Putting a Stake In The Ground

Tim Johnson is a Covenant “preacher’s kid” and rare books librarian at the University of Minnesota. He has an undergraduate degree in history from North Park College and graduate degrees in Library Science and Theological Studies. For eleven years Tim was the archivist for the Covenant Church and  North Park University. He is married, has three children, and a twenty-month-old granddaughter. 

“Regardless of what moral or theological positions churches hold regarding gay and lesbian sexual behavior, all Christians can and should unite around a commitment to defend people’s basic rights. But the church cannot in good conscience take a passive approach to this question. It is, after all, other Christians who often have taken the lead in this thinly disguised but mean-spirited assault on human dignity. Biblically based Christians who operate out of a more loving and compassionate framework must meet the challenge head-on and forcefully oppose homophobia.” — Jim Rice, Sojourners

What is amazing to me is that the above lines were penned eighteen years ago—and we’re still debating the issues. With this in mind, two seemingly unrelated events from last weekend continued nagging my spirit. The first occurred Friday evening, a retirement party for a colleague with whom I’ve worked closely. It was a delightful occasion held in the air-conditioned pavilion of a downtown park, complete with excellently catered food and drink, sweet cake, and a short program of recognition, including gifts from his friends and a letter from the President of the United States. The second event transpired during the Sunday morning worship service at my church. We were asked to think a bit about why we are a church, why we gather on Sunday. As part of that reflection the congregation was invited to read together the church’s “purpose statement” from its constitution: “We covenant to cultivate a community of worship committed to prayer, preaching and study of the word of God, the celebration of the sacraments, and fellowship across gender, race, age, culture, and class. In so doing we covenant to equip loving, giving, growing Christians to reach out with the good news of Jesus Christ, evangelizing the lost, ministering to those in need, and seeking justice for the oppressed.”

It was the clause “…fellowship across gender, race, age, culture, and class” that grabbed my attention and troubled my soul. It troubled me because Friday night’s party was for a gay friend, on the eve of the Twin Cities Pride festival, I was one of the few “straight” people in the room, and at a guess most of the rest of the guests would have little or nothing good to say about the Church. And it troubled me because I really wonder whether we as a church believe what we say, that we can truly fellowship across gender, race, age, culture, and class. I have a hard time imagining many of my fellow parishioners at Friday night’s party. Impediments in the relationship exist on both sides. If my friend is any indication of the LGBT community’s general view of organized religion then we have a long way to go. There is a suspicion in the community, born of experience, that seems very difficult to overcome.

So I can’t really fathom the “big picture” here. I need to think in terms of small steps, of individual and discrete actions, that put me in “a more loving and compassionate framework.” That, in part, was why I was at the party last Friday night. I was there as a friend, to celebrate a generous and committed colleague. He and I do not agree on many things; we’ve had far-ranging discussions on any number of topics. But when things really mattered, when we got down to brass tacks, it was easy to stand shoulder to shoulder with him. It was easy to stand with him when we were targeted at work through hateful letters, posters, and email by a Christian(?) pastor and his congregation from the Midwest. And it was easy to visit him in the hospital when diabetes and a faulty heart threatened to take him from us. That’s what friends do for friends. I don’t know that he’ll ever darken the church door. It’s not an immediate concern of mine. But his friendship is my concern, something that I can tend to. The rest I offer in prayer, to the tender mercies and grace of God.

It is because of that friendship—along with the relationships I have with many other LGBT colleagues (one of them a fellow“PK”)—and what I trust is a prayerful, careful, biblically contemplative approach to life that I need to now put a stake in the ground; I need to publicly state my opposition to the marriage amendment that will appear on the 2012 ballot in Minnesota. It is, for me, no longer a religious question. It is a question of civil rights, of political process, of friendship, of blessing.

The Preamble to the state constitution reads: “We, the people of the state of Minnesota, grateful to God for our civil and religious liberty, and desiring to perpetuate its blessings and secure the same to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution.” Our political ancestors understood the distinction between civil and religious liberties; they were interested in protecting both. They saw this in terms of blessings, not curses. We should continue to be about the business of blessing, of securing rights, not taking them away.

Light and Hope!

While we prefer to publish author’s names sometimes circumstances require that we publish  posts anonymously. This post is written by a North Park Student.

