my parents. The rest is my parent’s story to tell.

All I know is each coming out story is different and some people get denied by their family or their family is completely supportive. Whatever the story is, we are all there for each other and you have to find your family whether that is friends or a Church that supports you. Fortunately, I have both. My friends and Church are my family right now and I know that this is a process for my family and it may take a few years, or even 10 years.

My quote during all this: “My puzzle may be complicated but he still knows where the pieces belong.”

Posted in LGBT | 5 Comments

Evolution : Melissa Petersen

Melissa Petersen is a Christian, a speech therapist, a non-conformist, a dog lover, a kid lover, a feminist, a dancer, a quiet one, and a brave one. She lives in Seattle with her husband, her dog, her immediate family and friends. This was first published on her blog.  She says, “I write to keep myself from hiding.”

Our president has been mute about gay marriage for the past 3 years, and recently announced that he has finished his evolution and come out in favor. Finally. It’s not like we couldn’t see that one coming.

It has made me re-think my own position. Not my actual belief – that has been stable for a while (albeit, a relatively short while compared with the rest of my life). But my public position has been unstated, unclear, for some time. Hearing my commander in chief take the plunge has made my own silence more noticeable. Probably no one else has noticed, but maybe they have. And maybe even if they have not noticed, they should.

I grew up in a moderately conservative household, attending an Evangelical Free Church, with many surrounding influences much more conservative than my immediate family. In high school I was decidedly “anti-”, from both a civil/moral (“it’s bad for society, and/or unnatural”), and also a religious (“God says it’s wrong”) standpoint. It wasn’t until college that I started realizing what the real world looked like, and reevaluating my standpoint on many issues.

The first big issue I remember struggling with was women’s equality. The EFCM is “complementarian,” meaning that I’m a fully valuable person, but for reasons related to my uterus I’m unfit to do various churchy things, and am supposed to submit to all the men in my life. I vividly remember hearing a sermon in my childhood church where the pastor put three chairs on the stage–a big chair, a medium chair, and a small chair–and explained that [male] God sat in the big chair, men sat in the medium chair, and women sat in the small chair. It was an explanation of the “natural” hierarchy of authority in the world. In the sermon I was supposed to be comforted in my little chair by the fact that at least I got to sit in a chair (as opposed to sitting on the floor), and that men didn’t get the biggest chair. The pastor was apologetic as he explained that he didn’t make it up; it was what God said, and he was just letting us know. I got a small chair with a wobbly leg. The men got a nice cushy chair that was bigger than mine, and [male] God got the throne. I was not comforted at the time, and in college I had some knock-down-drag-out screaming matches with [male] God about that one.

A turning point was when I prayed to the Holy Spirit to either a) help me accept what I had been taught, if it were true, or b) show me how to rectify the truth I felt in my heart that women were NOT created as lesser creatures with the truth of the Bible. The Holy Spirit was alarmingly responsive; She immediately began to open my eyes and heart to better teaching, more historically accurate interpretations of disputed Bible passages, and theologians who based their belief in equality on the Bible which I loved. I was thrilled. I also left the church of the chairs for a Covenant church who saw me as a full person. That was nine years ago.

In between then and now I’ve had small awakenings around a variety of issues: global warming, evolution, education, organic food, capitalism, other issues of sexuality… I’ve definitely rejected many of the thinly-veiled political ideologies I was taught in Sunday school and youth group (“the truth” they called it), though none of those smaller rejections got me labeled as a heretic… yet. The Covenant church has been mainly supportive of these enlightenments, which has been wonderful.

Fast forward several years and repeat, only this time the topic is homosexuality. After watching the response of Bible-thumping Christians to the issue (appalling), and successfully separating civil rights from religious belief (a separation that enabled me to see the grave injustice in denying civil rights to LGBT individuals, and support civil unions, etc), I was still troubled. I *wanted* to accept homosexuality, but hadn’t figured out how to do it and value the Bible also without the sort of mental gymnastics that require you to accept that 2+2=5. One of the events which pushed on me was learning that a close Christian friend of mine was gay, and meeting her girlfriend. It took me a while, but I finally had the courage to ask the same question I asked back in college. “Please show me how to accept this hard teaching which I feel is wrong, or show me how it is wrong.” Once again, She gave me an answer with unsettling swiftness. I’ve now left the Covenant church for an “open and accepting” church, mostly for other reasons, but I wish the Covenant had been able to grow with me through that process. I’m happy where I am, but I miss my church.

