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.