“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”: Still Waiting for Repeal in the Evangelical Covenant Church

Andrew Freeman

Note: This blog was created for people to share their stories. Until now, I have mostly refrained from sharing details of my own. This is one part of my journey.  

Just over nine months ago, I sat on the piano bench in a church sanctuary, one eye on my music and the other on the screen of my smartphone. It was a Saturday morning, we were rehearsing for the upcoming Sunday School Christmas program, and between songs I was checking my newsfeed. The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell had finally come to a vote, and I watched anxiously as the results came in. When repeal passed the Senate, I kept my excitement to myself, picked up my phone, and updated my Facebook status: “well, the U.S. Military is now officially on its way to being a more open and welcoming place than the Church.”

My sarcasm had some personal bitterness mixed in. You see, I was serving as a closeted gay associate pastor to this Covenant congregation. With the recent disclosure of my sexual orientation to denominational leadership, my future in Covenant ministry was feeling in jeopardy. I only had a few more weeks left at the local church, just a few more weeks of hiding at work. I had come out to essentially all of my friends (except those who were related to congregants) and to my entire family. The last vestige of the closet was at work, around the people with whom I was supposed to have formed authentic and meaningful relationships. Yet these relationships were limited by fear – of hurt and division. I loved the people I was serving, but worried they might not love me if they really, truly knew me. I hid to avoid causing pain for all of us, but the silence was slowly killing me. I was tired and miserable and ready – anxious, even – to be free.

That’s why the news of DADT’s repeal stirred up some mixed emotions in me. On the one hand, it was certainly an historic moment in the LGBT rights movement in our country. And my heart rejoiced with those soldiers who would soon be freed from closets of secrecy and shame, finally able to serve with honesty and dignity. Yet at the same time, this news only drew further attention to the reality that the church is lagging far behind. I was angered by the revelation that I could now, theoretically, openly serve in one of the last places on earth I would want to serve – the US Military, while the one place I most wanted to serve, the place that has been my home, my family, my source of identity, the place I had practically pledged my life to – the Covenant Church, no longer seemed to want me. Months later, when publicly sharing my story, I quipped, “Ironically, I’m a pacifist, and yet as an openly gay man I now have a better shot at firing a gun in the U.S. Military than preaching the peace of Christ every week in a Covenant Church.” I want you to know how deeply it pains me to say such a thing.

Fast-forward to the present. As of last Tuesday, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is no more. Once faceless gay soldiers now appear on TV, names and faces fully visible. The veil has been lifted. A young man films the phone call to his father in which he comes out, and the video goes viral on YouTube. One can’t help but feel moved by these stories and celebrate the progress this represents for our country. Yet still I ask: what progress have we made in the church?

I chose to disclose my sexual orientation to leaders in the church after deciding that the closet was not a healthy or sustainable place for me to live. In response, I have been told two things: 1 – sexual orientation alone does not disqualify a candidate from ordination in the Covenant Church, and 2 – there are gay and lesbian Covenant pastors who, living in accordance with the ethical guidelines for ministers, have been ordained. So, in essence, I am not alone and I can technically still seek ordination. Good news in theory, perhaps, but not so in reality.

When I asked to speak with these other LGBT Covenant clergy for solidarity and support, no names were given to me. Apparently, they are all still in the closet. I suggested that my name and contact information could be given to any closeted clergy who might contact me in confidence. One year later, I haven’t heard from a single person. Not one. I’ve been told that I’m not alone, but my only company is anonymous. In reality, this is not a safe church for ministers to be honest about who they are, and so I continue to stand alone.  One can be closeted, gay, and ordained in this church, but what about those who feel called to live in the light on the other side of the closet door? Turns out, there are costs to “telling,” but those details are for another post.

I made the decision to come out fully aware of the consequences it might have on my call to serve the Covenant church. I felt as if I had been forced to choose between my call and my integrity. I had to choose integrity. Yet this is not a choice the Church should require its ministers to make: one’s call and integrity should always be interwoven. I do not question the integrity of the lives of those who have chosen to remain in the closet. I do, however, question when that choice cannot be freely made from a place of safety, personal preference, and prayerful discernment, but is rather driven by the pragmatics of church policies and politics. Choices driven by fear seldom turn out to be life-giving.

