All posts by Phil Brockett

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.


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.

Lynda McGraw: “My Beloved Brother”

Ralph Sturdy opened the doors of conversation in the Covenant Companion, and now this blog and Facebook page. I think now I can take a stand with others… Thank you.

There have been SO many times I have written this letter in my head and, more importantly, in my heart.  I was a coward. For years I thought it was to protect my brother’s memory, and other times I thought the Covenant was not ready. What if the door was slammed shut tightly and it was I who forced the issue? I did not want to hear the talk – it was my beloved brother that would be left out.  My dear friends have known my struggle. What if I put it out there and the church dismisses it, dismisses him, dismisses me?  After the line is drawn in the sand, what then? Can I straddle it?  I brag that the Covenant is very inclusive –  women ordained for the the pulpit? – infant baptism or dedication – praise songs or traditional hymns?  We are a modern church.  But alas the gay issue has been a very sticky subject – and an oh so personal one for me.

So here it is: my brother Mark was gay.  He was a wonderful, caring man who loved God.  Yes, you do hear the past tense.  He died in 1996 under the shroud of guilt and shame of AIDS.  He kept the secret that he was gay from his extended family, many of his friends, and for some time even me.  He was afraid that we would leave him out there– all by himself.  He had been told that he was not worthy of God’s love or even ours.  He did not dare bring his friends or his life into the shadows, let alone the limelight.  He attended functions alone for fear of being known.  Family weddings he was stag,  badgered by many “When are you going to get a nice girl and settle down?” I cannot tell you from how many people he hid who he really was, even from me his dear sister – his best bud.  For a while I was kept in the dark.   He worried what I might say.  I cannot tell you how that breaks my heart.

But he did have good reason to hide. One of our “Christian” relatives showed up at his door spouting the idea of “change your ways or Hell will welcome you on the other side.”  Mark did eventually share with me all of who he was and there is NO WAY I could say he was trash. He was Mark, the man who loved cats and a good book, who brought Christmas gifts to a friend’s kids when her husband walked out, and who stepped up as a class act in many situations. My husband and I visited with him and his partner, James, and my children carry his name as a badge of honor.  Do not get the idea that he was all alone, but the church did not welcome him or at least he did not trust it to open its arms. Neither did I trust the church.  I played my cards close – ever so close to the vest.  I could not take the chance that he would be left out in the cold.

Time went on and he became sick. Along with the illness came the “you deserve it – God’s curse.”  I held his secret of identity and health, and our family hunkered down together.  I said nothing at church: no requests for healing or understanding. I dared not.  Instead I sat in the pew, silent and steely.  Our pastor called when his obituary appeared in the paper, but I did not share much.  I am not sure if I was ashamed for him, for me, or for the church in general.

As years went by I could share in our writing group about the loss of him, but not all of who he was. I was raw and I felt I could not deal with anyone who would question his value.  I even worried about how my children would be treated and warned them that they may not want to share too much in school or church because some people might not understand.  Someone might disparage their uncle  of whom I spoke so lovingly, and they would not know what to do.

There have been several instances where I have met people at Camp Squanto or Pilgrim Pines and they ask about Mark.  I respond with his passing, but am afraid to say of what – because the assumption is that since he was gay he was a lost soul.  I am still protecting him even now. No one should think poorly of my brother. Maybe I have not given many the chance to step forward and show inclusion.  That has been much too frightening. If it is a bad reaction then I might have to walk away from my church.  What then?  A line drawn in the sand: Mark or my church?  Mark trumps.

So, there you have it.  My beloved brother was gay and he loved God and God loved him.  His memorial service was held in a Covenant church with a carefully invited crowd:  his partner of 10 years, James, his parents, his brother, me, and the trusted friends of all of us.  How sad it is that many feel the shame or fear to be themselves.

I “mark” a January day – yes, his name resonates with the verb – to state boldly that all of us are God’s people.  We need to welcome all believers and stop closing the door.  It is a cold  Sunday when I place flowers on the altar at the front of the sanctuary to mark his birthday and then death a week later on an oh so cold lonely January night.