For at least two years I have been saying “I don’t know” when people asked me what I thought about the morality of homosexuality. I explained that I used to think it was wrong, but didn’t know what to think anymore. It was a true answer at the time, but holding on to that answer now would be cowardly.

So I related to President Obama when he made his announcement earlier this month. He’s been thinking about it for a long time, and come hell or high water, the right thing to say is still the right thing to say. I applaud his courage, and am working on mustering my own.

I am pro-LGBT. I believe all loving couples should be able to marry. I am anti-LGBT discrimination. I do not believe this is an issue of immorality, or inconsistent with my Christian faith.

I’ve come out.

Posted in Allies | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Putting a Stake In The Ground

Tim Johnson is a Covenant “preacher’s kid” and rare books librarian at the University of Minnesota. He has an undergraduate degree in history from North Park College and graduate degrees in Library Science and Theological Studies. For eleven years Tim was the archivist for the Covenant Church and  North Park University. He is married, has three children, and a twenty-month-old granddaughter. 

“Regardless of what moral or theological positions churches hold regarding gay and lesbian sexual behavior, all Christians can and should unite around a commitment to defend people’s basic rights. But the church cannot in good conscience take a passive approach to this question. It is, after all, other Christians who often have taken the lead in this thinly disguised but mean-spirited assault on human dignity. Biblically based Christians who operate out of a more loving and compassionate framework must meet the challenge head-on and forcefully oppose homophobia.” — Jim Rice, Sojourners

What is amazing to me is that the above lines were penned eighteen years ago—and we’re still debating the issues. With this in mind, two seemingly unrelated events from last weekend continued nagging my spirit. The first occurred Friday evening, a retirement party for a colleague with whom I’ve worked closely. It was a delightful occasion held in the air-conditioned pavilion of a downtown park, complete with excellently catered food and drink, sweet cake, and a short program of recognition, including gifts from his friends and a letter from the President of the United States. The second event transpired during the Sunday morning worship service at my church. We were asked to think a bit about why we are a church, why we gather on Sunday. As part of that reflection the congregation was invited to read together the church’s “purpose statement” from its constitution: “We covenant to cultivate a community of worship committed to prayer, preaching and study of the word of God, the celebration of the sacraments, and fellowship across gender, race, age, culture, and class. In so doing we covenant to equip loving, giving, growing Christians to reach out with the good news of Jesus Christ, evangelizing the lost, ministering to those in need, and seeking justice for the oppressed.”

It was the clause “…fellowship across gender, race, age, culture, and class” that grabbed my attention and troubled my soul. It troubled me because Friday night’s party was for a gay friend, on the eve of the Twin Cities Pride festival, I was one of the few “straight” people in the room, and at a guess most of the rest of the guests would have little or nothing good to say about the Church. And it troubled me because I really wonder whether we as a church believe what we say, that we can truly fellowship across gender, race, age, culture, and class. I have a hard time imagining many of my fellow parishioners at Friday night’s party. Impediments in the relationship exist on both sides. If my friend is any indication of the LGBT community’s general view of organized religion then we have a long way to go. There is a suspicion in the community, born of experience, that seems very difficult to overcome.

So I can’t really fathom the “big picture” here. I need to think in terms of small steps, of individual and discrete actions, that put me in “a more loving and compassionate framework.” That, in part, was why I was at the party last Friday night. I was there as a friend, to celebrate a generous and committed colleague. He and I do not agree on many things; we’ve had far-ranging discussions on any number of topics. But when things really mattered, when we got down to brass tacks, it was easy to stand shoulder to shoulder with him. It was easy to stand with him when we were targeted at work through hateful letters, posters, and email by a Christian(?) pastor and his congregation from the Midwest. And it was easy to visit him in the hospital when diabetes and a faulty heart threatened to take him from us. That’s what friends do for friends. I don’t know that he’ll ever darken the church door. It’s not an immediate concern of mine. But his friendship is my concern, something that I can tend to. The rest I offer in prayer, to the tender mercies and grace of God.

