Coming Out of the Theological Closet

I’m told that coming out of the closet involves risk on the part of someone who identifies with the LGBTIQ community.  How will my family and friends respond?  Will I be labeled as an outsider? When people choose to love these folks, no matter one’s convictions about sexuality, I believe that God is honored.  The center of Jesus’ teaching was love of God and love of neighbor.  To love one’s neighbor is to foster safety.  When our actions, words, or cultural setting forces people into hiding, something needs to be overhauled by love.

I’ve blogged now for about 3 years (off and on) and for about 1.5 years with a bit of intentionality.  My first site, Groans From Within, began the writing journey.

An early post I wrote raised concerns.  I provocatively titled it: My Evolution Towards Theistic Evolution.*  When a couple friends read this, I was accused of being an atheist.  Someone then forwarded that article to my senior pastor at the time, attempting to get me fired from my youth pastor position.  Luckily, my leader had an open mind on this particular issue.  Yet, this incident drove me into theological hiding, with a determination to prevent this from happening again.

Then, about a year later, I left that church and moved to a new community.  Up to that point, my site only displayed my first name out of fear that I would create “church problems.”  I did everything in my power to keep my online life completely separate from my ministry.  Essentially, I hid. I even created a separate Facebook page for church members (masking it by moving family and close friends over there as well) and a second Twitter account.  Convinced of the separation between these two parts of my life, I decided to add my last name to the site and took blogging to a new level of seriousness.  The crazy thing was… people actually started reading it!  This still blows my mind.

Then, it happened.  I received the following comment on the Groans From Within contact page:

Wow, you actually believe this stuff? Well, it [the blog] is titled correctly, however, you might consider this groan to be the gas pains from deep within your own bowels.  I hope the church isn’t paying for your time to produce such…wow.

After checking the name, email, and IP address, I knew exactly who left the comment.  The following week, this person sent a five-page email to the pastoral staff and church board about why his family was no longer attending the church. And guess what, half-a-page was devoted to my “liberal” blog with the final sentence quoting a passage about false teachers being in danger of destruction.  My guess is that they found my site through a Google search, in hopes to find dirt on leaders in the church.  That week, I made the painful decision to set the blog to private and announced that I would be fasting from blogging indefinitely.  This was a spiritually rewarding time, but in all honesty, the blog shutdown was mostly driven by an impulse to hide.

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After a few months of fasting, I reinvented my site and moved to a new domain.  This time I determined to keep church and social media separate.  Google search engines couldn’t find my new site, The Pangea Blog, and I chose to only use my first name.  These steps certainly would hide my identity enough so that I wouldn’t get outed.  But no such luck. Someone on my email update list was a spy and sent word to all the people who were angry at the church I worked at.  Tensions rose among the more conservative crowd, but luckily at the close of the fiscal year, my “church planter residency” came to an end.  The timing of this prevented greater dissension in the church.  My attempts to hide didn’t work.  Instead, hiding held back a part of who God designed me to be.

At the end of April I decided that I wouldn’t live in the theological closet any longer. First, I changed the settings on my site to be findable by search engines.  Then, I added my last name and pictures of myself to the blog.  Within two weeks, I was invited to write for Emergent Village, Tony Campolo’s Red Letter Christians, and Patheos. The month of May quadrupled my all time page-view record and suddenly people started stopping me in grocery stores and through random situations, telling me that they read my site on a regular basis.  Emails began flooding in, and opportunities to write and do ministry emerged.  When God took me out of hiding he led me into situations I never thought possible.  All this happened when I took the risk of “coming out of the theological closet.”

So, I ask you: Are you in hiding?  Do you feel that if you were authentic about your convictions that you would be rejected?  Is there a part of your soul that feels like it’s deteriorating as you hide who you really are? If so, I understand, and want you to know that you don’t have to hide any longer.  I’m not suggesting that you make any rash decisions, but rather invite you to consider that hiding might be holding you back from your kingdom potential.  My prayer is that you will find freedom from your theological closet and that a community of radical Christ-followers will surround you with support.

—-
Kurt Willems is an Anabaptist writer and pastor who is preparing for church planting next year by finishing work towards a Master of Divinity degree at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary.  He writes at: the Pangea Blog and is also on Twitter and Facebook.



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About the Author

Kurt Willems

Kurt WillemsKurt Willems (M.Div., Fresno Pacific) is the founding pastor of Pangea Communities - a movement of peace, justice, & hope. The church plant, in partnership with the Brethren in Christ and Urban Expression, is based in Seattle, Wa. Kurt writes at The Pangea Blog and is also on TwitterFacebook, and Google+.View all posts by Kurt Willems →

  • Bohrdom

    let’s not forget that JESUS was an anti establishment, liberal theologian hippy! so why can’t we be too?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=87500387 Joseph Perdue

    This is something I can identify with. Thanks for the encouragement. 

  • Willhouk

    This is now the second or third time I’ve read something you’ve written and thought, “wow I have a lot in common with this guy,” This kind of reminds me of Catcher in the Rye where Holden says that he likes books where when he’s done with the book he feels like he kind of knows the author.

