One Year Ago: DADT was Repealed (oh, and I was Fired)
1 Year Anniversary of DADT Repeal
One year ago today the controversial policy known as Don't Ask Don't Tell was officially repealed, thus allowing openly gay servicemembers to, well, serve!
Last year when it was repealed I was thrilled. This "law" was a particularly disgusting form of discrimination that left a gross black eye on "freedom and democracy" espousing America. How our country managed to pull this off is beyond me, but even more frightening is why we pulled it off. Why would we make such a policy that asks men and women to give their lives for defending this country, and to serve with honor and integrity... but not really. Be honest, but not really. Have integrity, but only sort of. And don't let us catch you being gay, or acting gay, or even HINTING at anything gay, or we'll kick you out immediately.
Anyways, those days are behind us, praise God. And to absolutely no one's surprise the Pentagon recently said that the repeal has gone smoothly with no adverse affect on morale, unit cohesion, recruitment or military readiness. All things the supporters of DADT warned us would deteriorate should we allow openly gay people to serve.
Further, here's the conclusion from a 43 page study report called "One Year Out: An Assessment of DADT Repeal's Impact on Military Readiness" prepared by the prestigious Palm Center, a branch of the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law:
Our conclusion, based on all of the evidence available to us, is that DADT repeal has had no overall negative impact on military readiness or its component dimensions, including cohesion, recruitment, retention, assaults, harassment or morale. Although we identified a few downsides that followed from the policy change, we identified upsides as well, and in no case did negative consequences outweigh benefits. If anything, DADT repeal appears to have enhanced the military's ability to pursue its mission.
Again, this really doesn't surprise anyone who doesn't buy in to the fear mongering that can come from some of the homophobic conservative right.
I Was Asked. I Told. Then I Was Fired.
This also marks the one year anniversary of when I was fired from my previous church, The Grove, in Chandler, AZ.
In a nutshell, here's the gist of what happened.
On Sept 20th, 2011, DADT was repealed. That night I put a link to an article on my Facebook page that announced its repealing. The article didn't argue for or against homosexuality, it had nothing to do with any gay agenda. It was an innocuous, objective announcement about DADT being repealed. Attached to the link I wrote, "Glad this day finally came." For me, DADT was always about discrimination. However, it turns out that for many people at The Grove, DADT was NOT a form of discrimination, but ONLY a declaration of being "pro homosexuality" and "actively promoting the gay agenda." Anyways, I went to bed after posting the link and evidently overnight it amassed quite the ugliness in the comment section from people at my church. Some people were even calling for my job, or threatening to leave the church, because of my post. I got to work the next morning and was asked to take it down by my boss. So I did. Figuring that was the end of it, I was surprised that night to learn that the Chair of the Elder Board was calling for an emergency board meeting for Friday morning to deal with me and with what happened. At that meeting I was forced to tell the entire Elder Board my position on Homosexuality. Now, keep in mind, The Grove has no official position (or unofficial, for that matter) on this issue. I was never asked about it when I was hired, nor during the 5 years of my employment. We never talked about it as a church, it was never preached on. But I had to tell these men my thoughts on this issue. Something I'd only previously shared with my wife and with two of our dear friends. Not even my family knew. So, after sharing with the Board my position on sexuality (and sharing briefly about my journey in how I arrived at that conviction, and how I understood the Bible on the issue), and after imploring them to consider how I'd served them faithfully and in love for 5 years, they asked me to not come to church that Sunday, nor return to the office until they figured out what to do. I was called in the following Tuesday, just one week after it all started, and was fired.
I've written a bit about that story already, here, here and here. But overall I have avoided the subject. I have not been, and am not still, interested in publicly bashing or criticizing my former church and its leadership. I don't want to stir up trouble and be divisive (contrary to what some may think :)
And The Truth Shall Set You Free
This past year has allowed LGBTQ folk to, for the first time, serve their country with ALL of themselves. They have been given the freedom and the dignity to be honest about who they are with their fellow servicemembers and it has resulted in more authentic relationships and a military community that can now walk the walk of integrity.
Open gays and lesbians alike have discovered a newfound freedom in their ability to live out truth in the arena they hold most dear.
