by Amalia Vagts, Executive Director
It has been nothing short of a whirlwind for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries these past few weeks. When I tell people that our work is “fruitful & multiplying,” some days I’m tempted to add, “maybe a little too much all at once!”
It is a glorious thing to see all the ways in which our belief in the extraordinary gifts of LGBTQ people in ministry is taking root and flourishing. Last week, the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries’ Board met to discuss and plan the ministry we are doing through our Proclaim, Accompaniment and Ministry Engagement programs. Over the last few days, ELM Program Director Rev. Jen Rude and I each spent time at the ELCA Conference of Bishops meeting as they engaged in conversation about many matters related to our work (including candidacy, theological education, documents related to LGBTQ relationships and families, among other things). There are 211+ Proclaim leaders engaged in the most inviting and fabulous of ministries. There are an additional 68 volunteers actively engaged in ELM’s ministry across the church right now.
Yesterday, I offered the chapel talk at Luther College as part of their fall chapel series, “With Good Courage.” The opportunity presented a great chance for me to connect and make sense of the many directions we feel pulled in these days – and the purpose of why so many of us continue in this work.
“How many people hear something inviting and captivating about God, or the Lutheran church, or grace, or communion and come check things out only to get completely fed up with the reality of what they find in our churches, and like Gallio finally say – “I can’t be bothered with this nonsense!”
How many? Too many. And more and more all the time.
But, thank God, some have heard the call from God, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you,”
Speak – and do not be silent.
Because there is so much good here in the church and in the Gospel.”
May you be renewed and clear in your purpose, your sense of self, and your voice these days.
Amalia Vagts, ELM Executive Director, is thankful for a Board, staff, and volunteers who are passionately committed to ministry by LGBTQ people. She is also thankful for a supportive partner who reminds her when it’s time to come home and go for a walk.
One of the great joys I feel in the call to rostered ministry is the expectation that we work to create community among Christians and neighbors.
In the gospel stories of Jesus, we hear of the ways in which Christ’s ministry focused on gathering people together for teaching, meals, and healing. In the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Paul, we hear of the many ways that the early followers of Jesus built communities and the struggles these early communities faced. These communities were not always permanent structures – sometimes a community gathered once for a meal and left transformed. These communities often were separated geographically, but connected through Christ.
Although Proclaim Seminarians are scattered around the country and Canada, we are connected in community through Christ, too. This time of year many of our students are returning back to their communities on campus. As leaders on campus, the members of the Proclaim Seminarian Team (PST) are immediately involved in the work of creating connections with new people in the community as well as re-connecting with people returning to campus.
PST members had a robust and active presence in the orientations at each of our 8 Lutheran seminaries and at a couple ecumenical divinity schools with Proclaim students. Many new students had never heard of Proclaim before and this was the first time they had been connected with other LGBTQ seminarians – what a gift to know that as you follow this exciting and sometimes scary call as an LGBTQ person that you are not alone!
Kristian Kohler, who represents Lutheran students at non-Lutheran seminaries on the PST and attends Yale Divinity School, hosted a Proclaim table during Yale Divinity’s School’s Orientation. Kristian connected with a couple of students on exchange at Yale from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. These two students come from theologically conservative dioceses in the UK and were surprised, but excited to hear about the work of Proclaim and ELM. They even took Proclaim and ELM brochures so they could learn more about the work of ELM and use the resources we provide for pastors and congregations on our website!
Beyond orientation, our representatives are planning ways to connect and build community throughout the first semester. Dug Swank, a first-year student at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia and the PST representative for LTSP, plans to organize a social for Proclaim members at LTSP as well as Proclaim members who live and work in the Philadelphia area. For students who attend seminaries in areas where many Proclaim members live, a gathering like this is a great opportunity to expand their community outside of the seminary. This community can provide encouragement, mentoring, and professional connections for students as they move through seminary and internship.
The PST will also build community beyond campus this semester – hosting video and phone chats, sending care packages and notes to members on internship or being assigned for first call, and praying for members of the group each month. Like many of the early Christian communities, this group of seminarians is geographically scattered, but through Proclaim we will support and care for each other, and stay connected through Christ.
