Thursday, January 31, 2008

Communities of Accounability

I want to thank this community of the blogosphere for being a place where I can ask to be held accountable for my actions, even in this entirely self-reporting manner.

I knew you would be kind. I also knew you would challenge me.

I was talking to another closeted colleague not long ago. He is considering leaving the denomination in which he has served for nearly twenty years, so that he might finally be able to be out in his long term relationship. I asked him if he worried at all about the folks in the churches he has served, and whether they would feel hurt or betrayed by his long silence and obfuscation.

He said, "Nope. I don't owe them anything."

I understand that position. In a very real sense, it is no one's business, what this extremely gifted pastor holds between himself, his partner and God.

And yet... and yet. I can understand being the congregant, who feels somehow betrayed. Even though I disagree that it was a betrayal.

We each must find our own path. I am on mine, and I pray with all of you that the day when I can be completely open will come soon, a very tangible sign of God's kingdom coming.

Thank you for your engagement with me in these questions.


parodie said...

In my experience, people who make such broad sweeping claims ("I don't owe them anything"), especially in a context that doesn't necessarily encourage such an attitude (of which pastoral work is definitely one!), are trying to convince themselves as much as they are trying to justify their behaviour to others.

Especially when contemplating such a dramatic upheaval of one's life and interpersonal relationships, absolutes are a lot easier to negotiate than the truer-to-life grey zones. It sounds like "I don't owe them anything" is what is allowing him to deal with the change he is going to make. I think it also could be tweaked a bit to reflect some important facets of reality, such as a pastor's necessary commitment to self-care and dealing with one's own emotional and psychological needs in order to minister effectively to other people.

I do think that you are also right - there is a real relationship between a pastor and their congregation, and relationships include some level of commitment and interdependence. The trick is to figure out the balance ... (isn't it always, eh?)

Anonymous said...

This is such a strange walk to be on. In most business places, who you love and dedicate your life to is no one's business but your own. But in the Church, where pastors are expected to parade their families around, where spouses are usually expected to be a large part of congregational life, it's a different issue. Questions that would be taboo in another workplace are seen as innocent and permissible.

And yet, the Church has yet to see and experience the gift of GLBT families. As a whole, the Church has closed its eyes to the reality of the love GLBT families have. This is a tragedy, not just for us, but more importantly for the Church, that is robbed of examples it so desperately needs.

I publicly came out before I ever got a call from a congregation so I didn't have to go through the turmoil many others have to face. Why did I decide to do that? I had a fear that if I was outted [my internship congregation tried hard to do it] then they would begin to question everything that I preached to them.

That's my experience, but it's not the experience of everyone [by a long shot]. As time has progressed and as I have matured [hopefully!], I have begun to understand the reasons for not coming out to a parish. It would be so easy to "throw stones" and say that every closeted pastor needs to come out... but it's not that easy. That is why my prayers continue to travel with you and the others who are serving in the closet...

3things said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Altogether possible that the congregants might be thinking, "ya dumb ox, you think we didn't know? Give us credit for cranial contents, not air." And that some might be grateful for his saying zip, and some might be hurt that he didn't trust them.


Anonymous said...

Dear Cecilia, This is such a private and personal journey. I certainly don't have the answer for anyone else. Please permit me to share an experience and observation, letting it fall, hopefully with Grace, wherever it will. I remember, years ago, as I was discerning my own call to Orders, when my wise priest mentor said to me, "You don't have to bleed on anyone else's altar." It took me some time to unfold that and see the meaning in my own life. I am called by Jesus to be whole, as His Father is Whole, united within myself, authentic to who I am. I don't know why I am a gay woman. I have no idea, but I am, and I am beloved by God, called to be who I am, for a purpose beyond my knowing just now. My being who I am is not the cause of someone else feeling "betrayed". I cannot "betray" anyone by being the child of God I am created and called to be. Perhaps, just perhaps, I might be able to help someone walk through the feeling that they are betrayed because I am authenitcally who I am, but there are no guarantees to that. Jesus calls and the Holy Spirit equips me to be authentic and whole, no longer divided within myself. Now, I hasten to add that this is the call for me. It is a prsonal journey and it may not be the call for you just now, or ever. But, I do think that if someone else feels "betrayed" because I am authentic, I am not the cause of that. My decision to approach life in an open way is not the cause of someone else's pain. I may be, and am, called to other sacrifices in this life, but I for sure am not called to sacrifice the child of God within me, my true self as God has created me, for His glory. Thank you for "listening" and for the opportunity to journey a way with you. May God, Who loves you and me and all of creation, richly bless you this wonderful day.
PS: Sorry Cecilia. I am just not computer literate. I tried to sign this with my name, but couldn't get it in any other way than "anonymous"! I don't have a "Blogger" account and when I tried to....oh well, anyway. Blessings.

Suzer said...

Anonymous at 10:48:

But can one be authentic and closeted at the same time? I know how I would answer that question -- no. But due to personal experiences I may be closing myself off to other opinions.

To me, authenticity is about truth, openness and integrity. If a pastor is closeted, and lying to members of their congregation, can he or she still be authentic?

I had a pastor once that seemed to hold up "authenticity" as her personal creed. At least, she used that word an awful lot. It was difficult to believe her earnest plea for authenticity when I knew I was being lied to. Most of the lies were ones of omission, but they were glaring. We all loved her anyway, for who she was and the great job she did. However, she failed in her ministry to members of the congregation that, I assume, she feared would hold her accountable some day -- particularly the GLBT people in her congregation. Perhaps she envied us our ability to be "out", I don't know,and that got in her way. As a result of what I can only suspect was her internalized homophobia, she shunned several members of the congregation in a hurtful and obvious way. It drove me away from church for quite a while.

