Randle R. "Rick" Mixon boarded a train in Boise, Idaho, in September 1965, bound for New York City and Columbia College. He rode with a half-dozen other boys recruited from Idaho. Along with the new metal trunk that held most of his meager worldly possessions, Rick carried a secret: he had known for some time, maybe all his conscious life, that he was attracted to males. There was little or no language for such thoughts and feelings in the environment in which he grew up. Boise of the late '50s and '60s was culturally conservative and was trying to live down the taint of the "Boys of Boise" scandal, in which it had been alleged but never proven that a group of prominent community men had engaged in sexual activity with high school boys.
Rick's sense of self was complicated by having been born and raised in the church. His father was a Baptist preacher from Louisiana who served churches in Kansas, California and Idaho before his death at 47, when Rick was 17. Rick had a sense that he was called to ministry, but being a teenager at the time of his father's death left him confused about his place in the world. Even before he entered college, his mother had him on mailing lists for a number of seminaries so he could "finish his father's work." With a young person's natural tendency to reach for independence, in addition to struggling with some of his personal circumstances, Rick decided that entering the ministry was the last thing he would do.
Though he did not "come out" during his college years, Rick did discover a wider world of cultural diversity and was challenged to think in ways he had never imagined possible. Not a particularly distinguished student, he sometimes says that he majored in glee club and New York City. By his senior year, he was on a fourth major and realizing that he had neglected to prepare himself for graduate school or a career. What he did know was--his anti-ministerial stance notwithstanding--whenever he chose a paper topic, it invariably turned to issues related to theology, faith, Christian ethics and the church.
During his senior year, he gave in to the inevitable and attended a "weekend on the ministry" at Crozer Seminary (Martin Luther King Jr.'s alma mater), which was then located in the Philadelphia area. He discovered that intellectual inquiry and challenging social and cultural analysis were going on in those hallowed halls right alongside the study of theology, church history and the Bible.
Even with the modern gay movement unfolding in Greenwich Village, Rick knew he wanted to be in the San Francisco Bay area, so after graduating from Columbia in 1969, he moved to Berkeley and entered the American Baptist Seminary of the West to prepare for ministry. Naïve at the time, he gave little consideration to the conflict between pursuing this career and his emerging sexuality. He split them into separate compartments and kept the door between the compartments under lock and key.
Rick flourished in seminary, serving as student representative to the Board of Trustees and as student body president. He was one of a handful of students who really wanted to pursue parish ministry in 1969, when many students were enrolling in theological training to avoid the draft and to pursue "alternate ministries" such as counseling and social work. He served for 15 months as a full-time intern at the First Baptist Church of Seattle. There he first met gay friends and the door between his carefully separated "compartments" began to creak open. He realized that he might be able to integrate his sexuality with the rest of his life, but it seemed obvious that this would not happen in the American Baptist Churches of the early 1970s. He decided to finish seminary but not pursue ministry as a profession.
Rick helped to found American Baptists Concerned in 1973 (the "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, intersex, queer, questioning and allies" movement within the American Baptist Churches/USA), and served as co-chair and staff person of the group for some 20 years. In the early 90s, that group spun off the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, an organization of now more than 70 congregations that formally identify themselves as being welcoming to and affirming of persons with a range of sexual identities.
After graduation from seminary and spending time exploring theater as an alternate career, Rick made a solitary car trip from Berkeley to Boise to visit family, to Seattle to visit friends, and back to Berkeley. It was on that journey that he realized he was running away from his call to ministry. One of his classmates was Bill Johnson, the first openly gay person ordained in the United Church of Christ. Given what he had learned in seminary about the need for trust in sustaining faith communities, it seemed fundamentally wrong to attempt to lead such a community without being honest about his full identity. Also, he knew he had not been given the "gift of celibacy" and believed it would be absurd to try to hide what would become his most important human relationship from any faith community he might serve.
In fall 1973, Rick approached the pastor of the Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland, California, where he had worked as a seminarian and was a member, and asked to be ordained by that congregation. He had chosen this church and its pastor because they had consistently preached and practiced inclusivity through the years and they were integrated racially. The pastor, Rodney R. Romney, greeted Rick warmly until he added that he wanted to pursue ordination as an openly gay man. Despite some initial reluctance to take on this battle, the pastor and the congregation eventually saw it as the logical consequence of everything they believed in and stood for. For the next 23 years, this congregation (not unanimously) supported Rick's call to ministry and on three occasions presented his name to a regional ordination council of the American Baptist Churches of the West. Each time the congregation's desire to ordain Rick was rebuffed by the region on narrow votes. In the last such vote in 1995, a majority supported his ordination, but by then the rules had been amended to require a two-thirds majority.
At that point Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church decided to proceed with ordination at the local level. (In Baptist polity it is technically the local congregation that is the ordaining body.) On a hot June Sunday--San Francisco Gay Pride Day--in 1996, Rick was ordained. The decision of Lakeshore Church was supported in various ways by another 25 Baptist congregations from around the country, making it more than a local ordination in a significant sense. Rick was likely the first openly gay Baptist to be ordained (though, with the great diversity within Baptist circles, this is difficult to verify).
Though ordained, opportunities to serve were few and far between. Years earlier Rick had obtained a master's degree in counseling from California State University-Hayward and a California state marriage and family therapist license in 1991 in order to support himself. He also earned a Ph.D. in religion and psychology from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley in 1995. During these years he worked as a psychotherapist and adjunct faculty at Holy Names College (Oakland), Pacific School of Religion (Berkeley) and Saybrook Graduate School in Humanistic Psychology (San Francisco.)
In 2000, Rick was called as interim pastor of Dolores Street Baptist Church in San Francisco where he served for 13 months. In March 2004, he left the Bay Area after 35 years to assume the interim pastorate of the First Baptist Church of Granville, Ohio, where he served for 2.5 years. In July of 2006 he became Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Palo Alto, Calif., where he continues to serve. He has continued his witness for lgbtq&q folks over the years, recently speaking out against Proposition 8 which opposed same sex marriage in California and serving on an Arcus Foundation funded planning group to strengthen the witness to and for lgbtq&q people within the Alliance of Baptists, the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists and the wider Baptist world. Currently, he serves on the boards of the Council of Churches of Santa Clara County, the board of the Alliance of Baptists, on which he chairs the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee, and the Pacific Coast Baptist Association, which he serves as President. He also sings with The Choral Project in San Jose. Publications include "Response to ‘The Bible and Sexuality’: Reflections" in The American Baptist Quarterly, Volume XII, Number 4, December 1993 and "Pastoral Care of Gay Men" in The Care of Men, Christie Cozad Neuger and James Newton Poling, editors, Abingdon, 1997.
(This biographical statement provided by Rick Mixon and was adapted from an article published in Columbia College Today May 2005)
Biography Date: October, 2009