On Friday, July 21 I received the following email from Ted, the Teaching Pastor at Gateway:
Your ears were probably burning last night, because we were talking about you at the Gay/Lesbian small group. Don’t worry. Everyone who knew you went around the circle and said what an awesome guy you are and what an example you are to them of a Christ-follower. We started talking about you because someone in the group asked about what would happen if a gay person wanted to lead at Gateway. I recalled a conversation that you and I had at Einsteins probably 4 years ago. You told me your story and about your desire to serve God through doing deaf interpretation. I explained to you that I was excited about that. Even back then, though, it was the policy of Gateway to make sure that all spiritual leaders were walking with God in a pure and healthy way and could serve as examples to anyone who looked at their lives. While I think you may have had a different opinion in regards to the application of that policy to gays, we both agreed that your role was not necessarily a spiritual leadership position.
Fast-forward to a few months ago . . . Gary Foran, our Small Groups Pastor, was introducing some people to you after a church service. I believe they had a son or daughter that was interested in studying sign language. Anyway, while you all were talking, you introduced Benjamin as your “partner” to these folks. These were people who didn’t go to Gateway, and Gary felt very uncomfortable about what they would think.
Hey, if I just met some people, and Stephanie [editor: Ted’s wife] was standing next to me, of course I would introduce her has my partner to anyone. It’s just that in this case, it bothered Gary enough to bring it to our Management Team — John, Gary, Charles, and Ted. They started a conversation with me about your role. Some of them feel like it is a position of spiritual leadership — that you are communicating Scripture from up front. I told them that I don’t view it that way. You’re in a serving role, which you do faithfully and sacrificially and with excellence, and it would be a mistake for us to walk around disqualifying people from service just because we had questions about one thing or another in their character.
That’s about as far as the conversation went with those guys, but I get the sense that it’s going to re-surface soon. Recently we removed a woman from a prominent spiritual leadership position because she had an affair and was unrepentant about it. As would be expected, her response was, “What about this person and what about that person? Do you know what they do? Why are you focusing on only me?” And so the past couple of weeks we have been talking through different folks in leadership that we need to have hard conversations with. It’s not going to be pretty.
I can’t help but think that soon I’m going to be asked to have a “talk” with you. That would break my heart because of the friendship I have with you and Benjamin and because of my belief that you are not necessarily in a spiritual leadership position. It would further break my heart because of the ramifications it will have on many in the gay community, whose friendships I also cherish. So, I was wondering if you and I could talk things over unofficially before this goes any further. I want to hear your perspective, and even your frustration. Maybe together we can figure out some kind of solution.
Casey, you and Benjamin are an important part of this church. I’m sure it hurts you tremendously just to read this email. I’m sorry for that. I just think that before the current situation snowballs, we can have a dialogue and figure something out.
You are welcome to share this email with Benjamin, but please keep it confidential until you and I have interacted more about it. We can carry on this conversation via email, phone, or in person.
Wow, what a way to kill my weekend. I thought about it some and replied back with this few hours later, notice the attempt at humor, that’s often what I do initially to compartmentalize when I feel very hurt:
This almost feels like deja vu .
Last night Terri and I held another Silent Dinner for several folks who are helping out with the Deaf ministry at the church. It’s a chance for folks to practice their signing skills as well as for us to get to know each other better. One of the gals asked if I was planning on attending the Kids Quest Party out at the Massengale Ranch and I said that no, I wasn’t because I didn’t want to go without Benjamin and that I’m trying to ‘lay low’ about my sexuality so church leadership doesn’t ask me to stop signing. They asked what I meant so I explained about the standards for church leadership positions, how being gay didn’t fit in that definition, and that I was operating undercover until the church leadership decided that what I did was a leadership position and was asked to stop.
Looks like I didn’t lay low enough. I recognized that the conversation with Gary would probably come back to bite me but such is life.
I’ll tell you what I told the gals last night: I respect that the church *must* have standards for people who are seen as leaders, in fact – I as a layperson demand it. I obviously disagree where being gay falls into these standards but I accept that standards must be set. I’m wanting to ride this train of helping with the deaf ministry for as long as God has me on it. If God decides that he wants me doing something else (or somewhere else) then so be it. Will I be disappointed? Very much so. Will I be frustrated and heartbroken? Yes. Will I be bitter and jaded, only for a few hours :)
I hate to say it, but this really doesn’t come as a surprise to me. Because of that reason I have had some time to think about what I would want to do if I was asked to step down. Despite thinking about it, I don’t have any good answers at this point. Based on the conversation with the women last night and their reaction, I have concerns that the deaf ministry would be severely hindered. I also have some concern about Gateway’s reputation among the gay population who may feel as though they are being treated as second-class citizens (I’m not even sure that I would disagree with them). I hope and pray that neither happen.
Ho humm… not exactly the email I was hoping for on a Friday afternoon. I don’t mind getting together to talk about it if you’d like. I prefer email or in person as Benjamin tells me that my social phone skills are very very poor and that I don’t communicate well via that medium. I agree that keeping this between you, Benjamin and myself is an excellent approach. I appreciate you giving me a ‘heads up’.
