The Glory Has Departed


Norma Boeckler, Artist-in-Residence

The Lutheran Library Publishing Ministry

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which works as gregjacksonedlp@gmail.com too.

Luther's Sermons, Lenker Series
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Monday, July 27, 2015

Former WELS Staff Minister - Comes Out

https://www.facebook.com/lazaruspdx?fref=ts

My Coming Out Journey

I first came out as gay when I was 18 and living in San Jose, CA. It wasn't that difficult. Neither of my parents were church goers and I wasn't a church member at the time, so I didn’t have a bunch of childhood religious guilt built up. However, it was my first year of college and being a generally spiritually minded person, I did start attending a church and learning about Christianity.  The church was a congregation that was part of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Church (WELS), the most conservative of the big 3 Lutheran denominations in the US.  So the type of Christianity I was learning about was very conservative.

For about a year I was out and expressing my sexual identity but also growing in this very conservative type of Christianity.  So for a while I was doing both. I was going to church and making friends there, and also making friends in the gay community. Eventually it all came to a head. I was in a rough spot and needed a place to live. One of the families at the church who I had grown close to said I could live with them but I would have to leave the "homosexual lifestyle" behind. I didn't fully understand it.  My theology at the time said that the Bible was the Word of God.  I didn’t understand why homosexuality would be a sin.  It was completely natural to me.  It was who I was.  But I was also being taught that the Bible clearly said it was wrong.  I agreed to move in with that family and enter an ex-gay program.

That started a long phase in my life. I started getting more and more involved in that local WELS church and growing in my conservative Christian faith. I was also attending a group that was part of Exodus International, which was a nationwide referral group for ex-gay ministries (Which, as of last year, no longer exists).More and more I believed that homosexuality was a sin and that in order to live a God pleasing life I had to respond to my feelings of same-sex attraction in the right way: recognize them as sinful.

 After several years of becoming more and more involved in my church, I decided I wanted to go into ministry. I wanted to be a pastor. I applied to get into my denomination’s ministry training school. They somehow found out about my past and said no, but told me to keep working with my pastor and see what happened.That's what I did, and a couple years later I applied again. By then the denomination was offering a new program called the Staff Ministry program.  A Staff Minister is similar to an Associate Pastor in a lot of other denominations. I would receive training in ministry, but not the Biblical languages, so I would serve as a full time minister in a church, but not as the head pastor.  It was suggested that I enter that program. I agreed, left my life in California behind and moved off to New Ulm, Minnesota  to go to school.

As part of my training, I was assigned to do my intern year as a Staff Minister at a church in San Antonio, TX. I was serving there as Deacon Granzow, a youth and family minister. Things were going well. I got a VERY positive review as early as October and November after just starting there. In fact, the professor overseeing the Staff Ministry program visited me there and told me that there was a possible call (“Call” is how my denomination described an open position somewhere – it is a call from God) coming up in Brazil and wanted to know if I was interested. I said I would be. He also said that they do not normally send single guys and that I should consider where my relationship was going with the woman I had just started dating.

And there's the kicker. I had just started dating this woman there named Miriam.She was nice and all. I did like her. But I had only been dating her for a month. What I didn't know at the time is that they were already looking at me for the Brazil position and wanted me to take it. They told the pastor at the church I was with about it and he was even working me towards that. They all wanted me to be married. So VERY early in that relationship I was being pushed to make it something more. After our first date, the pastor told me I could be engaged by Christmas. He wasn't far off. I proposed to her on New Year's Eve.

I did have feelings for her. I tried to convince myself they were romantic feelings.I thought that God was putting all these things in my life. That He was opening all these doors for me. He was opening the door to Brazil, and to Staff Ministry,and He had put this beautiful woman in my life and wanted me to marry her. The only problem was me. If I could just get myself straightened out (no pun intended) then it would all work out. If I just honored all these things God was doing for me, then He would honor that and work everything out for me.

So I got engaged, was offered the call in Brazil, accepted it, got married, and moved there. That's when the shit hit the fan. My wife and I were miserable.She was dealing with living in a new country AND a husband who wasn't returning her sexual affections. It was horrible. We fought all the time. We resented each other. It was really bad.

Then Miriam got the news that she had an ovarian cyst and we needed to come back tothe US to have surgery. We came back, Miriam had her surgery, and while we were here is when I was contacted by the Board for World Missions that there was an issue. I had confided in the pastor down there about the difficulties in my marriage. He then betrayed my trust and told others. So they started talking tome about the marriage and the ex-gay thing came out.

Keep in mind I was towing the denomination party line 100%.  I did NOT consider myself gay. I considered it a thing of the past, something I did for one year in college. But they kept asking "are you gay? Are you gay? Are you gay?" And I kept saying no,I wasn't. So the Board for World Missions finally said that they thought I had a gift for ministry, should be in ministry, but should be in the US where my wife and I could get counseling. I resigned my call to Brazil at their suggestion and went through the process of getting on a call list in the US.

