Being a queer pastor isn’t for the faint of heart | LGBTQ | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Being a queer pastor isn’t for the faint of heart

A first-person essay on bisexuality, polyamory, and acceptance

click to enlarge A hand holding the bible which has an LGBTQ flag draped over it
CP Photo: Jared Wickerham

It is an awkward position to be in when you are queer, poly, a pastor, and serving a super conservative church.

I’d love to introduce myself to you fully. I’d love to tell you my name and those of the amazing Western Pennsylvania churches I serve. I’d love to introduce you to both my wife and my girlfriend. Unfortunately, due to the current state of the United Methodist Church, I cannot reveal my identity. If I did, I would lose my credentials, my income, and my life’s mission to serve God and the people in my community.

None of the people in my congregations know that I am bisexual and polyamorous. They have loved me and my wife so well, and it’s disheartening to know that if they were aware I practice non-monogamy and want to pursue a same-sex relationship, my parishioners would likely reject me as their pastor and ask for a revocation of my credentials.

If you’re unfamiliar with the United Methodist Church, you may not know that a denominational split is happening. The church has been divided for quite some time, and the division comes from differing beliefs about the LGBTQ and polyamorous community.

click to enlarge A person reading the bible with an LGBTQ flag draped over their body, hiding their identity
CP Photo: Jared Wickerham
A Western Pa. pastor hides his identity behind an LGBTQ flag at This is Red, a converted church in Munhall

There is some hope: A group of progressive pastors and laity like myself wish to include progressive members in the entire life of the church, with a desire to celebrate same-sex marriages and ordain LGBTQ clergy. But there is another group that wishes to do the exact opposite, and they’re not holding back in their discrimination. They’ve even formed a new denomination called the Global Methodist Church to preserve their ”orthodoxy,” gunning after progressive leaders and trying to make sure they’re kept out of leadership roles.

My parishioners say they love me, but is it love when I cannot be open about who I truly am? How can I effectively lead as a pastor when I have to keep part of myself hidden? How can I be my most authentic self when I cannot express part of myself because of the backlash I would receive? It can be quite confusing to experience such conditional love.

I can hide a bit because I am in a cis het-appearing marriage with a fantastic and supportive wife, but suppressing such an important part of my identity is complex, and I feel that I do not get to live life to the fullest.

I can post pictures of my wife on social media, but my girlfriend must endure the heartache of not being able to post photos of us because my church folks could find out. Thankfully, she understands my situation, but my wife and I dream about having my girlfriend and her son move in with us. My wife also dreams of having partners other than me but knows that we cannot fully live this out without facing judgment from the church. Unfortunately, for the time being, it is nothing more than a dream.

If parishioners were to drop by the house unexpectedly, our lifestyle would be exposed, and we would lose the ability to do ministry. That suppression is heartbreaking not just for me, but for both partners. I want the world to know how proud I am not only of my wife, but of my girlfriend and her incredible son.

I’ve been asked several times why I remain a pastor in a system that would seemingly reject who I am. The reality is that I have tried so many other things in life and have not been happy. Being a pastor is a calling. I know this is what I have been made to do.

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I can openly talk about my wonderful wife because it’s socially acceptable. But when you’re married and also have a girlfriend, people see it as cheating and being unfaithful when it’s really about having two people who I love intimately in different ways.

I’ve been asked several times why I remain a pastor in a system that would seemingly reject who I am. The reality is that I have tried so many other things in life and have not been happy. Being a pastor is a calling. I know this is what I have been made to do.

Because of that call, I remain in the Methodist church with the hope that by joining other progressive pastors, we can change our policy and fully include all believers into their community. We have made strides to do so, and things have gotten progressively better, but there is still the traditional faction of the church that is blocking the way.

In my local churches, I preach that God loves everyone, even the ones who hate the LGBTQ community. God doesn’t love their actions, but God does love the people, and I’ll preach that until I die.

I teach people that Jesus isn’t white or American. I’ve even said that if Jesus were here today, Americans would reject him as an ultra-left-wing radical who would chastise people like Jeff Bezos for hoarding billions of dollars and not caring for their neighbor. I’ve preached that Jesus would walk into Wall Street and flip the counters. I’ve taught that Jesus would walk into most American churches and cringe at the amount of Christian nationalism and idolatry that has infected the church.

None of this has been rejected by the people in my pews. But I know that if I preached how Jesus would accept the LGBTQ community like myself, I’d be run out of town. Too many times after service, I’ve heard the whisperings about how awful the LGBTQ community is and how it is destroying our country. I’ve overheard the after-church parking lot meetings discussing the possibility of someone new in attendance being gay or trans. Two of my churches have already voted to explore disaffiliating to the Global Methodist Church in favor of “traditional Scriptural views on homosexuality.”

I hope that when this split happens within the Methodist church, the folks who remain can breathe fresh air into a practice that seems to have lost its place in society. The American church has damaged its witness by selling itself for political power. The church has bastardized the message of the gospel. Capitalism has become more critical than the sacrificial way of Christ. Many in the American church will rush to defrock a pastor who preaches social justice, even when the scripture itself tells us we are to seek justice, care for the poor and the widowed, give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, and clothe the naked.

My parishioners say they love me, but is it love when I cannot be open about who I truly am?

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Until the split happens, I fantasize about what my dream life looks like. I’d love nothing more than to have my house full with my wife, her partners, my girlfriend, and possibly a boyfriend if I met the right person. I would be ecstatic to come home from work and be greeted by all of them, then cook dinner and enjoy family time. I would adore the idea of having snuggles with all of them on the couch and watching a movie. I would love the chance to go out as a polycule and enjoy dinner, movies, and parks.

And I would enjoy being able to do all of those things without the stress and pressures of being judged, condemned, and harassed by the conservative faction of the church. It would be nice to live out fully a polyamorous lifestyle without people automatically thinking I just want to have lots of sex. It isn’t even about the sex. I have very deep meaningful relationships with my wife and my girlfriend. There is an emotional and spiritual connection between me and them that leads to a more fulfilling love.

I don’t think I’ll ever understand why there are people in the church so against love.

As I have explored making friends within the LGBTQ and poly communities, I have found people who know what unconditional love is. It is sometimes shocking to folks when I reveal that I am a pastor, but I have only been met with love, care, and encouragement from other progressive community members who have shared that they’re super thankful there is someone who sides with them and believes in their true selves. My heart desires that, someday soon, we can see a church that displays a true love for our LGBTQ siblings and start to make amends for the harm we have done to them too.

Maybe one day, Christians will take the teaching of “loving your neighbor as yourself” more seriously. Until then, I will continue to preach it loudly and proudly, even if it falls on deaf ears.

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