Iridesce sat with Sue (not her real name), for a discussion around gay and lesbian ordination in the United Church.
Iridesce: Let’s jump right in. How do you feel about the idea of an apology?
Sue: In some ways I don’t feel I need to be apologized to. The United Church has been very good to me. I was settled to a very rural charge in Saskatchewan, I met my wife during the time I served there. While I was there they had a bridal shower for us, which is a usual tradition for that area. It was very appreciated.
Mostly there have been positive experiences. In life, as in ministry, sometimes things go a little sideways, and things aren’t the way you’d hope them to be. There has never been anything overtly homophobic but it is always in the back of your mind. When situations arise I inevitably ask myself, “Is this happening because I’m gay?”
For example, in one case I received the message quite overtly when a congregant something like, “You have to do what I say because I support you and because I supported you all in 1988... which demonstrates that I am not homophobic.” That kind of undertone.
My obvious response was and is that, first, I wasn’t there in 1988 because I was only eleven years old. Secondly, a congregant having been supportive of gay and lesbian ordination doesn’t mean that I am then beholden to them for all my directions of ministry.
If someone has been working as a while as an ally, it doesn’t mean that all the people who are LGBTQ in the church owe them something.
In general the church has been very good, but there have always been these moments.
Another example: I had an ordination interview in 2004, that didn’t go well. The interview was deemed a failure, and I was brought back to be reinterviewed. I couldn’t help but wonder if underlying the interview was homophobia. I was very careful not to “come out” to Hamilton Conference, which has now gone through the Affirming Ministry process. But at that point it wasn’t, so I was very careful what I said to whom. This was 2004.
I have had difficulties with my ecumenical colleagues. They won’t say it is about homophobia, they rephrase that as a concern about “women in ministry”…
Iridesce: Do you think there is a link between gender or being a woman in ministry, and the welcome of people of different sexualities in ministry in our church?
Sue: I think there is a link, yes, because I think that all homophobia is somehow linked to misogyny, the idea that men are better than women. Men who are effeminate are deemed not okay, and women in leadership are thought to be stepping outside their “role”. For example, when a United Church called a new minister who was a woman, I heard the question, “Didn’t any men apply?” As if a woman-minister would be a last resort or Plan B. That misogyny took me by surprise.
It is still quite common that women in ministry do not get paid as much as men, even when they adjusted for everything imaginable. All of the big, well-paying pulpits are almost always filled by men. That might not be important but it might be a subtle injustice.
I applied to many more places than a cis-gendered straight white man would have to apply to before receiving a call. Again, you don’t know what the reasons are, and search committee members hide them. Search committees know that if they say they didn’t hire a person because they are gay, that they will get in trouble. So they will phrase it as “we are looking for someone with more experience in such-and-such an area” or other kind of reason.
In our policy a church cannot ask about your sexual orientation during a search. But it has always been my choice to be out, even if in a subtle way, because I want a good fit. I want them to be making a decision aware. I want to be somewhere where they want me as I am.
But the search committee doesn’t always want to share the information that an applicant is gay. They’ll say things like, “It’s your story to tell.” But this implies that it is “my big secret”, something bad that needs to be hidden. I think, this isn’t a secret... it is on my Facebook page! [laughing]
Iridesce: Would an Affirming Congregation know how to deal with that?
Sue: You know, you’d think they would. But I continue to watch congregations wrestle with that. Things like sexuality, being a person of colour, or being a person with a disability, for example, are almost handled as if they are faults or something that needs to be handled delicately. But why!
When a group is presenting a biography of me, I don’t want them to be leaving out huge chunks related to who I am. I’m married to a woman and we have a family. I also wouldn’t want to leave out that I am an ordained minister and let people assume that I am diaconal. See what I mean? I’m not interested in hiding anything.
I have ambiguous feelings around the apology because of the good people of my settlement charge. It really came down to lovely people who did their best and a community who by-and-large embraced us. My settlement charge was good to me. So was my next charge. The one I am at now is an Affirming Congregation, so there is no issue there, which is great.
The places I encountered the most difficulty was with an evangelical recreation director at a seniors care facility. When I announced my engagement I was informed that the seniors didn’t want me to come anymore. But the seniors spoke out in protest! They demanded I come back because they loved the songs I sang and the activities we did together. I know that some of the residents have gay or lesbian relatives who are out. I think it was mostly United Church people standing up and defending me in that place.
So, is this a woman thing? A black thing? An age thing, a style thing? It is some kind of intersection of all of these things? It’s hard to know. In the circles I live in this has become a non-issue, and if someone does have an issue it is clear that it is their issue.
In 2008, General Council Executive without feeling the need to consult the church said that sexual identity and gender are not the same thing, people of all genders can be members, and all members can be considered for clergy. For me *that* was the real apology.
(Shared with permission. Image credit: Wix stock photo.)