How did I Get Here?

Rev. Philip K. Brockett

Ever wake up in the morning and for that first instant of wakefulness wonder where you are? That is a little how I feel writing this blog. I feel like I just woke up and I am wondering how I got here. One moment I was “party line” Covenant pastor who had the appropriate evangelical view of homosexuality and then it was like I woke up to a different way of seeing.

In reality I think the process of “changing my mind” was happening slowly under the surface and I didn’t know it was happening until one day it popped out and surprised me. What changed my mind? A number of things. First of all I think it was years of pastoring people. It started with a young man 35 years ago who asked if he could come and speak to me but when he arrived in my office he could not speak a word of what was on his mind. We sat in silence for an hour – when our time was up I asked him if he wanted to come back again and he shook his head yes. Two more times we sat in silence for an hour before he was finally able to say to me that the had come to realize that he was gay. But saying it out loud was all he could do. He never came back to see me again, but his struggle left an indelible mark on me and gave seed to the conviction that homosexuality was certainly not something that he was choosing, instead it was something that he could not avoid. His self loathing and fear was palpable and my heart went out to him.

This process continued in every church that I served. For in every congregation I discovered that there were committed Christians who were gay. If they could risk it they would tell me and it would become our own version of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” And I would hardly ever let on that there were gay people in the church because if I did all hell would break loose. I recall one sunday when preaching on Paul’s statement that we should become “all things to all people in order to win some” that I got on a preacher’s roll and elaborated saying, “we should become like the rich in order to win the rich and we should become like the poor to win the poor and we should become like the gays in order to win the gays!” A woman popped up right in the middle of my sermon and interrupted saying, “could you explain what you mean when you say we should become like the gays in order to win gay people to Christ?” And I recall another instance when Homosexuality was in the news and in a sermon I preached compassion. That week my church chair and vice chair took me out to lunch and remonstrated me saying, “Phil you missed a great opportunity to define our church as being against homosexuality.” These two people were my friends and I was surprised by their reaction but I told them that I would not do that because my understanding was that Jesus came to seek and to save those who were lost not to condemn them. But the message was clear; in the Evangelical Church don’t voice support for Gay or Lesbian people or there will be trouble.

Second, it was my own children. When I was once young a long time ago, my parents and the church taught me the evils of homosexuality and I believed them. Not so my own children. As my kids grew up and encountered people of different sexual orientations they simply didn’t buy the idea that homosexuality was wrong and nothing I could say or do could convince them.

Finally, it was my own deepening understanding of scripture. Several years ago, I embarked on the task of listening to the entire Bible. I would walk every morning for an hour listening on my ipod. One morning as I was listening to the Old Testament – I recall awakening to the fact that what I was listening to was a “primitive” understanding of God. These writers were doing their best to put into words who God was – and their description was flawed. Their view of God was patriarchal, vengeful, and limited. However, this is not the way that I had been taught to view their writings. I had been taught to accept what they had to say as Gospel, as true, as unquestionable. Suddenly I realized that I needed to take the Bible for what it is – every generation’s best description of their understanding of God – and that it is my task to add to the conversation by adding my best understanding of God. In other words as Baptist minister Bill Hull once said at a Covenant Midwinter Conference, “We should tear the back cover off our bibles because God is still speaking.”

Finally, it was when a young man who had grown up in the church that I had served and had gone off to seminary emailed me to say that he had come to realize that he was gay that I finally woke up. I woke up to the fact that unless people like me, people who have been in the Evangelical Covenant Church for years finally speak up and “Come Out” in support of a different way of understanding homosexuality in the context of our faith that there will be no place for Gay and Lesbian people within the Church.

Now I know that this is a very divisive and difficult issue. So a few like minded friends and myself are creating this website in order to give Covenanters everywhere a place where they can “Come Out” in support of full inclusion of Gay and Lesbian and Trans-Gender people within the Covenant Church.

I want to be clear that this website is not a petition or a political movement it is just a forum where people can give “voice” to what heretofore they were afraid to say, “That God don’t make no junk! That all people regardless of sexual orientation are to be loved cared for and included in the life of the community of faith. That Jesus is about the task of gathering all sinners, and that all of us ARE sinners. That Jesus is uniting all peoples of the earth in a kingdom of love, and grace.” Soon we will be adding a place where you can add your voice and if you choose your name to the list of those who are “Coming Out Covenant.”

  • Thanks Phil, You and I have known one another for nearly 35 years. The years we served together as pastors in Lincoln at First Evangelical Covenant Church serve as some of my best memories. I am grateful that we remain “best friends”! My journey on the same path (“Open and Affirming”) is longer only because of my age. I will not give my entire journey. I simply report that though in the Evangelical Church I discovered, as you did, that there was no place for homosexuals, lesbians or transgendered people. The coat of the church that wrapped itself around me had many fibers and threads. The thread saved for gay and lesbian people was replete with sharp barbs.

    At a point in time I came to believe that the evidence that lesbian and gay people are “born that way” was overwhelming. As a result I had to ask myself if being gay or lesbian was, in itself, a sin? If it was, then God had some powerful answering to do! I concluded that “we are all sinners” … and … “there is none who is righteous, no not one.” But being lesbian or gay in itself is not a sin. I was also blessed to live in the family of a Covenant Pastor/spouse who clearly said and lived that “God is the only one to judge … not any one else” That has helped me greatly, to embrace as sisters and brothers, all people … regardless of faith, color or doctrine. If “God so loves the world” who am I to stand in judgment of anyone?

    Interestingly, I write this on the 82nd birth of Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. His life, words and actions speak clearly, as does Jesus to my desire to embrace everyone, including my gay, lesbian and transgendered brothers and sisters.