Peter Carlson Schattauer received his Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School last May and serves as the pastoral intern at Gethsemane Lutheran Church, Seattle. He is busy learning about his new home in Seattle, both the natural beauty and ways in which the housing crisis is disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable Seattleites. If you email him and he doesn’t respond, you should assume that he’s watching a show imported from the BBC or listening to the Indigo Girls.
by Rev. Jen Rude, ELM program director
Facebook went a little “Proclaim” wild for many of us last week! We were celebrating our 200th member. That’s more than FOUR TIMES the size our community was just six years ago. And just a week after welcoming our 200th member, we said hello to our 210th! The energy is contagious.
Proclaim is a group committed to a public witness that LGBTQ people have extraordinary gifts for ministry, that our church is blessed by diversity, that God’s beloved community is expanding, and that God’s grace is abounding.
The week was dubbed “#Proclaim200” and each day members of Proclaim posted a thought or question to generate conversation. These topics included sharing about extraordinary gifts of LGBTQ leaders, honoring the cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, prayers for a messy and beautiful community of God, barriers faced by LGBTQ people in the church and ways people are overcoming them, and an invitation to tell others about ELM and Proclaim.
Thousands of people who have likely never heard about Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries or our Proclaim program saw a Facebook post from their colleague, friend, acquaintance, family member, classmate or pastor about the public witness of LGBTQ leaders in our church. Here are some of the comments people made:
How do I become a member of Proclaim?
I think LGBTQ leaders bring an understanding of what it means to have to claim your sacredness against all odds, and therefore, can reach out to others who are struggling to claim their sacred core with deeper passion and compassion.
A profound understanding of what it means to lead from the margins, and to cling to grace even in the face of hardship and evil. I’m grateful for the lessons they teach me every day.
Thank you for inspiring me — for reminding me of the Gospel Promise!!
My Facebook feed is starting to fill up with all these #Proclaim200 Clergy. It makes me hopeful and grateful.
We are so grateful to you, our ELM supporters, for all the ways you proclaim the love of God, celebrate the diversity in our church, and faithfully and fabulously live the Good News.
by Jen Rude. Jen posted more to Facebook during #Proclaim200 than she usually does in a month. And she gives thanks for the the people of the Extraordinary Candidacy Project (a predecessor to ELM) who first taught and showed her the value of public witness as an LGBTQ person in the church.
This week we have a guest post from Proclaim member, Emmy Kegler. Read about some of the creative and exciting ministry Emmy is engaged in as she awaits first call.
By Emmy Kegler
When I came out as gay at 16, I knew my life was going to be complicated. When I accepted the long-fought call to ministry at 19, I knew my life was going to be more complicated. And when I followed that call all the way through Clinical Pastoral Education, internship, three years of classes, divorce, graduation, and this period of time awaiting first call in the Twin Cities… I had a sneaking suspicion that my life was always going to have a strong degree of messiness.
Many of you know this mess, too. We become translators of our experience, bridgers of the gap. We explain to friends, family, loved ones, colleagues, seminarians, call committees, congregations, total strangers how it can be that we are gay-, bi-, trans-, queer-and-also-Christian. I love those conversations (most of the time). I love how the messiness of being LGBTQ and called to serve the church can transform people’s minds and hearts around sexual orientation, gender identity, Scripture, tradition, and the long arc of the hope of God. But these conversations can be exhausting. It is not always fun to have my personal life and ministerial calling as a theological exercise. The layers on layers of theology, history, and interpretation are difficult to unwrap over a beer at a neighbor’s barbeque.
I wanted to create a space where people could learn, on their own time, at their own comfort level, about the myriad of concepts and beliefs around what it means to be LGBTQ and Christian. There are so many incredible resources scattered across the Internet, but tracking them down through a basic Google search can be like walking through a queerphobic minefield. In addition, the interconnected questions are complex. What does feminist theology have to do with the way we read the Bible as LGBTQ people? How did the Lutheran church get to where it is? What is bisexuality and what does it have to do with faith? How do we know when we’re in a spiritually abusive church and how do we leave?
For years I’ve wanted to create a space that could connect all those questions and the incredible resources already in existence. So on the eve of my thirtieth birthday, with my girlfriend holding my shaking hand, I launched a fundraiser for a website tentatively called Queer Grace, “an encyclopedia for LGBTQ and Christian life.”
