Michael Adee’s life and faith journey has been marked by providence and grace. The young couple who would become his parents, Larry Adee and Doris Walker, met at a USO dance during World War ll. They fell in love and got married after the war. Larry worked for Continental Oil Company, so they lived in different oil-producing communities. They adopted a son Steve, of Cherokee Indian descent, in Oklahoma. Four years later, living in Billings, Montana, they adopted Michael.
Larry was raised Presbyterian while Doris was Baptist but chose to join him at a Presbyterian Church. Michael’s adoption was arranged through First Presbyterian Church Billings where Larry served on the Session with a pediatrician who learned that they were ready for a second son. Michael did not really understand the concept of adoption as a child. His parents always used told him that he had been “chosen”—which was most appropriate in their religious tradition.
The Adee family moved to Houston briefly and then to southwest Louisiana where Michael spent his formative years in the town of Sulphur. Catholicism was the dominant religion in the area and the sole Presbyterian Church was small. But Michael found it to be a great faith community in which to grow up. Each of the small number of children was considered special. His dad was an Elder and Clerk of the Session and also taught adult Christian Education. Michael’s mom lost her vision due to diabetes when Michael was in 5th grade. Attempts to save her eyesight through surgery failed. Michael understands that his mother subsequently saw with her “heart” and not with her eyes. Michael is deeply grateful to his parents for being models for his life. They lived out their faith in different, but complementary and harmonious ways. His dad had a clear, rational, logical approach to faith. His mom’s faith was more emotional and impassioned with a justice orientation.
School played an important role in Michael’s life during his childhood. He was socially active so joined every club or group available. He played a number of sports. He and his dad were active in Boy Scouts. The family went tent-camping on almost every school holiday—sometimes with friends, but usually with other family relatives. Through spending so much time out-of-doors, Michael’s parents taught him and his brother to love and respect earth and creation.
As Michael’s brother Steve entered adolescence he began to struggle with school and to experiment with drugs. This led to encounters with school and police authorities. Eventually Steve was forced to leave public school and live at a reformatory school away from the family home. This resulted in a great sadness for the Adee family. Michael recalls the family’s Sunday routine when he was in high school. His mom would put a roast in the oven before they left for church. She insisted that they get dressed up appropriately for church. Michael and his dad were two of the seven members of the choir in worship. On the way home they would stop at the jail to visit Steve. Michael got his first glimpse of racial profiling as he observed that his family was usually the only White folks there and the only ones dressed up. His mom reassured Steve that he was loved—trying to bring some dignity to a troubling situation. During the times when Steve was not in jail, the family would return home from church to eat the pot roast and then the guys would watch football or other sports. Michael recalls that his mom always wanted to root for the underdog. Her compassionate approach to the world—which showed up even in how she observed sports—had a deep influence on Michael and taught him the importance of working to make a difference in the world.
Michael was very much a church geek during his youth. He was not only deeply involved with his Presbyterian Church but he went with his friend Barry to the nearby Baptist church which had a larger youth group. Michael says he was “Presbyterian by day and Baptist by night.” While Michael enjoyed this mix of religious experience, it also created some conflict between the Reformed theology of his family’s tradition and the Anabaptist emphasis on personal faith and salvation. Also the Baptist tradition espoused heteronormativity and even preached outright against homosexuality. Michael felt pressure about meeting the “right girl” and developed—what he later understood as--unhealthy attitudes about sexuality and how one integrates sexuality with faith and humanity.
The minister at the Presbyterian Church, Clark, was a single man. Michael’s mom invited him to eat frequently with the Adees out of her concern that a single man would certainly starve. Once Clark invited the Adees to eat with him at the manse (the pastor’s home) where Michael discovered that Clark was a culinary artist and had one of the “fussiest” homes Michael had ever seen. Clark became a mentor to Michael in discerning his life and vocational goals and encouraged Michael to pursue his religious training. Michael enrolled in Louisiana State University in the fall of 1973 for his undergraduate work and intended to continue on to law school. During his undergrad years, Michael became even more of a church geek and kept himself busy with the Presbyterian campus ministry, Campus Crusade, InterVarsity and the Baptist campus programs.
Toward the end of his college years Clark took Michael to visit Austin Presbyterian Seminary. Michael wasn’t impressed as he observed that life there seemed rather dull compared to his life at LSU. However, Michael later went on a mission trip with college friends to an African mission program at Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth. He thought that school was a good fit for him, particularly since the seminary had tennis courts on its campus. Michael had been an avid tennis player from a young age. After earning his B.S. degree from LSU in 1977, Michael enrolled at Southwestern.