  • Thank you Phil & Andrew for starting this conversation in a thoughtful and honest way. I am the daughter of a family with lots of secrets, many around sexuality. It effected all of us and underneath the secrets was a deep sense of shame that something wasn’t right in our family but no one ever named it. I came to know God in my early 20’s, lost and confused and in a fundemental enviornment. It was just what I needed at the time, but I also began to wake up and wake up some more…until I too could no longer stand firmly and convicted that homosexuality was wrong and sinful.
    When I found the Covenant Church I was drawn in by the core values and a sense that questions could be asked and answers weren’t assumed. I love the affirmation that we do not break fellowship over doctranial issues. I beleive that should apply in this conversation as well.
    So thank you for this blog, I look forward to reading more.
    Warmly,

  • Eva Sullivan-Knoff

    Thank you so much for sharing honestly and reflectively and openly about this. There are too many people whose lives are affected by this. I too, in listening to people’s stories and pain around their sexuality identity have had to do soul searching and reading and praying to better understand, and I continue my journey in that.
    One comment made to by by someone who devoutly loved, sought, and served God, changed my life and began my journey of searching. “How can it not be right, if God made me this way?”
    There have been others who have shared with me in ministry, that they had pleaded with God to be changed, to have it removed from them, but nothing happened. They were tormented by believing they were not okay, because it was the message given to them by the church.
    In the church, we often react to controversial issues, rather than study, pray, listen, reflect quietly and together to better understand. It is time. It affects people’s lives.
    Thank you.
    Eva Sullivan-Knoff

  • Cathy Jeffers

    What a wonderful surprise to stumble upon this site today and, like Cathi, I thank you for starting such an honest discussion.

    I have a relative who is gay. When I was a young child this relative found the Covenant church through a friend, accepted Christ and, shortly thereafter, began to bring me along on Sunday mornings. My entire extended family is Catholic, but I consider myself to have been raised in–and in some sense, by–the Covenant. The church embraced me, taught me, encouraged me, and supported me through some very difficult times as I grew up. I came to know Christ because my gay relative took the time to bring me to church and encouraged me to get involved in youth groups, camps, etc. It breaks my heart to know that this relative is not welcome and is seen as a ‘sinner’ by many in our denomination simply based on who she is.

    This relative no longer attends any church, but does on occasion join my family for events at our church. She is greeted warmly by people in the congregation who knew her 30+ years ago…the very same people who I have heard say unbelievably cruel and condemning things about gays and lesbians during Bible studies and Sunday school classes over the years (all in the name of God, of course). It is obvious that they are not aware of this person’s sexual orientation, and it has often made me wonder if they would greet her as warmly–or at all–if they did know. I would like to think that it would not make a difference. Then again, if they can accept ‘this’ person because they know her, how can they continue to condemn others whom they don’t know, simply because they are homosexual?

    Without compassion, the Gospel message means nothing to those who hear it.

  • Linda Forbes

    How wonderful to stumble upon this page. I spend my entire last semester (2001) at NPTS studying the issue of Homosexuality because I didn’t feel that our denomination was working on the issue. One of my papers on the denomination is in the Covenant Archives. It is so refreshing to read the comments here. The Gospel is only Good News if it is about the Love of God through Jesus Christ for ALL people.

  • Philip K. Brockett

    Amen Linda!

  • Nancy Gordon

    Thank you for this site. I hope it is a place where we can hear the stories of those who love the Covenant, but wonder about their place in it. Over twenty years ago I sat in a session at Holden Village (a Lutheran retreat Center in the Cascade Mountains of Washington) and listened to a Catholic young man tell his story of church, faith, and coming to the realization that he was gay. I heard his story shortly after going through an unchosen divorce. In the church of my childhood, divorced persons could not be “members.” Although my Covenant Church had shown me nothing but grace, I still felt the pain of bearing a label and being at a place in life that I hadn’t chosen, and was fearful that it would mean marginalization, particularly if I followed what seemed to be God’s call to ministry.

    I realized that day that we are all an event, an “accident” of birth away from being on the margin–and judged wanting. I have despaired of the Covenant being able to have a grown-up conversation about this–but it’s a conversation we desperately need to have–because as with women in ministry, we are in need of the gifts of all God’s people.

    Thank you, Andrew and Phil for beginning this conversation.

  • “…Suddenly I realized that I needed to take the Bible for what it is – every generation’s best description of their understanding of God – and that it is my task to add to the conversation by adding my best understanding of God…”

    How did the one who said, “I, the Lord, do not change?”, become subject to the whims and fancies of changeable creatures? It would seem that he, then, is not God anymore.

    • Philip K. Brockett

      Craig,
      Thanks for your comment. I wonder the same thing.

    • Cathy Jeffers

      That our understanding of God can change in no way implies or means that God Himself changes. It’s not about human whims and fancies as much as it is about our changing knowledge. For example, people used to think that illness was God’s punishment for the sins of the person or the person’s parents; now, we understand germ theory. We used to blame mental illness on demons; now, we understand about neurotransmitters and other biological chemicals that cause mental illness. That new knowledge does not change God, it changes our understanding of Him.

      • Craig

        Cathy, I would agree with you in part, but the examples you give don’t contradict previous understandings of God – some sickness in Scripture was the result of sin; some mental illness was the result of demons. All of it wasn’t or isn’t, but some was. We have clarification of truth, not a change in truth.
        If we can only know God by his self-revelation, then each of the writers of God’s Word were expressing God’s revelation of himself, not their own “primitive…flawed” understanding of God. Yes, God does reveal himself progressively, but he does not reveal himself incorrectly.
        Second, it seems that the implication is that we can add to God’s Word by adding our “best understanding of God.” This implication would reduce Scripture to ideas, thoughts, and hints, and we can make of Scripture whatever we want. We make God subject to our understanding; we become primary, God becomes secondary.
        I would disagree with this understanding of God’s Word.