    I was never kicked out of a church for my “liberal” beliefs but I’ve certainly kept them on the down-low.  There is an innate pressure in the Evangelical community to not talk about this stuff and it is so frustratingly wrong. It is great to see someone affirm what you believe especially when you are in a minority. Thank you for writing you blog, keep up the good work. I think that the intellectual side of Christianity needs to be represented more, you and the Red Letter Christians are making that happen.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      @862ed992d31798e934f59e99074b8104:disqus … your comment blessed me today. Thanks.

    • http://www.theolence.blogspot.com Matthew James Bryant

      I totally agree @862ed992d31798e934f59e99074b8104:disqus .  I think I read this a month ago along with @kurtwillems:disqus ‘ post on the Evangelical reject.  Those two posts may have been what gave me the impetus to start blogging.

      I too have been in a position of leadership in an evangelical church, but have gone into hiding for probably just over a year now.  I do think that time has been very important as I processed a lot of information.  I found that I was pushed away from God in the first instance because Evangelicalism teaches that if you throw out one thing you might as well throw everything out.  I’m so glad that I ended up reading Keith Ward’s book ‘What the Bible Really Teaches’ because this helped me place my new beliefs into a biblical context.

      Thanks Kurt for what you have done and are doing.  I hope I get to do the same for the people that read my blog and I pray that this message that we are championing makes an impact in a world where much damage is being done to the Christian message by fundamentalism (I know they mean well, but I worry about the longevity of this message).

      Love it!

  • Anonymous

    If we pray pray and pray for wisdom as described in the Bible and trully find inner peace knowing your living in love and being a disciple to others to bring others to Christ YOU are Winning against Satan.  What others think about you and Me takes from their short time to act for the Kingdom of Heaven.  Directions are clear and as the Bible states all have sinned and come short but through Jesus we are forgiven and must confess daily and move forward in our pursit of a God driven life. We are heir’s to all that is and will ever be and have Jesus as our brother!   How great is that, Fear only the one who attempts to take your soul and to those who act holyer than thou and don’t act with prayer and love –  Pray for them.

  • Bill

    Perhaps I knew, somewhere within me, that were I to wait long enough, someone would eloquently say what I have wanted to / struggled to say for a long time… And, whallah!, here it is.  Thank you!  

    I too have opened-up various online places of expression and soon closed them to open-up again somewhere more discrete because of well-meaning experts who invariably showed-up to critique…rather than comment.  Of course, it was all in “love” and in my best interest, which they obviously were more aware of than I.  

    It’s all too sad how the witch hunts continue, though so much more subtle than those of the past.  I am always sent into a kind of self-chosen exile just so my thoughts can breathe again, and the rivers of my heart can flow again.  Otherwise I suffocate and become stagnant.  The absolute NEUROSIS that pervades so much of Christ-IANITY today cannot be what Jesus had in mind.  The wolves are still very much dressed in sheep’s clothing.Were God to ask for a stage and microphone to say anything he wanted to society, I cannot see any better time and venue than the “sermon on the mount” as recorded in Matthew 5-7. And when I filter what the modern “church” promulgates as “salvation” and “righteousness” (etc.) through what Jesus spoke in this passage, nothing much makes it’s way through…

    And, now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go over to my incog-blog-to and let my thoughts breathe and the rivers of my heart flow.  :)

    Blessed are the peacemakers.

  • Alexander Hart-Smith

    It saddens me that we as Christians can hurt each other like this, I have theological disagreements with people in my church but I think we share far more in common and that as something as follows of Christ we should remember. Good on you!

  • http://tinyurl.com/3p23or9 Bobby
  • Anonymous

    Funny you should write
    this – I just posted in my own blog, finally ‘coming out’ about my
    ‘liberal’ views about the homosexuality issue.

    It’s here:
    http://gracewalking.blogspot.com/2011/08/big-gay-issue.html

    Of course, where I usually would promote my blog on Facebook and
    Twitter, I did not with this post…Not so much because I was afraid of
    being ostracized but mostly because I didn’t care to deal with the
    counter arguments and scripture quoting that would be coming my way. My
    point wasn’t to tell other people how they should think, but to separate
    myself from the circle of Christianity that keeps the LBGT community at
    arms length with conditional acceptance. I was just too afraid to be as
    bold as I wanted to be. That ‘fear of man thing’ – it can be heavy. In
    the past I have shared book titles and writers that I enjoy and have
    been met with warnings to ‘be careful what authors you read’ or ‘he’s a
    MAJOR false teacher’ (I guess one should never read from unapproved
    sources?). It began pushing me into a more ‘underground’ place with my
    explorations of faith. Papa is always faithful, though and I started discovering other people who are asking the same questions (people like Brian
    McLaren, Rob Bell, Samuel Lee and many who write for this blog), They give me courage to continue
    asking and seeking. Still, I don’t tell many people exactly what my
    thoughts and convictions have become on issues like homosexuality,
    evolution and the afterlife unless I know that they are cool with people
    who might not see eye to eye or they are also considering those things
    anew. I am very cautious about who I trust with my blatant thoughts.

