I lived and served as a pastor in The United Methodist Church in a committed, loving relationship with a person of the same sex as me for ten years.
Living in the closet hurt my family, my mental health and ultimately destroyed our relationship.
I did not go looking to break my ordination vows, as a bisexual person I had been married to a person of the opposite sex. My opposite sex spouse cheated repeatedly and our relationship ended in divorce.
After my divorce, I followed my heart instead of choosing an “appropriate” person genital-wise.
I fell in love with a person who was kind, caring, fiercely loyal and of the same sex.
We thought we could handle being in the closet, that we could keep our private relationship private and our public life in the church separate. My children from my first marriage were young and seemed to understand on instinct that my partner loved them and was special in their lives. For a few years we were really happy.
We felt God was at the center of our relationship. We prayed together, did couple Bible studies together and talked through my sermons together. When we could get away for vacation we would go to churches that were LGBTQ welcoming and worship together holding hands and being proud of our relationship and family. One of the most precious memories I have of our relationship was going on vacation to San Francisco and worshipping with the MCC church. They invite families to come forward to receive communion together. Our kids were little and we went forward as a group. The pastor gave us each the bread and juice and then put her arms around the four of us and prayed a blessing for our “beautiful family.” The memory is so precious it brings tears to my eyes today. My partner and I had a lawyer draw up papers that gave each other rights over our estate, our kids, our healthcare – everything we could without getting married. In our hearts we felt we were married.
Each fall when the decision came to ask for a move from my pastorate we would pray and ask if God was using me in this congregation, or should we prioritize our relationship and leave?
I interviewed with the UCC leadership and prepared to change denominations. But each fall it seemed like my leadership in the congregation was so fruitful and needed to get the church through a million dollar building project, we chose to stay. We chose to serve this church and see them through a process that many other pastors had attempted to start but none had been able to succeed. I was succeeding, my leadership was needed, and I was changing lives by staying.
And by staying in the closet our relationship began to die.
Lying kills your soul. And that is the real sin of living in the closet. I never felt guilty about loving my partner, but huge guilt about lying about our love. The sin of the closet is living in lies. It eats away at you; it makes you resent the Church, the congregation and each other. The bitterness you feel at living this way starts to manifest itself in the way you talk to and treat each other. Our relationship started to decline. We both went on anti-depressants and we both struggled with health issues related to stress. I have developed near-constant migraines, my partner developed high blood pressure and we both gained too much weight.
Our kids were growing up and we were lying even to them because we didn’t want them to be in the position of knowing the truth and having to lie for us.
In protecting our kids, our families and our friends from lying we isolated ourselves even more. Relationships need to be lived out in the open, this is why weddings are important – the community coming around you to acknowledge your love and offer support is crucial to a happy marriage. While we considered ourselves secretly married, and planned for a big wedding “someday”, without a community of support our marriage was dying.
We went to counselors and we went on overnights to try to save our relationship. Each counselor said the same thing – will The United Methodist Church change? Can you leave this church to go someplace and be out? The building project in my congregation was continuing to be fruitful and the people of the congregation continually asked me to stay and see it through – they knew UMC pastors rarely stay this long in a pulpit.
They didn’t know how staying was helping them but costing me my relationship.
We could not stay together and stay in the closet. We stayed together probably two years too long because we didn’t want to give up. But when our 10-year anniversary came and went without either of us bothering to buy the other a card or even say anything we knew it was over.
We had chosen to love the church and serve the church more than we loved our relationship and each other. It cost us dearly. Some might suggest that we would have broken up regardless – perhaps. We will never know what could have been because we were never given the chance to live freely as a couple. I believe our kids would be happier and healthier today if we could have told them the truth. I believe we would each be healthier physically and mentally if we could have lived openly without the extra stress of the closet. I wish that I could say that my ministry was not affected by being in the closet. But how could the stress and the affects on my person not affect the way I related to my congregation?
Although the church is accomplishing much, I wonder how much more healthy we would all be if I were not bearing the burden of secrecy.
I pray that The United Methodist Church changes its stance on openly LGBTQ clergy because the current “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is unhealthy for clergy and their families. I believe my ex would have made an excellent clergy spouse and we could have had a long and fruitful ministry together if the church would have let us.
- I’m writing because I love you - June 10, 2016
- The cost of serving The UMC from the closet - May 10, 2016
- My job offer was withdrawn because I wouldn’t commit to discrimination - January 25, 2016