As a gay seminary student who is pursuing a Masters in Counseling and not on an ordination track, I have wrestled a great deal with regards to the call that is on my life and the best way to live that out. It also seems to be perplexing, at times, to others who assume that because I am a seminarian that I must be seeking to pastor a congregation or assume some other type of church leadership role. Will I be a leader in the church?
Possibly, but, if I am, that will be a by-product of my call and not through the course of living it out.
I see great value in faith communities and the strength and support that they provide to those who choose to exist and find meaning within them, but, at the same time, I am also aware of, and have experienced first-hand, the harm that faith communities can do to those who become a part of them. In order for me to thoroughly explore the difference between experiencing a call to serve God and the process of ordination, I feel that it would be best to do so through an exploration of my own experience of God’s call upon my life.
I first remember feeling the urge to serve in the late 1990’s. I had begun attending a conservative evangelical church a couple of years before, a church that reinforced my own belief that being gay was wrong and that, therefore, there was something wrong with me. As I wrestled with these questions of how best to live my life as someone who was a Christian and stricken with, at the time, unwanted attractions towards members of the same sex, I began to look for resources. I came across the book, Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian in America by Mel White. I ordered the book online, and, when it arrived, I quickly dove into it.
I was eager to learn how I could be devoted to God and suppress or eliminate my feelings towards other guys. I didn’t get very far before I was appalled to discover that this book was not going to help me get to where I wanted to go. I was so disappointed to find that someone who professed Christ as their savior could make the argument that you could be both a Christian as well as embracing of a gay identity. I remember walking down the street one day and just throwing the book into a trash can on the street. Still, I longed to know, for myself and others, what it is to be Christian and gay within the context of a Christian life. I began to look for information online, and I discovered Exodus International. Through Exodus, I discovered resources to help me on my own journey, and, more importantly, I found stories, stories of others who had chosen the same path as I, were further along that journey, and seemed to be being successful at it. I began to read books, listen to audio testimonies, and read those stories.
Throughout the next decade of my life, those stories would sustain me, but the call to help others make sense of these questions continued to linger.
Any time that I would approach my pastor about establishing a ministry to help others wrestle with these questions, he would quickly discourage the idea, stating that he believed it would be giving homosexuality a status above other sins, and he felt that, since Jesus was the answer for all sin, it should not receive special attention or discussion. We would repeat this conversation every couple of years until, finally, in 2009, after a couple of gay teens had begun attending our church’s youth group, he gave me the thumbs-up to explore the idea of creating a ministry that would help others try to shed themselves of their same-sex desires. I quickly located, through Exodus, a ministry that would allow me to shadow the group’s leader and observe their meetings, in hopes of establishing something similar in my hometown.
It would be these meetings and observing the impact that these types of ministries have on people that eventually opened my eyes to how harmful they can be.
I stopped going to the group meetings. I ended up leaving my church, and I found myself, once again, searching for answers and wishing that I had a guide to show me the way. I buried myself in books looking for answers only to find that the knowledge I was seeking couldn’t be found in their pages.
In 2010, I first learned of the Reconciling Ministries Network, and it wouldn’t be until February of 2011 that I would first walk through the doors of a Reconciling church. I ended up finding a home there, but I struggled with my new understanding of the world, of God, and of the Bible. How could I sincerely believe that God could love me as both gay and Christian? Did that mean that my previous sincerely held beliefs about God were wrong? What did that mean for my calling? Was I still called? Did that mean that God was wrong before?
Well, as with many things in human existence, I now reflect and see that my primary error was in believing, either then or now, that I ever understood anything. What arrogance it was to believe that I could understand God or God’s beliefs.
As I reflect back now, I realized that neither God nor my call has changed. It is I that has changed.
Throughout my life, God has continued to draw me into God’s kindom through whatever means I was able to perceive that drawing. First, despite my own self-loathing, God drew me in. Now, with an understanding of the sacred worth and value of all humanity, God continues to draw me.
In terms of my call, I am still called to minister to those who find themselves conflicted at the intersection of sexuality and spirituality. It’s just that now, I am able to frame that work in a different way, embracing the unique identities that we all possess in terms of sexuality, gender, and spirituality.
When I first began my seminary journey, I did so with the understanding that I would seek to be ordained as a deacon within The United Methodist Church. I wanted to be that proverbial bridge between the church and the outside world. With great care, I crafted the letter that I would send to my district superintendent. Once the letter was received, a time was set up for me to meet with him. I had heard that he was supportive with regards to the ordination of LGBT clergy, and I was eager to begin the process.
Throughout my meeting with him, there were veiled hints that made it clear that he knew that I was gay and that we both knew that there were certain things that I couldn’t say and that he couldn’t hear, but he made it clear that under this vaguely hinted at structure of don’t ask, don’t tell, I had his support in the process. As I left that meeting, I wrestled with how his words had made me feel. It felt good to know that I had his support. It was clear that he wanted me to move forward and would do all that he could to not put obstacles in my way. Still, something didn’t feel right.
For someone, like myself, who had spent over a decade unintentionally deceiving everyone in their life, including themselves, about who they are, I ultimately came to the conclusion that I could not bring myself to go back into the closet.
I could not step back into those lies. I had experienced true authenticity, and it felt wrong to live any other way. So, with that mindset, I decided not to go further in my ordination process. Does that mean that I am not called? I don’t believe so. I believe that calling supersedes and can exist apart from ordination. Having the blessing of the church via a human-made process might be nice, but it comes at a cost that I am not willing to pay, and, as someone who hopes to work as a counselor in the future, helping others find their own authenticity, I see it as a step backwards to suppress my own.
- Thankful for the journey – connecting with Jennifer Knapp - August 14, 2015
- My journey of navigating the difference between call and ordination in The UMC as a gay man - August 7, 2015
- My journey from ex-gay therapy to a Reconciling congregation - May 26, 2015