Four months later, fifteen thousand people have visited the site. Donations just topped $2,500, meaning I can pay my growing group of writers for the incredible content they are generating. Eighteen articles are up, with eight more awaiting submission or final edits. In the next phase, I’ll be updating the site with direct links to important sites like gaychurch.org (is your church on there? Double check!).
At first, Queer Grace was a way to fill my waiting time. But each day I work, I feel a sneaking suspicion that this is as much my call as ordained ministry will be. I live in a space where the word of God is preached, the law named, the gospel proclaimed. I live in a space where the promise of welcome at the Lord’s table is offered.
Queer Grace is found at www.queergrace.com. When you have the time, read it. Share it. Let me know where there are resources lacking. Donate to the cause. The Spirit is up to something here, and we’re all welcomed along for the ride.
Emmy R. Kegler has a Master’s in Divinity from Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, Minn. She was raised in the Episcopal Church and spent some time in evangelical and non-denominational traditions before finding her home in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. She is currently awaiting call in the ELCA. While she waits, she works as a self-employed web designer and church curricula writer. She lives in Minneapolis and enjoys biking, board games, books, beer, and babysitting her girlfriend’s dogs.
Guest blog by Proclaim member, Miriam Samuelson-Roberts
I love talking to my friend Lindsay on the phone. We both just graduated from seminary, and it brings me such joy to hear about her ministry, her girlfriend, her road trips, and to talk about our shared passion for all things gardening and vegetable-related. Lindsay, like me, is a queer bisexual woman.
I also love talking to my friend Joel. Joel and I went to college and seminary together, and have talked each other through preparation for our preaching class together, shared moments of spiritual self-discovery, and have seen each other through all the normal excitement and love and heartbreak that comes with young adulthood. Joel also identifies as bisexual.
I love keeping up with my friend Kelsie—as she lives into her ministry on internship this year, as she prepares for having a baby with her husband, as she preaches and leads Bible studies and prepares to be a pastor. Kelsie, too, is a bisexual woman.
I tell these stories because stories are the way I most relate to God’s vision for the world—through the stories of the Bible, through the parables Jesus tells, through the stories of fellow humans and children of God living their lives today. As I reflect on my own identity—a queer bisexual woman, married to a man, who feels called to ordained ministry in the ELCA—I see my own story reflected in the stories of other people whose sexual identities may not fit into prescribed categories, and whose stories often go untold. I relate a lot to the term “bisexual invisibility”—bisexuality, or really any identity that doesn’t fit neatly into categories—is an identity that often gets erased, or subsumed into the binary categories of gay and straight, or dismissed as something that isn’t real or valid.
And so I tell these stories, and my own story, mostly to say that God’s kingdom is vast, and varied, and beautiful. When Jesus calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves, I believe he calls us to understand our neighbors as ourselves—to see the sacred in one another and in each of the ways we are called, in our unique identities and lives, to live out God’s love in the world. Bisexuality and other non-binary sexual identities are as varied as the people who possess them. And that’s a wonderful thing! What a gift to get to listen to the many ways that bisexual people live out their calls as partners, friends, pastors, and community members. What a gift to have to listen deeply—to have to put away all assumptions about categories and to get to hear people’s stories for what they are.
This is what I hope for bisexuality and all non-binary sexual identities in the Church—that these identities can be visible, that they can be a way of helping us all recognize the broad spectrum of identity and the many ways we each live that out. When I was younger, my youth choir would totally ham it up every time we sang “All God’s Children Have a Place in the Choir”—we would break out kazoos and tambourines and we would jump around with the freedom of knowing that we each really did have a place there. I’m grateful for spaces in the Church where we all feel like we have a place, and I’m grateful for those who are working to ensure that more and more of those places exist for all of us. Thanks be to God for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and all its partners, supporters, and advocates who are doing this life-changing ministry that allows us to put away all assumptions and hear, serve, and love all our neighbors.
Miriam Samuelson-Roberts just completed her MDiv at Yale Divinity School and is serving as pastoral intern at Augustana Lutheran Church in West St. Paul, MN this year. She lives proudly into the space of being a bisexual woman married to a man and is grateful for the places that conversations around faith and sexuality intersect. She and her husband Daniel live in Minneapolis and love being outdoors, but are also sort of enjoying the Netflix life right now.
