Talking to Your Pastor About Leaving His Unaccepting Church


Talking to Your Pastor About Leaving His Unaccepting Church

by Alyse Knorr

My teen daughter recently came out as lesbian to myself and her mom, and we have left our non-gay friendly church for a church that is accepting of all sexual orientations. Our former pastor wants to know why we left—we have been part of this church community for almost 10 years. My daughter is not out to anyone else. How do I handle this? Thank you!
— Anonymous

Alyse Says:

First off, thank you for being so incredibly supportive of your daughter. I admire you for all the love and care you’re showing her with this action—and believe me, she feels it, too. You are the best.

It’s never easy to leave a religious community that you have been a part of for a long time, and I can imagine that it would be even harder to feel like you can’t tell the pastor why it’s time for you to move on. But above all else, remember that your daughter’s privacy comes first in this situation. You seem to already know this, which is great. Respect that your daughter needs to come out to people on her own timeline—and that includes coming out to your pastor and any other members of the church. So make sure that you don’t out her to anyone without her permission—not even the pastor, and not even if it’s only the pastor you’re telling.

If your daughter isn’t ready to come out to anyone at your old church, including the pastor, that doesn’t mean you have to hide from the pastor (I’m going to call him Pete—he seems to need a name here) and avoid his calls forever. Simply tell Pete that while you enjoyed your time with this church and will miss [X] (the weekly potlucks, the lively worship services, whatever), your family decided to seek something different and it was time to move on in your spiritual journey. Tell Pete that you wish him all the best of luck and be done with it. You’re under absolutely no obligation to go into more detail than that, no matter how guilty you might feel. You’re not lying or being unfair to anyone with this kind of answer—you’re being tactful and considerate in a situation where your first priority is to protect your daughter’s privacy. If Pete pushes you for more information, you don’t need to deliver a cryptic answer or drop hints. Just say, “I’m sorry; I don’t want to go into any more detail, but I thank you for your concern and wish you all the best.” Now, if you see Pete at the grocery store after all this, just act normal—smile and ask him how he is, and if he starts to lay down the “you should come back to church” guilt (pastors are so good at this!) just firmly and immediately re-direct the subject to something not-church-related using some good old-fashioned conversational ju jitsu:

Pete: You know, we really miss you over at Not-So-Cool-About-Gay-People Church.

You: That’s kind of you to say. Can you believe how much it snowed last weekend? I could barely find my car!

Pete: Do you think you’ll ever come back to Not-So-Cool-About-Gay-People Church?

You: We’re excited about taking a new direction, but appreciate the time we had at Not-So-Cool-About-Gay-People-Church [don’t say “your church”—it’ll make Pete take it more personally]. Anyway, I’m so excited the Broncos made it to the Superbowl. About time those Patriots lost, the dirty cheaters!

Etc. After awhile, Pete will take the hint and drop the matter.

This might be all you want to do, and you can leave it at that, and that’s great. But further on down the road, if you talk with your daughter and determine that she’s ready to be out to the pastor and to people at church, you can discuss with her why it might be worthwhile to share the whole story with Pete. Do you want to share it because it would make Pete and her flock more aware about LGBTQIA people, and allies like you, in your faith tradition? Do you want to share it so that Pete can become more attentive and respectful in the future about how the church handles LGBTQIA issues? Do you want to share it simply so that Pete knows at least one gay person?

If so, and if it’s cool with your daughter, then great! You can tell Pete that, although you always liked [X] about the church, and although you respect her right to her own Biblical interpretations, you and your family ultimately needed to find a space that was welcoming of your daughter and that would love her the way God loves everyone—and the way the Bible teaches us to love everyone. Keep it short and simple. Don’t get into a theology war here, and resist the urge to write back if Pete writes to you again trying to start one—simply end the conversation politely and take the high road. You’re not telling Pete this information to start a debate, you’re simply answering her question completely—after all, he did ask!

In the end, just by hearing why you left his church and seeing that Christians can be gay and gay people can be Christians, your pastor’s heart may just grow ten sizes right then and there—or you will at least plant a seed for him to think about in the future. People don’t change overnight, but when they do change, it’s usually because of a deep, personal intervention of some kind. Though you shouldn’t expect immediate, miraculous results, you and your family, by standing up for your daughter, could be the one to change Pete. And if not, at least you did what’s right for your daughter, which is the most beautiful gift you could give her. Bravo!

Alyse Knorr is the author of two books of poems, Copper Mother (Switchback Books, forthcoming 2015) and Annotated Glass (Furniture Press Books, 2013), as well as the chapbook Alternates (dancing girl press, 2014). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Denver Quarterly, Caketrain, ZYZZYVA, Drunken Boat, and The Southern Poetry Anthology, among others. She received her MFA in creative writing from George Mason University. She is a co-founder and co-editor of Gazing Grain Press, an inclusive feminist press, and teaches English at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

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