I would describe my childhood as midwestern and suburban and my family as conservative and… well, conservative. I was a normal teen girl: loving to hang out with friends, being on sports teams, and going on missions trips. I fought with my parents about chores and grades. When I turned 16, pulling into the driveway 10 minutes after curfew seemed like the end of the world.

My upbringing was also heavily involved in the church. Some of my first memories are of watching my uncle preach while I tried to be quiet and patient in the front row. Some of my best memories are of spending summers watching God work in all the ways he does at church camp. And yet, some of my worst memories are of people of the church discriminating and degrading myself and my friends.

I am Bi. I figured it out the hard way by falling for my best friend in high school and since then, I have been taking the journey toward figuring out who I am despite that the people around me saw it as wrong.

It was a Tuesday night in September when my parents sat me down at the kitchen table. From their faces I thought someone had died. They explained that they knew something was going on that I was trying to hide, that what I was doing was wrong. I was given an ultimatum: cut all ties with my girlfriend and never see her again, or be forced to sit down with her parents, mine, and my camp director and explain our actions to all of them. I obviously, yet unwillingly chose the former and was sent to my room with two strict orders: to have no communication with the outside world and take the neatly written flash cards with bible verses on them and memorize them.

I was so broken and angry I don’t even remember most of the next week. Days later I was able to find a phone during school and call my girlfriend to tell her everything. I heard her voice break on the phone as if someone had kicked her in the stomach. We told each other how much we meant to and loved one another, and that was the end of it all.

My parents did everything you aren’t supposed to do when you find out your child is gay. I was angry at them for using my God, the God that loved the WHOLE world and brought my relationship together, against me. I was angry at how I was supposed to sweep a year of my life under the rug. They selfishly asked me to pretend I was happy so that everyone in our lives, including them would think that they didn’t have a messed up kid. Throughout all this, I kept quiet. Not to tend to my parents wishes, but because I started to believe them. For over a year, I didn’t tell even my closest friends. I sought after God and had to convince my parents again and again that I could be a “good Christian girl” and be in love with one too.

The rest of high school was a blur after that. I didn’t have a doubt in my mind that I wanted to be able to live in the community of a Christian college. Growing up in northern Indiana and longing to live in the city, Chicago was an obvious choice. Leaving the familiarity of home and my parents was surprisingly healing for me and North Park felt like a new home rather quickly. Then, almost exactly when I felt I could go back home to work at camp that summer a new person, I got a phone call.

The coming summer was a whirlwind of explaining my past to camp elders while they juried on whether or not I was suitable to work there. In this situation though, I wasn’t the main victim. My friend that had grown up going to this camp with me was being interrogated because although she put her personal life on hold every summer, the parents didn’t want a gay staff member working with their children. I stood behind her as we fought with all we had to work the rest of the summer at our favorite place in the world. That July, it all came crashing down as we were fired and told to leave the premises within the afternoon for “endangering” the morality of camp. If our parents not approving of our lives wasn’t enough, our second family was kicking us out as well.

I think after everything that I have been through I have been blessed. Blessed that I have had a whispering voice inside me time after time telling me that the hate I see in the world is not of God. And although my story is probably similar to a lot of people out there, the one thing that I think sets it apart is the fact that out of all the communities I have been a part of, the Covenant denomination, and specifically North Park have been the most affirming and I have met so many people that stand behind me whether I am gay or straight. There is a long way to go, but I see Light and Hope in this place, and while I am here, I want to fight to nourish that and make it grow.

 

No More Silence!

Kathy and Don Anderson are life long Covenanter’s. Don’s hails from Jamestown NY and Kathy grew up in Omaha NE where they now live. Graduates of North Park University they are active members of First Covenant Church. Last year at family camp they shared their journey with their church family and now they are sharing on Coming Out Covenant.

Story by Kass and Don Anderson

Nothing could have prepared us for the news that our son, Erik, shared with us two years ago, when he finally had the courage to tell us that he is gay. We will never forget that day. You would think that as his parents we would have  recognized this  ….but it was not on our radar at all. Although it was both shocking and tough to hear, it was one of those pivotal lessons in life that has contributed to a significant transformation of our faith.

Erik realized he was gay when he was in middle school but had to secretly keep this awareness hidden for years because he was too scared to tell anyone. When he was in high school, Erik heard some condemning comments from his family about this issue and he began to feel truly alone and in a dark place full of hurt, pain, and depression. He became angry with God because he felt God wasn’t helping him. One night Erik was seriously considering ending his life and began to write a will. There, alone in his room as Erik contemplated ending his life, he heard God’s voice.  God said, “Why would you be alive if I didn’t have a purpose for you?” With those words God gave Erik hope and the realization that God loved and accepted him for who he was and is.