It is because of that friendship—along with the relationships I have with many other LGBT colleagues (one of them a fellow“PK”)—and what I trust is a prayerful, careful, biblically contemplative approach to life that I need to now put a stake in the ground; I need to publicly state my opposition to the marriage amendment that will appear on the 2012 ballot in Minnesota. It is, for me, no longer a religious question. It is a question of civil rights, of political process, of friendship, of blessing.

The Preamble to the state constitution reads: “We, the people of the state of Minnesota, grateful to God for our civil and religious liberty, and desiring to perpetuate its blessings and secure the same to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution.” Our political ancestors understood the distinction between civil and religious liberties; they were interested in protecting both. They saw this in terms of blessings, not curses. We should continue to be about the business of blessing, of securing rights, not taking them away.

Posted in Allies | Leave a comment

Light and Hope!

While we prefer to publish author’s names sometimes circumstances require that we publish  posts anonymously. This post is written by a North Park Student.

I would describe my childhood as midwestern and suburban and my family as conservative and… well, conservative. I was a normal teen girl: loving to hang out with friends, being on sports teams, and going on missions trips. I fought with my parents about chores and grades. When I turned 16, pulling into the driveway 10 minutes after curfew seemed like the end of the world.

My upbringing was also heavily involved in the church. Some of my first memories are of watching my uncle preach while I tried to be quiet and patient in the front row. Some of my best memories are of spending summers watching God work in all the ways he does at church camp. And yet, some of my worst memories are of people of the church discriminating and degrading myself and my friends.

I am Bi. I figured it out the hard way by falling for my best friend in high school and since then, I have been taking the journey toward figuring out who I am despite that the people around me saw it as wrong.

It was a Tuesday night in September when my parents sat me down at the kitchen table. From their faces I thought someone had died. They explained that they knew something was going on that I was trying to hide, that what I was doing was wrong. I was given an ultimatum: cut all ties with my girlfriend and never see her again, or be forced to sit down with her parents, mine, and my camp director and explain our actions to all of them. I obviously, yet unwillingly chose the former and was sent to my room with two strict orders: to have no communication with the outside world and take the neatly written flash cards with bible verses on them and memorize them.

I was so broken and angry I don’t even remember most of the next week. Days later I was able to find a phone during school and call my girlfriend to tell her everything. I heard her voice break on the phone as if someone had kicked her in the stomach. We told each other how much we meant to and loved one another, and that was the end of it all.

My parents did everything you aren’t supposed to do when you find out your child is gay. I was angry at them for using my God, the God that loved the WHOLE world and brought my relationship together, against me. I was angry at how I was supposed to sweep a year of my life under the rug. They selfishly asked me to pretend I was happy so that everyone in our lives, including them would think that they didn’t have a messed up kid. Throughout all this, I kept quiet. Not to tend to my parents wishes, but because I started to believe them. For over a year, I didn’t tell even my closest friends. I sought after God and had to convince my parents again and again that I could be a “good Christian girl” and be in love with one too.

The rest of high school was a blur after that. I didn’t have a doubt in my mind that I wanted to be able to live in the community of a Christian college. Growing up in northern Indiana and longing to live in the city, Chicago was an obvious choice. Leaving the familiarity of home and my parents was surprisingly healing for me and North Park felt like a new home rather quickly. Then, almost exactly when I felt I could go back home to work at camp that summer a new person, I got a phone call.

The coming summer was a whirlwind of explaining my past to camp elders while they juried on whether or not I was suitable to work there. In this situation though, I wasn’t the main victim. My friend that had grown up going to this camp with me was being interrogated because although she put her personal life on hold every summer, the parents didn’t want a gay staff member working with their children. I stood behind her as we fought with all we had to work the rest of the summer at our favorite place in the world. That July, it all came crashing down as we were fired and told to leave the premises within the afternoon for “endangering” the morality of camp. If our parents not approving of our lives wasn’t enough, our second family was kicking us out as well.

I think after everything that I have been through I have been blessed. Blessed that I have had a whispering voice inside me time after time telling me that the hate I see in the world is not of God. And although my story is probably similar to a lot of people out there, the one thing that I think sets it apart is the fact that out of all the communities I have been a part of, the Covenant denomination, and specifically North Park have been the most affirming and I have met so many people that stand behind me whether I am gay or straight. There is a long way to go, but I see Light and Hope in this place, and while I am here, I want to fight to nourish that and make it grow.

 

Posted in LGBT | 1 Comment

No More Silence!

