When I Came Out to My Church   2 comments

When I came out to my church, it was a rough road, for everyone.  I decided to come out family by family during Easter Week.  (Not the best timing perhaps)  I didn’t want to surprise anyone by making a huge public declaration.  I felt it was important to make it personal.  I was asked to step down from my duties of being a deacon.  At the time, I accepted that stepping down from my deacon’s role might facilitate a discussion.  But this never happened. We did receive one sermon on homosexuality, and then a series of sermons a year and a half later on the topic.  This was in response to a letter campaign I started within our church.

I had several supporters at Riverdale Baptist Church, but we didn’t know what we could do to advance this issue, or to bring up a discussion.  I also value those who loved me, despite our differences.   It was very difficult for my church family, and still is.  I don’t know if I made all the right decisions, but I sincerely tried.

I stayed with my church.  I cared about them.  I was there for a year and a half after I came out.  While I was not asked about how I was doing with the church pressure, I was asked many times over the next year by the administration of my church to stop publishing anything “pro-gay” since it was in direct opposition to the beliefs of the church.  Later, I was asked to leave the choir right before our concert.

It was this that prompted me to write letters to the church members, the Elders, and the board of the Canadian Baptists of Western Canada (which you can read with the links below).  I asked them not only to reconsider this issue, but also to think about the future generations growing up in our church, and how we treat each other in a church family.  We could disagree and still talk about things.  And we needed to do better on this issue for them.  I hoped that this desperate letter blitz would let people know the full story, reclaim a bit of my reputation, and reach out to people at the church.  It would also let people have access to resources.

No answer from the letters (except for six people who gave encouragement.)  The church and CBWC answered with a top-down approach:  A 4-part sermon series on homosexuality as addressed in Romans 1.  The series, in pdf form, can be found here (series on Romans, the month of October 2010).  After the series of sermons, which were public, and which condemned gay and lesbian people, I felt the matter had been closed by the administration, with the final word that gays were trying to “turn evil good, and present good as evil.”  We were called “sinister.”

I went to the Yukon News, to get a third party involved, hoping to keep discussion alive, but also hoping I could tell someone else what was happening.  This was “direct action” as MLK describes.  Of course, after the article came out, people of the church were upset.  It added a new dimension to our discussion: public attention.  The church is angry, and hurt.  I sent a follow up letter to the editor to correct a few factual errors.  For several months afterwards there were a lot of hard feelings towards me.  It ended communication with the church temporarily.  However,  I had a lot of great support from the city of Whitehorse because of the article.  Unfortunately, for some, this just confirmed how “wrong” churches are.  Discussion with individual members of RBC started happening.  While this effort didn’t turn into a church-wide discussion as I’d hoped–certainly not one I was involved with–it did turn into a city-wide discussion for several days, weeks even.  In fact, at Christmas, I was surprised to have this article appear in the Yukon News.

We are now a year from my going public with what was happening at Riverdale Baptist Church.  I can say that my interaction with church members is cordial and healing.  I am on good relations with nearly half of the congregation if not more.  There has been a lot of healing going on.  Perhaps they came to a different understanding themselves.  We don’t really talk about the issue.  We just enjoy each other.  I feel loved by many people at Riverdale Baptist Church.  I think, though, that they love me, while keeping the issue secondary.  I don’t know how or if minds have been changed.  There are people who still won’t speak to me, but they are fewer and fewer.   I’ll admit that there are a few that I don’t want to speak to either.  But it’s because we’ve come to an impasse–not because I don’t care.

The President of the CBWC, our denomination, wrote me two days before Christmas of 2010 (days before the positive affirming Yukon News article), telling me that I was probably regretting coming out family by family, and that his denomination actually recently addressed the issue.  I checked his website and the audio of the conference he referenced.  It was a long seminar made up of straight conservative people deciding at the beginning that gays were only allowed “close friendships”– that was as much as God would allow.   The president also told me that since I had wanted to go public so quickly that he would continue a discussion on their website, but would not have one with me.   It was a Merry Christmas message from the Canadian Baptists of Western Canada wrapped in a lovely bitter bow.

I attend another church these days, a place where I can serve openly.  The Whitehorse United Church welcomed me with open arms.  I have been a member of their choir, occasionally I have lead singing, and have preached once already.  When recently I started dating, I felt completely comfortable that he would be accepted there and would hear the real message of Christ’s love.  With no distortion.

Looking Back

I knew coming out would be a long haul and would be difficult.  Because I had believed the same as they did 10 years ago.  And it took me a while to change how I believed.  But Christians are asked to confront lies, promote truth and not let something they know is good be called evil.  So I fought it through patient asking, promoting what was good, and trying to keep communication alive.  I did this not just for me, but for the closeted people there, and in churches in Whitehorse, and other places who don’t want to have to leave their families, their theologies.  This website is still part of that fight.

I think about how things might have gone.  If at any time my pastor or my elders had called me in and said, “We want to take a few weeks to read, study and think about this issue.  Do you have any material you’d like us to look at?”  I would have been thrilled.  And even if they decided to keep their same beliefs, I would have felt heard.  All the churches that I list in the Helpful Resources have all listened.  Listening is a difficult and long process, yes, but it is essential if we are to have dialogue.

I could have been deeply loved by RBC for the rest of my life (they are a good people).   Would I take back my initial coming out?  No.  Never.  Integrity is THAT important.  The truth is the most important thing to get right.  Staying closeted would have killed me eventually, I think.  No one should sell their soul for Christian love.  It’s a good impulse to want people to know you.  And it’s a good impulse to want to know other people.  We just have to work out the details.

I didn’t think of myself as an activist.  I still don’t.  I think of myself as a witness.  Our lives, as gay Christians, are witness and a counter to any scripture that claims we turned away from God and God “gave us up.”  God never gave up on any of us, and certainly we never gave up on him.  We serve God, we proclaim Him, and we work to help others find Him too.

The Letters:

The letter I sent to my home church, RBC

My Testimony sent to my home church, RBC

The letter I sent to the board members of the Canadian Baptists of Western Canada

Letter from Birmingham Jail, a supplement to the package I sent the CBWC.

Open letter I addressed to sixteen churches of the CBWC

My Statements of Belief

Posted May 30, 2011 by jstueart

2 responses to “When I Came Out to My Church

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  1. Wow. That is quite a story. It comes at a good time for me. I’ve recently come out to my wife and family and friends are now starting to find out. I grew up in the SBC and actually was a church planter in the SBC, so you can imagine the reaction from my circle of friends. I spent 2 hours today reacting to rapidfire questioning from people that had been friends since I was little. Thanks for you honesty.

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