Pride 2021 Feature: On Pastors and Gay Pride
“I’m going to school to be a f@#%*g pastor.”
I decided this would be my response whenever I went on dates. It was my attempt to say “I’m a Christian, but not that kind of Christian”. It is an interesting conundrum when one is faced with the shame of their religion when typically it is their religion doing the shaming.
I started using the aforementioned phrase probably near the end of my first year of seminary, during which time I was trying to end my on-again/off-again relationship with my girlfriend of 2 years. At this point in my life, I was (pretty much) exclusively dating women, and as one might imagine, it’s difficult to navigate being a single, future clergy person, and queer. I thought dropping the f-bomb when it came to “So, what do you do for a living?” would help loosen things up. “I’m a f2#%g pastor” has since become my mantra.
During my seminary journey as a bisexual singleton, a romantic relationship blossomed between me and a classmate. He started seminary a semester before me at (what was then) San Francisco Theological Seminary. My then-future husband and I had overlapping social circles and knew each other fairly well.
I’m not sure if everyone is aware of the decline in membership of mainline denominations, but the big decline in church-going has resulted in people also losing interest to become clergy. Almost all of our classmates shared a negative -- and even traumatizing -- church background. A decline in Christianity seems like the justice the religion deserves. There is no love lost for the decline for many non-Christians, who see the religion as judgmental, exclusive, and hypocritical.
However, one thing most of my classmates and I had in common was a love for God that we are certain is reciprocated. My theological struggles often centered around how to love people that didn’t love me. Many of my classmates and I, including my husband, struggled with this together.
My husband was the first transexual person I ever really knew. I had met a few in passing, but I never had a solid friendship with a trans person. I think the opportunity just never presented itself until seminary. His story was heartbreaking. I could never imagine the loss he experienced through his teen and young adult years, simply trying to be who he is and being rejected by those that were supposed to love him with no strings attached.
Of course, many people that rejected him were Christian. He was so deeply tied to his church that all of his friends were churchgoers and were all faced with the choice to either continue to love and support him, or reject him.
Although my experience coming out as bi was not nearly as traumatic, I still faced some rejection. Luckily by that time, I was a strong-willed, outspoken adult who could advocate for myself, but I still never came out to my church. I still didn’t introduce my girlfriend to people as “my girlfriend” in certain circles. Even in this uber-progressive church, I was raised in I still didn’t feel comfortable being out publicly.
Like many queer and trans folks, my husband has a really complicated relationship with religion. He was raised in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS), which is a very conservative and patriarchal denomination. When his church told him he didn’t belong and people began dropping out of his life like flies in response to him coming out, he grasped onto God that much more, and pulled himself that much closer to God. The irony of the church denying my husband and who he was is that it brought him closer to God. As he says, God was the only thing that carried him through that time.
My husband and I are quite lucky that we both fly under the radar. My husband currently works in the carpentry trade and he does not have to reveal he is trans. I pastor a small congregation deep in one of Michigan’s many countrysides and have not had to come out to my congregation.
To the outside world, we look like a totally cisgender, heterosexual couple. It is a definite privilege to be able to hide, but it also can make life quite precarious. My husband had to endure many transphobic rants from a previous boss and once had to listen to his coworkers laugh at a story of the murder of a trans woman. I worry constantly of the outcome if and when my congregation finds out about my husband and me. Michigan is quite a mixed bag when it comes to politics, which makes it entirely possible my congregation in rural Michigan wouldn’t bat an eye. On the other hand, what if they feel deceived? What if this news discredits me and they no longer want me to be their pastor?
I think again about shame and how unproductive it is to feel it and succumb to it. Yes, it is valid to fear for one's safety and livelihood.
But being not just a pastor, but a f@#%*g pastor means I refuse to feel shame. I refuse to feel bad about who I love, or what I believe. Life is complicated, and the last thing any of us planet dwellers need is for a belief system to come in and make it even more complicated. I am eternally grateful that I met, and married, someone who shares my faith, and that God is a constant in our lives that helps us overcome challenges. We are lucky that God is not the challenge.
The real challenge is the church because the church is made out of people, people who are broken and flawed (spoiler alert: we are all broken and flawed). The church, like any institution, will always care more about self-preservation than people.
This is why I have decided to take on the church by representing it, and telling as many people as I can that they are loved with absolutely no strings attached.
And that’s how you become a f@#%*g pastor.
Heather Deeb is currently on the ordination track for PCUSA. She completed her Master’s in Divinity at San Francisco Theological Seminary, now the University of Redlands Graduate School of Theology in Marin California. Heather is a Californian all the way through but moved to Michigan during the pandemic with her husband, son, and 2 fur children (Andy, Eli, Ahab, and Elaina). She serves as the treasurer for Trans HeartLine, a California-based non-profit that serves the trans community, and she continues her work and involvement remotely in Ann Arbor, MI. She is also in a pastoral relationship with a small presbyterian Church in rural South East Michigan, and works for The Synod of the Covenant, a regional division for the Presbyterian Church USA, as the office manager.
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