Similarly, this past year has allowed ME to, for the first time, serve the Church will ALL of myself. I have the freedom to be honest about what I believe regarding sexuality and faith. About the heart of God towards all God's children. About what the Way of Jesus looks like and doesn't look like. And about what I believe the Bible says and does not say about homosexuality and other more "liberal" (gasp!) issues. And it has resulted in more authentic relationships in my life as well as a more fuller sense of dignity and integrity for me.
I have discovered a newfound freedom in my ability to live out truth in the arena I hold most dear.
From The Grove to Missiongathering
I have been the Pastor of Worship and Arts at Missiongathering Christian Church in San Diego for just over four months now, and it has been thrilling to do ministry with these folks. I love being here, my wife loves being here, my kids love being here. I feel for the first time that I can truly be me, and if you've ever been a pastor or been in the ministry then you KNOW what a gift that is. It's a gift that I don't think too many pastors have. It's a gift I do not want to take for granted.
My time at The Grove was amazing. It was an incredible 5 years of growth, maturation, and spiritual transformation for me. I really became a Pastor while at The Grove. I met awesome people and made lifetime friends. Truly I believe God did some phenomenal things through me and to me while I served there.
But it always felt a bit lacking for me because I had to hide much of who I was. I couldn't be open and share my doubts about things, or my beliefs on some issues. I lived in constant fear of being "found out" by some of the more conservative families in the church who took it upon themselves to monitor me (especially my Facebook world).
So in some ways I suppose I am grateful that I was fired from The Grove over my theological position on homosexuality, for out of it God has brought me to a place that is a much better fit.
For those of you who don't know, here is the (brief) rundown of what happened after I was fired and how I wound up at Missiongathering.
- Sept 20th, 2011: Posted on FB about DADT Repeal
- Sept 27th: Fired from The Grove
- Sept 28th: Had coffee with Worship Pastor friend from another church in Chandler. After hearing what happened to me, he said, "you should connect with an old buddy of mine named Alex Roller. He is openly gay and is a pastor at a church in San Diego called Missiongathering."
- Sept 29th: Received a Facebook message from an old friend who also happens to be the daughter of one of the Board Members who fired me. In it she said, "I'm wondering if you'd like me to connect you with someone I know. He's on the Board of Invisible Children, where I work, and he is openly gay and pastors a church in San Diego called Missiongathering." (At this point, I probably should have seen the writing on the wall, right?! But I didn't reply to her and ask to connect with Rich until 12 days after this.)
- Oct 11th: Received an email from Rich McCullen, Lead Pastor at Missiongathering, who had been told of my plight via the aforementioned friend. In it he offered to bring me and my family out to SD the following week for a conference they were hosting called Soularize.
- Oct 14th: The infamous John Shore blog blew up. I anonymously emailed a part of my story, about being fired, to progressive blogger John Shore. With my permission he published my story, completely anonymously, wherein I share about how I was fired over my position on homosexuality. I received incredible support from John and his readers, who all were a great source of encouragement to me and my wife during some very hard times. However, at the end of my story, John added some of his own commentary, using quite the colorful language (as is his way ;) saying not the most flattering things about the leaders at The Grove. [sidenote: the current version of the blog, as I linked to above, is the 3rd revision of his comments. His first version was the most, well, colorful. Then when I emailed him and asked him if he could be, well, less colorful, he edited it. And then about a month afterwards I noticed that he went back and did sort of a hybrid of version one and two]. This blog post went viral and somehow landed in the laptops of Grove leaders. For reasons unknown to me I was accused of being the one to say the negative things about the church and its leaders. Which, if you read it, you can clearly see was not the case. As a result, I was immediately threatened with having my severance package revoked, as well as other consequences. These were dark, dark days.
- Oct 18th: Drove out to San Diego to meet Rich and attend Soularize.
- Oct 19th: My family and I had lunch with Rich at Chevy's. After the second basket of chips and salsa arrived, Rich turns to me and says, "Okay, so tell me, what will it take to get you to come out and join us at Missiongathering?" Me: "What?! You just met me yesterday, I was just fired 3 weeks ago, and you're offering me a JOB?!" Rich: "I've read your blog, watched your music videos, listened to your sermons... and I just have a sense about this. I believe God wants you in San Diego."
- Oct 20th: We leave San Diego with two new friends, Rich and Alex, who also happen to be our first gay friends ever. We also leave committing to keep the lines of communication open on the possibility of moving to San Diego.
