The following is a letter that Pastor Pieter and Susie shared with the congregation through one on one or small group conversations over the summer/early autumn of 2015. As of June 2016, the majority of the congregation is in favour of being an inclusive and affirming congregation of LGBTQ persons. Although not all are in agreement regarding same sex marriage, we are committed to living out difference of conviction of conscience with generosity, as reflected in Romans 14 and 15.
To my family of faith,
I hope you folks are doing well and have been enjoying the summer months. I am offering this letter as a way to disclose some self-knowledge that is important to me, Susie and our children. The timing of this disclosure reflects upon a life journey of both struggle and hope. As Joan D. Chittister says, “It is struggle that is the foundation of hope, not hope that is a hedge against struggle.” Christian spirituality recognizes the importance of struggle, vulnerability, courage and hope. Growth in faith and love takes deeper root and produces better fruit when we have faced our fears and allowed courage to be born anew.
As in any important sharing, careful listening is part of how we show love to one another. I ask that you take time with this story- listen well and prayerfully.
First off, I want to honour Susie for being the most fantastic partner on this journey I could hope for. She is to me the epitome of love, friendship, and the commitment of “for better or worse”. She has been a source of strength and encouragement on a difficult path. You see, just over a year ago, I needed to speak my truth, and face my fears, and tell her my story of being a gay man. For clarity, what I mean by gay is that my sexual orientation is gay. This does not mean that I am in sexual relationships with other men. However, I think that is one of the toughest things for a spouse to hear from their loved one, and yet God’s grace held us both through that difficult conversation and we are both committed to upholding our marriage commitment with fidelity, love and hope.
In preparing for this conversation I felt like God was asking me to step up to the edge of a cliff and jump. This was a profound call to trust. I shared with her my journey as a youth coming of age and my wrestling with this reality in which there was no place to share this struggle that I could see. I recently discovered that there were family members who suspected a long time ago that I was gay, but that was something never discussed, or at least not with me, and not in any positive way. When I was a young man the predominant cultural bias was that being gay was something to ridicule and shame. Therefore, staying in the closet was practical in protecting my vulnerability and securing my safety. This was not about lying to myself, nor to anyone else; it was about caring for myself in a context that was not safe. Even though this was an act of self-care, it was not a healthy place to be, especially long term. Closets are for clothes, not people! I want to reiterate that this was not a matter of me being dishonest about myself, for this would be significantly misdiagnosing the situation. I know that some people who are in the heterosexual majority may find this difficult to comprehend because they have not had to endure the many and varied ways homophobia is part and parcel of daily life, particularly in church circles. If it’s not part of your lived experience, then it is difficult to understand or empathize with. I discovered that in facing my fear and taking that leap of faith God was not absent in the jumping, nor the landing.
While wrestling with my sexual orientation and not knowing how to deal with it, I was on a parallel journey of responding to what God was doing in my life as a whole. My faith journey was a source of strength during that time. The love of God in Jesus offered me hope, meaning, and a deep sense of connection. However, the Church as a human institution, although a place of connection and love, was also a source of shaming regarding being gay. This intensified my struggle. I found myself participating in my own oppression as a gay person because of the Church’s teaching regarding homosexuality— a teaching that over the years I have come to understand as fundamentally misunderstanding ancient biblical texts within their cultural and religious context of challenging idol worship and domination. Never-the-less, my younger self believed that God would change my sexual orientation. It was a matter of having enough faith, or submitting enough, or being obedient enough—a struggle of significant proportion. Whatever the “enough” was supposed to be, I discovered over the course of my life that it could never be enough. Grace has called me to rest now in my identity as a whole person. My orientation is my orientation, and that’s just the way it is. It would be like wishing a zebra could change its stripes. This was not my choosing, just as it was never your choice, if you’re straight, to be straight.
In my life journey, honouring faithfulness, loyalty and fidelity are important to me. Claiming my voice as a gay person is an integral expression of that faithfulness. When I first came out to my counsellor, he said, “I’m glad that you are gay!” I thought to myself, “Well, that makes one of us.” Regardless, God used those words to bring healing into my life. To make a long story short, I’m good with who I am now, and what’s more, I see it as a gift. This journey of struggle and hope has shaped me, or marked me, in ways that have allowed me to be sensitive to the struggle of others within my pastoral ministry. To borrow from Joan D. Chittister again, I am scarred by struggle, and transformed by hope. I hold my faith, my sexuality and my marriage commitment as an integrated whole.