Kathy and Don Anderson are life long Covenanter’s. Don’s hails from Jamestown NY and Kathy grew up in Omaha NE where they now live. Graduates of North Park University they are active members of First Covenant Church. Last year at family camp they shared their journey with their church family and now they are sharing on Coming Out Covenant.

Story by Kass and Don Anderson

Nothing could have prepared us for the news that our son, Erik, shared with us two years ago, when he finally had the courage to tell us that he is gay. We will never forget that day. You would think that as his parents we would have  recognized this  ….but it was not on our radar at all. Although it was both shocking and tough to hear, it was one of those pivotal lessons in life that has contributed to a significant transformation of our faith.

Erik realized he was gay when he was in middle school but had to secretly keep this awareness hidden for years because he was too scared to tell anyone. When he was in high school, Erik heard some condemning comments from his family about this issue and he began to feel truly alone and in a dark place full of hurt, pain, and depression. He became angry with God because he felt God wasn’t helping him. One night Erik was seriously considering ending his life and began to write a will. There, alone in his room as Erik contemplated ending his life, he heard God’s voice.  God said, “Why would you be alive if I didn’t have a purpose for you?” With those words God gave Erik hope and the realization that God loved and accepted him for who he was and is.

Looking back now, with the knowledge of what could have happened, we could beat ourselves up every day for our ignorance and insensitivity but our loving Creator reached out to Erik and protected him that night. So yes, we are forever grateful to God for intervening, and we are forever thankful for helping us learn and understand more about the love of Christ.

Both my husband and I are part of many generations of “Covenanters.” Neither of us recall having a discussion about homosexuality at church or have ever heard any of the church leaders discuss this issue. So consequently, we never had reason to form an opinion about it. So we just kept silent about this issue like the church seemed to be. The little we did hear about it was mostly from Christians who we respected, and their views were that homosexuality wasn’t natural and it was denounced in the Bible. Never having close connections with anyone who was gay and never having taken the time to hear any stories or testimonies of gay people, we formulated that same opinion….. until the day this issue brought us to our knees. So you see on that day that Erik told us he was gay, we knew  very little about homosexuality, but we knew a great deal about our son! How could he be gay? He was physical on the soccer field, always had girls eyeing him when walking through the malls, and he just didn’t fit the image we had of a gay guy at all.

How ignorant we had become simply because we allowed ourselves to be consumed by the silence that surrounds this issue and because we had no motivation to try and understand why many of God’s people were being subjected to judgement and rejection. After listening to our son’s story, reading about other homosexuals and their stories, through lots of prayer, and finally the power of the Holy Spirit convicting us, we have heard the voice of truth. We lost the nice and tidy view of the world in which everything fit neatly into boxes of black or white and right or wrong. In fact, we had been placing Jesus in a box. We were putting limits on his love and grace. Our son also shared that he believes sin brings people away from God and being gay has not brought him away from God. It has brought him closer to Jesus than he ever could have imagined. Erik had to depend on Jesus for strength, courage, and support when there was no one else he could turn to. Jesus REACHED out to him!

We are grateful to be given new eyes to see the real Jesus with. We share our story in the hope that it might help those who are experiencing a similar situation. But we also share this because we so desire that the Covenant church would not be silent anymore about this issue. We can no longer hang our heads, for in so doing, we are generating attitudes of judgement and hypocrisy. The task of the church is to understand that Jesus didn’t answer all of our questions. But we do know for certain that Jesus’ main message was to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself.” In 1 Samuel 16:7, it reads, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” All of God’s creation is good! We cannot exclude and determine who should be included in his kingdom or circle. We need to make space for all people and their differences. That’s the Jesus we have come to know.

Christian morality is trying to discover how we are to live a life that is consistent with who God created us to be. For heterosexuals and those of same-sex orientation, being moral means living by the love ethic of Jesus. Jesus was not silent regarding compassion toward those who had been marginalized as a class or group. The church needs to become the place where lesbian and gay Christians can learn how God wants to bless their relationships and empower them to share their gifts with a world that needs them. There should be no more labeling of people. The main concern for the church is that there are people who are Christian or non-Christian. The purpose of life as Christians on this Earth is to share the love of Christ.