  • Howard Burgoyne

    What does it require of us to live together with the compassion, holiness and tenderness of Christ? For “we discover at the heart of the Gospel a Jesus who is not simply one who extends welcome, but is also the one who dies, is raised and breathes his Spirit on us. Paul in Romans can expound the gospel of God’s grace in terms which are similar . . . it is simultaneously forgiving (Rom. 3-5), costly (Rom. 6-7), transforming (Rom. 8), and welcoming (Rom. 15). This is the pastoral shape of the Gospel.” A church, whether a local congregation or an entire denomination that denies it consists of people who sin, and exists for them, implicitly rejects the grace of the gospel. As Hans Kung points out, where such a church exists:

    “It deserves neither God’s mercy nor men’s trust. The church must constantly be aware that its faith is weak, its knowledge dim, its profession of faith halting, that there is not a single sin or failing which it has not in one way or another been guilty of. And though it is true that the church must always dissociate itself from sin, it can never have any excuse for keeping any sinners at a distance. If the church remains self-righteously aloof from failures, irreligious and immoral people, it cannot enter justified into God’s kingdom. But if it is constantly aware of its guilt and sin, it can live in joyous awareness of forgiveness. The promise has been given to it that anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.”

    • Cathy Jeffers

      If I am reading the meaning of your post correctly, Howard (and obviously, feel free to correct me if I haven’t), I think that your post raises what is for me and many others the central question: IS homosexuality a ‘sin’? For me, the debate is not “should the church be welcoming sinners?” That’s a given. The debate rather is whether we as Christians have the right to declare a subgroup of the population to be ‘sinners’ based solely upon their sexual orientation– something that is more and more being shown via science to be biologically based and not within their control any more than my heterosexuality is within my control.

      We no longer blame the sins of the parents for disabilities in children. Our knowledge in this area has grown, we have shed misinformation and superstitions, and we now know better. How/why is homosexuality such a different case that we cannot change our thinking regarding its alleged ‘sinfulness’ as well?

      • Anonymous Covenanter

        Cathy,
        It would be difficult and risky for Howard to represent a viewpoint other than what has been adopted by the denomination through the proceedings at the annual meeting. As a result, our pastors who are credentialed by the denomination are under the scrutiny of the ministerium. See the following link Human Sexuality Guidelines.

        The guidelines are the result of the body of churches that form the ECC. I suspect there are many of us out there who disagree with the current stance, but I think there are just as many who may not understand really how the ECC works. Resolutions are approved by the body of representatives sent to the annual meeting from all of the local churches. It’s attendance or membership or something that determines each church’s number of delegates who go to the annual meeting and have a vote on matters.

        If Covenant churches do not participate in the annual meeting to have their voice heard through the delegates they send, then it’s left to the churches that show. I’d venture to guess that during the years where these resolutions were up for vote, participation was probably much higher, or at least spiked by those most concerned with these resolutions. We know which way it swung, but it’s really hard to get a full perspective when only a subset of the churches bother to even participate. I’m sure there are a number of factors for various churches in being able to participate. Voting requires that delegates be present at the meeting.

        I cannot speak for Howard and what his personal stance is, but he has to follow guidelines handed down by the ministerium which were created to conform to the resolutions approved and passed by the churches that were represented at the respective annual meetings where these resolutions were approved. It puts some constraint on how one in leadership can represent their personal views, yet at the same time being required to hold up the approved stances.

        What everyone needs to know in the ECC is that if there is ever to be change, it will only come from the local churches. This is the nature of how things get done. It’s not a top-down model. If we want change, we have to start with our local churches and spread the word and keep the conversation open. Just because a resolution is already in place does not mean that it cannot be changed, but if you want change, start where it matters, the local church.

  • Cathy! You are “right on spot” with your comment! Thank you. You hit the nail on the head!

  • Howard Burgoyne

    Cathy,
    I think there is a difference between being affected in various ways by the fall of the human race, and our own personal fallen nature, (we are all broken in varying ways) and what we chose to do with that. I am responsible for my behavioral choices. I am not responsible for all of my desires – just what I do with them. Sexuality is a big word – it includes our attractions and actions. Attraction is a mystery – like everything else in our experience, it is a mixture of creation, fall and redemption. So naming our orientation based on our attraction to others is not a sin. I find myself oriented to a lot of things, sexually and otherwise. Some are righteous, others are not. I do not believe the Church should be identifying certain people based on orientation/attraction and creating a unique category for them as sinners – based on what I/we do not struggle with. We sin by participation in thought, word, and deed that is contrary to the will of God. We do not sin by the recognition of sexual desire or affinity.

    As a Covenant pastor I am free to convey my thinking and convictions on human sexuality. There is no gag order, but there is pastoral discretion to administer. I am responsible to preach and teach the faith of the Church, and I pray that I too will hold to that faith in heart and soul. Where I am wrestling or at odds, I pray through that. I preach the faith, not my doubts.

    I have served in four ECC churches prior to becoming a Superintendent. In each of them I have served and loved people as pastor whose sexual identity and practices were impacted by creation, fall, and Gospel hope. I have always found the ECC to be an open fellowship – the qualifications come in the sense of being “affirming”. I prefer to talk about being open and transforming. The Gospel embraces everyone where they are. It just refuses to leave them there, though the patience and persistence of grace is indeed long. That’s why I like the quote of Luther: “This life, therefore, is not righteousness but growth in righteousness, not health but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it. The process is not yet finished, but it is going on. This is not the end but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory but all is being purified. ”

    The Church lives with, admonishes, and works to lovingly disciple people whose lives are laced with greed, gluttony, pride, addictions, prejudice, and most seriously, a lack of love. We do not justify such sin, but declare that such sinners can be justified by grace through faith which leads us to repentance. This is no less true in relationship to sexual tendencies and behaviors. Orientation is not the real issue. It is what we do with our orientations that is the issue.

