The Power of Your Story: Why We Need to Come Out as Queer Christians

By Mikah Meyer 

“My whole life I’ve assumed God messed up on me,” a 20-something let out while stoically holding back tears.

He approached me after a church hosted a presentation about my journey to all 418 National Park Service sites.

But just as my talk wasn’t only about the national parks, so too was this young man’s story not solely about believing God faulted in creating him. And indeed, after hearing how my parks journey was largely due to being an openly gay Christian, this young adult felt safe enough to share the other half of his statement:

“But now I realize He made me this way. It’s not a flaw that I’m gay.”

As I internally cheered this queer person’s assertion, my heart also broke that he’d carried those initial thoughts for over 20 years.

And while I wish I could say this was the only time I’d heard that story, the truth is it’s just one of thousands. From teenagers, young adults, 30-somethings, retirees, and even ministers and those in opposite-sex marriages. A few words shared after presenting my “National Parks Cabaret,” after guest preaching at a church, or sent in desperation over Instagram—all expressing that for the first time they’d felt safe to share they were a queer Christ follower.

“What is the Church doing wrong,” I often lament to close friends, “that all these people feel a stranger from the stage/internet is the only person they can confide in?”

Yes, I had intentionally put myself and my story as a gay Christian in the media, using a 3-year road trip and world record attempt to draw the attention. But I was not a church leader. I did not have seminary training that should allow me to seek out those struggling with their faith. And I was certainly not an ordained minister.

I was just some dude waving a rainbow flag in the national parks.

But perhaps that’s the point of this story.

I was 19-years-old before I met an openly gay adult. And in my mid-20s before meeting an openly gay Christian. And though it took longer than I wished, it was these encounters that eventually led me to come out.

My life was not changed by some famous person or a praised religious leader.

It was normal, everyday queer people living their lives openly and authentically that opened my eyes and heart to a future I’d never seen until seeing them.

Mine was the same story I heard from a boy over Instagram who messaged:

“I’m 15-years-old, I go to a private Baptist school in Texas and I’m not out to anyone. But after seeing who you are, I know not only can I grow up to be ordinary…but also extraordinary.”

Never doubt that each and every one of you, whether a minister, lay person, or an ally, can change someone’s world—and in turn collectively the world—by living openly and honestly as a queer person of faith or Christian who believes God loves LGBTQ+ people as they are.

If the experience of my parks journey has taught me anything, it’s that one doesn’t need to be plastered on the headlines or across social media to allow someone to feel closer to God and their true selves.

One only need live their life proudly and authentically as the beautiful people God made them.

So that through sharing your story, others can know they can be both ordinary, and extraordinary.

Bio: Mikah Meyer is an ELCA campus minister’s son who swore he’d never grow up to be a pastor like his dad. He now spends his time traveling to churches & ministries around the world sharing the Gospel–particularly at colleges—making him in fact: A campus minister.

Public Statement Concerning the Revision of “Vision and Expectations”

The ELCA Conference of Bishops and Churchwide staff have, for the last year, engaged a process of revision of the church document “Vision and Expectations.” This document was designed and implemented in 1990 as a gate-keeping device to keep gay and lesbian individuals unwilling to promise celibacy from serving on the church’s rosters.

Though the policy was updated in 2010 following the 2009 Churchwide Assembly which passed “Human Sexuality Gift & Trust,” the impact of this document has continued to be a shared, unhealthy ethic of human sexuality that promotes silence, shame, and secrecy for both queer and straight candidates and rostered ministers. This document undermines and inhibits the church’s ability to promote healthy professional boundaries and a responsible ethic for leaders in this church. V&E remains the church’s primary vehicle that promotes discrimination and intimidation of candidates. A new revision of this document has been in progress over the last year.