It may not be an official, explicitly written policy, but the cultural realities I’ve described here essentially form our church’s own version of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Not only is it unfair and unjust, it is also unbiblical. Ours is a God of revelation, who favors truth-telling. So I want to give others out there a space to safely tell the truth, even now. That’s largely why we created this blog, but for those who can’t yet risk such public exposure I’ve set up a private and confidential email: andrew@comingoutcovenant.com – write to me! I’d love to hear from you and walk this often-lonesome journey with you. Your story is sacred, and I will treat it as such – receiving it with respect, holding it in confidence. If the military can move past the days of serving in secrecy, isn’t about time the Church did, too?

  • Eva

    Andrew, thank you for sharing your story. It is powerful.  Thank you for your integrity and courage and for calling us to integrity and courage.  You set the bar high. I am privileged to call you friend and to share this journey with you. You are an inspiration and an encouragement to so many, myself included.  Your story is sacred and I honor it as I know so many others do. Thanks for asking the question.  I am reminded of Jesus’ words, “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Bless you Andrew.

  • Stan Friedman

    Andrew, thank you for sharing your story. I would like to address one issue you raise – obtaining support from others. I would not assume that the reason is because the others are closeted – though they possibly are. I believe this is a systemic issue unrelated to the issue of homosexuality. When I was placed under discipline and then care of the BOOM due to issues related to my bipolar disorder as well as subsequent divorce, I asked if they might see whether a person who had gone through the process would contact me to at least let me know what it was like and offer encouragement.  I was told that it was not possible. I also have been public about my BPD and success in dealing with it. On multiple occasions I have offered to speak with anyone who the board might be working with under similar circumstances, if the board thought it helpful.  As far as I know that offer of assistance has  never been made. It also is possible that the my name was offered, and the person decided not to contact me. The board was helpful to me in some ways, but this seeming lack of interest in connecting people is a serious deficiency in our care for one another.

  • Stan Friedman

    Andrew, thank you for sharing your story. I would like to address one issue you raise – obtaining support from others. I would not assume that the reason is because the others are closeted – though they possibly are. I believe this is a systemic issue unrelated to the issue of homosexuality. When I was placed under discipline and then care of the BOOM due to issues related to my bipolar disorder as well as subsequent divorce, I asked if they might see whether a person who had gone through the process would contact me to at least let me know what it was like and offer encouragement.  I was told that it was not possible. I also have been public about my BPD and success in dealing with it. On multiple occasions I have offered to speak with anyone who the board might be working with under similar circumstances, if the board thought it helpful.  As far as I know that offer of assistance has  never been made. It also is possible that the my name was offered, and the person decided not to contact me. The board was helpful to me in some ways, but this seeming lack of interest in connecting people is a serious deficiency in our care for one another.

  • Katy Fink-Johnson

    Very nice, Andrew.  I hope you will start hearing from people on your e-mail soon.  You know all too well how badly they need someone to talk to.

  • Alaina

    Thank you for being a person of integrity. Thank you for telling the truth about who you are. That, to me, is the only way we can be the Body of Christ – by telling the real truths about ourselves. And remembering that our God is a God of love. Pure love. This post really touched my spirit.

  • cdproulx

    Andrew.

    Having been in both the Covenant and the UCC, while hearing your pain on the lack of welcome within the Covenant it would seem that the UCC would be a welcoming and healing faith community for you.

    In Christ,

    Dale

     

    • Andrew Freeman

      Dale,

      Thanks for your comment and suggestion of the UCC. You are correct
      in pointing out that there are other faith communities that would welcome me
      and my gifts for ministry, while also affirming my sexuality – and their number
      is continually growing (UCC, ELCA, and now PCUSA). While these are all viable
      options worth considering, I cannot pretend that to walk away from my home
      church would not be painful or a new cause for grieving. And the point I feel
      compelled to make is that I shouldn’t HAVE to leave. The denomination and its
      seminary have previously affirmed my gifts and my call to ministry.
      Interestingly, I was gay that whole time; they just didn’t know it then. My
      gifts, my call, my competency, my character all remain the same as ever. The
      only thing that has changed is that I have stepped out into the light and
      shared the full truth of my identity, as God made me. As I said, I believe
      stepping into the light and truth-telling to be biblical precedents. Following
      the Gospel is often costly and can lead to rejection and persecution, I know,
      but I guess I (naively, perhaps) didn’t expect it to come from my own
      church. 