Looking back now, with the knowledge of what could have happened, we could beat ourselves up every day for our ignorance and insensitivity but our loving Creator reached out to Erik and protected him that night. So yes, we are forever grateful to God for intervening, and we are forever thankful for helping us learn and understand more about the love of Christ.

Both my husband and I are part of many generations of “Covenanters.” Neither of us recall having a discussion about homosexuality at church or have ever heard any of the church leaders discuss this issue. So consequently, we never had reason to form an opinion about it. So we just kept silent about this issue like the church seemed to be. The little we did hear about it was mostly from Christians who we respected, and their views were that homosexuality wasn’t natural and it was denounced in the Bible. Never having close connections with anyone who was gay and never having taken the time to hear any stories or testimonies of gay people, we formulated that same opinion….. until the day this issue brought us to our knees. So you see on that day that Erik told us he was gay, we knew  very little about homosexuality, but we knew a great deal about our son! How could he be gay? He was physical on the soccer field, always had girls eyeing him when walking through the malls, and he just didn’t fit the image we had of a gay guy at all.

How ignorant we had become simply because we allowed ourselves to be consumed by the silence that surrounds this issue and because we had no motivation to try and understand why many of God’s people were being subjected to judgement and rejection. After listening to our son’s story, reading about other homosexuals and their stories, through lots of prayer, and finally the power of the Holy Spirit convicting us, we have heard the voice of truth. We lost the nice and tidy view of the world in which everything fit neatly into boxes of black or white and right or wrong. In fact, we had been placing Jesus in a box. We were putting limits on his love and grace. Our son also shared that he believes sin brings people away from God and being gay has not brought him away from God. It has brought him closer to Jesus than he ever could have imagined. Erik had to depend on Jesus for strength, courage, and support when there was no one else he could turn to. Jesus REACHED out to him!

We are grateful to be given new eyes to see the real Jesus with. We share our story in the hope that it might help those who are experiencing a similar situation. But we also share this because we so desire that the Covenant church would not be silent anymore about this issue. We can no longer hang our heads, for in so doing, we are generating attitudes of judgement and hypocrisy. The task of the church is to understand that Jesus didn’t answer all of our questions. But we do know for certain that Jesus’ main message was to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself.” In 1 Samuel 16:7, it reads, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” All of God’s creation is good! We cannot exclude and determine who should be included in his kingdom or circle. We need to make space for all people and their differences. That’s the Jesus we have come to know.

Christian morality is trying to discover how we are to live a life that is consistent with who God created us to be. For heterosexuals and those of same-sex orientation, being moral means living by the love ethic of Jesus. Jesus was not silent regarding compassion toward those who had been marginalized as a class or group. The church needs to become the place where lesbian and gay Christians can learn how God wants to bless their relationships and empower them to share their gifts with a world that needs them. There should be no more labeling of people. The main concern for the church is that there are people who are Christian or non-Christian. The purpose of life as Christians on this Earth is to share the love of Christ.

What a wonderful opportunity for the Covenant church to show the world how Jesus commanded us to love. Let us not be silent anymore but accept all the differences that make each other unique. We would like to see the church get involved in deeper discussion on this issue by being open to listening to the stories of Christian gays and their walks and struggles. There is common ground in the struggles and the joys of all Christians. When congregations come together willing to discuss and listen, our knowledge will grow. The doors of the church should be thrown wide open for everyone. The body of Christ is about hooking our arms together and glorifying our Creator, encouraging and supporting each other in our walk, and going out in the world and sharing the good news of Christ’s love. God created everyone, including our son, for this purpose, too.

VIDEO: Former Evangelical Covenant-er Rep. Drew Hansen Speaks in favor of the State of Washington’s Bill to legalize same sex marriage!

This week Washington State moved one step closer to becoming the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage when the State House voted, 55 to 43, in favor of bill ESSB 6239. The bill had already been approved by the state senate and now awaits Gov. Christine Gregoire’ signature and the inevitable challenges that will follow.

