Category Archives: Family

“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!

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!

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! 

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.

Katie Klug: “Confronting Convenient Boxes”

(L-R): Leah and Katie Klug

So, Katie,” my group of peers began ominously, “what do you think of Greg being gay?”

All eyes were on me.

I was in high school and was widely known for being an outgoing, kind, hyper-involved straight-A-student.  I was the poster-child for excellence.  However, I was also a poster-child for an outspoken, opinionated and legalistic brand of “Christianity” that had no room for people who were gay, Mormon or having sex outside of marriage.  I’m actually still not sure where I latched on to some of those ideas.  Let’s just blame TBN and move on with the story.

Well,” I paused, “I like Greg, but I don’t think it is right.”

The classic ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ routine.  How progressive I was!  I wasn’t from the backwoods; I knew that Jesus loved everyone.  I just (somewhat unconsciously) thought he loved me more for being a straight virgin who didn’t break rules and volunteered copious amounts of time to a plethora of organizations.

I was 13 when I first experienced the possibility and truth of a contextual interpretation of the scriptures.  My mother was about to become a pastor in the ECC and, though they did not seem consistent with the God I loved, I knew full well the scriptures that spoke against women in ministry and leadership.  How could my pre-teen brain reconcile this dichotomy? Continue reading Katie Klug: “Confronting Convenient Boxes”

Nancy Carlson: My Story

Carlson Family: (seated) Nancy and Al, (standing L-R) Pam, Cindy & Jim

I am a mother of a son who is gay.  I would like to tell you my story.  I was brought up in a Christian home and have attended the same Evangelical Covenant Church all of my life.  My grandfather was a founder of our local church in the late 1800’s.  I met my husband there.  We have three grown children:  two daughters and a son.  Our involvement at church has always been an important part of our lives and it still is.  We both sing in the choir and have served in many different capacities.  It was 19 years ago when our son, Jim, moved into his own home that he had just built.  I began to notice that he seemed lonely, sad and distant.  Of course, I was praying that he would meet a nice Christian girl.  He had many girlfriends but, one by one, they were getting married.

As a mother, you know your child.  I knew that Jim was deeply unhappy.  I mentioned to my daughters that I was concerned.  For the first time, I began to question Jim’s sexual orientation.   One night, I was so concerned for Jim that I could not sleep.  I went into the den and knelt down and cried out to God.  First of all, I prayed for Jim, asking God to surround him with His love.  Then I prayed that God would restore Jim’s sense of peace and joy.  Finally, I prayed for myself.  If Jim was gay, how could we accept this?  I was taught when I was growing up that the Bible says that homosexuality is a sin.  How would our church handle this?  What would our friends and family think and say? Continue reading Nancy Carlson: My Story

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

Benj Sullivan-Knoff: “Paradox”

(Benj is the son of Eva Sullivan-Knoff and John Knoff.  His contribution brings to completion his and his family’s story of coming out. Please, be sure to read the two previous posts by his mom and dad. Benj is a student and a poet. One of his poems was featured on NPR. Thank you Benj for sharing with us.)

Paradox: What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?

I grew up in the church: baptized at birth; confirmed in eighth grade; sang in the children’s and youth choirs; attended Sunday school before services, services, youth group on Wednesday nights, and every weekend or summer retreat I could. My dedication might have initially been bred of obligation, but it matured into genuine devotion. So when an attraction to men emerged, I turned to the God I loved, praying frequently, asking Him to dissipate my inclinations, or at least to allow me to be one way or the other, not trapped in eternal uncertainty. Doubt is a terrible weight; it pressed into my thoughts constantly, unsettling the identity I had prided myself in. Continue reading Benj Sullivan-Knoff: “Paradox”

John Knoff’s Poem: “To My Church”

This is a poem by John Knoff. It is a follow up to his wife Eva Sullivan-Knoff’s story which is found immediately below. Thank you John!

To My Church

Once a month on Friday evenings
he asked us
to drop him off at church
so he could go with the youth group
to the soup kitchen.

Then there were the monthly
Saturday mornings
when we brought him back to church
to help stock the food pantry.
I know he enjoyed the donuts,
but he would have gone

His favorite time of year? Going
to church camp,
cooking over the fire,
climbing the high ropes course,
knowing God better.

Last summer youth
from churches
around the country gathered,
and as the speaker
encouraged them to live out
their faith
in truth,
with no masks
(she by the way took off
her mask—her make-up—on stage),
he went forward:
committed to God,
to living in truth,
no masks.

He has been busier
lately—getting straight A’s,
performing in plays and musical groups.
And being with friends.
How he cares for his friends!
I know he would do anything
for them.

In our society it isn’t deemed
manly for a son
to say “I love you” to his dad very often,
let alone almost every time he heads
out the door!
But how I treasure that he doesn’t
care what society thinks.

He is my son,
oh and I almost forgot to tell
you (not that it really matters)
—   he’s gay.