It seems to me it would be next to impossible to be as effective as possible in ministry while being closeted. And it's not a dig against Cecilia -- I love Cecilia and am certain she's very, very good in her role as minister. I just question whether the boundary that necessarily needs to be placed between the congregant and the closeted pastor's personal life (which is always there to some extent with any pastor, but much moreso with a closeted pastor), gets in the way of pastoral care and other effective ministering. One would have to walk a tightrope, and I suspect some are quite good at that, while others fail miserably.

But anyway, the word "authenticity" struck me and I wondered if you might, at some point, want to share some more thoughts on that.

Anonymous said...

Dear Suzer, I am happy to engage in a short discussion of a very complex topic. I am aware that we are sitting on Cecilia's front porch, drinking her iced tea and eating her lemon cake. I don't want to start a thread that bypasses her question. But, as I don't have a blog to invite you to, perhaps our kind and gentle hostess will permit us to talk softly between ourselves for a moment, as long as we don't get rowdy and alarm the neighbors.

You raise several very important points. The issue of boundaries is always one of which we must be aware. Just how much of ourselves do we need, should we, as ministers, share anyway? Does being authentic mean that we must be "out"? Well, for me, for a long time, the answer was "No." I think I was able to maintain my integrity and honesty, and be open and vulnerable, while still not discussing my sexuality. I just never discussed it. My partner attended the same parish; we had attended for many years together. Being of "a certain age", I guess everyone assumed that we just didn't have a sexuality! To be sure, that assumption enabled us to avoid many questions, one possible benefit of being older! As a previous commenter noted, most probably everyone knew, they just didn't want to know that they knew. As I became more involved in justice work, I no longer felt able to hold the tension of being as closeted as I was (or not!) I began to feel an internal disconnect and made the decision to become more involved in direct work with the LGBT community.I feel much healthier now. But, to more directly answer your question about authenticity and being closeted, Suzer: the spiritual journey is often described as being a yard long and five miles deep. This is a private journey and each of us will do the best that we are able to do at that time. It can be most safe and healthy to remain closeted; the cost of being "out" can be enormous, as we all know. And how much "out" is "out"? Must we be out to congregation, family and friends? May we only be out to friends? May we be out in certain social sutuations and not in others? Everyone who's a lesbian take one step forward? Complex.
And, It is saddest when we are so ruled by fear that we give in to self-loathing and act with hostility to other gay people. That is a painful place to be and those whom we see in that place need our Christian love and prayer, for they are surely hurting. It sounds as if your previous pastor might have been experiencing something like that. And, yes, that can confuse and be harmful to others. (Yikes! I sure hope that wasn't me. See that's the thing: I think I was being true, but maybe some percieved me as not authentic. )I am most grateful for some wise spiritual directors who helped me navigate those particular shoals. You have raised many questions and I sure don't have the answers, Suzer. I guess this thing is a process, this journey thing. I only pray that I do as little harm as possible, that I can be a bridge to open awareness of the Divine DNA within each of us, that I can bring the Good News of God's love and the redeeming work of Jesus to those in my path, that I continue to grow in my own authenticity and strength (All things are possible with God) and that I continue to be open to the working of the Spirit within me. Gee, Suzer, I didn't give you much of an answer. That's the best I've got, kiddo. Grace and peace to you.

KJ said...


While there is no betrayal, I think that you are wise to be sensitive to it. Most of us have had to keep a secret because we knew the secret could not be safely shared with those we most wanted to share that secret. When we are fully authentic, I think that it's not surprising that those closest to us are offended by our not having not been fully authentic while they also may find the particulars of the authenticity to be offensive. Oy!

However, we have to trust that those who know and love us best will take the time to reconcile all of their conflicting feelings and thoughts. My dad, while clearly going through a grieving process, was hurt that I had not trusted him enough to share my secret. My younger sister was not happy either since what other "secrets" might Kevin have been keeping.

It was my older sister and mom who settled everybody down and reviewed what they knew to be true about Me. Now here was something new. Why did they think the "new" abrogated the "old"?

I had to be ready to respond to their questions, because otherwise, how would they move on? But in the end, I knew only the Spirit, in time, could give the family (and former church family) peace about my journey.

Bill said...

I hate quotes, but this one may be appropriate:
"This above all. To thyne own self be true."
- William Shakespear

You cannot be yourself and give a hundred percent if you are constantly looking over your shoulder, worrying who knows what, and who is going to say something. Each day eats a little bit of your soul. If this were not true, we would not be discussing it now.

I can understand your colleague’s statement. We have been repressed for so very, very long. He may hold bitterness in his heart over not being able to be himself. His statement, as someone already mentioned, is a very broad brush. It may be that there are some in his congregation who would understand. On the other hand, there may be others that would not. He may have heard comments over the years which lead him to make these judgments. We do not know, we were not there.

In the end, we all need to go home at night and look in the mirror. We ask ourselves questions like: “Am I happy”, “Am I really doing what I want to do”, “Am I were I expected to be at this stage of my life”, “Am I living a lie”

The questions are hard and the answers can be just as hard. In the end of course, we have to be true to ourselves.