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.