- Nov 2nd: Life in AZ became unbearable as lies were told, misinformation abounded, and people just generally didn't leave us alone. So, after filling the moving truck and piling up the mini van, we hopped on the road and moved back to Oregon.
- Early Dec: Rich and I kept in touch, semi-sort-of moving the conversation forward about moving to SD. However, my wife was feeling pretty adamant that we were not moving away from Oregon again. We wanted to be with family. We wanted to be back in Oregon. Kate said, "if Missiongathering were here in Oregon then I'd say LET'S DO IT in a heartbeat!"
- Dec 21st: Huck Brenneman Martin was born. Best. Day. Ever.
- Jan 1st: I shaved my Depression Beard and began looking for a job. A non-church job, specifically.
- Feb 1st: One month down, lots of good interviews and leads, but zero jobs. Also, this is the last month of our severance package. After February we had to live off of our tax returns.
- Feb 12th: Receive a random Voicemail from James Leinhard, Executive Director at Missiongathering. After introducing himself, he leaves a message asking if we were still considering moving to San Diego and joining Missiongathering. At this point, Rich and I hadn't spoken in weeks. And also, Kate and I hadn't talked about it in over two months, because I knew how she felt about it. I forgot to call him back... so...
- Feb 14th: I get a text from Rich that says, "Call James back, or our friendship is over ;)" I laugh, turn to Kate, and show her the text. She says, "who is James? And what did he call about?" I mention the voicemail and how I needed to call him back and tell him they can take me off their list because we were staying in Oregon. She says back, "well hold on, don't make that call yet..." *cue record scratching* She continues by saying that she had had several sleeplessness nights as of late, thinking about Missiongathering and Rich and San Diego. Thinking about how I couldn't find a job, and how even if I did get a job it would be a non-pastor job. And that thought was really bumming both of us out. We talked all afternoon about "what if San Diego." Finally, we decided that if we were going to say "no," then it had to be the best educated "no." So I called James back and asked if they would fly us down for a weekend so we could meet people, visit the church, check things out, and see if there was any possibility there.
- March 11th: We visit Missiongathering Christian Church and I guest-lead worship on Sunday morning.
- March 12th: We know, without a shadow of a doubt, that Missiongathering is the right place for us. It turns out there DOES exist a church where they are "conservative" in regards to a commitment to Jesus, worship, church and the Bible, but "progressive" in regards to sexuality, social issues, justice, love, mercy, etc. It is a crazy unheard of blend of the two. And it is the exact same strange mix that I am made up of. Not only that, but the people are amazing. The Elders are wonderful. The staff was truly a blessing. We couldn't imagine a better person to work for and with than Rich. We had found our new home.
- March 2oth: Reality sets in as we learn how much it costs for a family of 6 to live in Southern California. The church had no money in the budget for us, so they had to go about trying to raise the funds to hire us. We almost thought it wasn't going to happen.
- March 21st: Kate and I decide that making decisions based solely on money sucks. We weren't going to pass up the opportunity to join MG just because of money. So, we commit to figuring out a way, and we officially accept the job!
- May 4th: Seven and a half months after being fired we roll in to Sunny San Diego, happy to be home. Excited for a new adventure. Thrilled to be living out the Kingdom of God.
Things I Want People to Know
If you're still reading this then let me end by offering a few thoughts that I hope people who were involved in my story over this past year will take the time to listen to.
- I still love and miss many people from The Grove - I know that my sudden removal made it very difficult and awkward for pretty much everybody, and as a result it didn't allow for any sort of goodbyes or affirmations of love. But I still value and cherish many of the friendships I made in my 5 years there. Perhaps they won't ever be the same because I know many of you supported my firing and agreed that my theological position on homosexuality was sufficient grounds for letting me go. And I know that others of you have been given bad information about me and about what happened, causing you to perhaps distance yourself from me or not care about reaching out. Nonetheless, my inbox is always open should anyone ever want to ask any questions or engage in any dialogue.