I so hope the conversation begins,  understanding ensues and the doors fly open.  What would Jesus do?  He was and is with all who believe,  rich – poor, male – female, and I do believe gay and straight.

P.S. Editor’s note. Mark’s life story inspired the 1992 movie, “Doing Time on Maple Drive.” Check it out! 

Anonymous: “It Gets Better”

This author was part the Covenant Church since birth, attended Covenant Bible College, North Park College and Seminary, and has done ministry in Covenant Churches. She no longer attends a Covenant church, but is writing anonymously out of respect for her family who does, and in order to avoid hearing comments that cause emotional pain from people in a church she has loved.

I had a dream a few years before I came out. In it I looked pregnant. In the dream, some people were telling me I was carrying a tumor and it needed to be cut out and destroyed. Others were telling me that I was carrying a baby and something precious to be born that was a part of me.

This dream was the start of my coming out process. For years I had been saying to myself “it’s a tumor, I have to kill it”. However, the more I tried to kill it through therapy and workshops to heal gay people, the more ill I became emotionally and mentally and spiritually. When you are not truly yourself, your relationships with God and others are not real. It felt yucky and fake to even think of dating men who I never felt attracted to. Everything about me felt fake because of the effort I had to expend to look straight. This tension manifested itself in suicidal thoughts and some unhealthy self harm, because despite years and years of trying, I was unable be straight. After my dream I realized that I was slowly psychologically aborting myself to be who the church said I was supposed to be.

After I had this dream, I reached out for help to someone who saw this as a baby and not a tumor. I did this because for me, it was either come out or die. I decided then that I would rather be alive and all of myself than living a life of self hate.

Coming out was not easy. My family still avoids talking about it to their fellow Covenanters even though they need support. I know they are not the only family with a gay child who are struggling.

In spite of the risk and how hard it was to come out, since then I have not had one suicidal thought. I no longer spend all my emotional energy trying to kill a part of myself. I also have found my relationships with God and others are more honest and real. I found Covenanters, some whom I didn’t expect, surprise me with their love for me even after they knew. There are amazing Covenant people at all levels of the church who get it, and who care for me even though I no longer have the option to minister in the Covenant Church.

After coming out I met my wife. A seminary classmate of mine married us. We now attend an Episcopal church which announces our anniversary right along with those of straight couples from the pulpit. We have found a place to minister and a church that accepts us just as we are. I do miss the Covenant Church. I also know God continues to do great ministry through Covenant people. I thank God for the Covenant who was used by God to bring my grandparents, my parents, and me to faith in Jesus. And that faith is what I take with me to the larger body of believers. It is my hope that one day the Covenant will be a church that sees no difference between my marriage and that of others. But for now I go where I am called by God.

And for anyone out there who is in the place that I was, hearing people say you need to get healed or change, etc., I want you to hear that it does get better. There are amazing Christian communities who will someday announce your wedding anniversary from the pulpit or put it in the bulletin with everyone else’s. You are worth keeping and if it takes leaving the Covenant to be healthy, know that God is not bound by one church. There are an ever- increasing number of churches who would love for you to join them and to minister and serve God with them. Although for now I have left the Covenant, the Covenant Church and the ministry of key people in it is something I take with me.

Bob Freeman: “O What Needless Pain We Bear”

Bob and Andrew Freeman

The school year was coming to a close and my son Andrew’s sixth grade class was scheduled for an all day field trip. But when we got to school, Andrew announced he was not going and refused to get out of the car. I was on my way to work and was not ready for a discussion.

“Andrew, you have to go to school. Get out of the car!” I insisted.

But Andrew has never been one to be easily persuaded. As we sat in a stalemate, a teacher passed by and joined the discussion. She showed more patience and asked a question I should have asked, “Andrew it’s going to be lots of fun. Why don’t you want to go?”

By this point Andrew was in tears. “I’ll just be spending all of my time with Paul and the other kids are calling us gay.”

“Oh Andrew, don’t worry” the teacher consoled, “you are not gay! It will be OK.”

She had the right initial question, and she got Andrew out of the car, but I wasn’t so sure I liked her response. “How do we know he is not gay?” I thought. “And what if he is?” Somehow I knew we had lost a teachable moment. It was a missed opportunity.