What a wonderful opportunity for the Covenant church to show the world how Jesus commanded us to love. Let us not be silent anymore but accept all the differences that make each other unique. We would like to see the church get involved in deeper discussion on this issue by being open to listening to the stories of Christian gays and their walks and struggles. There is common ground in the struggles and the joys of all Christians. When congregations come together willing to discuss and listen, our knowledge will grow. The doors of the church should be thrown wide open for everyone. The body of Christ is about hooking our arms together and glorifying our Creator, encouraging and supporting each other in our walk, and going out in the world and sharing the good news of Christ’s love. God created everyone, including our son, for this purpose, too.

Posted in Family | Tagged , , | 32 Comments

VIDEO: Former Evangelical Covenant-er Rep. Drew Hansen Speaks in favor of the State of Washington’s Bill to legalize same sex marriage!

This week Washington State moved one step closer to becoming the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage when the State House voted, 55 to 43, in favor of bill ESSB 6239. The bill had already been approved by the state senate and now awaits Gov. Christine Gregoire’ signature and the inevitable challenges that will follow.

Of course this bill produced much debate which included testimony of Christian Representatives who explained that because of their religious convictions they opposed passage of this legislation, that is until Rep. Drew Hansen stood up to speak. Rep. Hansen quietly and eloquently describes why as a Christian he was voting in favor of the bill.  He mentions that he is a “PK” (preacher’s kid), and that his mother, a retired minister in the Evangelical Covenant church, would in the near future be giving the morning prayer in the state legislature.

Turns out that Rep. Hansen grew up in the Mercer Island Covenant Church although presently he and his family are now actively involved in a Lutheran Congregation. He himself is part of weekly bible study and prayer gathering at the state capital.

Our hats are off to Rep. Hansen, for making a difference for the gay and lesbian community and for helping the general public understand that not all Christians think the same way on this issue. His quiet and sincere way of speaking can not help but impress upon you that sincere and devout Christians (and Evangelical Covenanters) can hold differing understandings of what the Bible has to say about homosexuality. You will want to watch this video, and to “like it” and “share it.”  Our only sadness is  that while Rep. Hansen is a true “Covenanter” in the spirit of being a “Companion of all who fear thee” he is  a “former Covenanter” in practice. Rep. Hansen, thank you for your example of piety, love, and courage! May more people follow your example.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Coming Out Covenant Celebrates One Year Online!

Philip K. Brockett, Coming Out Covenant blogIt is now one year since Andrew Freeman and I launched this blog! Our purpose in doing so was give voice to our desire to see the Evangelical Covenant Church become more welcoming of members of the gay and lesbian community by creating a space for Covenanters to share their “coming out stories.” Coming Out Covenant is our first attempt at blogging and it has been both informative and rewarding. As a way of celebrating our one year anniversary I thought I would share 5 things I’ve learned from this first year of our blog.

1. First of all, COC has reinforced for me the power of the internet and social media to create community and to bring about change. Just a few years ago any interest or support for a more accepting view of gay and lesbian people in the Evangelical Covenant Church was limited to a small advertisement in the Covenant Companion. While I’m certain that many people across the covenant were rethinking this issue there was no way for people of like mind to communicate with each other or to offer mutual support for a different point of view. Now however, it is possible to quickly and easily establish “a community”within the larger Covenant community in support of LGBT inclusiveness. This is what COC is beginning to do.

2. Second Coming Out Covenant is part of a wave of change regarding homosexuality that is sweeping the Evangelical world. This past year, groups have been established at Wheaton College, (One Wheaton) and other Christian Colleges, Universities and institutions. (Resources from One Wheaton) Just as in the  past God’s Spirit changed people’s understanding of scripture regarding  such issues as slavery and the role of women, the Spirit is at work today to open our eyes regarding what the bible says and doesn’t say about people who are created in the image of God with a same-sex orientation. I am convinced more than ever that anyone who believes that change is not coming in the Evangelical world regarding this issue has their head in the sand and that wise church leaders and congregations are beginning to discuss and study this issue rather than ignoring it and hoping it will go away.

3. Third, the changes that are occurring in the evangelical world are coming from the grass roots up. The covenant does not have an ecclesiastical hierarchy which declares dogma or policy. We operate in a congregational system in which congregations function autonomously. The Covenant will become inclusive only as individual congregations decide to become open and affirming of LGBT people. This is how other denominations of congregational polity have progressed on this issue. I look forward to that day when individual congregations will have studied, prayed together and by congregational process decided that their doors are open to fully include our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. When that happens then we will be tested to see if can live by the historic covenant principle of “agreeing to disagree but not breaking fellowship” and by the founding verse of our denomination, “I am the companion of all who fear thee.” Our true and complete companionship needs to be expanded!