- I am sorry for the hurt and confusion I caused - I knew I was an outsider at The Grove, but for years I did my best to try and fit in. To try and find common ground and do ministry out of that place. But I realize that I didn't always succeed in that, and there were times when I stepped in to territory that was not safe for me to step in. This caused people to get angry, nervous, scared, and hurt. And I'm sorry for that. I never meant to affect people in this way. It is in my nature to at times play devil's advocate, or to stir up discussion, or to throw out things that make people stop and think twice. And I was not more sensitive to my environment on several occasions. Certainly I never meant to be divisive, but I realized that simply being myself was in and of itself a divisive reality, because certain ideas and beliefs I had (about much more than just homosexuality) were feared and unwanted.
- I did not reject a "Plan of Restoration" - From the moment I was fired Kate and I decided to try our best to take the Path of Peace. We didn't do it perfectly, of course, but we knew that one major piece of that path would be to NOT put our story out there. To not try and rally support, or argue whatever "story" the church decided to put out. We moved forward deciding that we would only tell people what happened if they came and asked us personally. It was hard, for sure, especially when the misinformation started to abound. The thing that probably hurt the most was when I found out that people at the church (many of whom were my closest friends) were told that I was offered a Plan of Restoration from the Church Leadership, one that could have resulted in my staying on as a Pastor at The Grove, but that I refused to accept it. And this simply did not happen. I was never offered the Plan. I was asked on the Sunday night of that week if I would be willing to listen to a Plan of Restoration (which would have involved things like apologizing to people, not leading from the platform for a while, possibly meeting with a Bible Professor on this issue, etc) and I told them yes. I would be willing to hear that out. Two days later, on Tuesday, I was called to the church for a meeting that I was told would involve the Board laying out for me the Plan of Restoration that they came up with. However, when I got to church that afternoon, there was no meeting. Instead it was my termination. At the time it didn't seem to matter much that they never offered any such Plan. They went a different route entirely, that of letting me go. Which is fine. But to then find out that some went on to tell people that I rejected a Plan (that I was never even given) was completely demoralizing. So, if you're reading this and that was the impression you've been under for this past year, that I was too stubborn or unwilling to submit to authority, then you've been given bad information. I am sorry.
- I wish The Grove, and the people in it, well - There is still so much about The Grove that I love and believe in. They are doing incredible things for God's Kingdom. It breaks my heart that the leadership is so adamantly opposed to all things gay, but that doesn't make them bad people. Just good people with bad theology. And I'm not angry or mad at those who fired me, I'm angry at the theological system that forces people to make such moves. They are entrenched in a system that fears diversity of thought, that isn't open to different interpretations on issues like this, and that believes in "protecting" the people from false teachers like myself (though I clearly never talked about this issue, let alone taught about it!). I am excited for their next phase in their Building Campaign. I'm excited for the work they do in Africa and Haiti and Mexico, and in their own backyard communities. It does sadden me that so many people still attend The Grove who know what happened to me, and who feel just as strongly about homosexuality, but I understand it. I understand how there isn't really any other church like The Grove in that area. And so I get it that people who, after initially leaving The Grove because of the church leadership's anti-gay stance, have now returned. It's hard for me, but I get it. It's a good church filled with good people. (sidenote: if you're at The Grove and you're reading this and you're looking for another church, one that is more open and loving towards all people, then I strongly recommend Jacob's Well. Check it out).
One Year Down, One to Go
Over the past year I've spoken with many people about what happened to me at The Grove. How I was treated. The heartache. The disappointment. The breaking of trust and relationships. And almost every time I share it with someone who has walked a similar journey they tell me, "it takes at least two years before you really start to fully heal and move on."
I thought that seemed like a really long time. But now, after having made it through year one, I'll be thrilled if I only have one more year of this!
It's crazy how what happened to me last year still has power over me. Sometimes in ways I least expect it. I find myself scared to speak up here at church, for fear that I'll be outcast again. I find myself insecure when I disagree with another pastor about something, for fear that they'll no longer like me or respect my opinion. And though I feel completely safe to share all my beliefs, even if they're a tad crazy, I still do so with great hesitancy.
But make no mistake about it, I could not ask for a better place to serve, pastor, and work through my healing than at Missiongathering. And I couldn't ask for a better group of fellow staff people to help me get back on my feet than Rich, Alex, James and Jill. Kate and I are in a good, very good place, where we are loved, valued, and accepted just as we are.
Go ahead, ask me about it.
I'll gladly tell.