Given the social expectations around him, Michael dated women through high school and college. In fact, he was often a popular date because he was such a respectful, Christian young man. However, a few weeks after arriving at seminary, he found he was strongly attracted to one of his tennis buddies. Being an earnest person, Michael immediately went to the seminary counseling center and told a counselor that he thought might be gay. The counselor seemed totally unprepared to deal with such an honest confession and handed Michael some ex-gay pamphlets and said there was nothing else he could do for him. Michael read the pamphlets but was not impressed. So he decided that he would work harder on being straight and continued to date women.
Michael completed the M.Div. degree at Southwestern in 1981 but did not feel that he was called to be a pastor. So he decided to do a year of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at a hospital in Cumberland, Maryland. Under the guidance of an extraordinary supervisor he had a remarkable, transformative year. As to be expected, the CPE experience led him to pull his life apart and put it back together. He developed some friendships with gay men. He continued to play tennis and be involved in church. He began to realize that his social life lacked integrity—he was not being fair to women he dated nor to himself. He dived into more reading, Bible study and prayer to try to sort this out.
Michael finished the CPE experience in 1982 and then set off for a two-year stint as a missionary in Zimbabwe. He served as a campus minister at the University of Zimbabwe and worked with the Scripture Union to do programming and retreats with youth. Michael found this to be an amazing experience which led him to become a citizen of the world. During this time away, he also came to realize that it was OK for him to be gay even though this ran counter to what he had been taught in his hometown and in his church experiences. He recognized that Reformed theology and tradition was the solid ground on which he could continue to stand.
Michael returned to the U.S. in 1984 and became a campus minister at the University of Nevada-Reno. He found this to be a huge culture shock. While he met some interesting people there, he was uneasy about unethical practices he observed and raised questions with campus ministry leaders. He lost favor and moved on after one year.
Because he was now embracing his gay identity, Michael decided he could not continue in campus ministry. So he thought he would explore getting a Ph.D. and teaching. Going back to LSU was an affordable way to do that. He began the doctoral program in rhetoric and public communication along with two colleagues, Donald and Regina. Michael was determined to live a more integrated, honest life. Early in the term, during one of their habitual Tuesday breaks at the Student Union over Earl Grey tea and bagels with cream cheese, Michael took the risk to come out to Regina. Her response was that she had known this for some time. The next day she left a note for Michael that stated: “Dearest Michael, Thank you for inviting me into your life more fully. I have always loved you and love you even more now.” This strong affirmation became a liberating moment for Michael.
In 1990, Michael got a teaching position at Northern Kentucky University near Cincinnati, Ohio. During the first semester, he was taken aback when a student in his speech class stated that “gay people deserve to die.” Another student reprimanded the person for the offensive statement. However, Michael was concerned about attitudes toward gay persons on campus and made an appointment with the director of the campus counseling center to discuss this. He met Ann, the director, and proposed the creation of an LGBT student group. She reminded Michael that he was not tenured and he was in northern Kentucky. Michael decided to start a group any way, which met once a week for six weeks in his home. Then he arranged for them to meet in a room at a Chinese restaurant across the street from campus. At that gathering, he proposed that they meet next in the student union on campus. He invited a friend who was active in Cincinnati PFLAG to speak to the group and she was warmly received.
During this time, Michael had gone to visit Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, at the suggestion of Ann, the counseling center director. The first Sunday he attended worship there, the congregation’s proposed More Light statement (affirming participation of LGBT persons) was read aloud. Michael was moved to tears and believed that he had finally found a church home. As to be expected, Michael dived into becoming active in the life of the congregation and, in 1992-93, was elected and ordained as an Elder. This practice was not allowed under Presbyterian Church law, so some conservative pastors in the area filed ecclesiastical charges against Mt. Auburn. Back at the university Michael’s department chair and the dean had become unhappy with his work with LGBT students and so moved to fire him from his teaching position. Michael filed a grievance against the university but had no real legal protections.
This was a challenging period for Michael as he scrambled to make a living, working a number of part-time jobs of the next year-and-a-half. Eventually he saw a listing for a hospice chaplain job with Vitas Health Care. He interviewed and was hired on the spot. He did hospice work for the next three years, initiating their bereavement program and helping establish an ethics committee.
Michael was still actively involved at Mt. Auburn as well as with the national More Light Presbyterians organization. When his activism got local media attention once again, the Vitas director decided he was too controversial and again fired him from his position.
Given this tumult, Michael concluded it was time for a fresh start—to leave Cincinnati. He had joined the national gay tennis circuit and competed in the Gay Games in New York City. There he met and fell in love in love with another tennis player, Kevin, from Atlanta. The two of them determined to plot out how to live together. Six cities were identified as possible places to live. Santa Fe was the first to offer Michael a job. He moved there in 1997 to manage an LGBT wellness group.
