I don’t talk much about my sexuality. It just doesn’t seem relevant most of the time.
Working on Out of Order is the first time I’ve been quite so publicly queer, ever, and even though I haven’t yet identified myself on camera with any particular label, the context is plenty. And usually that’s where I’m most comfortable as well – I will happily associate myself publicly with “the queer community” or “LGBTQ future pastors” and leave people to make what assumptions they will.
(This is also easier than fumbling with the inadequacies of labels to capture the complexity of human reality. “I’m gay, except…”, “I’m bi, but…”, “I’m queer, and what I mean is…” are not easy conversation starters, and are usually much too personal for most conversations.)
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A few weeks ago, some members of my presbytery found the Out of Order trailer, with my name and face prominently featured, and suddenly my sexuality was AN ISSUE. I was examined for ordination on Saturday, and even though references to intimate relationships have now been removed from the PC(USA) ordination standards, suddenly I had to be ready for some pretty direct questions.
So, this Saturday, in response to one of the world’s most awkwardly-phrased questions (which was clarified to “tell us about your submission to the lordship of Jesus Christ in the area of sexuality”), I came out to my presbytery. I said:
“I do identify as bisexual or queer. That has zero impact on my ministry, except in that I know a bit of what it feels like to be excluded, which has helped me better minister to those who are excluded in many different ways.”
I answered several lovely questions about my theology, and one other pointed question about a) my integrity, and b) biblical sexual ethics, and then I left the room. Judging by the reactions of my colleagues, family, and parishioners, some pretty awful stuff was said about me while I was gone, and some pretty wonderful stuff was said about me and my ministry. The 17-member delegation from Head of Christiana (a 100-member church!) made a strong and eloquent statement.
After what felt like ages, I was called back in to a standing ovation and wild cheers. I had passed! I am going to be ordained, finally, after just shy of 7 years.
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I had expected the vitriol. I had expected invasive personal questions and attacks on my character – I’ve seen some of the awful things that get flung at my friends and colleagues who have been forced to leave congregations, presbyteries, and denominations to follow their callings; or who bear it for years with wonderful grace.
I had expected the hatred. But I never expected the incredible love and support I received from the vast majority of the people present that day. Before the meeting even ended, it felt like every single person in the room came up to hug me and congratulate me and tell me what a gift I was to the presbytery. People I had never properly met before, and others I had known for years, looked at me with such love and new respect.
People thanked me for helping the presbytery have that conversation, and told me how glad they were that it had been me, who is so obviously called that I won people over. I heard stories about gay children and queer grandkids; I met our newest Inquirer and another college-age guy headed to seminary, and we buzzed for a minute about how excited we all were to be entering the ministry; I watched my CPM liaison (and mentor) telling off one of my inquisitors with fury in her eyes. I rejoiced with another pastor who had come out to the presbytery for the first time while I was out of the room.
I am so humbled, and a bit overwhelmed, by how incredible people have been. I don’t think of myself as a trailblazer, I’m just trying to be the person I was created to be, following the callings I feel to ministry, to art, to the crazy roller derby community. I “come out” so rarely that I forget what power those words and that honesty have in this cultural moment. But I guess that’s something else I need to claim and get comfortable with, just like I’ve learned to claim my voice in the pulpit, and I’m learning to claim my presence on pastoral visits.
I have gained some wonderful colleagues and partners in ministry. I might have wished for a slightly less nerve-wracking process, but then I would have missed out on this amazing outpouring of support and conversation and general fabulousness. Y’all are great, and you’re why I do what I do.