“Colby, we need to hear you answer this question. Is homosexuality a sin?”
No small talk. No opening words of welcome. No, “how about that Cardinal game, Sunday, huh?”
These were the first words spoken that Friday morning as I sat down and joined a room of eight men. Men who were the Board of Elders at the church where I had been pastoring for the past five years.
This particular question didn’t come up when I interviewed for the job, half a decade prior. And not once during my time there had the Lead Pastor preached on the subject. Also, the church had no official stance on what they believed about sexuality and faith.
But here I was, 29 years old—with my wife sitting outside waiting, and pregnant with our fourth son—being forced to give an account for my theology on sexuality.
How did I get here?
Five years ago today, President Obama signed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” (DADT), the ban against gays and lesbians serving (openly) in the military. As I watched the President sign his name that evening, effectively eliminating the institutionalized discrimination of an already-marginalized minority group, my heart swelled with pride.
No matter what you think about sexuality and faith, I thought, this is the end of discrimination. And that’s a good thing.
I opened my laptop and found an article announcing the repeal. When Facebook gave me the blinking cursor before clicking “share,” I typed these six words:
“I’m glad this day finally came.”
Six words that, as it turned out, would lead to my eventual termination as a pastor.
I was born and raised a conservative evangelical Christian. In many ways I was the pride of my Baptist College Alma Mater, and was a poster boy for what an up-and-coming millennial pastor looked like. I had all the right religious answers, and everything was cruising along nicely toward a trajectory of success in that world.
However, the trajectory radically altered when, after graduating, I began a rather painful process of dismantling the theological construct I had been raised and educated with. So by the time my wife and I moved to the desert, in 2007, to join a young and growing church just outside Phoenix, Arizona, my journey to the theological and idealogical Left had already begun.
The gap between myself and the church was imperceptible at first, but with each shift in how I saw the world, how I understood Jesus and the call of the Gospels, how I handled and interpreted the Bible, etc, the distance between us frighteningly increased. Worse, it was never safe for me to talk about these shifts.
So by time September 21st, 2011 rolled around, I was significantly dis-integrated.
Or better put,
my internal convictions were way out of alignment with my external reality.
Being surrounded by thousands of people, in a vibrant ministry, couldn’t make a difference in the loneliness I experienced. Because the only way to truly connect with others is when you make yourself known to them. And I simply couldn’t make myself known to people.
Perhaps that’s just part of being pastor, I often wondered. Learning to keep your doubts and your questions and your shifting beliefs to yourself
One of the more significant shifts in my theology during that time was around the subject of sexuality. I had, through a vigilant study of the Clobber Passages (aka, the handful of verses in the Bible that have been used historically to marginalize and oppress the LGBTQ community), come to realize that I no longer believed the Bible condemned people who were born gay. And no longer did I see Biblical support to prohibit people of the same sex from enjoying a loving, committed, mutually honoring relationship.
But even before I had settled the issue in my mind, my heart had always been bothered by how churches (and society as a whole!) treated those who were not born straight. For me, even if a Christian or a church maintained that “it’s a sin to be gay,” that does not excuse any sort of discriminatory policy or attitude.
Which is why the repeal of DADT was so meaningful to me.
And why (I naively thought) others who followed Christ might also be glad.
When I awoke Wednesday, the morning after posting my six words, and scrolled through the comments on my wall while munching a bowl of Mini Wheats, my heart sank:
“What’s there to be glad about?”
“How can a pastor be pro-homosexuality!”
“Why is a pastor actively promoting the gay agenda?”
And so on.
All from people within my church.
As I arrived at the office my boss told me about the litany of angry emails and calls he’d received as a result of my post and asked me to take it down. I did, hoping that’d be the end of it. But later that night I got a phone call from one of the elders, explaining how the Board had called an emergency meeting for Friday morning to “deal with the situation.”
Pro tip: when you go from being a “pastor” to a “situation,” it’s not a good sign.
That’s how it was that I ended up in that room, with the eight men, facing what felt like two lamentable options. Either I stay dis-integrated, and continue to keep my inner convictions locked away and try to salvage my job. Or, I come out of the theological closet, reveal myself as an open and affirming ally, and hope for the best.
But that morning, sitting there, heart-racingly scared, I knew I could not live out of alignment any longer. I would rather lose everything on the outside, than silently crumble on the inside.
It was time to make myself known.
The following Tuesday, not even a week after posting my six words on Facebook, I was called back to the office.
This time, I was handed my letter of termination.
DADT was a destructive policy for many reasons, not least of all because it forced men and women to live out of alignment. Such duality causes all sorts of harm; emotionally, psychologically, physically, spiritually, and more.
In my own (albeit, lesser) way, I can relate to those brave men and women who served our country while at the same time were forced to hide who they were. And I’m so glad that our country has moved away from policies that fragment human beings in the way DADT did.
There’s no downplaying how painful it was upon coming out of the theological closet. To lose my job, have to sell my home, and virtually start over in life. But at least I knew I was on a path toward aligning my insides with my outsides. And that path has led me to a life of flourishing I never dreamed was possible.
I guess that guy was right when he said, “he who wants to find his life, first must lose it.”
Learn more about my journey, as well as how I engage with the Bible on Homosexuality, in my new book “UnClobber: Rethinking Our Misuse of the Bible on Homosexuality,” which releases Sept 28 from Westminster John Knox Press.