Of course this bill produced much debate which included testimony of Christian Representatives who explained that because of their religious convictions they opposed passage of this legislation, that is until Rep. Drew Hansen stood up to speak. Rep. Hansen quietly and eloquently describes why as a Christian he was voting in favor of the bill.  He mentions that he is a “PK” (preacher’s kid), and that his mother, a retired minister in the Evangelical Covenant church, would in the near future be giving the morning prayer in the state legislature.

Turns out that Rep. Hansen grew up in the Mercer Island Covenant Church although presently he and his family are now actively involved in a Lutheran Congregation. He himself is part of weekly bible study and prayer gathering at the state capital.

Our hats are off to Rep. Hansen, for making a difference for the gay and lesbian community and for helping the general public understand that not all Christians think the same way on this issue. His quiet and sincere way of speaking can not help but impress upon you that sincere and devout Christians (and Evangelical Covenanters) can hold differing understandings of what the Bible has to say about homosexuality. You will want to watch this video, and to “like it” and “share it.”  Our only sadness is  that while Rep. Hansen is a true “Covenanter” in the spirit of being a “Companion of all who fear thee” he is  a “former Covenanter” in practice. Rep. Hansen, thank you for your example of piety, love, and courage! May more people follow your example.

Coming Out Covenant Celebrates One Year Online!

Philip K. Brockett, Coming Out Covenant blogIt is now one year since Andrew Freeman and I launched this blog! Our purpose in doing so was give voice to our desire to see the Evangelical Covenant Church become more welcoming of members of the gay and lesbian community by creating a space for Covenanters to share their “coming out stories.” Coming Out Covenant is our first attempt at blogging and it has been both informative and rewarding. As a way of celebrating our one year anniversary I thought I would share 5 things I’ve learned from this first year of our blog.

1. First of all, COC has reinforced for me the power of the internet and social media to create community and to bring about change. Just a few years ago any interest or support for a more accepting view of gay and lesbian people in the Evangelical Covenant Church was limited to a small advertisement in the Covenant Companion. While I’m certain that many people across the covenant were rethinking this issue there was no way for people of like mind to communicate with each other or to offer mutual support for a different point of view. Now however, it is possible to quickly and easily establish “a community”within the larger Covenant community in support of LGBT inclusiveness. This is what COC is beginning to do.

2. Second Coming Out Covenant is part of a wave of change regarding homosexuality that is sweeping the Evangelical world. This past year, groups have been established at Wheaton College, (One Wheaton) and other Christian Colleges, Universities and institutions. (Resources from One Wheaton) Just as in the  past God’s Spirit changed people’s understanding of scripture regarding  such issues as slavery and the role of women, the Spirit is at work today to open our eyes regarding what the bible says and doesn’t say about people who are created in the image of God with a same-sex orientation. I am convinced more than ever that anyone who believes that change is not coming in the Evangelical world regarding this issue has their head in the sand and that wise church leaders and congregations are beginning to discuss and study this issue rather than ignoring it and hoping it will go away.

3. Third, the changes that are occurring in the evangelical world are coming from the grass roots up. The covenant does not have an ecclesiastical hierarchy which declares dogma or policy. We operate in a congregational system in which congregations function autonomously. The Covenant will become inclusive only as individual congregations decide to become open and affirming of LGBT people. This is how other denominations of congregational polity have progressed on this issue. I look forward to that day when individual congregations will have studied, prayed together and by congregational process decided that their doors are open to fully include our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. When that happens then we will be tested to see if can live by the historic covenant principle of “agreeing to disagree but not breaking fellowship” and by the founding verse of our denomination, “I am the companion of all who fear thee.” Our true and complete companionship needs to be expanded!

4. The response to our blog has been at one and the same time incredibly supportive and painfully disappointing. First of all THANK YOU to everyone who has posted, commented, “liked”, linked, forwarded, or reposted from our blog! This is how the internet works!  I don’t know how anyone can read the stories that have been published this past year and not be moved to tears. These are real human stories often of people who have suffered in silence, feeling trapped in their own skin, beset by the condemnation of others from the outside and self loathing from within. Many of the people who have posted have chronicled their experience of coming to a deeper understanding of God’s grace and acceptance that challenges my understanding of God’s grace and makes me leap for joy.

