Clayton Gladish (he/him/his) recently joined the pastoral team at Silverwood Mennonite Church in Goshen, Indiana. Clayton’s ministry focuses on preaching and outreach, which helps his church become a community that takes risks for the marginalized, social justice, diversity and authenticity.
“Do you like the movie Dumbo?” asked a man I had only just met. “Sure,” I said thinking very little of the question. “Great,” he replied, “Then let’s talk about the elephant in the room: What’s it like to be gay and a pastor?”
Unknowingly, this man I’d just met touched on something that I had been wrestling with for the better part of two years. From a young age, I knew that I was gay, and I, later, felt the call into ministry and assumed that these two were, more or less, mutually exclusive for me. But in those almost two years I had begun to question that assumption and was working on ways to resolve the internal tension.
Regardless of calling and gifting, I have heard countless stories of persons who identify as LGBTQIA+ who have had to wrestle with this tension. For some, it has led them away from the church, while others have found new affiliations within the body of Christ. The man I was talking to fell into the former category but was genuinely curious to hear how that worked for me.
There are several times in the New Testament when a teacher or mentor lives as an example to those they are instructing in how to live into their faith. As the old cliché goes, “Actions speak louder than words,” and even Jesus made sure his disciples were mindful of this:
“After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (John 13:12–17, NRSV)
Jesus lived among the people and gave an example of what it looks like to live in a way that is outside of what most people are accustomed to. One of the reasons that LGBTQIA+ Christians have tensions between their faith and who they are is that many of us have lacked role models that exist out of the heteronormative and cisgendered experience.
Pride month and pride celebrations help give visibility to the marginalized group known as the LGBTQIA+ community. It helps us see that we are not alone and that we do not need to be ashamed for who we are and whom we love. This can be done in the church, as well, if we are willing to affirm that people who identify as LGBTQIA+ are created in God’s image.
As a delegate body, we recently passed a resolution that would provide representation for LGBTQIA+ people in denominational spaces. I celebrate this, along with many others in Mennonite Church USA and beyond. But I hope we do not stop there.
I am a firm believer that everyone needs to be able to see someone who resembles themselves in visible leadership of a church, including in the pulpit.
We have an opportunity to make space for our LGBTQIA+ siblings in our local congregations, and I hope we take it!
I recognize that this will not be possible in all congregations, and for many, it may not even be desirable. The vote to pass the Resolution for Repentance and Transformation was 267 to 212, which says to me that we still have variety in our denomination. I’m not here to tell anyone what to do, I believe that is between your community and the Holy Spirit to discern.
I make note of this to say that whether you are in a space of affirming LGBTQIA+ people and relationships in your congregation or not, there are plenty of others just like you around. So let’s take this opportunity to stay in conversation. Perhaps you’ve never met an LGBTQIA+ person or pastor before. This could be an opportunity to see what that looks like and an opportunity to see that God is at work in us and the gifts of the Holy Spirit are manifest in our lives and ministries.
May God continue to give us wisdom, insight and compassion to pursue the work we’ve been called to do. And may we find and be open to the leading and example of those we see around us that embody God’s love and grace.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.