    • anon

      How sad that I feel compelled to leave my comments anonymously. It breaks my heart, in fact, that I need to knowing that there are repercussions for speaking out on this issue around the loss of jobs and careers. That alone is an indication that we are not open and affirming.

      But onto the comment.

      I think the difference, Howard, in what you are describing and what Cathy is describing is around the issue of “choice”. I am not gay, but have many, many close and wonderful friends who are and who are in long term, loving relationships. You seem to imply that their choice, should they follow the directions of the ECC, is to either be a “sinner” or to have no loving relationship at all with their partner and to be alone. That is not a choice.

      As Cathy points out, we know now that sexual orientation is not a choice (who would choose to submit to the scrutiny and negative judgment we see in our churches today?) Just as we now know that women experiencing menses are not “unclean.” There are wonderful, Christian people in my world who have a loving, stable, beautiful relationship with God AND their partner who is of the same gender as they are. These two situations are not mutually exclusive. There is no need to repent for their love and faithfulness.

      • Cathy Jeffers

        Anon, thank you for your comments. I, too, wish that all could feel safe enough not to feel compelled to make anonymous comments but anonymous or not, I am glad that you spoke up.

    • Cathy Jeffers

      Before I comment, I want to take a minute to clarify that although I am quoting Howard in my response, my comments are in no way intended to personally criticize or judge him or the position that he is presenting here. I understand the basis for it, and I believed it myself for a time until study and experience led me to come to a different understanding. Questions I ask are meant to stimulate dialogue and are not to be seen as a personal challenge to any specific person.

      To quote Howard:

      “The Church lives with, admonishes, and works to lovingly disciple people whose lives are laced with greed, gluttony, pride, addictions, prejudice, and most seriously, a lack of love. We do not justify such sin, but declare that such sinners can be justified by grace through faith which leads us to repentance. This is no less true in relationship to sexual tendencies and behaviors. Orientation is not the real issue. It is what we do with our orientations that is the issue.”

      But that’s exactly my point. It is the very stance of most churches on this issue that LEAD homosexuals into sin.

      I am going to assume that we will differ on whether or not the physical expression of sexual love between two homosexuals is ‘sin’. I will go on the record as saying that I do not believe that it is, any more than the act between two heterosexuals is sinful. A common argument that I hear among Christians is that homosexual activity, even between a monogamous couple, is sinful because it is outside of the act of marriage. And yet as a church we don’t recognize or support gay marriage and as individuals we push for and support things like DOMA that in essence make it impossible for a monogamous homosexual couple to legitimize their relationship and, therefore, to avoid sexual sin. The choice that is then given to them is to sin, to deny who they are and marry a spouse of the opposite sex, or to be celibate. I think that is an inherently unfair choice. Actually, it IS no real choice. If unmarried heterosexuals choose to be celibate it is truly a choice because the option of marriage is out there for them. If they find it too difficult to be celibate, they have the option of marriage to help them avoid sexual sin. The same isn’t true for homosexuals. They are being given no legitimate way to express themselves sexually and then being condemned for not choosing life-long celibacy.

      These folks don’t need to be ‘discipled out of sinfulness’, and they certainly don’t need to ‘repent’ for who they are. They don’t need to change at all (based on this one issue, anyway). They need for the church to give their monogamous relationships the recognition and legitimacy that they need to avoid the sin of having sex outside of marriage in the first place. We as heterosexuals are given that choice, but for us to point and shout ‘sinner!’ at those who do not have that choice is not only unchristian but is, in my opinion, unbelievably cruel.

      I am truly glad to hear that in your 4 congregations you found an open fellowship. As heartening as that is, I can personally name folks from more than 4 congregations who have been told in no uncertain terms that they are NOT welcome to fellowship in those congregations–in some cases, by the minister himself. So I would have to respectfully disagree that the ECC is, overall, a denomination that is open to the GLBT community.

  • Sharon Orlich

    Andrew, thank you for your courage and honesty. I have known you since you were a little boy and have always admired your strength and determination, your gifts and talents, and your love for others. You have always been, and continue to be, an inspiration to me. May the love and grace that is given to each of us from our Lord and Savior be real to you each and every day. Thank you!

  • anonymous

    This is a slippery slope we are all on; congratulating people for coming out and being brave, should we stand up and pat the adulterer on the back; how about the thief and the murderer, good job….yes its all sin…shouldn’t the “church” be more concerned with the greater good,,,,what do we do with Rom 1;26…rip it out it can’t apply,actually throw it out with the back cover of the Bible because its not fitting into our Liberal society,, and apparently God’s not done writing the Bible,everything is ok there are no rules or right way to live anymore…what ever works for us “just do it” we’ll justify our sin and ourselves later, because scripture is dated we are of course the new age men and women,,,if your gay and lesbian that’s ok..I don’t have a problem with that but as a married man trying to raise children I’m supposed say its ok for our pastor to be gay because he was born that way or your Sunday school teacher, she’s married to another she, that’s alright let them tell you what Jesus has done in their lives….anybody see the hypocrisy, is Satan laughing or God crying what the hell is going on..come Lord Jesus, come quickly…I’m not judging anyone,, work out your own salvation with trembling and fear…our own :”pastors” don’t have the guts to draw a line in the sand,because they are afraid to offend someone, Jesus offended people regulary…we have turned into a society of wimps, what happened to men being real men and women being ladies…if your gay, lesbian, bisexual, trisexual, metrosexual or any kind of other sexual maybe you, them, they, should start their own branch of the covenant…. might be less painful for all of us….just in case you were wondering I have gay and lesbian friends and I pray for them just like my drug addicted friends…

    • anon

      You are afraid of having this conversation, yes? It is alright to be afraid. The very definition of faith requires us to step into that fear when we have it.

