“Come out, come out, wherever you are!” Growing up in Kansas, I knew this line (and all the others) from The Wizard of Oz by heart.
It wasn’t until much later when I was figuring out my own sexual orientation that this song took on a new meaning.
Dorothy’s world was just turned upside down and she finds herself in a strange bright place where everything is new. In this song from the beginning of her journey, Glinda brings everyone out into the open so they can offer her their enthusiastic support.
Coming out can be really scary, but one of the spiritual blessings of Proclaim is that it is a community of folks who have already chosen to fully live the lives God gave us.
I was at the initial Proclaim gathering back in 2011, and served on the leadership team as the community came together. It felt like crossing into technicolor. Each week we welcomed new seminarians, ordained clergy, or other rostered leaders into our fold warmly, with enthusiastic support.
Those involved with ELM before us had shown us the way, and now we were making it safer to come out. While our journey had begun, we knew others were still waiting; many of our fellow religious leaders were stuck in the monochrome closet. Could our new community help them? How could we be like Glinda?
ELM has seemed like the wonderful colorful land of Oz where the impossible becomes possible. From time to time clergy reach out to us asking for advice and support. They have been choosing to conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity from their faith communities. We’ve tried to meet these requests as they come, but so far we haven’t produced a comprehensive resource that could help folks navigate their own coming out journey. There really isn’t any other written resource out there specifically for closeted religious leaders.
I have an activity I’ve done with some of my Adult Education groups, where together we take rolls of masking tape and we transform whatever table we’re sitting around into a giant maze.
At one end is “the closet” and the other end is “coming out”. I ask them to try to come up with as many different reasons as they can about why someone would stay in the closet and we would write them on the walls of the maze.
Soon the maze is full of barriers and obstacles, dead ends, and wrong turns labeled with things like “Anti-Gay Family,” “Already in a heterosexual marriage,” and “No role models.” Coming out can be difficult and each person’s journey has unique twists and turns.
We read the story from Genesis, chapter 20, where Abraham and Sarah travel in a strange place and choose to disguise their relationship out of fear, but then are protected when the truth finally emerges.
When I did this activity with my own congregation, I recognized parts of my journey and parts from others in Proclaim. We had been learning so much from each other this whole time! I wondered how the Holy Spirit could use ELM to make this journey a bit easier for our closeted colleagues.
In 2016 Proclaim decided to gather our collective experience and generate a document that could help closeted religious leaders finally cross into technicolor of truth. We gathered stories and quotes, interviewed each other, and shared scriptures we had found meaningful. All of us knew some colleagues who would benefit from something like this, and we wrote with them in mind.
God loves people still in the closet. We’ve been praying for them. We’ve been encouraging them. Now we have something to share with them. This resource is the first step toward this side of the rainbow. Hopefully it will be reworked and revised over time.
Coming out is one of the most significant things queer leaders can do to improve their lives and the lives of others. It’s not just a one-time experience, we are coming out all the time. We hope you’ll share this resource and help us improve it for the future. Our journey together is just beginning!
Rev. Caleb Crainer (he/him/his) serves St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in colorful Los Angeles, California. He enjoys attending science lectures, trying new foods, and playing in an all-gay kickball league. ELM, and specifically the Proclaim community, has been a major part of his vocational path toward ordained ministry in the ELCA. Pastor Caleb encourages us to bring our whole lives to church, because God loves us for who we actually are.
Photo at top: Provided by author
Bio Photo: Proclaim Gathering photo