A queer priest on leaving his evangelical church & making faith more inclusive | Devout and Out: Pip

By | August 30, 2019

(somber piano music) ♪ There are still days
when I ask myself why I didn’t leave
the church altogether. ♪ If I were a secular
person looking in, I would ask, why would
you as queer people who grew up in places
that harmed you, why would you have stayed here? ♪ I think from countless
numbers of queer folks who have found their way
back into the church, we would say that for
some strange reason, the church could ruin just
about everything for us, but that they couldn’t take our real experience
of the divine. (somber music) ♪ I grew up in a conservative
evangelical home and my dad was the minister at
the church that I grew up at. I knew very young that I was
different from other kids. I didn’t know what
that meant entirely, but I knew that what I
needed to do was to perform. I actually believed
wholeheartedly that change was possible
and if I could do anything, that I would change my
sexuality and so I doubled down. I figured if prayer could fix
me I would pray twice as hard. And if reading the Bible
would somehow change my orientation, then I
would read no other book. I committed really hard and
I’d say for most of my life, from puberty until
my early twenties, I was convinced that the
reason that it wasn’t working was because I was still
doing something wrong or not hard enough. I’m sure little gay
boys looked up to me as somebody that could be
proof that they could be fixed. (tap running) Most reparative
therapy programs focus on a few different aspects
of making someone more heteronormative and
so like the first one would be that you attempt
to change your behaviors or the way that you
act so that you appear to be less flamboyant
or less gay. The next part of it is
attempting to change orientation which is primarily
done through like, spiritual practices so things
like praying the gay away. -Yeah but then the actual
process too though, that you go through as
somebody who either seeks out or is told that they
need to participate in reparative therapy, teach you about making
attachments, right? -Yeah, yeah. -Forming attachments
with a woman. Have children, have a family.
Right. Because somehow those
attachments or relationships will mean more than
sexual attraction. (somber piano music) -Towards the end of
my degree, I realized that if I wanted to have
a place in the church, in an evangelical church, as a
man was pretty openly ex-gay, in order to have any
credibility in the community, I would need to have a wife and I would need to
have a normal family. It made sense to make it
one of my best friends who I always
communicated well with and who had similar passions
and goals for ministry and Kris was aware that I
was on the road to recovery. It was just before
graduation that we sat down and decided to give
whatever, dating, whatever we wanted
to call it, a try. So we dated for like four
months and then we got engaged. I got married and
we had two children. Kris: Okay, Artemis, come here. (cat meows) -I don’t think people who are
outside of these communities realize just how powerful it
is to tell the same narrative over and over again from
everyone that you’ve ever known and everyone you’ve
loved, to be formed with a sort of communal
persecution complex that views the world with
a sort of, a bit of fear. And tied up in all of that
is an anti-intellectualism that says, if you
read certain books or if you go to certain schools, or if you broaden your
horizons even beyond the scope of what you’ve seen, then you could be
taken in by the devil. Oh, I was absolutely worried
that I would burn in hell, that no matter how much
pain there could be in this lifetime, it cannot
compare to burning for eternity. Kris: You got it. (children chattering) Kris: One more, one more! (children chattering) Kris: Good job! (chuckles) (distant conversing) -I don’t know where the… I honestly, I have hard
time telling the story from the beginning because
there are just so many blurry parts, partially
because I was drinking through a lot of it and I
was so severely depressed that I could barely
get up most mornings. And I look back and so
much of it’s a blur. (children giggling) -And people ask, how
many months was it between this and this? And I have a really
hard time remembering even the order of events. I barely remember the
birth of our second son. I mean, it didn’t work. Reparative therapy
just doesn’t work. I did all the things
that should have worked according to the prescriptions
of the ex-gay movement. I mean, at that point, I
was the end of the process. I had basically jumped
through all the hoops necessary for years and I
had worked all the way up to my dream, really. And here we were with a
newborn and a one-year-old, watching the sweater
unravel really, like watching the whole
thing just come apart. On the one hand there was
this finally like a breath, like we could finally say what we were thinking
the whole time. And on the other
hand, just that like, what the hell are
we gonna do now? I was not coping
well with ministry and with just the constant
feeling that I was living a lie, because I was living a lie. I became more and more aware that I was not only
affecting myself negatively, but we felt like we had
reached our separation date. We could get a divorce. We could free one another
from our marriage vows so that we could be
the family that we felt like we needed to be and that
meant that we would continue to live together and
that we would continue to raise children together. Our primary covenant was
to and with our family. We probably had some of the
