All posts by Andrew

An Open Letter to ECC President Gary Walter from a Gay Covenanter


Dear President Walter,

Andrew Freeman

As I’ve watched the unfolding developments in the Covenant Church’s struggle with the topic of LGBTQ inclusion, I have felt at various times anger, frustration, disappointment, hurt, and deep sadness. I grieve for our church not only as a gay man who cannot fully thrive under our current position, but also as a lifelong Covenanter who laments that the process we have followed in this conversation has strayed from the wisdom of our heritage and brought us to a place of such deep divide. I am writing this letter publicly, but welcome your private response and will hold our correspondence in confidence. I want to speak to you candidly, from one Covenanter to another, and there are a few things that I want you to know.

The first thing I want you to know is that I have been hurt by your words and your leadership. I have read and watched your remarks on this topic over the past year, and I want you to know how some of your words sound to the ears of one who is actually gay: they hurt.

When you describe my sexual orientation merely as an “attraction” that I must “navigate,” that hurts. It undermines the legitimacy of the love LGBTQ people feel for their partners. It reduces our relationships to an attraction and denies them any credible depth and meaning. And it suggests that our orientation is a burden rather than a gift. In short, it makes me feel that you haven’t taken the time to fully understand me or my life.

When you list my orientation at the end of a list of alleged sexual sins, right after adultery and pornography, that hurts. It is dehumanizing. It takes part of my identity and smacks a negative label on it. And when this is the context for your first mention of the existence of non-heterosexual individuals, it makes it difficult for me to receive anything that follows with a spirit of love and good intent.

When you cloak our denomination’s position on same-sex marriage under a broad discussion of “the issue of human sexuality” and say that our position is “a high challenge to all of us”, that actually hurts, too. It feels a little like saying “All Lives Matter” at a racial justice rally: Yes, it’s technically true, but it misses the point of naming the unequal burden placed on a particular minority group.

When my life is reduced to an “issue”, thus making me negatively one-dimensional, that hurts. Why must LGBTQ individuals always be spoken of in such contentious terms? Even within our stated position, can we not affirm that God has equipped LGBTQ individuals with significant gifts for ministry and that we have much to offer the church? We are not an issue, we are the Body of Christ.

In every correspondence that has come from your office in the past year, I’ve been lead to believe that LGBTQ individuals played little to no role in your discernment process. This hurts. It feels as if our stories and our voices are not important. It feels as if you are talking about us without a willingness to talk with us. It feels as if we are some sort of pariah or outcast you are afraid to come into contact with, a headache that you wish would go away.

I have been hurt by words you have spoken, and I have also been hurt by that which you have left unspoken. Over the years I’ve heard many unkind, even hateful, things said about LGBTQ people. While I have pretty thick skin, our youth and others across our church who struggle to accept their orientation or gender identity are extremely vulnerable. In an age where hate crimes and suicide and depression are significantly higher within the LGBTQ population, we need to be able to call homophobia what it is: sin. And the church should be leading the way in the opposition of hatred and violence in all of its forms. One of the ways the church is uniquely equipped to combat hatred is with our core message that ALL people are created in God’s image. Which is why our church’s silence in condemning homophobia hurts so much. If we aren’t part of the solution, we are part of the problem. Homophobia is sin, and our church is complicit.

Although your words and actions have been hurtful to me, the second thing I want you to know is that I forgive you. I know you are an honest and good man of deep and sincere faith. I don’t doubt that you have studied scripture carefully and have sought God’s guidance through these matters. I believe you have reached your position honestly, and that your intentions to love others are heartfelt. We may disagree, yet I trust that you are coming from a place of love. And even though our ideas of love differ, and that difference has caused much pain in my life, I forgive you.

The years I spent in the closet were dark years. I lived in fear of the judgment I would receive from the church. When I came out of the closet, I was surprised by the magnitude of the love and acceptance I received. The freedom I experienced allowed me to let go of my fear. I found a new sense of security, rooted in the knowledge that I am created and loved by God, gay and all. And that is part of the reason I am able to forgive you: I am able to forgive because of the affirmation I received from many in the wings of our church that spoke a love one cannot find within our current guidelines. Their ministry brought a healing grace into my life, and now it brings a threat to their ministerial standing. So I want you to know that I forgive you in spite of the church’s position, not because of it.

