Coming Out of the Closet: A Pastor’s Reflection One Year Later

It’s been one year since I resigned as a pastor. With tears and relief, I said goodbye to my church and walked away.

I handed in my farewells because my convictions on the Bible’s teaching around sexuality were at odds with my church. I had come to a place where I could see that the church’s teaching was causing immense damage, and I could no longer, with good conscience, remain as a leader there.

You need to know something: I loved that church. I loved serving alongside those people. It was a deep honour to call myself one of their leaders. This year has been one of deep grief and sadness as I have let go of their role in my life. To the people of that church (you know who you are), know that I still care for you deeply and pray for you often.

One year on, I am astounded at how much my life has been transformed. Coming fully out of the proverbial closet has a remarkably disorienting effect on one’s life, and the past 12 months have been some of the most turbulent to date.

When I reflect on all that has happened, I have been humbled by three things in particular this year:

1) There is movement at the station

Since stepping down, I have been overwhelmed by the number of people who have come out in support of me and my LGBT siblings. Sometimes boldly, sometimes slowly, I have received countless messages from people near and far who have shared in my heartbreak over the church’s history in this domain. These people have committed themselves to revisiting the Bible — to questioning cultural assumptions and critically engaging with the text. They have given me hugs when I have wept and a bed to rest on. They have raged alongside me and brought peace to my racing mind.

These people have sparked hope in my heart for change and shown me that momentum is growing. To you who have sustained me this year with your hope (you know who you are), I say thank you. I spoke to one dear friend recently who told me that the day I resigned was the day he realised he needed to revisit his condemnations. Alive with the passionate, overflowing love of Jesus, these allies have, without fail, pointed me to a greater kingdom than this earth and reminded me time and time again that the gospel is beautiful.

2) Movement is not always smooth

But of course, where there is great joy, there is so often great sorrow. To my dismay, I have borne witness this year to some of the darker streaks that the Christian church contains. Fear translates seamlessly into hostility, and LGBT affirming theologies provide a veiled unknown for many who hold power within the church. I have received callous messages and cold shoulders. I have had close friends turn on me and seen others disappear.

I wish I could tell you that I have stoically taken these blows in my stride, but the honest truth is that these have, at times, been crippling. I have wept. I have felt isolated and abandoned. I have questioned the goodness of God’s people and my role within the church. In some instances I have, to my shame, lashed out and spoken poorly.

Fully coming out of the closet has been disorienting, confusing — and altogether God-honouring.

If I am entirely honest, this year has been filled with great anger. Sometimes this has been righteous anger. Sometimes it has been prideful. More often than not, I have masked it with a smile, but I would be lying if I told you that my year has been smooth sailing. This year, I have learned to cry out to God in the midst of confusion and rely on his strength. I have come to the end of my line and, finally, let go of control. This is where I have found that God is, once again, faithful.

My friends, if you are reading this and you stand opposed to the place of LGBT people actively being part of the church, then you are right to fear. But if you are able to see, as I have come to see, beauty in the God-honouring relationships of LGBT people, then you have no reason for fear — you have cause to rejoice.

3) There is depth within my faith

Deeper and richer. More vibrant and more joy-filled. More prayerful and more gospel driven. Clearer and with greater zeal. Justice seeking and hope proclaiming.

When I take stock of my faith, this year has proven to be a year of astounding growth, but I cannot claim this for myself. I am humbled by the work the Holy Spirit has performed in me. For so long I feared that coming fully out of the closet would be the nail on the coffin of my faith, but by God’s grace, I was entirely mistaken. Today, I stand more fully convinced that God’s grace is sufficient to save a wretch like me. On this day, one year ago, I wrote in my journal (yeah, I journal) “It’s time. I am scared, but I now must leave my church. I have complete confidence that God’s hand is in this.” Turns out I was right.

To my surprise, coming out of the closet has led to some of the most effective ministry of my life. I am no longer a pastor, but daily I walk alongside people who are seeking to follow Jesus more faithfully. I no longer preach, but I constantly handed opportunities to proclaim how good Jesus is. I may no longer have a flock of my own, but I am swamped with requests for coffee by people who need caring for.

Who knows, in God’s plan I may yet have the chance to call myself a pastor once again. But for now, I am happy sitting on the margins, meeting Jesus here and dining with my fellow outcasts. One year on, I still grieve the loss of my old life with its security and comfort. But more than that, I rejoice in the fact that God is using a sinner like me to bring new light and life to his people.

One year down, and now, let us toast to many more.

This post originally appeared on Joel’s blog, Bible+Faith+Sexuality.