most difficult conversations about what we were going to do. I told my bishop and some of
my mentors and colleagues. And I was told that the
second that I sort of let the cat out of the bag, that
I would be out of a job, that I would not have a place of ministry or
leadership in my church. There were a lot of people
who were extremely unhappy if they couldn’t get me back
and then at least they could paint me as something. Coming out cost me family
and all of my friends. I still think there’s like
a lot of shame around that, that is was after choosing
to live authentically and it was after making the
hardest decision of my life, it was that, that broke me? For me that looked like
an attempt at suicide. Kris: Like I don’t know,
our kids were so young, I don’t know what affect
it’s gonna have on them, but there’s gonna be some
point when we’re gonna have to have a conversation
with them, right? That’s like,
-Right. Kris: Hey, this is a
thing, this is why our– -Right and they’re just
getting to be old enough now where they’re starting to ask, well why would you get married
if you don’t like women? Kris: Yeah.
-But at the core, I think, the part of
reparative therapy that people don’t
really talk about much is that’s like, it is
inherently misogynistic, to believe that women… Kris: Are objects
-Are objects to be used Kris: To fix your own sexuality.
-To fix people’s sexuality. Exactly. (somber music) ♪ Woman: I don’t. -I feel so badly, so
like my therapist, after I came out, told me I
needed to go sit in a gay bar by myself with a pad
of paper and write. And I sat in the back and
just cried the whole time. And I can remember
that you came over and you were like,
“Are you okay? “Is like everything fine? And I was like
having such a moment and you were just like,
“It’s gonna be okay.” Do you, you don’t
remember that at all? Woman: Not even close, no. I make a lot of
people cry though. So very rarely is
it for good reasons. -It was a beautiful moment. (lighter clicks) -I had to be hopeful and I
had to believe that this path was not only right, but that
there would be something really good that would
come out of all this. So I looked into some
options for churches that accept a gay, lesbian,
and transgender priests and clergy and I found
that the Anglican Church was a safe place for people
like me to call home. Hello, how are you? Good. I got a good network of friends and I found a good
community at church and I started to do some of
the hard work of forgiveness and of asking to be forgiven and to work through
reconciling with my family. (somber music) And it was through
those little baby steps that I started to get
pulled out of the pit. A lot of people think
that this is over and that people don’t go to
reparative therapy anymore. Kris: Yeah and even up
until maybe a year ago, Um, I was still getting
messages from well-meaning, loving family about
reparative therapy places that could help fix us somehow
Yeah that could help fix us. and I just wanted to be like, that’s how we got into
this in the first place, like we know that this
doesn’t work and is damaging. And yet there’s still a
sort of, I don’t know, a moral high ground that says we can fix you because
you’re broken. -I had no reference point
for what it would look like to fall in love
with another man, because as a little queer kid,
I didn’t see those stories represented in the media and
if they were in the media, I was never allowed to see them. Now I had to enter
a world of dating that was nothing like it
was when I was a 14 year old and not only that, but
I was now dating people who I had the potential
of falling in love with, because they were men. I actually didn’t know if
it would go anywhere for me. It was a little bit unexpected. It just seemed so
easy to fall in love. In time I realized
that he loved my kids and that he loved Kris. The family and utopian
dream that Kris and I had come up with, it was
actually starting to unfold in a way that I didn’t
think would be possible. Where Kris was encouraging
me along the way and where she was
Alex’s cheerleader and saying, “He is
really good to you.” “You are really happy
for the first time.” That’ll do, it feels like
it pulls you into the front. Right, like it’s… Hey Kris, where’s
the giant rainbow? -Can you give us context of
what’s happening tonight? -Yeah so tonight’s our
annual Pride service. We just celebrate sort
of that the church has room for LGBTQ
people and also say that there’s still work to do. (distant chattering) It is overkill, but drag
queens will not be happy with any less light and
in fact, that’s maybe– Alex: Can I see what
this is like off? Can I just pull this? -So often the church tends
to prop up really outdated patriarchal gender roles
and having drag queens in a church, I think
it’s a really interesting parable of the way
the God does things is always upside down
and that it’s not the way that you would expect. -Don’t you have a sermon
to be writing right now? Yeah. (distant chattering) I might go…
Kris: Nuts? -Yeah, no, I might go
open up the front doors. Kris: Oh yeah,
totally, like yeah, Woman: I just feel like
it’s missing something and it’s really hard for me– -I could really use you to help the sound system get
set up, is that okay? Kris: The other thing
is, if we can hear both of you though here, and
we’re sitting behind you, at least I can hear
what’s going on. -Do you know if you can get
these ones, no that’s– Man: If I don’t get the pin,
there’s nothing I can do. -Do you have one of
those handheld ones? Man: That’s true. (cell phone ringing) Alex: It’s probably Cheryl. Man: Hello?