My vision for church is a community of faith where we can share the reality of our lived experience and how God meets us there in reorienting us toward grace, love, and the challenge of compassionate, diverse discipleship. We will not all agree about biblical interpretation and discipleship. This has always been so for the Church. Therefore faithfulness requires humility for generous space to see the ministry of the Spirit of Christ in our midst. What is not faithful is hurting one another through thoughtless, mean spirited, or interpretive approaches that have not seriously wrestled with the legitimacy of another’s biblical perspective, or the limitations of one’s own. That is why scripture reading requires community. Part of a minister’s sacred trust from God and the church is to faithfully engage the Bible in all its diversity, as it reflects to us our struggles and tells of God’s redemptive work. I have tried to do this with all my heart and mind.
Beside the interpretive process, part of my anguish has been the weight given to homosexuality as a dividing point. Tragically too many traditionalist and progressives draw lines of exclusion over and against the other often without listening well to hear the common ways in which straight, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and inter-sexed (people born with both female and male genitalia) Christians desire to honour God within the realities of their situations. One in one hundred births result in a child being born who does not fit strict chromosomal identifications of gender. One in one thousand births result in children who are inter-sexed. The Gospel must speak into these realities in redemptive ways or we have no business identifying ourselves as people of God’s reconciling peace. The good news of Jesus was never intended to leave people who do not fit gender, or heterosexual norms, outside of God’s reconciling work. You will see from my comments that there came a time when I learned that God’s love is greater than the categories of heterosexuality and homosexuality. Being wholehearted in Jesus is where we experience health and well being in the midst of our human limitations. Questions of sin require us to be able to talk to one another, pray with one another, and at times disagree with one another, all the while knowing that in the limitations of our understandings, Jesus calls us to pay attention, not to the specks in other people’s eyes but the logs in our own.
Over the past eight months we have been meeting with a support group. This support group, comprised of colleagues and people in various leadership positions and friends, has journeyed with us and they have been instrumental in helping us pay attention to important questions and have attended to our emotional, spiritual and physical well-being. We are indebted to them for their time, love, honesty and compassionate insight. We have journeyed vulnerability together, and I am grateful for them. I have shared my story with Rouge Valley Mennonite Church leadership; Pastor Liz, Council Chair John David Ashworth, and Leadership Elders Chair Hugh Laurence. They have also been part of my support/reference group. I have also shared my story with Mennonite Church Eastern Canada leadership, as well as Mennonite Church Canada leadership, all in part of a discernment of process. Under MC Canada’s policy, my situation of being in a monogamous mixed-orientation marriage is not at variance with Church policy.
So why come out now you might ask? Good question.
I first want to acknowledge that, given the above, Susie and I are under no obligation to share our story. We share this as a gift and an act of love. There is vulnerability in both loving and giving and with that recognition we share our story for the following reasons:
- My own mental health and well-being in owning who I am. Shame regarding being gay and caring about what others thought about me in this regard was toxic, and it needed to be put to rest once and for all.
- Stronger and deeper authenticity in my relationship with Susie, my kids, my family and faith community—all of which are very important to me. I desire transparency and the kind of vulnerability that expresses trust in the relationships I have, not fear. This is an act of trust in love toward others. To love is a choice. How others will choose to receive me is their choice, and I will accept it even if pain be part of that acceptance.
- Our denominational body is currently discerning LGBTQ inclusion, and it has been difficult for me to remain silent within the closet as this important discussion unfolds.
- Responsibility toward LGBTQ people, especially in the Church, who suffer isolation and discrimination by both family and Church. Suicide rates among LGBTQ people are high. According to Nicolas Ray, of the American National Coalition for the Homeless, 25 percent of homeless gay youth became homeless on the very day they came out to their parents. Forty percent of all homeless youth are gay. Seventy percent of those attempt suicide. This reality is not a reflection of the good news of Jesus Christ and his call for us to practice radical hospitality and love. As a Christian, who is also gay, I want to share in the gift of God’s ongoing narrative of radical love and hospitality, plain and simple.
As I said earlier on, for Susie and I, this doesn’t change anything regarding our marriage commitment. Our choice is in no way a judgment against others in similar situations who have needed to make different choices. For ourselves, we believe a mixed orientation marriage can continue to work for us. The sharing of my story provides better guideposts with which to navigate our relationship.
If you have questions, I welcome them. Questions can also be directed to: Pastor Liz Brasier, John David Ashworth, Hugh Laurence, or Henry Patkau, who is Congregational Minister for Mennonite Church Eastern Canada. Regarding my immediate family, if Susie, or our kids choose to reach out within our family of faith network, that is their choice, but I ask that you not put them in a position of discussing their father and mother’s relationship, nor anything related to the content of this letter.
I prayerfully ask that you take time to listen to this story well and hold all of us in your prayers.
May we together pray Paul’s prayer for ourselves and one another:
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
peace be with you,
Love Pieter and Susie