Earlier this month, ELM Program Director Jen Rude and I attended “Until All Are Free,” held by our movement partners, ReconcilingWorks. Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries was very happy to sponsor and participate in this great event. One attendee, Tim Mumm, who came to our pre-event about making an intentional plan to call an LGBTQ pastor, wrote a Facebook post during the Assembly about the importance of community. I invited him to share his post via the ELM blog as a way of highlighting the important work of ReconcilingWorks, and of the importance of bringing our full LGBTQ identity to worship and congregational life. – Amalia
Faith & Community
by Tim Mumm, ELM Guest Blogger
Author’s Note: This was written and shared on Facebook in the early hours of August 1st, 2015 during the “Until All Are Free” assembly.
At the ReconcilingWorks Assembly in Minnesota. It is so good for me to be here. These assemblies are often emotional for me, and I’ve choked up or been brought to tears several times, both at the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries pre-assembly event, and during the opening day of the assembly. I’ve been openly angry, and sad at times, too.
I’ve known for a long time that in an LGBT environment, and to a lesser degree in an LGBT friendly environment, I can let my hair down and just be myself.
It hit me today that my belief in God is tied to community. When I am here among LGBT Christians, when I know with all my heart that I am in a safe and welcoming environment made up of fellow believers, I am certain that I believe in God. When I have to wonder if those around me are supportive of me, when I’m not sure I’m safe, then I’m not sure I believe in God. And when other Christians give me mixed messages or make it clear that I or those I love are not welcome, my belief crumbles; I don’t even want to believe. In those times of doubt and uncertainty, I don’t force myself to believe: Rather, I trust God to carry me through.
This is why the work of ReconcilingWorks is so important to me. This is why churches that publicly proclaim welcome by becoming Reconciling in Christ are so important to me personally. I need the community of church, and I need to know with my whole heart that I am welcome and safe in that community.
If you are a member of a church that is not a part of the welcoming movement, please consider asking this of your church. Contact ReconcilingWorks for guidance. Too many LGBT people have been terrorized by the church and by sincere Christians. We need communities that are welcoming, that are safe, and that celebrate our lives and our gifts too.
Timothy John Mumm was baptized at 17 days of age by his father, a pastor in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, with the words, “Receive the sign of the holy cross, both upon your forehead and upon your breast as a token that thou hast been redeemed by Christ the crucified.” Those signs, and the Holy Spirit remain with Tim, even now. Tim holds a bachelor’s degree in Deaf Education, a master’s degree in counseling, and is a nationally certified sign language interpreter and a qualified mental health interpreter. At 36 years old, Tim came out of the closet as a gay man. Tim feels that his past and ongoing struggle as a man of faith and a gay man has been defining to his life. He carries this heartfelt tension thoughtfully as a child of God, a child of grace.
by Amalia Vagts, Executive Director
Two weeks ago, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries shared two blog posts by Bp. Kevin Kanouse about his coming out story and welcomed him as a new member of Proclaim. (You can read the first one here and the second one here). Bp. Kevin also wrote another personal reflection about his decision for his own blog: “Why Now? Why the Youth Gathering?”. These are good, important essays.
Following the blog posts, we received positive and supportive feedback through comments, Facebook conversation and emails. We also received two emails expressing concern that ELM did not address certain topics, such as Bp. Kevin’s “no” vote in 2009. This was a small number, but I suspect they may reflect a more widely-felt tension that can exist when previously closeted people come out.
I’m glad for an opportunity to continue the conversation by addressing these concerns. While this has been prompted by a specific instance, this is a topic for all LGBTQ people and allies in a church and society that are changing.
As ELM extends a welcome and shows support for those who are coming out, we should talk about the real pain that is experienced and sometimes inflicted while people are closeted. In Bp. Kevin’s case, ELM should have named some unique complexities. Bp. Kevin was in a position of leadership and power over LGBT people who were advocating for themselves and for changes in the church. Some may have felt they did not receive support from Bp. Kevin and we could have named that, and encouraged Bp. Kevin to address it in one of his posts.