Alex: It’s all taken care of. Then it’s all taken care of. -Okay I just need a hand
with the microphone, that’s all I need. Kris: Oh, it’s been a long day. Um, Church with drag queens
is about to happen. -I can do it. I am really good at this. (soft piano music) Let’s think about the spaces that we create and
that we curate. Let’s think about the
ways that we take up space and the ways that we
advocate for other’s space. Let the skin and the
flesh and the bones that Jesus took on that
God says this body is good, this body is something that
I’ve given you to steward, to take care of and to
also let you operate in the world the
way that you do. So tonight, take up the space
that maybe you don’t feel you can take up in every church and let’s let this
moment of communion and whatever you
do with the divine, let that be a spark that starts
this cry for more justice, for equality, for peace, and
ultimately that all of us find our fabulous, beautiful, God-given selves
in these bodies. (attendees cheering
and applauding) Woman: Is this anybody’s first
time here for this show? (attendees cheering) I was the churchiest church
boy you’ve ever churched with. I did all the readings,
I taught Sunday School. I was the only member
of the senior choir who couldn’t accept
old age pension. (attendees laughing) Tonight is super special for me and it really reaffirmed to me that we’re all more alike
than we are different. (attendees cheering) (attendees whistling
and applauding) -I can remember even
Kris saying, I think, “I think we found our family.” Woman: Ladies and gentlemen– (cat meows) (children chattering) Child: Remember how ’bout we
make a short movie today? -Yeah. Child: We make them everyday. Kris: You’d make
episodes every day? Well our life is
basically an episode. Child: Why? Kris: Okay, sing? ♪ All: Jesus loves
me this I know ♪ ♪ For the Bible tells me so ♪
Kris: You sing! ♪ Little ones to him belong ♪ ♪ They are weak,
but he is strong ♪ (uplifting music) (Alex gasps) -That was something that I
never could have expected or dreamed of in a million
years, that I would be standing with priests and
with a bishop in the diocese to affirm that my
love was not only valid, but that my love was
being celebrated by God. And so when we stood in that
church on our wedding day, we stood as a family,
our kids got a papa. And it feels sort of complete. (dramatic upbeat music) Why can’t we have a church
that will celebrate who we are? My identity, the
fullness of my identity, has been affirmed by my bishops and has been affirmed
by the church of God. Kris: We had so many moments
where we looked at other people. We’d be like somebody’s
been doing this, somebody can do family
the way we’re doing it. And we just didn’t see it
and so part of our decision in talking about it and to share and for sharing
our story is just, we can do it.
-We can do it. -Right back down
to the beginning of where Christian
community comes from is in saying, this is about
including more people. This is about drawing
the circle wider and then focusing not at the
center, but on the margins, focusing on the people
who seem least likely to fit. Yes, I am queer. Yes, I am a Christian. Yes, I’m a priest. And although there are people
who would think and say that is a
contradiction or heresy, I believe that I
am called by God and that I have a job
to do and I cannot in good conscience
do anything else. (upbeat electronic music) ♪ (slow gentle music) ♪

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