4. The response to our blog has been at one and the same time incredibly supportive and painfully disappointing. First of all THANK YOU to everyone who has posted, commented, “liked”, linked, forwarded, or reposted from our blog! This is how the internet works!  I don’t know how anyone can read the stories that have been published this past year and not be moved to tears. These are real human stories often of people who have suffered in silence, feeling trapped in their own skin, beset by the condemnation of others from the outside and self loathing from within. Many of the people who have posted have chronicled their experience of coming to a deeper understanding of God’s grace and acceptance that challenges my understanding of God’s grace and makes me leap for joy.

However at the same time I’m deeply saddened by the fact that so many people choose to stay on the sidelines of this issue. If you read the stories published this past year you must realize that our silence is creating an environment within our churches that causes individuals irreparable emotional and even physical harm. It is time for people to have the courage to let others know where you stand on this issue. Please understand I’m not advocating for argument or dissension instead I am advocating “for the freedom in Christ” that creates openness for respectful dialogue and which recognizes that there is room for a differing “biblical” points of view on this issue. While we are grateful for retired covenant clergy, and for Covenant clergy serving in other denominations who have posted and commented, only a few “active” Covenant clergy have made comment on this blog and only one “active” covenant pastor has written a post.

Many other clergy while sympathetic have chosen to remain silent. I understand this silence for it was only after I stepped out of serving a church that I found the courage to speak out. I am told by some that conference and denominational leaders have counseled clergy against associating their name with this blog for fear that doing so will limit their ability to receive call to a church. After all who wants to see anyone in this economy loose their source of livelihood? Despite all these factors I am forced to ask a question, “Where is the prophetic voice within our clergy and church leadership?” Who will be the prophets and the missionaries of this movement? Who will the Doug Cedarleafs of our generation?

5. Finally I have learned first hand the difficulty of being an activist. I think that I can speak somewhat for Andrew in this regard also. Perhaps you have noticed that this blog has had its periods of activity and inactivity. There have been two causes of this lack of consistency. First it has been due to the sporadic submission of content. Our foremost stated purpose has been to publish “Coming out stories” of people. These stories include straight people such as myself whose understanding on this issue has changed and more importantly the stories of LGBT people within the Covenant. Our reason for this is the belief that the one thing that changes people’s mind is knowing someone who is gay and hearing their story.

Most post submissions to the blog have come unsolicited as the spirit has moved. Typically when we have content we publish it but this is not completely true because the second reason for the up and down nature of our blog is the waxing and waning of our energy. While both Andrew and I feel strongly about this issue we live somewhere between enthusiastic activism and discouragement. We struggle with how much of ourselves we are able to invest in this issue especially when both of us have other dimensions of life that require our energy. Bottom line is we don’t want to be the sole carriers of this flame. If this issue is to move forward it requires other people’s involvement. So please don’t sit on your hands and think that we have it covered. If something moves in your heart regarding this issue then contact us. We welcome your ideas, comments, posts, and involvement in ways that we have not even thought of yet.

So that is what this past year of COC has taught me. I am curious what you have observed and learned from the “Coming Out Covenant” experience. Has it made you mad, sad, or glad? Are you empowered, afraid, or just so-so? Do you think we are prophets heretics, or apostates?  After all Jesus did say, “beware if all men speak well of thee?” So please post a comment on the blog or on Facebook.

For your information here is a score card of Coming Out Covenant’s activity for this past year.  From 37 posts, we have received 446 comments, 26,410 unique visitors, 71,279  visits, 451,045 page views and 543 “Likes” on facebook.  At first I was impressed by these numbers but I have learned that by internet standards they are small indeed and yet for a denomination the size of the Evangelical Covenant Church they are significant. Most important, I know for a fact that the blog has given individuals who felt they were alone and isolated, HOPE and comfort and the knowledge that they are loved by God and others and for this reason they no longer need to be afraid for the scriptures tell us that “….perfect love drives fear away.” I John 4:18

Philip K. Brockett 1-30-12

Posted in Clergy, LGBT | Tagged , | 8 Comments