Bp. Kevin wanted to share these additional words,
“I am humbled by the response I’ve received from the LGBTQ community since I first came out publicly at the Youth Gathering. While I didn’t so much persecute those in the LGBTQ community, I have since learned that my lack of advocacy at the time of the votes and shortly thereafter has caused harm. I clearly didn’t support you as I should have – in my own denial, I hid- and for that I ask your forgiveness. I thank and give honor to those who have worked so long and hard to ensure LGBTQ rights, a voice, and a welcome place in leadership in the ELCA and I pledge to do everything I can to change the church culture as long as I remain bishop and beyond. Some of us are slow to gain courage. Thank you.”
The communications from ELM regarding Bp. Kevin were made in the same spirit as when others have joined Proclaim – although this time more high-profile given the circumstances of the Bishop’s story. Since 2009, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries has intentionally reached out to welcome all LGBTQ rostered leaders, regardless of their journey. Proclaim was created specifically to be a place where all publicly-identified LGBTQ rostered leaders, candidates, and seminarians in the Lutheran church could belong. Prior to 2009, there were some big divisions in the LGBTQ ministry leader community (sometimes assumed, sometimes real) as people made different choices. Some came out and left the church, some came out and sought extraordinary ordination, some stayed in the closet and remained in the pulpit, some were out in “safe” synods and avoided discipline, some could not even imagine a church where they could be out and serve, some followed non-ordained vocations – many choices, many paths. There were risks and costs for all. We have worked hard within Proclaim to create a space of welcome and belonging for everyone when they join without judging the choices each made on the way.
God’s beloved community is real, messy, and takes work. On an individual level, we may find that there is a time and need for confession, for forgiveness, and for reconciliation in Christ – for ourselves and with another. Sometimes this is called for on a organizational level as well. I confess that I should have realized the potential pain caused by ELM’s support of Bp. Kevin, without acknowledging his actions while he was bishop, including his statement and no vote regarding policy change in 2009. Simultaneously, I stand committed to ELM’s value to live as Paul writes in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians – in a new creation where what’s old has passed away, and everything has become new.
Joel Workin, a saint and prophet of our movement, writes about this complexity in his essay, “The Cost.” As Joel writes, “Let no one think the choice is between paying the price or not paying the price.” There are so many costs to the closet – costs of coming out of it and costs of staying in. Either choice may cause pain to ourselves or others. No one is immune – all of us are liberated by God’s truth that we are beloved and that we belong.
Thank you for your continued support of ELM as we welcome changes in our church and community. I am thankful for each member of the Proclaim community – and for all of you who support and care for this ministry. I invite your conversation with each other (here or on Facebook), or with me directly about how ELM and the church can be places of belonging, confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation in Christ for all.
Amalia Vagts is Executive Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.
ELM Friend Profile: Julie & Luther Grafe
by Amalia Vagts, Executive Director
Julie and Luther Grafe care about church. They care about their kids and the kind of church they will grow up in. Julie and Luther want their family and other families to know that they are welcome and belong at church.
Their first experience with a publicly-identified LGBTQ minister was when Proclaim member Crystal Solie began as an intern pastor at their congregation, Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit. When I met Julie and Luther, they told me what a difference Crystal had made in the life of the congregation and their family.
That initial experience was amplified when Kyle Severson, another member of Proclaim, began his internship at their congregation. Kyle and his husband, Clyde Walter, connected immediately with the Grafe family.
Julie and Luther experienced the very thing that fuels ELM’s mission – the belief that LGBTQ people have extraordinary gifts for ministry. The Grafe family found their faith and church life deepen because of Kyle’s pastoral leadership and energetic, passionate gifts for ministry.
So Julie and Luther wanted to give back. They recently sent a wonderful gift to Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and joined the circle of Extraordinarily Faithful & Fabulous Friends (those giving $1,000 or more a year to ELM).
Julie and Luther wrote this, “Enclosed is a donation to Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. We are giving this because we wholeheartedly believe in the mission and actions of ELM. We feel strongly that any organization that can create a loving, supportive community for pastors, seminarians, those awaiting call who have felt called to ministry and wish to proclaim God’s love for all should be supported. We wish to honor a particular Proclaim member, Kyle Severson, upon his upcoming ordination on August 23 2015 with this donation while at the same time uplifting and honoring Crystal, and all LGBTQ seminarians and candidates for ordination.”
