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.
by Amalia Vagts, ELM Executive Director
I never get over how incredible it feels to be in the company of other LGBTQ people and allies of faith. It’s a remarkable feeling – as Pastor Erik Christensen says of the Proclaim Gathering – it’s one of those rare times when you don’t have to “explain yourself to anyone.”
So it was with great joy that I joined others this past weekend at the ReconcilingWorks assembly, “Until All Are Free” as LGBTQ people and allies gathered from around the United States and Canada.
Pastor Jen Rude, ELM Program Director, and I led a half-day pre-event called, “Are You My Pastor?” This training was created through a grant we received from the Philip N. Knutson Endowment. We spent time exploring ways and reasons to create an intentional congregational plan to welcome LGBTQ pastors into the call process.
We’ve been seeing since 2009 that while the doors are open to partnered gay and lesbian candidates, many barriers to ministry still exist. One of those barriers is a lack of calls open to LGBTQ candidates. And while many congregations truly want to be welcoming in their call process, we’ve learned that it takes some intentional conversation and planning to have the best results.
Fortunately, we have lots of experience with this! By working with pastors, call committees and synod staff who’ve been through it, we’ve created Enrich & Transform – a guide for call committees wishing to including LGBTQ and other diverse candidates in their call process. If you haven’t seen this resource, please check it out and use it!
Our Ministry Engagement program will be refining this workshop and looking for ways to share this information with others throughout the church.
“Until All Are Free” was a wonderful chance to connect with new and old friends and to learn about the future plans for ReconcilingWorks. We had fun catching up with all the Proclaim members who were there and welcomed our newest member, Pastor Daphne Burt!
The weekend included a festive evening celebrating some true giants in our movement – outgoing ReconcilingWorks Executive Director Emily Eastwood, Pacific Northwest rabble-rousers Karen and Paul Jolly, and our wonderful, visionary and deeply faithful Pastor Anita Hill (member of Proclaim and of the historic Extraordinary Roster).
Thank you to our friends at ReconcilingWorks for a great weekend! Now, on to the important work we all have to do “until all are free.”
Amalia Vagts, Executive Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, is especially thankful today for spaces that welcome flamboyance, loud whoops of joyful exuberance, and stone butch lesbians.