Leading up to the Fall 2018 Conference of Bishops, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and our colleagues encouraged the Bishops to open the process by which this document was being revised so that voices of concerned parties could participate in crafting an ethic and standard that reflects the communities it affects. We were encouraged when the Bishops did, in fact, vote to postpone recommending a revision to the Church Council with a motion that recognized the need “that special attention be given to inclusive language and descriptions of life situations and relationships by inviting voices from diverse perspectives.”

We have no evidence that this has happened.

A committee made up of Bishops and Churchwide staff has been meeting to prepare a revision of “Vision and Expectations” to be presented to the Conference of Bishops at their Spring 2019 meeting, starting Friday, March 1st. As far as we know, there has been no invitation to include the participation or voices of concerned parties. ELM strongly disagrees with this course of action and condemns the lack of a promised open, fruitful, and transparent process.

A draft of the latest revision has not been shared with us, but we are deeply concerned about a process that fails to consider the perspectives of those who have been most damaged by our church’s policies around sexuality. We seek to offer our lived experiences and queer wisdom in the creation of a sexual ethic for our church that creates healthy and thriving church leaders, and in turn, congregations.  

ELM calls on the Conference of Bishops to hold your siblings and yourselves accountable to the promise made at your fall meeting to invite “voices from diverse perspectives” into this process of revision. Do not recommend a document that has not been created in an inclusive setting. A failure in a just and open process will result in the creation of flawed guidelines.

To all leaders, lay and rostered, who are concerned members of our congregations and communities: if you value healthy, vibrant ministers, please reach out to your Bishops to express your concern. Documents that promote and call for “holy living and faithful witness” cannot be created only by those who hold power within our institution, the result of this kind of process is colonization and oppression. Trust in our church and in its policies is only garnered by courage and openness to change, and inclusion and diversity – two of the church’s stated values that are seemingly being ignored in this process.

Here is a list of talking points we have created that might assist you in your outreach to Bishops and church leaders:

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes the public witness of gender and sexual minority ministers transforms the church and enriches the world. We believe that living into the fullness of who God created us to be is the greatest expression of “holy living and faithful witness” that is asked of us by our Creator.

Who is God Calling?

By Rev. Lamont Wells Director for Evangelical Mission for the Metropolitan New York Synod

For far too long the question of who should be allowed into Church leadership has always been a heavily contentious subject. It was in the 16th century that Martin Luther advocated for the “priesthood of all believers” (so long as they weren’t women). It almost took another 450-500 years before women were allowed into leadership positions in the Church. The injustices of exclusion still strongly affect women, disproportionately people of color, and the LGBTQIA+ community. As we approach the 10th Anniversary of the ELCA’s 2009 affirmative vote for inclusivity for LGBTQIA+ leadership, it’s my hope to realize the importance of increasing leadership opportunities from within the same gender loving and gender non-conforming communities.

As a mark of solidarity, I empathize with the painful realities of serving for years in conference and Synodical leadership and rarely seeing leadership that reflected my ethnic image or cultural heritage.  Because of this lack of diversity and inclusivity, I have developed an internalized trauma that questions whether it is even possible to have multiple leaders of color to ascend to the various elected leadership roles within the Church.  In 2018, we experienced the winds of the Spirit blow in a dynamic way that blessed the Church with a historic election of the first two African Descent women to the bishopric. However, my greatest concern is that the Church won’t recognize their elections as a movement for change and greater inclusivity, but rather a moment of accomplished mission and achievement.

My hope and cure for my internalized trauma is to see a robust trend in our Church (the ELCA) toward a diverse assembling of key leadership that keeps breaking barriers and that accepts differences in the intersectionality of humanity. This would create an institutional climate that provides models of leadership that so many more children of God can relate and connect to without waiting for the minimal exceptions.  As the National President of the African Descent Lutheran Association (ADLA), it is my intention to work with ELM, WELCA and other ethnic specific associations to organize and advocate for leaders who bring our Church the gifts of greater diversity.  In our indigenous expression as people of African Descent, same gender leadership and individuals were not a problem but always seen as key participants and “gifted ones” in the beauty of a diverse community. Knowing that God can use us all, we must support opportunities to choose leaders that God is raising from Seneca Falls, Selma, Stonewall, and Standing Rock.