In a spirit of reconciliation, the third thing I want you to know is that I am committed to being your companion in this long and difficult journey. One of the most troubling aspects of the recently released guidelines for clergy and the accompanying resource on dissent was the suggestion that clergy who find themselves in ongoing dissent with the church have only two principled options: to yield to the church’s position, or to conclude their service with the church. Two options: yield, or leave. This sort of fork-in-the-road approach seems antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus, one who was consistently finding a “third way.” And it feels contrary to the Covenant I have known and loved, a church which has prided itself in finding a “via media” – a “middle way” – when faced with hard questions.

I believe that the Covenant Church is uniquely positioned in these contentious times. We can show there is a difference between hard and harsh conversations. Hard conversations are part of discipleship. They can lead to greater fidelity in our walk with God and in service. Hard conversations are entered to build up and make better. Harsh conversations are entered to win and destroy. They breed greater recalcitrance and polarization. One of our six affirmations is “the reality of freedom in Christ.” This means we focus on the evident biblical center of what unites us in Christ, not on peripheral matters not clear in Scripture. Within the boundaries of all of our other affirmations, we extend “space” to each other. The Covenant is not a self-contained echo chamber that only reinforces to each other a single voice or perspective. At our best, we speak into one another, not past each other. We want to live respectfully in the polishing cross-currents gained by wrestling with matters together biblically and with hope.

This is the Covenant Church at its best. It’s the Covenant I grew up with and served throughout much of my life. It’s the kind of Covenant Church I still believe in. And I hope that you still do, too, because I didn’t write that last paragraph – you did, in 2010. Your words tell me that in order for our church to navigate these troubled waters and find that middle way, we are going to need each other. And that is why I want you to know I am willing to have this hard conversation with you. I suspect many of my LGBTQ Covenant friends would similarly be willing to meet with you, if you would be willing to hear our stories. Will you have this hard conversation with us?

The final thing I want you to know is that I will pray for you and all who serve in Covenant leadership. I pray for your health and strength, and for wisdom and discernment to respond to the vast demands placed on you. I thank God for your commitment and dedication to this church and her mission. And I join you in praying for our dear church, that even in great tumult we may join together in common mission, for the sake of the gospel in the world, and for the flourishing of all God’s children.

Your faithful companion on the middle way,
Andrew Freeman

Mark Novak, Executive Minister, Develop Leaders
Dick Lucco, Executive Director of Ministry Development
Andy Sebanc, Chair, Board of the Ordered Ministry
Will Davidson, Chair, Executive Board of the ECC 
Council of Superintendents
David Kersten, Dean, North Park Theological Seminary



Author’s note: Through much of last winter, my mother Bev regularly spoke of how she wished she could have an opportunity to speak with President Gary Walter. “I just want 10 minutes of his time,” she’d often say. She died from cancer on April 17th, far too soon, and before she had the opportunity to have that conversation with Gary. My mother devoted much of her life to serving the Covenant Church, and she was heartbroken by the pain and division she saw being caused by our inability to have this hard conversation. My mother loved everyone with a fearless love. She wasn’t afraid of hard conversations, and in fact knew how to ask the hard questions that brought people together and challenged them to examine themselves and then look beyond the current challenge to see the bigger picture. She was an exceptional leader, she was a “churchwoman” par excellence, she was a true Christian. More than anyone in my life, she was the prime example of what it means to be “a companion of all who fear the Lord.” I miss her and her voice every day, and humbly try to follow her example wherever I can. And so it is in that spirit, and in her memory, that I have written this letter.

“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: – 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?

Remember the Other Question

"How goes your walk with the Lord?"