      Even though I have a different perspective about this than you do, I respect that you wrote your words because, let’s be honest, you are giving form to what others are probably thinking. And we can’t begin to address this issue without a honest understanding of the different viewpoints around it.

      Your emotion bursts forth from the choice of words and phrases that you have made. Sarcasm veiling disdain. (“congratulating people for coming out and being brave, should we stand up and pat the adulterer on the back; how about the thief and the murderer, good job…”) Anger and fear (“anybody see the hypocrisy, is Satan laughing or God crying what the hell is going on..come Lord Jesus, come quickly”) References to pain (“if your gay, lesbian, bisexual, trisexual, metrosexual or any kind of other sexual maybe you, them, they, should start their own branch of the covenant…. might be less painful for all of us”) And contempt cloaked in expressions of care. (“just in case you were wondering I have gay and lesbian friends and I pray for them just like my drug addicted friends…”) You sound pained, angry, and afraid. I don’t wish that for you or anyone. I’m all to familiar with pain and anger myself, and it usually is connected to a kernel of fear in me spurring on those defensive emotions to protect myself or someone else.

      Perhaps it would be useful (I think it would be useful to me at least) for someone in the ECC clergy to recount the path of discussion around other bible passages that surely must have also been discussed as to how they were applicable to official Covenant positions. Such as Romans 7:2-3. Or 1 Cor 14:34. Or 1 Tim 2:12. Or Mark 10:11-12. Or Deuteronomy 23:1. Or Deuteronomy 25:11-12.

      I don’t bring this up to be disrespectful, I truly don’t. I am honestly curious about how the ECC has had discussions about these passages of the Bible and have reconciled them with their positions on divorce, for example. Or women in ministry. Or many of the guidelines for daily life outlined in Leviticus.

      Perhaps we can explore some of the history of how these conversations were conducted to shed light on how we can begin to converse on this topic as well?

      • Cathy Jeffers

        Thank you for your comments, anon. I, too, would be very interested in a discussion of the scriptural basis for the varying beliefs on this issue. I know from my own readings that this could get involved, but I would love to hear some of the pastors in particular share how they have come to understand scriptural references that many people believe condemn homosexuality. Perhaps a separate thread on this blog?

    • Philip Brockett

      Dear Anonymous,
      First of all let me say that I agree with you 100% this is painful for all of us and the tendency we all have is to run away from pain but somehow pain catches up with all of us. Read Andrew and Eva’s posts as they share how pain caught up to them.

      Second thank you for your prayerful life – praying for all people who are in difficult situations. God bless you, I can tell you care deeply about people. Your response is further indication of this. Thanks for writing.

      I believe your comment though confuses the issue. You immediately equate people being gay with adulterers, thiefs, and murderers. This is precisely the topic of conversation here – how are we to view homosexuality? Is it a sin? Traditionally this has been the church’s response, after my years of experience, soul searching, study of the bible, and conversations with people like Andrew – I say no it is not a sin.

      You also mention what I like to call the “old slippery slope” argument. I have been hearing that all my life and I have yet to see it come true but what I have seen is that the “slippery slope” argument comes from a place of fear. What I see in the gospels is that perfect love casts out fear. Fear begats fear. I’ve spent way too much of my life in a place of fear. I am trying to find a new place to live and it is only as I am finding it that i found the courage to create this blog. To you and to myself I then quote the biblical injunction, “BE NOT AFRAID.”

      My hunch is that your concern is that WE are deciding what is and what is not sin. My response is that we do that now and the christian church has been doing this since its inception. Read Leviticus and if you want to keep all the instructions there which surround the comment on homosexuality then be my guest. But the truth is you and I both don’t think that we should abide by Levitical law. Or take a much more modern example Ann Hutchinson was banished from Massachusetts for teaching something that all most all christians would agree on today, namely, “that God speaks to individual believers (even including women)” For this she was condemned as a sinner, cut off from her home, and publically ridiculed.

      You see I believe that God’s revelation is progressive – and that as generations succeed one another, that new truth that was present but not “evident” comes to light. This reality of progressive revelation requires something from us – it requires thinking, it requires open hearts and minds and it requires change.
      And this is the essence of the gospel – “change” we have a theological word for this change it is called conversion or transformation. Unfortunately the church has too often repacked the gospel as dogma, teaching, and tradition and turned the christian faith into an institution which is in favor of the status quo rather than be a spiritual community that is alive, growing and changing.

      Okay a long response Anonymous. Thanks for writing, I have this strange feeling that I know you. Peace, Phil

    • Thank you for your comment of Jan. 21 anonymous. Yours and Pastor Eva’s story show how deep a divide there is in bridging the gap between love and disdain. The road of love is the road less traveled.

  • Another Anonymous Covenanter

    I just wonder if anyone has considered the ramifications of this discussion for those of us who have made the tough choice to reject our homosexual tendencies because we believe it is a sin. This is not a theoretical issue for me. I realized in high school that I was gay. I cried out to God from deep within, suffering in silence for a long time before finally getting up the courage to talk to caring friends. These friends did not affirm my attractions, but they affirmed me as a person and helped me to seek the Lord’s guidance, strength, and emotional healing. 30+ years later I am still not completely free of homosexual attraction, and yet I am very fulfilled in a loving, committed heterosexual marriage. Have I been living a lie for the last 30+ years? Some on this blog apparently would say I have. I don’t believe that. If I had it to do over again I would make the same choices, because what I’ve received from the Lord and others who love me is far more than what I have given up.