Bio: The Rev. Lamont Anthony Wells is the Assistant to the Bishop/ Director for Evangelical Mission in the Metropolitan New York Synod.  Pastor Wells is responsible for coordinating the development of stewardship resources and missional leadership for over 200 new and renewing congregations/ministries.  He is currently the National President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s ‘African Descent Lutheran Association’ (ADLA). In his role, his leadership is the primary ecclesiastical voice of justice and equality for over 50,000 Lutherans of African Descent in the U.S.A.  For many years he hosted a weekly radio program, “A Positive Message for Powerful Living with Pastor Lamont Wells,” in Philadelphia. In his ministerial career, Rev. Wells has pastored religious communities of multiple denominations in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Atlanta, Georgia, including having served as the Lutheran Campus Pastor for the Atlanta University Center (AUC).

Guided by the principle that a personal relationship with God is an essential life strategy, Rev. Wells is committed to a life of contemplative prayer and critical study of scripture.  He consistently expounds in his theology that, “God’s grace allows us to know that all things work together for good to them that love God…” (Romans 8:28 – his favorite Bible verse)

Vlog with Bishop Jim Hazelwood

Bio: Bishop Jim Hazelwood (he/him/his) was born in Concord, MA.  Not raised in the church, he was baptized at age 21 while serving at El Camino Pines, a Lutheran Camp in Southern California.  BA Cal Lutheran University, M.Div PLTS, D.Min Fuller Seminary Pasadena, CA. Pastor 1987 to 1993 Bethany Lutheran Brooklyn NY 1993 to 2012 St Andrew Charlestown RI. 2012 to present Bishop.  Married to Lisa, Father and now Grandfather. When not bishoping he is bicycling, swimming, doing stand up comedy and writing a book on Everyday Spirituality.

Going Beyond the Hug

By Sara Cunningham , Executive Director & CEO of Free Mom Hugs

When I was a child, my mother called me “Goose,” I am certain now more than ever this was because of my natural ability to put my nose into other people’s business. I needed to know what was going on, if everyone was ok, and most importantly when we could all get together again. Community was everything to me then, and it certainly is my focus every day now.

My Journey to becoming an ally began with the words from my child, “Mom I’ve met someone, and I need you to be okay about it.” I didn’t take the news very well, and I said and did some things I regret even to this day.

I had to re-examine my religion as it suggested that I needed to choose between my faith and my child. I discovered, with the help of some others who came alongside me, that what I believed about LGBTQIA+ people came from a few verses in the Bible that had been misinterpreted and misunderstood. From there, my journey went from the church to the local pride parade wearing a homemade button and offering Free Mom Hugs or High Fives.

Picture from Sara’s original viral Facebook post.

I wasn’t the first mom to show up at a Pride Parade offering love and hope and hugs, but I did create a non-profit based on that experience. After my post about being a stand-in mom at same-sex weddings went viral; what we have seen has been a movement of love and celebration for the LGBTQIA+ Community.

It has been the most amazing gift dropped in our laps as far as getting the message out to moms, dads, educators, and churches that NOW is the time to get educated, to step out of fear and ignorance and come out of their own closets to speak out on behalf of their children.

But what has been even more beautiful is the community, the connection and healing that is taking place in the lives of LGBTQIA+ youth and adults due to the thousands of compassionate, empowered people who are responding and offering support, birthday cards, words of affirmation, homemade blankets, and other simple but very important small gestures such as referring to a transgender person by their chosen name.