However at the same time I’m deeply saddened by the fact that so many people choose to stay on the sidelines of this issue. If you read the stories published this past year you must realize that our silence is creating an environment within our churches that causes individuals irreparable emotional and even physical harm. It is time for people to have the courage to let others know where you stand on this issue. Please understand I’m not advocating for argument or dissension instead I am advocating “for the freedom in Christ” that creates openness for respectful dialogue and which recognizes that there is room for a differing “biblical” points of view on this issue. While we are grateful for retired covenant clergy, and for Covenant clergy serving in other denominations who have posted and commented, only a few “active” Covenant clergy have made comment on this blog and only one “active” covenant pastor has written a post.

Many other clergy while sympathetic have chosen to remain silent. I understand this silence for it was only after I stepped out of serving a church that I found the courage to speak out. I am told by some that conference and denominational leaders have counseled clergy against associating their name with this blog for fear that doing so will limit their ability to receive call to a church. After all who wants to see anyone in this economy loose their source of livelihood? Despite all these factors I am forced to ask a question, “Where is the prophetic voice within our clergy and church leadership?” Who will be the prophets and the missionaries of this movement? Who will the Doug Cedarleafs of our generation?

5. Finally I have learned first hand the difficulty of being an activist. I think that I can speak somewhat for Andrew in this regard also. Perhaps you have noticed that this blog has had its periods of activity and inactivity. There have been two causes of this lack of consistency. First it has been due to the sporadic submission of content. Our foremost stated purpose has been to publish “Coming out stories” of people. These stories include straight people such as myself whose understanding on this issue has changed and more importantly the stories of LGBT people within the Covenant. Our reason for this is the belief that the one thing that changes people’s mind is knowing someone who is gay and hearing their story.

Most post submissions to the blog have come unsolicited as the spirit has moved. Typically when we have content we publish it but this is not completely true because the second reason for the up and down nature of our blog is the waxing and waning of our energy. While both Andrew and I feel strongly about this issue we live somewhere between enthusiastic activism and discouragement. We struggle with how much of ourselves we are able to invest in this issue especially when both of us have other dimensions of life that require our energy. Bottom line is we don’t want to be the sole carriers of this flame. If this issue is to move forward it requires other people’s involvement. So please don’t sit on your hands and think that we have it covered. If something moves in your heart regarding this issue then contact us. We welcome your ideas, comments, posts, and involvement in ways that we have not even thought of yet.

So that is what this past year of COC has taught me. I am curious what you have observed and learned from the “Coming Out Covenant” experience. Has it made you mad, sad, or glad? Are you empowered, afraid, or just so-so? Do you think we are prophets heretics, or apostates?  After all Jesus did say, “beware if all men speak well of thee?” So please post a comment on the blog or on Facebook.

For your information here is a score card of Coming Out Covenant’s activity for this past year.  From 37 posts, we have received 446 comments, 26,410 unique visitors, 71,279  visits, 451,045 page views and 543 “Likes” on facebook.  At first I was impressed by these numbers but I have learned that by internet standards they are small indeed and yet for a denomination the size of the Evangelical Covenant Church they are significant. Most important, I know for a fact that the blog has given individuals who felt they were alone and isolated, HOPE and comfort and the knowledge that they are loved by God and others and for this reason they no longer need to be afraid for the scriptures tell us that “….perfect love drives fear away.” I John 4:18

Philip K. Brockett 1-30-12

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”: Still Waiting for Repeal in the Evangelical Covenant Church

Andrew Freeman

Note: This blog was created for people to share their stories. Until now, I have mostly refrained from sharing details of my own. This is one part of my journey.  

Just over nine months ago, I sat on the piano bench in a church sanctuary, one eye on my music and the other on the screen of my smartphone. It was a Saturday morning, we were rehearsing for the upcoming Sunday School Christmas program, and between songs I was checking my newsfeed. The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell had finally come to a vote, and I watched anxiously as the results came in. When repeal passed the Senate, I kept my excitement to myself, picked up my phone, and updated my Facebook status: “well, the U.S. Military is now officially on its way to being a more open and welcoming place than the Church.”

My sarcasm had some personal bitterness mixed in. You see, I was serving as a closeted gay associate pastor to this Covenant congregation. With the recent disclosure of my sexual orientation to denominational leadership, my future in Covenant ministry was feeling in jeopardy. I only had a few more weeks left at the local church, just a few more weeks of hiding at work. I had come out to essentially all of my friends (except those who were related to congregants) and to my entire family. The last vestige of the closet was at work, around the people with whom I was supposed to have formed authentic and meaningful relationships. Yet these relationships were limited by fear – of hurt and division. I loved the people I was serving, but worried they might not love me if they really, truly knew me. I hid to avoid causing pain for all of us, but the silence was slowly killing me. I was tired and miserable and ready – anxious, even – to be free.

