My Life with Joe
Joe was baptized, confirmed, and along with his family, an active member of the United Methodist Church.
His earliest memories of being attracted to men were at age 10. He was in a secret, sexual relationship with a man in high school and college.
Joe was called into ministry while attending a United Methodist college. He went to seminary and left the secret of his homosexuality in his home state. To admit the truth would have been to sacrifice any possibility of fulfilling his call into ordained ministry in the UMC.
Like Joe, I was baptized, confirmed and along with my family, an active member of the UMC.
My earliest memories of being attracted to men were in middle school. I was sexually innocent and ignorant in high school and in college. I was called into ministry while attending college and went to seminary to equip myself for a lifetime of music ministry in the UMC.
Joe and I became seminary sweethearts. He believed that his love for me, and mine for him, would make him straight and together we could have the life he dreamed of. He kept his sexual history a secret. I was too naïve to ask. We married in 1985.
I look back with compassion on the young people that we were then. We made the best decision we could make, given the culture in which we were raised, our experience and emotional maturity at that time.
Joe was ordained an elder; I was consecrated a diaconal minister and later ordained a deacon in full connection. We both had careers in ministry in the UMC. There was a lot right about our marriage (most especially our children!) but there was also something seriously wrong.
Joe filled the void left by the absence of sexual and emotional intimacy in our marriage with work. I filled it with caring for our children. We both became deeply depressed. In our 12th year of marriage, 18 months after an intimate encounter with a man at a church conference, Joe finally admitted the truth to me, “I don’t know if I’m gay or straight and I’ve been with a man.”
After I realized that a broken heart wasn’t fatal, I was able to say to Joe that I would stay with him as long as he was in therapy to figure out if he was gay or straight, and when he did, together we’d determine our future.
After a year of individual and marriage counseling, he admitted that he was a gay man faking straight and that he could not continue to live this way. Even in my profound sorrow and loss, I appreciated the courage it took for Joe to risk marriage, family life, job, ordination, and home to be whole.
This is when Joe and I made the hardest, and ultimately the best decision of our lives. We released one another from the vows we made at our wedding, setting one another free for the possibility of wholeness in new, appropriate relationships.
A New Vow
We made a new vow, “to speak and act in loving ways about one another and toward one another” for the rest of our lives, for the sake of our children.
When Joe came out to me, he did not suddenly become a freak. He was still a great dad and the same man I had known and loved for 14 years. While I hated the choice he had made to deceive me and I hated losing our marriage, I did not hate him. I chose to forgive.
When my life is over, I believe that I will be held accountable to the commandment to love my neighbor. I also believe that I will be held accountable for what I have taught my children by my words and example. I could not live with the shame of teaching our children to hate their dad because he is gay. I chose to love.
We have had challenges navigating family life with a gay dad and a straight mom in two households, sharing family holidays, and integrating a new partner for Joe and a new husband for me. We have trusted God to teach us how to live with love as the bottom line in each new situation. God has been faithful to show us the way.
Choosing to forgive and to love has made reconciliation possible for our family.
I believe that what God has done for our family, God can do for the church. I wonder if the church has the courage to choose to tell the truth, to choose acceptance, to choose forgiveness, to choose love.
I wonder what my part is in helping the church choose well so that reconciliation becomes a reality.
I hope telling my story helps.
Leigh Anne Taylor is a Deacon who serves as the Revitalization Coordinator for the Lynchburg District. She enjoyed three decades of music ministry in churches large and small in Dallas, Kansas and Virginia. She is passionate about her family (husband Hugh and a blended family of 5 children and 3 grandchildren), healthy eating, getting outside to play, and growing spiritually. She is co-author of Our Family Outing: A Memoir of Coming Out and Coming Through with her former husband.