We also recently had a follower on Instagram post about their 11-year-old child who attempted suicide because of intense scrutiny and bullying from family and school. We noticed the post and got our group of “Mama Bears to the Rescue” their address and when the young girl came home from the hospital, she was surprised by dozens of cards, stuffed animals and blankets from Mamas all across the country. These small acts of kindness, this kind of loving presence in the life of that child and her Mama delivered a message of love and hope that was life-changing for them.

Picture of Jamie Lee Curtis and Sara Cunningham. Jamie Lee Curtis will be portraying Sara’s journey as a proud Mama Bear in an upcoming Hollywood film. 

This is where we are going Beyond The Hug. We are supporting homeless youth with Free Mom Hugs Hoodies. We are helping our transgender friends fund legal fees for gender name changes, emotional and financial support after top- surgeries; we travel to small-town colleges and encourage their GSA’s. We are educating on behalf of our communities in schools and in the workplace. We are advocating on behalf of mental health awareness, ending workplace discrimination, and putting an end to once and for all the mental abuse that is conversion therapy.

So many young LGBTQIA+ people are hurting from family rejection and rigid religious beliefs. This is why I support LGBTQIA+ ministries like Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries who, every day, affirm & inspire bold loving leaders to Proclaim the gospel in the world. We may not be able to change every heart and mind – we may not be able to solve most problems – but one thing we can all do is be a loving presence in the life of LGBTQIA+ people. Anyone reading this can send a card, speak words of affirmation, get together with someone for a coffee, give a small gift, use someone’s chosen name, give a hug. These are things we can all do. 

My hope is that my journey will inspire all of you to want to be a loving presence in the life of LGBTQIA+ people.

Together I believe we can change the world, so it is a kinder, safer, more loving place for all people to live.

Love wins. Hugs and high fives help too. 

Bio: Sara Cunningham is the Founder of Free Mom Hugs and has a heart as deep and wide as the ocean, and a commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community that matches it. Sara has very recently been featured on the Today Show, CNN, and has been viewed by millions on social media. What does Free Mom Hugs mean to her? “For me, it just represents unconditional love,” she said. “Everyone needs love and understanding from their mother.”

Is this, in fact, the holy one?

By Rev. Amanda Gerken-Nelson

Over the course of this past month, ELM’s blog has featured stories of “new-ness”:new ideas and goals for the new year, new members of Proclaim, new ELM staff members to help serve our growing community.

“Newness” as a theme and concept is not just a reaction to the start of a new calendar year as of January 1st – but also the anticipated advent of change and newness for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries as an organization as a whole.  

In my first year as Executive Director of ELM, I have often reflected on Phyllis Tickle’s book The Great Emergence. In the book, Dr. Tickle talks about how the Christian church has undergone a reformation approximately every 500 years (to read a brief description of Dr. Tickle’s ideas and a personal reflection from a Presbyterian colleague, click here). I have wondered if ELM has gone through our own re-formations approximately every ten years or so: from the first extraordinary ordinations and the formation of Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries and the Extraordinary Candidacy Project in 1990 and 1993, to the merger of these ministries which formed Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and the change in ELCA policy to allow LGBTQIA+ individuals to enter candidacy and serve openly in 2007 and 2009, to now: in 2019 we’re marking 10 years since the ELCA’s policy changed, ELM has an entirely new staff, and Proclaim has grown to over 320 members.

Perhaps, this theme of newness feels resonant to all of us because we are in a time of re-formation.

It wouldn’t be surprising, then, if in this period of change and newness we might find ourselves experiencing some disorientation and asking ourselves “is this the new place where we are called to be?” Or, like the Magi who visited the holy family in the stable–which we currently celebrate in this liturgical season of Epiphany–ask ourselves “Is this, in fact, the holy one?”

What has remained true for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries throughout the years and re-formations is our insistence on and deep belief and trust that the lives, bodies, and calls of gender and sexual minority leaders are indeed holy and beloved.

It is with great intentionality of living into that sentiment and with a deep reverence for what has come before us that our current ELM staff and board endeavor to explore, listen, and consider journeying down new paths in our programming and ministries.