We join the Grafe family in celebrating Kyle’s call as pastor of St. Philip Lutheran Church in Glenview, IL! Kyle will be ordained on Sunday, August 23rd at 3pm at First Lutheran Church in Blue Island, IL. We also join the Grafe’s in continued support for Crystal and others who continue to discern and await a call from the church.
ELM is so thankful for all Friends to ELM – the wonderful individuals, families, and congregations that fuel our mission. You can make a secure on-line gift today in support our LGBTQ people in ministry. Consider becoming an Extraordinary Friend through a monthly gift of $10 or more.
Amalia Vagts, ELM Executive Director, loves hearing and sharing stories about ELM Friends – and especially this one about the Grafe family who are doing their part in their corner of the ELCA to make the church a place for all. Oh, and, like the Grafe family, she also loves the Red Putter in Door County, WI.
Note – Today’s post is Part Two of our guest post this week from Bp. Kevin Kanouse. To read Part One, please click here.
Bishop Kevin Kanouse, head of the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Mission Area (Synod) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, recently came out as a gay man during an unscripted sermon delivered to 400 people during the ELCA Youth Gathering. Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is thankful for Bp. Kevin’s bold public witness and invited him to share more about his story with our supporters. We welcome Bp. Kevin as the newest member of Proclaim, a community of nearly 200 Lutheran rostered leaders, candidates, and seminarians who publicly identify as LGBTQ. Proclaim is a program of ELM.
by Bp. Kevin Kanouse
Bishop of the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Mission Area (Synod) of the ELCA
Among the first comments I heard when I sat down after delivering my sermon at the Youth Gathering where I came out was: “You saved some lives today.” That brought tears. I had not thought about it that way. I had hoped to give some grace, some space, some healing to those who heard, but I had not thought about saving lives.
Soon another pastor said: “One of my girls came up to me and asked if I would mind if she talked to our youth group tonight about her own sexuality. She has never told anyone that she is a lesbian.” Yet another pastor shared that during their evening “Final Fifteen” debriefing of the activities of the day, one of the boys said: “I am not gay, but I need to tell you that I don’t feel accepted by the rest of you in this group. I feel like an outsider,” to which the group responded with support, care, and continuing conversation on how important it is to be open and welcoming to everyone in their youth group and beyond. They learned to be more sensitive to each other.
Immediately after the Youth Gathering, I wrote a pastoral letter to the rostered leaders, where I detailed what happened during Story Day. Some read it to their congregation the following Sunday morning. Needless to say it raised ire among some of our congregational members. Subsequently, in almost every place where this happened, the pastors convened a conversation in an adult forum to discuss feelings about their bishop who has come out as gay. Said one pastor: “It was my bible study group, made up of mostly Council members, most of whom are retired and over 70 years old that met to discuss this. We spent the entire hour telling stories of people we knew or to whom we were related who were gay or lesbian. We talked about how times have changed. We laughed together and we cried together and in the end they wanted me to tell you that you are always welcome to come to our church and we look forward to seeing you this fall when you are scheduled to come.” That kind of heartening response has been repeated over and over again.
A mother and father pulled me aside before the beginning of a meeting and the mother, with tears in her eyes told me of her daughter, now in law school, who had come out to her as a lesbian some months previously. She said: “I have prayed every night: ‘God change her. God change her.’ Then I read your letter and subsequent story about your experience and I picked up the phone and called her right away. I apologized to her and reassured her that I love her.” Their daughter had pretty much dropped out of church some years before, perhaps because of this reality in her life, but the following Sunday they were in church, all three of them, as family.
The support, encouragement, acceptance, and love I have received since telling my story have been amazing. Perhaps 98% of emails, letters, texts, notes, phone calls, and conversations have been positive. Some have told how their mind has changed as a result of my courage in coming out, some are still thinking and praying about what this might mean for their relationship with others and their attitude toward gay and lesbian friends and relatives. This kind of response shows how far we have come as a church in welcoming GLBT persons. Indeed, if God can and does love us as we have been created, with all our uniqueness and individuality, how can we as a church reject anyone? Indeed, how can we continue to live with self-hatred, doubt, and rejection? Since God loves us as we are, created in God’s own image, we indeed are freed in Christ to love ourselves unconditionally. That is a new acceptance of grace for me and from me toward others who are LBGT.