Last night as I was sitting in my bedroom reading, I suddenly became aware of the date. Exactly four months have passed since that January morning when I woke up, sat down at my computer, logged into WordPress, and clicked “publish” for the first time. I put a link on my Facebook page and went upstairs to make breakfast: oatmeal and blueberries – just another day in the life of the recently unemployed. I sat in the kitchen and ate my fibrous morning meal, thinking to myself, “who’s really going to read this blog?” I had already come out to my entire family, to most of my friends, and to nearly everyone I encounter in my day-to-day life. I imagined those who would see my link on their Facebook news feed simply saying, “Oh, Andrew’s gay; knew that already,” then keep scrolling. But by the time I returned to my desk, my inbox had started filling up, my phone was ringing, and Facebook notifications were coming in by the minute. At the end of the day, we had received nearly 4,000 hits.

To this day, I still don’t quite get how it happened. Continue reading Remember the Other Question

A Sermon for Good Friday

Yesterday, one of our readers shared a link to a Holy Week sermon on our Facebook page (you can click “like” in the box on the right if you haven’t already done so to support us on Facebook and get new post notifications in your news feed).

I’m sharing the link here in hopes that more people will see and read and pass along this powerful, moving sermon:

As I read this sermon, I was reminded how one of the things the evangelical church often struggles to do well is lament. When it comes to the treatment of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers in our churches and our communities, there is a deep and urgent need for us to lament. Today is Good Friday. Today is a day on which the church laments. Today we hear the lament of Jesus himself, from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That cry of forsakenness, loneliness, humiliation, and abandonment is echoed by countless marginalized groups today. May the Church give ear to that cry and always remember: it is the cry of Jesus. We must hear, and join in, the lament if we are to be able to bring the hopeful light of the Gospel. We can’t just skip past Good Friday. But even from Friday’s darkness, we can’t forget: Sunday’s coming.

(Also, be sure to go back and read yesterday’s post from Darlene if you haven’t already! We are grateful for her willingness to share her journey so honestly with us.)

“Above the Influence” (sermon excerpt)

Andrew Freeman

Several weeks ago, I had the honor of preaching at North Park University’s Sunday evening service, collegelife. At the time of the invitation all I knew was that they were beginning a series on characters in the Bible, and how we can “mind the gap” of 2,000-plus years between their time and cultural context and our lives in our world today. How can their lives, experiences, and stories inform us in the similar challenges we face today? Only later did I learn the specific topic for the night I was asked to speak: “living above the influence.” I was less than enthusiastic. It seemed to have old youth group “peer pressure” talks written all over it. They picked the wrong guy for this one, I thought.

I had to choose a character that exemplified a life above the influence. So I picked Peter. Yes, Peter. Impetuous, imperfect Peter. Peter, the one who stepped out of the boat in faith, and then sank. Peter, the one who vowed to follow Jesus even unto death, and then denied his Lord three times. In many ways, Peter was such a doofus. And in many ways, Peter was just like you and me. He sank. He denied. And still he was called the rock on which the early church was built.

Peter was a loser of a fisherman, not among the social elite. He didn’t hesitate at Jesus’ invitation to be a part of his inner circle. Just like us, Peter wanted a place to belong, he wanted to be accepted. But this desire for belonging would take over him in such a way that in order to fit in with an accusing crowd, Peter would have to deny his faith. And as with Peter, our innate desire to belong easily becomes idolatrous, which compels us to compromise.

I’m afraid the same is true in the Church, that great fellowship and place of belonging. All too often, we feel forced to compromise or to cover up truths about ourselves in order to find acceptance and welcome. We advertise with the message, “all are welcome here” while often communicating an implicit message that some are welcomed as second-class members. And so, for many the options appear to be to hide and remain accepted, or to be honest and face rejection. It’s no wonder that so many of our sisters and brothers sitting in the pew next to us are, in fact, hiding in plain sight. This has become the price of fellowship. It is denial. Just like Peter. Denial of one’s very identity.

When it comes to relating with members of the LGBT community, we like to disassociate ourselves from the purportedly Christian churches whose vitriolic speech communicates hate more clearly than love. But when we welcome others without offering them the freedom to be honest about who they are, and together celebrate and embrace all that God has made them to be, we too fail to communicate the radically inclusive love of the Gospel. Instead, we find that we’ve fallen under the influence of a culture of mere tolerance. Tolerance is convenient. Tolerance is cheap, and it is easy. But tolerance is not Gospel. Tolerance is a denial of the Gospel.

