Queer Clergy: A History of Gay & Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism

by Obie Holmen
published by The Pilgrim Press
January 2014.   528 pages.    ISBN 978-0-8298-1963-2

(SYNOPSIS from author)

In the aftermath of the historic actions of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, I actively supported the LGBT-friendly actions of the ELCA as a blogger, and my blog went viral in ELCA circles. As I penned blog posts, I encountered stories of early pilgrims, not only in my ELCA but across denominations, and I realized there was a rich narrative of the journey toward full inclusion that hadn’t been told. Despite feeling like an interloper, a straight man writing an LGBT history, I received encouragement as I shared my idea for a book and then began the process of researching and writing in the spring of 2011.

Hopefully, Queer Clergy: A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism will help LGBT Christians and straight allies to appreciate our past and to remember the pioneers who have led the church to a place of welcome. To be sure, the journey has been conflicted, but with each victory, great and small, there has been celebration, and part of my motivation is to “shout it from the mountaintops” and to “tell everyone what we have done.”

Full inclusion implies an attitude of welcome without precondition (all means all) and without limit (not just pew but pulpit). The LGBT community is not fully included, not fully welcomed, not fully respected, not fully accepted, not fully treated as children of God unless they can participate in all roles, including the offices of ordained ministry. Many of the pilgrims we will encounter seek to answer their call to ordination, but their quest is not merely self-actualization for they are standard bearers for an entire community. LGBT ordination has been the linchpin, the symbol, the visible sign of inclusivity.

Thus, as the visible sign of full inclusion, LGBT ordination has been the terminus, the long-sought end of the journey, the signpost that says that the gay and lesbian pilgrims have arrived at their destination. Accordingly, the quest for inclusive ordination standards is the focus of this book.

At an accelerating pace, progressive denominations have opened the pulpit to LGBT clergy. Recent policy revisions mark the end of a long and conflicted journey, and this book is a wayfarer’s journal, a chronicle of the uncertain path toward full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the life of the church. Along the way, we will encounter many pilgrims who struggled with faith traditions which simultaneously nourished and diminished them, trusting the promise that all are loved by God even when their church betrayed the good news. Though conflict continues, the journey has brought the church to a place of celebration of gays and lesbians in the pulpit, serving openly and with the full recognition and support of their parishioners in the pews, their leadership councils, and their denominations.

The book follows the parallel journeys of these denominations:

  • The United Methodist Church (UMC) with over eight million members.
  • The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) with over four million members.
  • The Presbyterian Church USA (PC (USA)) with two million members.
  • The Episcopal Church (TEC) with two million members.
  • The United Church of Christ (UCC) with over a million members.