In the past decade, many Evangelical churches across the country have increasingly had to wrestle with how to engage members of their congregation who identify as LGBT. But this dilemma has not remained only at the lay level.
In 2012, the leadership staff at the southern California megachurch, Calvary Community Church (CCC), had to grapple with their church's convictions on homosexuality, when Kevin McCloskey, one of the members of the executive team revealed that he was gay and that he would be also be divorcing his wife of 17 years.
Executive Pastor Curtis Johnson declined to speak specifically with The Christian Post about the McCloskey case but agreed to share a more general perspective about how church leadership approached the situation, which resulted in McCloskey's termination. Referring to his former colleague multiple times during the interview as a "friend" and "good guy," Johnson said that CCC leadership sought to make its decision through the lens of its mission.
"[Our church] is striving to live and love like Jesus, the Jesus of the Scriptures, the Son of God, who embodies both truth and grace in fullness. [This] is what we try to emulate when we live and love like Jesus," said Johnson.
Johnson and senior pastor Shawn Thornton engaged McCloskey after he confronted them about his homosexuality. In an essay for the Advocate, the former church leader wrote that he and his bosses "had very good conversations. They were shocked to learn about my sexual orientation and were genuinely concerned for my family and me and all we were going through."
The church stopped short affirming McCloskey's desire to be in a relationship with another man and did not stray from its convictions that that the "lifestyle of homosexuality" was a "sin," though Johnson said that he did not see it as more egregious than pride or acting on heterosexual feelings of lust.
Indeed, Doug Lemen, CCC's Director of Welcome and Connections, said that one message that the church wanted to send to McCloskey was that he as a "person still has tremendous value."
Speaking more generally, he added, "[They have] tremendous value to Christ and to us and that can't be discounted in whatever happens because…they are who they are and they are to us someone whom we have grown to cherish, care for, admire, etc. So I would say [making that point] really becomes the struggle."
"It's not a discount," Lemen added. "It's still someone who is part of your family and whatever happens in a situation like this or others that could be of another nature, it is still a part of your family that you are dealing in a level of separation."
Johnson used the example of CCC's homeless ministry to illustrate one of the lessons that experience had taught him in the process.
"One thing we've grown in is not to make our determinations on a category or a label of what would be people. Take the label 'homeless'…not all homeless people are the same. Not by a long shot. Some are temporary, some are long term, there are various reasons why people are homeless, and yet, at that point in time they all be homeless but they are very, very different."
"We at CCC open doors to category but we minister to them individually. Some are so warm and the story is heartbreaking, and some might be gaming the system and have being doing so for years, but our doors are open to both of them," said Johnson.
Johnson warned against "labels [which] turn into politics. That is not something that we want to be engaged with. We want to be engaged with theology of the heart of what God wants."
While CCC leadership stands by its decision to terminate McCloskey, it has not been an easy one for the former church leader to swallow.
One of the things that perplexed him most was that throughout the time that he was struggling silently with his sexual orientation, McCloskey was simultaneously moving up in his position at the church, and when he confronted Thornton and Johnson, the church was on the verge of creating its own team for him to manage.
"It can't be true that someone who is gay is turning their back on God and at the same time being blessed in ministry and being heaped upon with promotions and responsibilities," McCloskey said.
"None of it was fake. I was being my true self. I believed in the calling of the work I was doing there, and I think all the people that I worked with, and all the pastoral staff felt the same way," he added.
For the former church leader, the core of his frustrations came from the failure of the church leaders to "find ways to love the gay community, to embrace them, and maybe even find ways to disagree with them." Instead, McCloskey said during his tenure at CCC, he had watched it keep individuals who had had previous gay experiences from serving in church leadership, volunteering or becoming members.
McCloskey questioned why the church could not treat the LGBT population in the same way it treated those who had been divorced.
"The church doesn't want anyone to get a divorce. There is much more teaching in the Bible about divorce and the dangers of getting a divorce and the few exceptions when divorce is allowed but almost everyone in the church has experienced divorce at some level. There were a number of people on our staff who had gone through a divorce and were still on our staff team," said McCloskey.
"But the church has not said, 'You're not welcome here.' 'You can't become a member here,'" he said. "In fact, they have created ministries to walk along side of people who have gotten a divorce and to care for them and to love them and to help them feel not alone."
McCloskey believes there is a way for the church to "continue to have its stance, which is 'We don't believe that God has ordained gay relationships'," but welcome in the LGBT population.
"[The church could say,] 'If you as a thinking, Bible-believing person have come do a different conclusions, we can respect you, we can welcome, we can walk along side you, we can support you. We may draw a line at marriage, but why we can't disagree on that topic when there's lots of others that we disagree on and still allow each other to serve side by side?'" asked McCloskey.
"These are loving people at Calvary. I know them well. Many of them are my friends. But I think when it comes to this issue it stems from a lot of fear and fear of the unknown," he added.