On Sunday afternoon I sent him a second email:
Benjamin and his friend Eric were out at the clubs last night and saw Danny Harvill. Danny made a point of asking Benjamin if you had talked to me. My assumption is that Danny is a part of the GLBT small group. I’m curious exactly what was discussed such that they knew you planned to talk to me. According to Benjamin via Danny – a lot of the gay population will be very upset / possibly leaving the church if I am asked to stop. Not sure how much of that is Danny being dramatic (possibly) and/or Benjamin exaggerating (possibly) and/or it being true. but there you have it.
I shared your email with Benjamin. He took the approach that I thought he would and expressed his concern and frustration about attending a church where gay people were not allowed to be leaders. He said that he recognized that he doesn’t expect any church outside of MCC to be totally accepting of gays but he expected more from Gateway. He also said that while he loves the building, the people, the music of Gateway, that he doesn’t need Gateway to worship God and asked why we should attend or financially support a church that doesn’t support us. Granted, he can get pretty dramatic when he’s really passionate about something so take all of that with a grain of salt, but I can’t say that I disagree with his sentiments. [pause] I just want to talk to him about this paragraph and he said his essence is he feels now that he has been supporting a church via One Life that is indirectly working against him.
I reminded him that nothing had been decided for sure yet. After I said those words I had to think about it — the writing is on the wall. I don’t expect the church leadership to change their opinion on this matter so even if it doesn’t end up blowing up now it will always be hanging over my head.
The thing I found truly ironic was your message today. Don’t get me wrong, it was a good message (and a relatively easy one to interpret thankfully) but I found it ironic that here I was, a volunteer who’s volunteering days are possibly numbered, interpreting a message who’s goal was to encourage people to open their eyes to themselves and to God and to go through open doors to serve others either in the church or directly in the community. After the 2nd service today a deaf woman came up to me and introduced herself and thanked me for interpreting for her. She said I did a good job. A hearing woman came up and said that she didn’t understand sign but loved to watch me interpret, particularly the songs. Finally a young man came up and said I did a good job as well and that he was an interpreter too (both of his parents are deaf).
So there you have four rambling paragraphs full of some words but not getting either of us anywhere I fear. Being the analytical person that I am, allow me to make a list of possible future outcomes I can see from this point:
- No decision is made (or the decision to not make a decision is made)
- I continue interpreting, knowing that the decision might be made at a later time and still feeling like I’m really not welcomed there in my role.
- I step down from interpreting as I feel like I am no longer supported by the church staff.
- A decision is made to have me step down – I stop interpreting.
- I adopt a ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy and only tell people why I stopped if ask.
- I don’t advertise, but don’t hide, why I stopped.
- I lie when asked about why I’m not interpreting (Note: this one won’t happen.)
- A decision is made to allow me to continue
- I continue interpreting
- I stop interpreting due to the knowledge that the reason I’m allowed to continue is due to a technicality of me not being a ‘spiritual’ leader, not actually due to being accepted.
Of course, those don’t really get us anywhere either. I guess the important thing I want to convey is that I don’t feel entirely welcome at the church any longer doing what I love and serving how I feel that God is leading me. That makes me very sad.
Regardless of the decision and outcome I want to ensure that the deaf ministry continues. I also want to ensure that the Gateway gay community stays and feels supported. Finally, I’ve decided that I want all the players in this decision to take responsibility for the final decision and the outcome thereof.
On Sunday evening Ted replies with the following
I really appreciate the thoughtful response in your past two emails. I am really impressed with your reaction — that you want to do what is best the folks in the deaf ministry, but you want the church to act respectfully and fairly. Yes, I can totally see the irony in your situation today. That would have been very hard for me if I had been in your shoes (or in Benjamin’s). I would be very tempted to say “screw it” if I were you, but I hope you don’t.
This is an important opportunity for Gateway to wrestle through what kind of church it is going to be, and I think it is also an opportunity for you to work through what sort of faith community you really want to be in. It’s just much more complex than people want it to be. Certain people on my team want a very black and white response to how we lead leaders and volunteers, a response that doesn’t take into account individual stories. On the other side, I sense from people like Danny and others that this is a very black-and-white issue to them — “You either accept us unconditionally in all aspects, or you don’t. We don’t care what other people think.”
I’m really hoping that all parties can have the courage to wrestle through the gray areas and not abandon the process. A lot is at stake here — a lot of hearts and some very foundational things about our church.
Casey, this is exactly why I came to you unofficially before I might possibly be asked to speak to you officially. I feel like you appreciate the complexity of this more than most people I talk to. And I hope you know that I am willing to put aside assumptions and the need for everything to make perfect sense. Remember, I’m the guy who was willing to meet with you and Benjamin to talk to you about your relationship? That was a risk, and there are many people at Gateway (unfortunately) who would be very angry at me for trying to help two guys improve their love for one another. All of that is to say, I hope I have enough money in the bank with you so that you know my intentions toward you are good. And while you have more at stake in this situation than I do, it still totally sucks for me, too.
Let’s take some time to pray about this and ask God for a wise solution. Are you willing to do that and stay in communication with me on what you are hearing from Him?
So there you have it. I’m not sure what will come of it or what I even want to come of it. There is no easy way out.