Fifteen years after that morning in the middle school parking lot, my wife and I sat in our kitchen one night and listened as Andrew told us he is gay. For fifteen years we hadn’t mentioned that morning, while Andrew struggled in silence and solitude. Was there something that could have been said that morning that would have been an opening for conversation earlier? This is the question I continue to wrestle with. I don’t have all the answers, but I can think of at least three things I know with certainty, three things I wish I had communicated sooner.

First, I have no idea why some of us are straight and some of us are gay, but I do believe that no one can choose to be gay just like you can’t choose your gender. You do not choose it, and you cannot change it.

Second, to those who are gay: it’s not your fault. There is no blame in being gay. There is no sin in being gay. It’s not your fault, it’s not anyone’s fault. It’s not a matter of fault; it is a matter of gift. It’s not an illness; it is by God’s design.

Lastly, as a parent I have to say, “It’s OK if you are gay. We love and support you, unconditionally.” Our family and our home will be a safe place for anyone who is gay, whether they are our children or our children’s friends.

If I had said those things years ago, maybe I could have spared Andrew some of the pain of finding his identity. Yet this is a conversation we should have with all our children, gay or straight. If they are gay, this might just save their life. If they are straight, they might not be the one to bully the gay person over the edge or might just be that one that befriends someone with the word, “It’s OK. I accept you as you are.” We cannot afford more missed opportunities.

This may be easy for me to say now because we have a gay child, but we also have three straight children who have not turned their back on their brother. I cannot say that I am proud of my son for being gay – he did nothing, he had no choice. But I can say that I am very proud of the way he has taken this challenge head on with honesty and dignity. And I am also proud of my family that has stood by Andrew.

As I said, I have no idea why some of us are straight and some of us are gay, but I also have no idea why some of us are so homophobic and some of us are so perfectly comfortable with accepting him as he is. Homosexuality is not a choice, but homophobia is. Since the start of this blog, many people who used to ask, “how is Andrew?” have stopped asking about him. I don’t know if they think we are uncomfortable talking about him or if they are uncomfortable talking about him. But they have stopped talking, and that is not the right choice.

I am not uncomfortable talking about my son, because I love my son. Do I wish he wasn’t gay? That is such a small part of who he is, but the pieces of the fabric of who he is are so interwoven that if I pulled that one piece out I have no idea what else of Andrew I would lose. Would he still be able to preach with the same intensity? Would his piano playing still have the same feeling? The Andrew I know and love has always been gay, but I’ve only known for a year.

This “issue” is not going to simply go away, and not talking about it is not an acceptable answer. Much of the pain and anguish that LGBT children in our churches bear is needlessly borne alone and in silence. The saying goes, “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” Homophobia is a problem. Will you be part of the solution? If so, we need to talk.

Rev. Sara Salomons: From the ECC to the UCC

Sara Salomons and son, Caleb

I’m a happy and proud graduate of North Park Theological Seminary.  My three years at NPTS were some of the happiest in my life.  I often describe my seminary experience as being womb-like.  I was fed and nurtured and loved.  My voice was heard.  My opinions mattered.  Pretty magical, if I do say so myself.

Shortly after seminary graduation it was time to write my application for ordination.  I approached it like I approach everything in life – with honesty.  One of the last questions of the application concerned human sexuality.  It covered the gamut – premarital sex, extramarital sex, homosexuality, and cohabitation.  I was asked to briefly respond to the whole of human sexuality in one small space.  I couldn’t do it.  It was such a huge question.  I didn’t even know where to begin.  I assumed I was to provide a brief and acceptable answer.  And I didn’t have that brief, acceptable answer.  I remember saving it for last.  How was I going to honestly answer it with diplomacy and integrity?  I spent thousands of dollars and three years of my life on training to become a minister, I couldn’t toss it all out the window because of this question about sexuality on my ordination application. Continue reading Rev. Sara Salomons: From the ECC to the UCC

Rev. Eva Sullivan-Knoff: Reflections of God’s Love and Grace

Eva Sullivan-Knoff and Family

When our son came out to us, his dad and I were moved by his pain. As parents, nothing hurts more than seeing your son or daughter in pain. It hurts in a way that nothing else does, no matter the substance of the pain. The same thing is true when there is cause for celebration in your son or daughter’s lives. Nothing fills a parent’s heart more than sharing in their joy. There is truly nothing else like that. Because of the love parents have for their son or daughter, they share their sorrow and they celebrate in their joy.