In striving to live above the influence, we must continually return to our baptism, to remember who we are and be thankful. This is the Good News of the Gospel: you are accepted. There is no second-class citizen in God’s Kingdom. There are no second-class seats at Christ’s Table. I refuse to tolerate second-class membership in Christ’s Church. And I refuse to deny the radical love and acceptance of the Gospel.

Here is a 17-minute clip from the second half of the sermon I delivered at North Park (complete with my sniffles and strained voice as I struggled to preach while at the peak of a cold!):

[audio:|titles=”Above the Influence”|artists=Andrew Freeman]

If you are interested, you can listen to the full sermon, about 38-minutes (which includes an introduction and the beginning of the communion liturgy), in the player below or download the audio file by clicking this link.


Rev. Arthur Nelson: Prayer

Rev. Arthur A. R. Nelson

Over many years my heart and soul have been churning with the desire to enable release and freedom for those in our Covenant family who have carried the pain and sorrow of the misunderstanding of their sexual identity and orientation, and in particular their disappointment with their church continuing to send clear signals of judgement and separation. I am deeply grateful that the current dialogue is finally become broadly public, which can only lead to a healthier and more loving Covenant family.

Here is a prayer that I wrote for my recent publication – Prayers Public and Personal – in its original form.

Holy and Compassionate God,
bless with your abiding presence and sensitive, loving, and faithful friends
those whose loneliness is deep and dark by virtue of their being
misunderstood and rejected.

Knowing that the issue of sexual identity too easily leads to the hasty
prejudice of others and sorrowful self-judgement, in the name and power
of  your son Jesus, who had unusual and unconditional love for those
often ostracized and moved to the margins of the culture of his time,
bring your refreshing and healing Spirit to those persons whose soul and heart
have embraced your saving grace but find your church and society
unkind and demeaning. And help us to keep reminding them that they are
dearly loved by us and by you.


Surrendering Perfection

Last fall, I wrote the following letter to my family on Thanksgiving. I share this letter here, especially mindful of those families with LGBT children. But I also share it because, though it may be addressed to my biological family, the message is equally one for my church family, my ecclesial family.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve listened to some of my friends relate their feelings in anticipation of going home for Thanksgiving. Some are excited: because they love and miss their family and can’t wait to see them again, or because this is the first time they’ve been welcomed home for a holiday in years. Some are ambivalent about family time, because they expect to sit quietly and peacefully coexist without really talking about the stuff of life. Others are downright anxious about going home, fearing harsh words, difficult conversations, and judgment. And some won’t go home at all, either because they’re not welcome or they’d just rather avoid the awkwardness and spare everyone the difficulty. All of my friends’ feelings in relation to their parents and family – excitement, ambivalence, fear, anxiety – stem from the fact that these friends also happen to be gay. Continue reading Surrendering Perfection

Finding Place in this Church [UPDATED]

Andrew Freeman

Several months ago, I received the latest issue of The Covenant Companion, which contained the cover story, “Our Place in the Covenant.” In anticipation of the denomination’s 125th Annual Meeting, the Companion featured several short stories and testimonies from Covenanters of varying backgrounds on how they have come to find a place in this church. In that same issue was a letter to the editor by my friend and fellow blogger, Ralph Sturdy. Ralph pointed out what he referred to as a “sad commentary”: that support for parents and friends of gay and lesbian children in Covenant churches has been relegated to a back-page classified ad for a confidential email. “Are they being asked to hide behind a veil of secrecy and shame?” Ralph asked. “Are we saying to our gay and lesbian children, many baptized in Covenant churches, that there is no place in the Covenant for them?” (emphasis mine)

Here, in the same issue about finding place in this church, an issue that celebrates belonging and Covenant identity, was a letter about quiet marginalization. Here was a letter raising a voice for those whose place in the church has, ever so subtly, been moved to the borders, to the fringes. The sad irony wasn’t lost on me, because it was and remains a dichotomy I have been forced to wrestle with every day of my life. And so, I felt compelled to write and submit to the Companion the following response: Continue reading Finding Place in this Church [UPDATED]