Bp. Kanouse is serving his third term as Bishop of the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Mission Area (Synod) of the ELCA and has been in office since 2000. Previously he was pastor at Advent Lutheran Church in Arlington, TX. He was born in Pennsylvania, attended Susquehanna University, Gettysburg Seminary and received his D. Min. from Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth. He has been married to Billye Jean for 40 years and they have two married sons and one grandson. Bp. Kanouse is a member of Proclaim, a community of nearly 200 LGBTQ Lutheran rostered leaders, candidates, and seminarians. Proclaim is a program of ELM.
Bishop Kevin Kanouse, head of the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Mission Area (Synod) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, recently came out as a gay man during an unscripted sermon delivered to 400 people during the ELCA Youth Gathering. Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is thankful for Bp. Kevin’s bold public witness and invited him to share more about his story with our supporters. This is Part One of a 2-part series.
by Bp. Kevin Kanouse
Bishop of the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Mission Area (Synod) of the ELCA
While my decision to come out at the National Youth Gathering was a spontaneous one, prompted by the kairos moment of our Synod’s Story Day, the thought that someday I would share my story publicly was with me every day. “Why bother?” was the question of my mentor, a gay attorney, who meets with me every couple months to offer support, encouragement, and accountability. His very first question to me when I finally spoke the words: “I am a gay man,” is the question that has haunted me ever since: “Why bother?”
Indeed, why bother to admit this to myself? Why bother to tell my wife? Why bother to tell the Church? As a pastor and bishop in the Church, I am called to proclaim God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Yet, perhaps the most intimate thoughts of my identity, were (as I was taught as a child) sinful, dirty, and a cause for rejection by God and the world. I knew grace, I proclaim law and gospel, yet I could only apply judgement upon myself.
Walking with the ELCA through the eight years of study in preparation for the Social Statement on Human Sexuality, followed by the vote allowing congregations to call pastors who are in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same gender relationships and to bless such partnerships helped me to grow in acceptance of others; what about myself?
After the Churchwide vote, it was my responsibility to visit congregations wanting to take a vote to leave the ELCA. It was while standing in front of congregation after congregation where there were crowds of Christians telling of their “love” for gay and lesbian persons, but at the same time speaking words of rejection, exclusion, and hate that I realized they were talking about me and I could no longer accept their judgement nor my own self-judgement. I bothered coming out because God’s love for me was finally real. The judgements of others no longer carried weight for me.
In time I felt the need to share my journey from hate to acceptance with others so that they would not have to suffer the same kind of inner rejection I lived with for 50 years of my life. But where? And when? The truth is that no one needs to know about my sexual identity except my wife and me; but many who experience my journey or who know others on the same kind of journey might benefit from hearing. The 400 + teenagers attending our Synod Story Day had spent two hours hearing other teens tell their stories, including struggles in relationships with parents and friends as well as the challenges they were enduring. They spoke of how their faith and their church gave them the strength to deal with life and gave them hope for their future. In the midst of that there was suddenly and surrealistically, a very strong voice inside me that said: “Today you will tell your story.” I fought it: “I have a nice, comfortable message already prepared for my sermon today; there is no way I am going to tell my story.” Yet the voice kept on: “You are going to tell your story today.” And so I did.
The third highest cause of death among teens is suicide and the majority of teen suicides are caused by depression and fear over issues around gender identity and rejection. I bothered to tell my story in order to help teens discover that there is now a place of safety…the church…where they can be real, be themselves, and find acceptance. The response that day was astounding. The love and grace shared among the people in the room was palpable and the ongoing conversation has continued to open doors of grace and love. When we “bother” to speak truth, God’s love abounds.
A second guest post from Bp. Kanouse, “After I Came Out” will be e-mailed and available at www.elm.org on August 13.
Bp. Kanouse is serving his third term as Bishop of the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Mission Area (Synod) of the ELCA and has been in office since 2000. Previously he was pastor at Advent Lutheran Church in Arlington, TX. He was born in Pennsylvania, attended Susquehanna University, Gettysburg Seminary and received his D. Min. from Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth. He has been married to Billye Jean for 40 years and they have two married sons and one grandson.