I was ready to face my life but I had the whole problem of “Page 13” to contend with. I either had to continue to live a celibate life and remain a pastor or I had to leave the ministry. Since I had gone this long without a relationship, I really didn’t want to continue without a relationship. So to be openly in a relationship, I could not be an ELCA pastor.
Now I must say that I think the ELCA’s prohibition on openly gay pastors is just silly and I have always thought it was silly. I have to question a denomination that would rather have its leaders lie about what who they are as opposed to being honest. Well, that is their loss. But loss or not, there was a tenet of the faith that said I could be gay, I just needed to be celibate.
I had to struggle with what I wanted to do. I could stay in the ELCA and fight what I thought was an unfair, and frankly unchristian, rule. Or I could respect the rules of the church and find a new denomination. As I thought about it, it became clearer to me that I would need to leave the denomination.
The decision to leave had been in the process for a while. My call to the congregation was as an assistant pastor. As such, I played second fiddle to the senior pastor. In the past, in situations that were marginally controversial, the senior pastor would give his support but then if anyone from the congregation would say something, he would crumble. If it came down to standing by his colleague, me, or caving to even one comment from a parishioner, he would cave. If he caved only once, I may have gone forward, but this behavior of collapsing when things go a little controversial has been a consistent pattern with this man.
So I began to look at various other denominations, looking for a place that would accept me as I am and not expect me to lie and that would also allow me to serve God as I felt I had been called to do. Actually, I felt more then ever that I had truly been called by God. As I looked at the way the church treated GLBT people, and as I was beginning to experience myself, I felt the need more than ever to bring the gospel to those for whom the church was not a safe place and may have actually been a place of pain and rejection. I still felt the call to ministry; I just knew I could not do it in the ELCA.
I looked at various denominations, trying to find a place where I would be welcome. Unfortunately, this search did not turn up many denominations. Many of the denominations like to tell how open and accepting they were to “all people.” This was the same thing the ELCA also said. And I truly believe these denominations do feel they are being open. But also like the ELCA, most would not allow an openly gay person to function as a clergyperson. Also like the ELCA, most of these denominations like to proclaim how they allow “all people into all aspects of church life.” But if leadership is closed to a certain segment of the population, is it really open?
Of the denominations I searched, I was only able to find three that were truly open to having GLBT people as clergy. These denominations were The United Church of Christ, The Episcopal Church in America, and The Metropolitan Community Church. Finding only three denominations was pretty disheartening. But since I had only these three to look at, I started to do my research.
The first denomination I look at was the MCC. I thought this would be a great place to minister as its traditional outreach is to the GLBT population. In this denomination, a gay pastor was not an oddity; actually, a heterosexual pastor would be the oddity. Within the MCC, homosexuality is the norm.
So with this in mind, I decided to go and visit an MCC church. I was surprised to find that, even with a major university in town, Lansing did not have an MCC congregation. But I still wanted to see what an MCC church was like. So, one Sunday morning while I was on vacation, I got up and drove to Grand Rapids to visit the church there.
That worship service was quite an eye-opener for me. I didn’t know what I should expect from the congregation there. This was my first foray out into the “Gay World” as one of the “locals.” I was not entering the “Gay World” as an outsider but as an actual gay person.
I was greeted by one of the members of the congregation who was very kind and asked some questions about me. These questions were not intrusive in any way but allowed me the opportunity to talk if I would want to. The member then asked me if I would like to sit with him and his friends during the service.
The service was relatively uneventful, similar to just about any other mainstream worship service. Well, actually, the sermon was anything but uneventful. The pastor preached about difficulties with those around us and working on coming to an understanding with those people. In the sermon, the pastor urged the congregation to confront those who have hurt them and then work toward resolution. This sounds good in theory but almost ended in a boxing match in the parking lot after the service. But the most eye-opening aspect of the service was how truly uneventful it all really was. These people, these GAY people prayed, sang, communed, and went out for lunch after the service just like everyone else. The sermon was not about being gay, it was about being a person.
That was one of the defining moments for me in creating my “gay identity.” I was able to go out and be gay but not be “GAY” as the stereotypes would have us think.