The Rev. Dr. Tom Hanks has served as a missionary in Latin America since 1963, first with the Latin American Mission as professor of Hebrew Bible at the Latin America Biblical Seminary in San Jose, Costa Rica (1963 to 1985), and then in Buenos Aires, Argentina (1986 to 2003) with the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches and as executive director of Other Sheep.
Born July 1, 1934, in St. Louis, Missouri, to Stanley and Elizabeth Hanks, he became active as a child in the Nelson Presbyterian Church, where he experienced an evangelical conversion shortly before being graduated from Normandy High School in 1952. Hanks’ father was a painting contractor and poet; his younger sister Carol ranked among the top ten in women’s tennis and played four times at Wimbledon; and his brother David, a specialist on Frank Lloyd Wright and author and editor of many art books. Hanks received a B.S. degree in journalism from Northwestern University in 1956 and the following year did special studies at Wheaton Graduate School of Theology. He earned a B.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1960 and was ordained in the St. Louis Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for work with the Latin America Mission in Costa Rica.
Beginning in 1963, Tom and his wife Joyce were engaged in university work in Costa Rica as counselors for the Inter-Varsity organization. Their children, Stanley (b. 1964) and Elizabeth (b. 1966) were born there. Hanks also served as professor of Hebrew Scriptures at the Seminario Biblico Latinoamericano (now Universidad Biblica Latinomericana). During this period, he earned an M.A. degree in religion from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and Northwestern University (1968) and a Th.D. in Hebrew Scriptures from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis (1972). In 1986, Tom and Joyce moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where Tom worked for three years with Dr. Rene Padilla of the Latin American Theological Fraternity, writing and editing a pastoral theological dictionary.
Hanks had been aware of his sexual orientation from earliest adolescence. While at Wheaton, Princeton and Garrett, he was encouraged by counselors and psychologists to try to change his sexual orientation by psychoanalysis and marriage. Later missionary colleagues involved in ex-gay type ministries sought to "cure" his homosexuality with prayer, fasting and involvement in charismatic movements. Tom had told Joyce about his homosexuality before their engagement, but after 28 years of marriage and trying to conform to heterosexual norms, Tom and Joyce separated in December of 1988. The following month (January 1989) Hanks was obliged to resign from his position with the Latin American Mission and in writing his resignation letter came out as gay.
As Tom notes: "When the Holy Spirit finally got through to me and taught me to accept myself as gay and begin to come out, I learned that I not only had a daughter who was left-handed like her mother, but also a son who is gay like me. So after more than 40 years in the closet I finally learned that some good things just run in families!"
From 1989 to 1991, Hanks worked with Argentine pastor Roberto Gonzalez, who founded the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) in Buenos Aires, the first in South America. He also served as an extension seminary professor for training of MCC pastors in Latin America and wrote the New Testament article on “Poor/Poverty” (including sexual minorities) for the Anchor Bible Dictionary (Doubleday, 1992).
In 1992, Hanks and John P. Doner (founder of the MCC in Mexico) founded Other Sheep, the only worldwide ecumenical ministry working with sexual minorities. An all-volunteer organization based in St. Louis, the scope of Other Sheep is international but with special emphasis on Latin America, with some 70 related documentation centers in that area (see www.othersheep.org). Hanks and Other Sheep were instrumental in establishing a Working Party on Homophobia, Ideology and Religion within the International Lesbian and Gay Association.
Hanks served as executive director of Other Sheep from 1992 to 2000 and continues to be active in counseling, giving Bible courses especially for sexual minorities, and writing. His published writings include: God So Loved the Third World (Orbis, 1982); The Subversive Gospel (Pilgrim, 2000); and the chapters on Romans and Hebrews for Que(e)ring the Bible, edited by Bob Goss, Ronald Long, Deryn Guest and Mona West, to be published by Sheffield Academic/Continuum in 2004. He has also completed a manuscript focusing on the poor, women and sexual minorities in the Hebrew Bible.
(This biographical statement provided by Tom Hanks.)
Biography Date: September, 2004
MCC | Presbyterian Church (USA) | Doner, John | Other Sheep | Author/editor | Clergy Activist | Conversion Therapy | Argentina | Hanks, Tom
“In the summer and fall of 1965, I worked for almost 9 months with Tom and Joyce Hanks in the Latin American Mission (LAM), San Jose, Costa Rica as an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship Student Volunteer, recruited at the 1964 Missionary Conference in Urbana, Illinois. Through our many activities with the University of Costa Rica student’s Bible Study Group (AUC), including the Friendship Caravan to Managua, Nicaragua, Bible Study meetings, field trips to the LAM farm and orphanage and many other picnics I always found Tom to be sensitive to everyone’s needs, focused on our evangelical goals, awesomely intellectual as a Bible scholar and helpful to me in adjusting to immersion into Costa Rican culture, having arrived with no fluency speaking Spanish.
My experiences during my brief visit to Costa Rica profoundly changed my life in many wonderful ways, eventually inspiring me to become a bilingual, pre-school and elementary school teacher in Northern California for Spanish-peaking children. Interestingly, my experience as roommate of a Tico and living with his family forced me to confront the conflict between Christian dogma I had been taught and my (our) urge to masturbate. One day he came home from Mass where the priest had said “Masturbation was murder!”
As normal young men, even with the help of prayer and the threat of damnation, we found it impossible to completely quit. I had to choose whether I was fundamentally bad or was the dogma wrong. Perhaps because my mother loved me unconditionally I concluded the dogma was wrong and began a much larger examination of the interpretation of the Bible I had inherited. I applaud Tom for his courageous, public stand declaring God’s love for all of His Children and working to serve the needs of those who are often ostracized.
As proof of the validity of our work and the strength of our friendships, last week, after 55 years without communication, AUC had a reunion where Armando Vargas, his ex-wife, Sonja, Paulina Peralta, my roommate, Julio Tristan and I meet for a delicious dinner in the beautiful home of Nelly Garcia and her husband, Reynoldo. We spoke fondly of Tom and Joyce who had organized our great times together.
Thank you, Tom and Joyce for blessing our lives with yours!”
– as remembered by Roberto Bevan Trembly on March 14, 2019
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