We are living into our gospel mandate to look to the margins even within the LGBTQIA+ community to center the experiences of the most marginalized: those with identities that are still “taboo” in our culture and society, and those who carry in their bodies and lives a variety of identities beyond gender and sexual orientation that complicates and complexifies their oppression and which calls on us as an organization to think, act, and exist differently.

As we embark on this journey, we hope to continue to share with you all what we learn and what we’re hearing through this blog. Many of you have supported ELM for many years and through our previous re-formations–we are excited to share this new journey with you and with those of you who have more recently joined our community.

Our staff welcome your thoughts and reflections on what you hear and experience with us on this journey. And, we thank you for your continued support and encouragement!

Bio: Amanda Gerken-Nelson (she/her/hers) is currently in Texas avoiding the polar vortex. Upon her return to her home in Maine on Sunday, she looks forward to celebrating a Patriot victory and knows she will get hate mail for saying “Go Patriots!”

Remembering Extraordinary Saint Gordon Straw

By Rev. Emily E. Ewing

 It’s hard to put into words the thoughts and feelings swirling inside me when I think of Rev. Gordon Straw.  He was a colleague, but more than that. A mentor and elder, but more than that. A teacher, a companion in the struggle, but more than any of those.

There was something about the way that Gordon lived and worked in the world—a spark of the Divine—that carried a deep compassion and thoughtfulness.  It was as if he slowed time down enough that decisions and statements weren’t made in haste, but instead carefully considered, taking into account the whole of Creation.  Rev. Mike Wilker, who was co-chair of the ELM Board during much of Gordon’s tenure on the Board, put it this way, “Gordon combined deep compassion for each person with a fierce passion for justice for all. As a board member he focused ELM on creative ministry in which every baptized person was liberated and called to share their gifts. He also led ELM to deeper understandings of the history of American Indian and Alaska Native ministries in the Lutheran churches of North America.”   

Gordon, as a member of theBrothertown Indian Nation, led one of our Board anti-oppression trainings focusing on Native history and theologies.  I wrote about some of what I learned on the blog after the training, though the wisdom he shared during the training continues to inform how I live my faith.  As an organization ELM now includes land acknowledgments at our in-person board meetings and as part of our opening worship at Proclaim Gatherings, reminding and grounding us in the lives and histories of the land we gather on and its peoples.  Gordon also wrote a guest blog on supporting Standing Rock in response to the Dakota Access Pipe Line.

It was in large part because of his leadership that so many of us in Proclaim introduced and advocated for the ELCA’s 2016 repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery at local synod assemblies as well as at the Churchwide Assembly itself, an important step for our denomination, though as another former ELM board member, Vance Blackfox noted, “more needs to be done to fulfill our promises.”

I’ve felt a deep resonance as I have been reflecting so intentionally on Gordon’s life these past two Sundays.  First, reflecting on the magi at Epiphany, I couldn’t help but think of the ways that Gordon continues to be a wise one in my life.  Then, as I prepared my sermon for the Baptism of Jesus this past Sunday, I was vividly reminded of Gordon’s emphasis on the many ways that God calls the whole body of Christ—all the baptized—into a life of ministry.

ELM joins the whole church in grieving for the loss of Rev. Gordon Straw’s leadership while giving thanks for his companionship in life and ministry.  We pray for comfort, especially for Evelyn and Amanda, and trust that Gordon now rests with the ancestors, even as he remains connected to all of us and all of Creation, all our relations. 

Rev. Emily E. Ewing (they/them/their) is a member of Proclaim and the ELM Board.  Emily grew up on land originally inhabited by the Ute, in the mountains they knew as the Shining Mountains, and currently lives and does ministry on land originally inhabited by the Ioway, Sauk, and Meskwaki peoples.  They’re grateful for the witnesses, wisdom, and patience of many of their elders, like Gordon, in journeying with them on the path of ministry.