    I’ll leave you all with this question: Are we denying others the opportunity to experience God’s transformative grace–incomplete as that may be this side of heaven–by saying it’s OK for them to remain as they are? I fear we are.

    • Your voice is so important because it points towards a question that is really hard to grapple with. How is sexuality and sexual expression/fulfillment related to our humanity? Is it an essential part? Is it a right? Many would say YES to all of the above, some of us aren’t so sure. There are so many levels (even merely scientifically!) to gender, sex, and orientation.

    • Denny Moon

      Dear Another Anonymous Covenanter
      I can’t imagine the struggles you have faced in your walk. How wonderful it is that you have had a group of supportive friends along the way. I don’t believe there is any “perfect” marriage. I know a woman who remained married to a man who was very, very emotionally distant. I had one elderly man in my church who told me that on their wedding day his wife said there would be “none of that sex stuff.” They both had difficulties to face in their marriage, but found ways to make it work and be fruitful. Good for you and your spouse for making your marriage work. Not everyone could do what you are doing. But you and your spouse are obviously enjoying a fruitful relationship. Thanks for reminding us that there is no perfect marriage. Takes the pressure off.

  • anon II

    Blessings to you Andrew ..

  • I am not a part of the Covenant Church but came upon this site. I am one of those who grew up in the Church, was told that being gay is wrong, and went through ex-gay therapy. I got married, became a pastor, and had kids. Now I’m in my 40’s and realizing that I have done damage to my marriage simply by being a gay man hiding in a straight marriage. Through intense counseling, I am now in the process of coming out and trying to find out what that means to my future in ministry. PLEASE…don’t destroy more lives and marriages. Let those in your churches who are gay know that God loves them just the way they are. I can speak from experience that the message of “you must change in order for God to love you” is a dangerous message!

  • me

    Hello! Just for background purposes, I have grown up in southern Baptist churches, turned my back in God bout ten years ago but am now involved again, I have relatives and wonderful friends that are gay. That being said, you are right we are not here to judge or condemn anyone. That is God’s job. But the Bible clearly states homosexuality is wrong. So if we condone this sin is it then okay to commit adultery, pre marital sex, disobey our parents,etc etc. You have to try to follow all of God’s rules. No one is sinless if we could be then Christ dying on the cross and rising again was pointless. The problem as I see it is we are not leaving God’s word as it is written. You cannot add nor take parts away to make someone feel good about their sin. You cant change the sin boundaries to “fit” our needs, wants, or desires. Sin is sin. Does the “church ” need to b open to sinners? Yes! Should we love them? Yes! Should we say it’s okay? No! It’s no more okay than any other sin. But u can’t reject part of the Bible and accept other parts. The whole Bible is God’s word to us. I’m judging no one and am in no way a Bible expert. But God’s word is God’s word. Front to back. We are to love one another as we wish to be loved. This is a journey and learning experience for all of us. I have my own sins that have been forgiven and those I commit daily but I dare say changing or leaving out parts of the bible to fit my life or try to releave guilt is wrong. Growing daily in Christ!

    • anon

      It’s interesting, though, isn’t it how we are left to interpret—through a translation and cultural lens–what was intended from the words God left to us in the Bible? Translation is a tricky thing, assessing meaning to take action on is complex and requiring a deep understanding of the many meanings of words, phrases, and contexts.

      You say “the Bible clearly states”. I say we are still trying to determine the meaning behind what was written and what it means to us. That is the task, to always be asking, to always be seeking, to always be in conversation. For an example, refer to this recent post on Bible Gateway about the translation of “harpagmos”. That it is a lot of complexity surrounding one word, just one. Now think of all of the words and phrases of the Bible. It is why biblical scholars immerse themselves in ancient languages and history, struggling to determine what the translations imply for us, here, in this contemporary time.
      http://www.biblegateway.com/perspectives-in-translation/2010/12/what-do-we-know-about-harpagmos-in-phil-26-craig-blomberg/ There are some parts of the Bible that are easier to translate, easier to determine the meaning and implications of. The Ten Commandments spring to mind. I am not a Biblical scholar, nor am I a seminarian. So, I would invite those who are closer to theological study to comment here.

      The conversation is not over. It is ongoing. There is little closure, there is only faith and mystery and seeking. Even when there are certain things that are more clear than others (such as “Thou shalt not kill”), there will always be conversation about how this is applied in our present day. (“How does this commandment relate to the death penalty, for example? Or to war?”) This will be scary to those who want a “final decision” and who want to base their faith on certainty. But you might consider that the opposite of faith is certainty. Faith is the stepping out into the darkness and trusting that He will guide us to where we need to go. In that way, every conversation over issues where there is a diversity of opinion is a demonstration of faith. Conversations and exploring differences and asking questions and seeking to understand many sides of an issue is critical to the cultivation of faith.

    • Mella

      “But u can’t reject part of the Bible and accept other parts. ”

      We do that now, “me”. Unless you are currently keeping kosher, wearing no clothes of mixed fibers (cotton and polyester, for example), and stoning adulterers (which, according to the Bible, includes those who have divorced and remarried.)

      If you do all of that, I apologize for bringing it up.

    • Cathy Jeffers

      The point that many of us here are trying to make is that we have come to understand and believe that the Bible does NOT clearly state that homosexuality is wrong, and than the verses often quoted to support the premise that it is wrong are being misinterpreted or taken out of context.

  • Robin Nilson

    Dearest Covenant Friends! I don’t know where to begin. I am so so grateful that this discussion is OUT!! a relief! “I have seen the promised land…” Thank you all to all of you -gay and straight- who are OUT here. Thank you to those who are still anonymous. Blessings to you ! I pray for the day when you can type your name without fear. I pray that my dear GLBT friends and their families who have left, been asked to leave, or who have suffered in silence in our Covenant Church will now know that we are trying to catch up on lost time–we were too quiet, and we know it. thank you to all as we come together here, that now I can put my name here. I’m OUT now, too: I don’t believe that homosexuality is a sin! I believe we all have a place at the Lord’s table! There is so much anguish in the world-let us in the church be light!
    Love to you all!

