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.