In the scriptures and in the church, we are given a similar message in our relationship to one another. In Romans 12:15 we are told to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” As the Body of Christ, we are to share each other’s heartaches and to celebrate each other’s joys, just as parents hopefully do with their children. It is one of the greatest ways we show our love for each other. Continue reading Rev. Eva Sullivan-Knoff: Reflections of God’s Love and Grace

Rev. James Anderson: Covenant Conflicts

Rev. James Anderson

Author’s Note: What follows are memories of one who has been in and about Evangelical Covenant churches all of his 80 years. Aside from consulting confutable memories, there has been no searching of archives for facts.

I was young, but not too young to figure out what was happening when scandal disturbed our bucolic Iowa farm community. A well-known young man had secretly married a divorced woman. I learned quickly that divorce was taboo, expected far away in Hollywood but not where we lived. It didn’t help that the man’s family had deep, founding roots in the Mission Covenant Church, or that he was part of our extended family. The couple stayed married to one another and part of that community the rest of their lives, eventually well-respected and admired, but they seldom appeared at my home church other than for weddings, funerals, and other obligatory events.

When I arrived at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago in the early 1950’s, divorce was a hot button topic, stirring opinions right and left—one side proclaiming, “The Bible says. . . ,” others declaring, “But the Bible also says. . . ,” on and on. The source of those arguments was a promising seminarian who had informed seminary and church leaders he would marry a divorced woman, an unheard-of infraction of propriety if not actual rules that must surely block his being pastor of a Covenant church. In those dorm room discussions, most assumed he would move to a more liberal denomination, as had others who were unable to accept restraints of Covenant theology and practice. However, his great desire was to serve in Covenant churches, thus the dorm room discussions, pale reflections, I suppose, of heated confrontation in ministerial boards and seminary faculty meetings. Continue reading Rev. James Anderson: Covenant Conflicts

Casey Pick: “A Broken Family”

Casey and Amy (L-R)

Over the course of our friendship, Amy and I have discovered that we are in many ways mirror images of each other – very similar in some ways, and yet such complete opposites in others that it is faintly ridiculous and evidence of God’s presence in our lives that we are friends at all. Given this, it was fitting that we each independently discovered “Coming Out Covenant” simultaneously. She found it because of her lifelong affiliation with the denomination. I found it because of my work as a professional activist fighting on behalf of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community who specializes in outreach to conservatives and people of faith. Together we celebrated its existence, and speculated as to what this conversation could mean for the Evangelical Covenant Church that we both love.

It wasn’t until one day as Amy – further proving her mettle as a true friend – was helping me move that she told me she’d been waiting impatiently for my contribution to the site. I will never forget the look on her face when I told her I wasn’t planning on writing one, that I didn’t feel I could. You see, this is a website for people who consider themselves to be a part of the Evangelical Covenant Church – and I didn’t, not really. Not yet. Continue reading Casey Pick: “A Broken Family”

Amy Beisel: “Family Ties”

Casey and Amy (L-R)

Casey is my dearest and unlikeliest of friends. In college she was assigned to live in the dorm that I shared with five Christian women, in a suite affectionately known as the “God Pod.”  Casey was openly gay and openly hostile towards Christianity.  After the things some Christians had said to her — that God hated her, that she was going to hell, that she was an abomination in God’s eyes — who could blame her?

During the year that we lived together, Casey was curious about the fact that we worshiped God and that we respected her, that we loved Jesus and also loved her.  She joined us at our Christian fellowship meetings and tagged along to church.  We even did Bible studies together so she could learn more about the real Jesus, not the hateful God she had heard about.  But as Casey came to believe that Jesus was God and that He might even love her, we had to confront one final, urgent question: Could she be gay and Christian? Continue reading Amy Beisel: “Family Ties”