  • Kim Czepiga

    I am so grateful for the safety of this forum – of respectful ideas and questions nurtured- discussion laid bare.
    A decade ago, my family and I belonged to a UCC church, and at that time I had burning questions and would have enthusiastically embraced such a forum. Instead, what I observed were UCC leaders proclaiming that UCC was “open and affirming” with nary a word of discussion at the local level; leaving pastors caught unawares and ill prepared to deal with emotions run amok and an overwhelming number of questions that followed.
    As a result, many local churches swirled in controversy and lost membership. My family left our congregational church. The primary reason we left was for lack of discussion at the local level. “Why can’ t my pastor explain the seeming dissonance in biblical teaching?” I wondered. I also wondered how the leadership could take political positions”representing the church body” at the state and national level, when in fact there was no discussion at the local levels. It seemed deceitful to me. I suspect that the Covenant wishes to avoid repeating UCC’s experience.
    What was needed, and is needed, is exactly this kind of honest, safe and instructive dialogue at a local level. Discussion that involves the neighbors and family that we love and hold dear.
    Evangelicals were raised with literal biblical doctrine. I, like many, was taught that we are all sinners and the definition of sin is in the Bible.
    Then life has at us; the world is not flat, the sun does not orbit around the earth. We can eat meat from animals with cloven hoof, we can cut the hair on the sides of our heads, and indeed when we…above all else… love our neighbor as ourselves, we can hold and uphold our gay family, friends and neighbors. We realize that we are all in this life together, that we are all only human; and that the old Leviticus definition of sexuality does not make any individual a sinner. But in fact the New Testament exhortation to “love one another in the same way that I [Jesus] loved you” rises front and center.
    The teaching that homosexuality is a sin seems faulty. How can the essence of a human being be sinful? Lying, stealing, murder, false witness…yes…others are being actively hurt. But to sin simply for being?
    Thank you pastors for allowing this forum, for answering questions, and weighing in on seeming contradictions and worries held dear. Thank you Andrew and Eva Knoff for putting your vulnerable selves front and center, reminding us all that we are one family and when we move forward in love it is for the greater good. Our leaders must feel the safety of our support…so thank you for reminding us that it is at the local level where we must feel compelled to have these discussions. Finally, we must communicate our angst and conclusions prayerfully and with respect to our leaders so they may act on the wishes of their congregations.

  • Robin Nilson

    Dear
    Benj and Kim,
    Thank you for being “you.” Many will learn from you and your families here. Because of you all, many who have never heard from a gay person/family can no longer think of or talk about this from arm’s length. You and many others here have brought yourselves into our hearts. You will be the impetus for understanding . We can never be the same for having heard you speak.

  • Dee Cole Vodicka

    Amen and amen! I am so glad to know about these efforts within the ECC, and will pray for God’s blessings and guidance in this journey. I now worship in an ELCA Lutheran church which is open and reconciling, partly due to their commitment to grace. The Covenant remains dear to my heart, and I will watch and read with great interest. Love!

  • Bob Smietana

    Hi Phil

    Thanks for starting an informed and thoughtful discussion on this issue. Not an easy thing to do these days among Evangelicals.

    Got a question, however, about your comments about the OT writers having a “primitive” understanding of God: “Their view of God was patriarchal, vengeful, and limited.”

    Are you familiar with the world of Amy-Jill Levine, the NT prof at Vanderbilt who is also an Orthodox Jew? She does a lot of speaking here in Nashville about Christian views of the OT–and this idea that somehow Jews have the patriarchal, vengeful God–and Christians have the loving, forgiving God. Your argument comes close to saying that. And that argument doesn’t due justice to the OT.

    Seems to me that there is a great deal in the OT about God’s love for all people and a constant theme that though the Israelites were the chosen people, that God’s care extended far beyond them. Jonah, for example, might be a helpful book in showing the breadth of God’s love for all people.

    Just a religion reporter’s two cents.

    • ACP

      Thank you Bob!

      The OT certainly seems to have become the whipping boy here.

      I’m not sure that those who started this forum intended it to become a space for debate on the scriptural and theological basis for or against homosexuality, but I doubt it. I’d love to participate in some civil discussion on the topic, but I’m not sure this is the place. Until they make their intentions explicit in the “About” section of this blog I’d ask people to avoid it. Otherwise I fear this will degrade into another internet “flame session” instead of a place to share and listen to the stories of Covenanters.

      Just my 2 cents.

      • Philip K. Brockett

        Thanks for your comment!
        Couldn’t agree with you more. Andrew and I need to give more definition in the “about section.” Our clearest goal is to give people a place to tell their stories and be heard and we also know that there needs to be some theological reflection and definition. In addition there needs to be a code of civility. We do moderate initial posts and will not post “mean” or “intentionally hurtful posts” however we do want to respect and include diverse points of view even if we happen to disagree with the opinion expressed. With regard to the OT I didn’t mean to make the OT the whipping boy, I was trying, (not too well I guess) do describe my own experience of hearing the OT in a different way. I’d like to think we don’t need a whipping boy, so lets agree to take the OT and GLBT people off the rack, and I (a straight person) will volunteer to take a few lashes for failing to work hard enough to communicate more clearly. 🙂 Avoid us if you must but with much thanks for your comment! Shalom!

