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: firstname.lastname@example.org – 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?