    Very courageous article, Kurt…Good for you!

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      Thanks for your kind words here friend!

  • Chw777

    You’ve got to be true to yourself. I attend an evangelical church. I do not believe the scriptures teach the trinity. I believe the scriptures teach that when you die you stay dead until Christ returns. I believe the scriptures that all Christ followers should speak in tongues. Out of respect for the church leaders i do not promote these beliefs, but if asked about them I do not back down. Have not had any problems so far, just some friendly debates among some small group members.

  • http://twitter.com/jacktx42 jacktx42

    I am one of those nasty conservative Christians. But really, if our basis be Christ, then what else matters? Not that there aren’t important things to decide in our lives and how we should live as Christians, but those shouldn’t be articles of submission for others to bow to, nor should they be points of pride we strut before others.

    Our two great commandments are to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul, and to love others as ourselves. Whatever we do, if we do outside of these, essentially outside of love, then we have to ask ourselves why we’re doing it.

  • Kalfsu

    i’m sitting here after two years of pastoring this church in very conservative middle tennessee reeling because my accepting position of homosexuals in our community has caused several of our prominent families to leave.  i am so grateful for your honesty and encouragement.  
    in 50 years they’ll make a movie similar to “the help” about prejudice against homosexuals and the audience will hopefully also cheer then when they see the sacrifices made by those who stood up to the same type of prejudice today.

    ~//~

  • http://twitter.com/DavyG51 Dave Goddard

    I can identify with much that you say. I don’t think that the term liberal is a very helpful one, it just helps the box makers to build another box. THe kingdom always looks like Jesus, if it doesn’t then it’s just a dom and pretty worthless. Perhaps your are coming out of a dom into a kingdom.
    Blessings

  • Joey

    Great stuff. I’ve been in the same boat, and now although I am honest with people about my personal beliefs and opinions, I make sure to use tact and do what I can to prevent myself from being a stumbling block for a brother or sister. We should be free to be real with ourselves and everyone else. ‘For freedom Christ has set us free’. 

  • Meg

    Wow! This is my story in many ways. I feel really torn between my very liberal Protestant seminary where I fall on the more conservative end, and my fairly conservative church where I serve where my views are seen as more liberal. I’m always nervous about how each community will receive me- especially when grades and employment are on the line! Thanks for sharing- it’s good to know I’m not alone in this journey!

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      @818fefad8e3a9949292cb95fb50de417:disqus … keep living in the tension. Its a good place to be as it is where fresh possibilities for the kingdom can be born!

  • Pastortim

    In the Christian church in America today, as knowledgeable as we are, we seem to shoot ourselves in the foot so often. We get wrapped up in the outside of an issue and neglect to confront the root cause. The root cause with the gay issue, particularly with marriage, is we in the church have begun to let the government & culture manage our morals. Instead of the church being the moral conscience of the government/culture, as Martin Luther King Jr. told us to be, we in the church are letting the government/culture be the guide of our conscience….and we are losing ground and relavance because of it. At one time, the government/culture dictated that people with less-than-white skin were only 2/3 of a person and could be considered property. That moral stance was legal and protected by the government. It took Christians and churches of good conscience to stand against that legal position and to take a courageous fighting positon to abolish that legality. I believe the Christian church must now also take a moral stand against the continuing slide of the government/culture toward special rights for gay individuals.I know I have probably just angered some of you readers, but the issue of special rights is a moral issue that the church must address from a Biblical standpoint and not give in to government/culture.

  • https://compassiondave.wordpress.com Dwells

    Love the sinner and tell him (her) the truth.  Lie to a sinner (by telling them their sin is ok) and it would be better if a millstone was tied around YOUR neck.

  • alicia

    I quickly clicked on this article today because I recognized your name because you had just begun following me on Twitter… yesterday. 

    I work at a church and definitely feel that, at times, I am in the closet. In fact, I’ve only recently (past few weeks) been using that term exactly. The odd thing is it’s brought me to a point where I’m no longer sure it’s possible for me (personally) to both follow Jesus wherever He leads me and work at a church. I guess that says I must need more exposure to where other recovering evangelicals are hiding, I mean hanging, out. 

    What timing! Thank you for your story. It’s so encouraging and empowering. I do believe the hiding is holding me back and I know I will not be in this place long but until I can “come out” fully (not just to my close friends) it helps to know I’m not alone. 

    • alicia

      By the way, I started following you as a result of reading your blog “You Might Be an Evangelical Reject If…”

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      @2efc035286b8c889df6ee9ceb59623fc:disqus … I pray that God will give you discernment in your journey.  I can honestly say that I know exactly what you are talking about in regards to the church.  I would be lying if I didn’t admit that this is one of the appealing things about the possibility of church planting in the next couple years. 

      Thanks for reading, and for your affirming words. 

  • Gloria

    Glad to hear you finally decided to start telling the truth.

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