On May 13, 2014 the church in which I serve as the associate pastor decided to perform same-sex marriages. That was the day my wife walked out of the church and hasn’t come back.
This has been an awkward, confusing, and painful year, and I’m ready to openly reflect and write about it. I haven’t spoken or written publicly about the decision much in the past year. I did post a statement immediately following the decision, and it received a whirlwind of responses. Many people from my past publicly announced their disbelief and disappointment that I would be a part of something like this. I lost my financial support for school because of it. I nearly lost my wife over it. Public controversy and condemnation is never fun for me, so I’ve kept quiet.
While I have not spoken much about the decision, I have definitely not said anything publicly about my wife—Lona—and her decision to leave the church or how it has affected me. I love Lona and I never want to paint her in a negative light or put a public target on her back. However, not speaking or writing about it openly has been part of the awkwardness of my past year.
Lona and I both decided that it would be a good thing for me to start blogging about this difficult situation. It might prove helpful to other people who are struggling through disagreement in their families and/or churches.
I intend to start a new category on the blog titled “Living with Disagreement.” My hope is that this will be an open conversation with you, the reader, in which we can create a productive dialogue regarding the difficulty of maintaining the bond of covenant relationship (marriage, family, church) while sharply disagreeing about important topics. It doesn’t have to be the LGBT topic. It can be any heated, polarizing topic that riddles our culture today. The purpose of the dialogue is not to debate the topics and decide who is right and who is wrong. The purpose is to discuss the difficulty of loving each other while disagreeing and seeking to find that “third way” of God’s love and peace in the midst of it.
So, I invite you to reply in the comments section, enter the conversation, and invite others who you think might benefit from it.
Let me begin the discussion with a brief reflection:
The past year has been extremely painful for me as a husband, father, son, brother, friend, pastor, and teacher. My family system has been thrown into disarray. There was a three-hour window of time last summer in which I thought Lona was going to leave me. She didn’t. We worked through that rough patch and came to a mutual understanding of disagreement. Yet, we no longer worship together and there is that nasty elephant in the room that often tends to stomp on family conversations.
Last week Lona and I had an intense, tearful, and productive conversation. It had to do with the next step of our journey. I have completed my PhD work and this summer brings me to the proverbial fork in the road. Who am I now that the intensity of school is finished? What is God’s calling on my life? Her desire has been that I would be called to somewhere other than my current church, so that we can be together in church again. I do not feel that call right now. Further, no matter where I go, I will still be an ELCA pastor and we will still disagree about the issue of the LGBT community and the biblical teaching about homosexuality (I will write more about our different opinions in another post).
Couples disagree all the time. It is usually no big deal. But, what do you do when you disagree about a particular topic that happens to be one of the most volatile and divisive topics in the church? Further, what do you do when the disagreement impinges on your life’s work and calling?
Do I leave the church to honor my wife? I told Lona that I am willing to leave in order to put our marriage first. Her response was that I would just resent her for the rest of our lives if I left. That may be true, because I do not feel called to leave. However, I acknowledged to her that this is not just about me. She has just as much reason to resent me. I have betrayed our covenant. No, I haven’t cheated on her. I’ve changed. I am definitely not the same 17-year old kid that she met at Moody Bible Institute in 1986. I have been on a theological odyssey that she did not sign up to take. She married a conservative evangelical kid who did not want to be a pastor, but wanted to become an animator. Since the day we packed up and moved to Las Vegas on May 20, 1990 I have asked her to follow me into one uncharted adventure after another. We went from the caricature business to being a seminary student and a pastor in a Mega Church, to the house church, to homeschooling, to losing everything and moving to Minnesota, and, now to the Lutheran Church and a PhD. Change is a big stressor for Lona and the changes that I’ve asked her to make could be grounds for all kinds of resentment.
She has been willing to make all of these changes with me, until now. The acknowledgment of same-sex marriage goes too far for her. `The simple fact that I am willing to stay at Grace has crossed a line that she is not willing to cross. And now we find ourselves living with disagreement.
That has led us to the tearful conversation of last week and to the opening up of this online discussion. So, I ask two questions in this post:
- Do you think this is a conversation that many people would find helpful to have?
- What are your stories of disagreement within a covenant relationship?