That’s why the news of DADT’s repeal stirred up some mixed emotions in me. On the one hand, it was certainly an historic moment in the LGBT rights movement in our country. And my heart rejoiced with those soldiers who would soon be freed from closets of secrecy and shame, finally able to serve with honesty and dignity. Yet at the same time, this news only drew further attention to the reality that the church is lagging far behind. I was angered by the revelation that I could now, theoretically, openly serve in one of the last places on earth I would want to serve – the US Military, while the one place I most wanted to serve, the place that has been my home, my family, my source of identity, the place I had practically pledged my life to – the Covenant Church, no longer seemed to want me. Months later, when publicly sharing my story, I quipped, “Ironically, I’m a pacifist, and yet as an openly gay man I now have a better shot at firing a gun in the U.S. Military than preaching the peace of Christ every week in a Covenant Church.” I want you to know how deeply it pains me to say such a thing.

Fast-forward to the present. As of last Tuesday, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is no more. Once faceless gay soldiers now appear on TV, names and faces fully visible. The veil has been lifted. A young man films the phone call to his father in which he comes out, and the video goes viral on YouTube. One can’t help but feel moved by these stories and celebrate the progress this represents for our country. Yet still I ask: what progress have we made in the church?

I chose to disclose my sexual orientation to leaders in the church after deciding that the closet was not a healthy or sustainable place for me to live. In response, I have been told two things: 1 – sexual orientation alone does not disqualify a candidate from ordination in the Covenant Church, and 2 – there are gay and lesbian Covenant pastors who, living in accordance with the ethical guidelines for ministers, have been ordained. So, in essence, I am not alone and I can technically still seek ordination. Good news in theory, perhaps, but not so in reality.

When I asked to speak with these other LGBT Covenant clergy for solidarity and support, no names were given to me. Apparently, they are all still in the closet. I suggested that my name and contact information could be given to any closeted clergy who might contact me in confidence. One year later, I haven’t heard from a single person. Not one. I’ve been told that I’m not alone, but my only company is anonymous. In reality, this is not a safe church for ministers to be honest about who they are, and so I continue to stand alone.  One can be closeted, gay, and ordained in this church, but what about those who feel called to live in the light on the other side of the closet door? Turns out, there are costs to “telling,” but those details are for another post.

I made the decision to come out fully aware of the consequences it might have on my call to serve the Covenant church. I felt as if I had been forced to choose between my call and my integrity. I had to choose integrity. Yet this is not a choice the Church should require its ministers to make: one’s call and integrity should always be interwoven. I do not question the integrity of the lives of those who have chosen to remain in the closet. I do, however, question when that choice cannot be freely made from a place of safety, personal preference, and prayerful discernment, but is rather driven by the pragmatics of church policies and politics. Choices driven by fear seldom turn out to be life-giving.

It may not be an official, explicitly written policy, but the cultural realities I’ve described here essentially form our church’s own version of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Not only is it unfair and unjust, it is also unbiblical. Ours is a God of revelation, who favors truth-telling. So I want to give others out there a space to safely tell the truth, even now. That’s largely why we created this blog, but for those who can’t yet risk such public exposure I’ve set up a private and confidential email: andrew@comingoutcovenant.com – write to me! I’d love to hear from you and walk this often-lonesome journey with you. Your story is sacred, and I will treat it as such – receiving it with respect, holding it in confidence. If the military can move past the days of serving in secrecy, isn’t about time the Church did, too?

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! 

Lizzy Moscinski: “Gay and All”

Lizzy Moscinski

I’m Lizzy Moscinski. I want to share my story with you.

Growing up, I was very much a typical kid in the Midwest. I went to a private Lutheran elementary and middle school and was a member of its Lutheran church. I was part of a conservative, Christian family and I really loved my God. I prayed before meals, I slept with my blankie, I was a Scooby-Doo freak; I had friends, I played outside, I liked Beanie Babies and action figures, I loved climbing trees and Juicy-Juice. I guess I always knew I was different though. I hated anything that had to do with the girl’s side of the department stores and the color pink. I begged to play a boy’s part in school plays. And when I started developing crushes, they weren’t on the boys in my class.