That meant I had to go through the Board for Home Missions. And I went through the whole "Are you gay? Are you gay? Are you gay?" thing again. And I was still saying no (and meaning it!). Eventually they said that in order to get onto a call list in the US that I would have to release the psychological evaluation done by Lutheran Child and Family Services before I went to Brazil.The psychological profile is confidential and done for the benefit of the missionary going to a foreign country. Legally, it cannot be released without my permission. The problem? During the session I had admitted to being a little worried and anxious about the marriage because I was struggling with feeling sexually attracted to her and I still struggled (internally) with attraction to men. Keep in mind I wasn't having sex with anyone or acting on those things, I was just talking about something internal. Well, the profile came back that I should not work with youth because in a situation of extreme stress, one of the young men might become attractive to me. WTF? I never indicated that I was attracted to minors nor have I done or said anything inappropriate EVER with a minor, but that was the immediate jump: because I was struggling with sexual feelings for men, I might molest a teenage boy. So yeah, I didn't want to release that report with that in it. I finally agreed to release the psychological profile, however, it didn't matter. I received a letter from The Board for Home Missions saying that I was not fit for ministry because I had BEEN gay at one point and should have never been allowed into ministry to begin with. I was told to find another career.

All the while, the relationship with my wife was not going very well. We were both miserable. I was a horrible husband. I resented her. I couldn't love her the way she needed me to. It was horrible. For years and years and years I had been living as I thought God had wanted me to. I wasn't identifying as gay. I wasn't having sexual contact with anyone. Ironically, as things got worse and worse with my wife, I finally did start to have some sexual contact with men. I was going online and meeting up with guys. The end result was that I hated myself.I was ashamed of what I was doing. I felt like a hypocrite. I believed and taught one thing, and yet here I was going off and having sex with guys. I looked in the mirror and I couldn't stand what I saw. I didn't know who I was.I hated what I was doing but I also knew that I would continue to do it. I knew I wouldn't be able to stop. I knew I had always wanted to be with a man, I still did, and I always would. And I also knew I would get caught. Whether it was in 2 weeks, 2 years, or 20 years, I would get caught eventually. And I had that image in my head of living 20 years in a dead, lifeless marriage and having my wife come home and catching me with a man. How devastating would that be to her? In that moment, I knew that I couldn't make her endure that. I knew I had to leave.

I knew it would hurt her for me to leave, but I really believed that in the long run that leaving her was the most loving thing I could do. She had a supportive family that would rally around her. She had our church that would all come to her defense. I knew she would be okay in the long run and be able to recover from this and move on. I also knew I had to be the bad guy. I wanted her to be able to move on without anyone thinking she was to blame. I had to be the one to abandon her so that she would be free of suspicion or guilt.

I knew one gay person at that time in my life, and he was another WELS member who I had only met online and talked to on the phone. He lived in Salem, OR. He said he had a friend who lived near Portland, knew about my situation, and would be willing to rent a room to me. I knew I could go back and live with my mother in California, but I also knew the cost of living there was tough. Even though I didn’t know anyone there, had no job lined up, and had never lived there, I decided to move to Portland. I had $5000 that was mine and not in a joint account. I used that money to pay for 3 months rent in Portland (Sept,Oct, and Nov 2001) and I bought a plane ticket.

Kurt is on the left, taking the selfie.

On Monday morning, September 10th, 2001 I got up and pretended to go to work.Instead of going to work I headed to a cafe and had breakfast. I waited for my wife to leave and head to her job, and then I headed back home. I walked to a nearby rental car place and got a car. I then packed up a suitcase full of belongings and checked into a motel. I was in San Antonio, but my flight was out of Austin. The airport in San Antonio is small and I was worried that the church would come to the airport and try to convince me not to leave. After checking into the motel, I came back to the house and waited for Miriam to come home from work. That was the hard part. I told her that I never meant to hurt her like this, and that I was so sorry, but I had to leave. It didn't go well.I remember her slamming the door and then walking away from the house and I could hear her inside wailing and crying.

The next morning I was supposed to drive up to Austin and catch my flight to Portland, but that was the morning of September 11th, 2001. I woke up to the news about the terrorist bombings of the World Trade Center. Fortunately, I still had the rental car. So instead of flying, I ended up driving the 2,400 miles to Portland. After 3 days of driving, I arrived in Portland at 10:30 pm on the 13th.

From there I pretty much started my life over. I moved into a 10x10 room. I bought furniture. I bought a junky old car. I eventually found a job. I started to rebuild my life.
          
I’ve been an out gay man since 2001.  Spirituality is still very important to me and a large part of my life, although my theology is now on the far left end of the spectrum.  I’ve found a way to channel my own spiritual values into serving the community through the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.  I guess ministry is in my blood.  I never expected that ministry to take the form of a drag clown nun, but there it s.


And so, ummmm, yeah.  This is kind of long.  What a grand adventure life is!