  • Tjdubuy15

    Dear Andrew, I certainly can feel your pain.  Your dilema is difficult for all of us.  However, you do have a open and personal relationship with Christ, do you not?  What do you hear him say?  God will never go against his word, but he can pull us up to a place of holiness.  Parterning sexually is not in the scriptures, but marriage to Christ is.  His betrothal is for the alcohalic, the divorced, in other words, all of us who don’t fit the mold

    • Tjdubuy15, the Bible doesn’t give any specific statement regarding monogamous relationships between people of the same sex, but it certainly does not condemn them.  And some few of them are apparently celebrated.  Nowhere does the Bible say that those whose sexual orientation is towards their own sex must commit to a life of perpetual celibacy and aloneness. 

      The fact that the Bible doesn’t offer specific directives to homosexually-oriented persons likely has more to do with the fact that we represent such a relatively small percentage of the population than with any intent.  I think it can well be discerned, however, that God expects from us the same sort of Chastity that God expects from any heterosexually-oriented person, namely, that we behave responsibly and lovingly within the context of our God-given sexual orientation, that we avoid all forms of exploitation of others, and that we seek to form bonds of loving, monogamous commitment to a partner with whom we covenant to share our life’s journey.

      Lifelong celibacy is not a realistic expectation for the majority of heterosexual persons, and no more so is it a realistic expectation for homosexual persons.  The church and its followers need to get past this prejudiced, man-made approach and realize how harmful, how damaging, how unnecessary and unnatural it is for human beings of any sexual orientation, as a rule.  It is unnecessarily cruel and hurtful, and drives away God’s GLBT children when Jesus is beckoning that they be allowed to come to him.

      • Keith Robinson

        Can you explain something to me? Where in God’s word does it speak about sexual orientation? I can’t seem to find it.

        What I read is about sexual temptation. So, I do believe that some of us are more susceptible to homosexual temptation, which is often called an orientation.

        I guess if a person chooses not to read portions of the Word it would be possible to come to the conclusion that the Bible does not offer directives to people struggling with homosexual temptation. It does, however, offer us clear directives about what to do with that or any other sin, sexual or otherwise. We would be wise to heed the counsel of our own Covenant documents as they share the counsel of scripture: (from the 1996 resolution)

        “God created people male and female, and provided for the marriage relationship in which two may become one. A publicly declared, legally binding marriage between one woman and one man is the one appropriate place for sexual intercourse. Heterosexual marriage, faithfulness within marriage, abstinence outside of marriage—these constitute the Christian standard. When we fall short, we are invited to repent, receive the forgiveness of God, and amend our lives.”

        If this is not our standard, we fall outside of what the Covenant believes.

    • Tonij

      Reply to Lorian, yes the bible does talk about our sexual relations.  Scripturealy, no sex outside of marriage. Both old and new.  Leviticus chapter 18.  Roman’s 1  Again we have a personal, fulfilling,intimate, opportunity to know Christ.  He is our peace.

  • Joey Ekberg

    Dear Andrew-
    I always envisioned us having a conversation over coffee sometime, but I didn’t want to wait until then to respond to you.  Andrew, your honesty and integrity amaze and humble me.  You have chosen to live an authentic life and risk its repercussions than be at the mercy of the dogmatics of the Covenant Church.  We don’t know each other well, but I have always felt a connection with you as a recipient of my parents’ scholarship when you were a student at North Park.  I have wondered sometimes what my elderly parents, knowing you at the Berlin church, would have thought about you now and your struggle as a gay man seeking to serve Jesus Christ as a Covenant clergy.  They hardly characterized themselves as liberals, but I saw them carefully nuance for themselves major societal issues over the years.  Civil rights. The Viet Nam war.  The ordination of women.  The need for the church to attend mightily to the needy.  They took their time and discerned issues not as monolithic concepts, but how individuals were affected and how people should be treated fairly and compassionately.  I’d like to think they would have affirmed you, maybe not completely understanding, but loving you nonetheless.  God bless you on this journey, Andrew.  And coffee is on me.

  • anonymous

    THANK YOU.

    this blog is one of the few things that are keeping me going.