      • Robin Nilson

        Going back to Phil’ s and Andrew’ s first entries might be helpful in understanding the “goal” of this blog.”Since we are really just practicing this dialogue together, I fear being too structured will again cause some to be silent. We know there is harder work ahead , but for many, this is a first opportunity to even get close to a discussion, let alone wrapping their minds around it. I suspect some comments may seem incendiary to some, and to others might be energizing . I really appreciate the mix of comments from various pionts of view , experience, etc. Itight just be ok to not have a plan. The Spirit will make itself known to us as we pray for one another on this new path.

    • Philip K. Brockett

      Thanks for your comment! i am honored to hear from someone so well known and respected!

      Regarding my post. I probably overstated the case and was less than precise. What I was trying to describe was my own personal reaction to hearing some of the stories of the OT again and a deeper understanding of Scripture that is developing for me.

      When I use the word “primitive” I don’t do so in necessarily a negative way. I think we are all more “primitive” than we care to acknowledge and I suspect that the world would be a better place if we respected the reality of our primitive nature more than we do. We would take ourselves less seriously, be more gracious, and accept the way we have been hardwired by God.

      With regard to God being judgmental, harsh, and vengeful. You don’t have to convince me of the love and grace of God that is in the OT or the whole bible. The struggle that I see in the bible is the struggle of human beings over the ages to accept and live in congruence with God’s love and Grace.

      Thanks

  • Jack Woodin

    ACP…I cannot speak for the entire group here, but for me, knowing well those who have pioneered this I believe the intentions of this blog are based in love and understanding. This is not a discussion to be avoided or approached with fear. What I like about this site is the civility and loving care that has been used by those who have posted and responded. There can only be gain in these types of discussions as knowledge in life is power, and differences addressed openly with respect and kindness lead to the types of changes that are meaningful and lasting. Keep reading friends, and keep listening and learning with open hearts and free of fear and I believe God will honor those intentions. We don’t all need to agree, but we can’t avoid acknowledging the things that cause deep pain to our brothers and sisters in faith. We are stronger through the challenges we lovingly face together.

  • An Ex-Covenanter

    “Orientation is not the real issue.” –Howard Burgoyne

    “The more privileged you are, the easier it is to envision human beings as pure individuals, unconnected to other individuals in any way that matters.” –From the post Privilege Is Driving a Smooth Road And Not Even Knowing It

    For Christians who believe that homosexuality is a sin, they view the very idea of sexual orientation as a mis-framing of the issue. This is very easy to do for privileged, straight Christians who have been taught all their lives that the most basic, fundamental sexual aspects of their being are positive, legitimate, and even holy. Their parents probably helped shepherd the process of beginning to date, welcoming new boyfriends or girlfriends into the home and nurturing the maturation of their sexuality into something that led ultimately to a large wedding and a happy marriage thoroughly integrated into their community. For them, the incredible support of the aspects of their being that are most fundamental was so ubiquitous that they are hardly even aware of it.

    For these Christians, the issue is about clarity regarding sin and scripture. This is a privileged perspective. For those for whom their sexual orientation becomes an immediate, terrifying breach between themselves and that wealth of support that straight Christians enjoy, orientation is THE issue.

  • Mark Nilson

    Friends,

    I have read, listened, reflected, listened again, and reflected more since the dialogue began. My first response was, and remains, “This is a good day for the Covenant…a good day.” Thanks to those who initiated the conversation and to all who have participated.

    My own story goes back over 20 years now when my oldest, deepest, and best friend came out. We were both about 30 years old and had already shared 23 years of friendship taking us from 2nd grade Sunday School class, through Confirmation, Hi League, Christian college and into our respective vocations. Could I have guessed he was gay? Sure, but the shared experience of coming out “together” was one of the most powerful and transformational experiences of my life. I really mean “together” because it was just as much a “coming out” experience for me as a straight man, as it was for him a gay man. His sharing from the deepest most core place of his being invited me to share from an equally deep and core place. Vulnerability was flying around everywhere but eventually lead us into a far more honest and profound relationship – a deeper, deeper connection. I’ve been reading lately of how western culture is losing its tolerance for vulnerability. This is something I truly grieve for myself and the world. I’ve cherished this relationship and find myself smiling as I remember meeting his partner for the first time, raising our kids together, visiting “their” home each year on our way back from vacations. He has always been there for me (death of my parents, various graduations, my wedding, kids baptisms, my various moves around the country) and I always want to be there for him. My family and I have been blessed and enriched with many, many friends from the GLBT community. These relationships have flourished but I am incredibly saddened when those relationships have largely been outside of the church. As a Covenant pastor, I’ve watched too many faithful and committed folks from the GLBT community come to my church only to come to that point in time when they feel they have to leave us because they can no longer be in community without being able to share freely from their whole selves. Many have asked why I stay in the Covenant. I stay because I believe in the Covenant, who we are as a people and the unique affirmations that bind us together. I stay too, because, for me, I don’t think the answer lies in leaving. I have participated in Ministerium and Annual mtgs and have had my times at the microphone to speak for a more inclusive church. I stay also because I believe in the transformational power of God for all of us.

    I write this from Chicago and the Midwinter Conference and wonder (hope) that this might be an opportunity for real conversation and learning concerning a more inclusive church. I started my comments stating that it was 20 years ago and we were 30 years old. I used the numbers purposely because I’m 50 years old now and can’t bear the thought of having to have this conversation in 20 more years when I’m 70. I believe we can have this conversation today and it is my deepest prayer that the Holy Spirit would take over the whole dialogue – every comment, every statement, every emotion and story shared. This is a good day for the Covenant…a good day.

    Mark Nilson

    • Philip K. Brockett

      Mark,
      Thanks so much for sharing your story. And a double thank you for not posting it anonymously. It is important for clergy to speak up.
      God Bless,
      Phil Brockett

  • George Harris

    Nicely said, Phil.  Thank you for starting this blog.