When I had my first crush on the new girl in the third grade, I told my mother about it. I told her that this was really weird since she was a girl too. My mom told me not to worry about it and that probably a lot of girls felt that way about her too. I felt relieved and didn’t think about it much. As I got older, I continued to refuse any article of girl’s clothing. For a period of time in school I was often referred to as “The Gay One,” or “It,” because I dressed like the other 5th grade boys and not the girls. For the first time I was ashamed of the way I looked. I started to understand why being called gay was such an insult. I started to focus more and more on who I was having crushes on and began my self-loathing at an early age. I never admitted that I was gay though. In my understanding, gay people were not actually gay people. They were basically potential heterosexuals who chose to do gay things. They were not Christians. They were unnatural. And I could not be one of them. The thought made me sick. I loved Jesus! How could I be like that?!

Upon entering middle school, I had one of my girl friends help me look like a girl. I grew out my crew cut hair and had to be taught how to put it up in a ponytail. I wore girl’s clothing. I then started to journal and would write about all the boys I had “crushes” on. The whole thing was preposterous because those were all my friends, not anyone I could ever imagine holding hands with or kissing. Sometimes I would write on a page that I knew why I was so upset all the time and it was because I liked other girls (never using the word gay). I would then rip up those pages and burn them. I prayed every night and every day to be normal. I prayed desperately to like boys. “God, please! Make me like a BOY!” Soon, I began self-injury. My legs, my arms, my hips, my ankles, my fingers, my ribs all became scar-ridden flesh canvases to paint my pain on in my own blood. I hated myself. I hated that I couldn’t just like a boy. Why was that so hard for me? Not one other person I knew was gay. Not that I would even call myself gay. I just liked other girls. That’s all.

In high school I became a member of the Covenant church where I became increasingly involved. I went to church every Sunday and attended every youth group event I could. I stopped thinking about my girl-likes-girl plight and dated boys. I never had any reason to seriously admit my sexuality because of those hetero-affirming relationships, but they were unfulfilling and lacked everything I thought a relationship was supposed to have. I hated that I never felt right in them. I hated myself for the crushes I had on other girls. I hated myself for being such a terrible Christian, for being “unnatural.” I spent countless nights fearing the hell that I was certainly doomed for, feeling repulsive and desperation to be anyone else. As high school came to a close, I started seriously thinking about my sexuality and starting to own what was true of me. So I prayed. I prayed so fervently. “God, guide me. I don’t know what to do. But if I am going to be straight, then I’m trusting that you will change me. If I am supposed to live a life of celibacy, then you will make me know that. I don’t know how to be anything. I don’t know how to let myself be gay. I don’t know how to force myself to be straight. I’m trusting you. I have to trust you.”

The more I prayed, the more I felt this overwhelming sense of grace and mercy. I read my Bible for guidance and one day, the first thing I flipped to was Romans 13:10, “Love does no wrong to others, therefore love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.” Interpret that how you will, but to me that says that honest love, the real kind of selfless love, cannot be wrong. If you can love then you should love, and it is good and it is holy. It is love. The gift of relationship is one of the greatest things we’ll ever know. I have never felt called to live a celibate life. I am a companion kind of person. I decided to come out at the beginning of my freshman year in college and faced a whole new set of issues. Issues with my church, and with my friends and family. I didn’t feel as welcome in my church and I noticed that people were wary around me. People who knew me inside and out became strangers. I no longer desired to go to church in the place that had been my home for years. Coming out wasn’t the happy parade I might have hoped. I was called an abomination by some. I was laughed at and told that what I decided to become was costing me my salvation. It was extremely difficult and hopeless at times. But my God saw me through every step. And I am forgiven. And I am me.

I think the hardest part for me was that homosexual people were never a legitimate group of people. A homosexual was never a description of a kind of person. It was a description of a sinful act. It made me feel so dirty. I think this kind of teaching leaves a whole group of people outside of God’s rules of relationships and leaves an entire group of people without hope. I didn’t have a community that would support me no matter who I was. I wasn’t able to talk to people about it. I lost my hope so many times along the way and became obsessed with suicide and attempted it on a few occasions. It seemed my only hope at peace. Going directly to God is what moved me. My God gave me hope, gave me grace, mercy, forgiveness, peace and love. And I am His child. Gay and all.

Anonymous: “It Gets Better”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bob Freeman: “O What Needless Pain We Bear”

Bob and Andrew Freeman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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