Michael’s good friend Hal Porter, who was pastor at Mt. Auburn, had joined the national board of More Light Presbyterians (MLP). The board often met at the Ghost Ranch Conference Center in Santa Fe. Michael helped with arrangements and hosting for the meetings there. While the board was meeting there in 1999, Hal called Michael and asked him to have dinner together the last night of the meeting.
Over the past year, MLP had decided to hire its first national organizer. The search process had dragged on because they didn’t seem to get the right candidate. They were particularly interested in someone with advocacy and organizing experience, not just as a pastor. Hal recognized that Michael’s skills and experience matched MLP’s needs. He asked Michael if he would consider applying for the position.
The timing was good for Michael since the director of the agency where he worked had died and they were going through transition. Michael decided to apply, was hired and started working as MLP’S Field Organizer in May 1999. He thrived in that position—which later became Executive Director & Field Organizer—for fourteen years.
Michael truly loved this work. It was remarkable in that it coalesced all of his life experiences, education and passions into this work. Furthermore, he was working with a blank slate, so had freedom to create this new position. He recalls that he had two resource documents, the Claiming the Promise curriculum and Walter Wink’s Homosexuality and the Bible. With those in hand, he started traveling to speak in churches all across the U.S., usually in four-five day stints of preaching, teaching, and meeting. The primary goal was to change the policy in the Presbyterian Church USA. However, Michael understood that this was a slow, deliberate process of changing hearts and minds—not just votes at the General Assembly.
He observed progress slowly and steadily year after year. Initially, the focus was on removing or deleting laws or policies that were negative toward LGBT persons. But then the MLP board decided to shift to a more positive approach and to espouse a change in ordination procedures that would be more inclusive.
The victory finally came at the 2010 General Assembly when all barriers to LGBT participation and ordination were removed. This required a one-year campaign to ratify those changes in the regional presbyteries, which was completed in May 2011. While this was happening, Michael was becoming more aware of the international situation—about antigay laws and atrocities in Africa, Latin America and other places. He started incorporating these perspectives into his work with MLP, recognizing that the Presbyterian Church USA has a presence and relationships in many countries around the world.
In the fall of 2011, MLP held a celebratory gathering in Rochester, New York, to mark the ratification of new policies in the PCUSA. Michael did a presentation about international issues during a morning session. Following that, a philanthropist-activist Presbyterian minister asked Michael to go to lunch. She asked Michael if he would be willing to do international LGBT advocacy work separate from MLP, if she helped generate the funding.
Michael was sensing that his work at MLP had reached some completion and was pondering where he might be called next. That lunch became a moment of clarity for him—this invitation perfectly fit with Michael’s past experiences and his current passion. Then he had to figure how to make this transition; how he could move into this new ministry while leaving MLP in a stable situation and ready for the new directions it could go. He conferred with the co-moderators in advance of the February 2012 board meeting in San Antonio. The board was generally surprised, with some disappointment but mostly grace in response to Michael’s announcement. They realized this would be a good match for Michael while giving MLP the opportunity to define a new way of being. The board hired Patrick Evans to be its interim director for one year to work with Michael on a transition plan and setting up protocols.
Michael started his new position in September 2012. The philanthropist had decided to work through the Horizons Foundation in San Francisco, since it was one of the earliest LGBT foundations. The foundation began funding LGBT projects in the Bay Area but had recently started working in a national collaboration on marriage issues. Taking on a global project was new for them, but they were willing to do it.
Initially Michael participated in international AIDS meetings in Washington, D.C. and International Lesbian & Gay Association (ILGA) meetings in Stockholm to explore how to do LGBT organizing globally in a religious context. A program officer at Horizons helped Michael begin to frame this Global Faith and Justice Project. One of his first activities was to respond to anti-gay laws emerging in Uganda. He invited U.S. colleagues to join him in a Faith in Uganda Project to get signatures of U.S. religious leaders to ask Ugandan government leaders to do no more harm.
Michael found it quite daunting—both extremely challenging yet gratifying—to determine how to be in solidarity with the Global South even while tackling some immediate, pressing issues. The magnitude of needs and problems for LGBT persons internationally can be overwhelming. But Michael drew on his experience as MLP Field Organizer to remember that what had been accomplished there had seemed impossible at the onset. He has resolved to work faithfully in accompaniment with local LGBT activists and faith leaders around the world and stand with them to do this work.
One of the first realizations in his work is that LGBT persons and allies in other parts of the world do not have LGBT-affirming resources and writings to support their activism. So he has begun to work in collaboration with the Center for Lesbian & Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at Pacific School of Religion to bring together emerging scholars from around the world to help design this curriculum.
(This biographical statement written by Mark Bowman from an interview with Michael Adee and edited by Michael Adee.)
Biography Date: July, 2016