Challenging a straight church

Last year, Jerome Stueart did one of the hardest things in his life. The church deacon decided to tell his congregation he was gay.

Last year, Jerome Stueart did one of the hardest things in his life.

The church deacon decided to tell his congregation he was gay.

It was just before Easter, and Stueart had been preparing for weeks to read a special sermon for the Easter Sunday service.

But he never got the chance.

Stueart was stripped of his deaconship and discouraged from preaching before he could read the sermon.

Until then, Stueart had kept quiet about his sexuality.

He had only come out to himself in 2004, at the age of 34.

Stueart’s church – the Riverdale Baptist Church in Whitehorse – wasn’t openly accepting of gays and he worried what would happen if he told people.

He had long struggled to come to terms with his sexuality and knew how difficult it would be for his congregation to accept him.

But he never expected to be silenced for it.

Stueart grew up in a religious household in Texas, with a Baptist minister for a father.

He studied at a Baptist university and even considered becoming a minister himself one day.

Raised believing people who were gay were “influenced by Satan,” Stueart never thought it was possible that he too could be gay.

In 2001, he caught sight of a gay marriage on television.

“I was full of rage when I saw that – that they were flaunting it like that,” he said.

Disturbed by his anger, Stueart started researching homosexuality among Christians.

“That’s when the first inkling rose to my mind – I might be gay.”

Angst-ridden and confused, in January of 2004 while finishing his last semester at Yukon College, Stueart prepared to commit suicide.

But a good friend of Stueart’s called that day asking for help and he decided against taking his life.

“I gave myself another chance and after that chose to research gay Christians even further,” said Stueart.

“That’s when I realized I was fine and normal.”

But Stueart kept the secret to himself, wanting to be 100 per cent certain before he told anyone.

Finally, in the spring of 2009, he decided he would talk to each family in his church.

“It was something I felt like I couldn’t hide anymore,” he said.

So in the week before Easter Sunday, he started approaching people in the nearly 150-person congregation.

“It was horrible,” he said. “People told me to keep it to myself.”

Stueart talked to a dozen families before word trickled up to the pastor.

“People were calling the pastor, threatening to leave the church if he didn’t do something,” said Stueart.

The pastor directed him to the elders board, the elected members of the church.

“Within 10 minutes of telling them I was gay, I was asked to step down as deacon,” said Stueart.

“And I wasn’t allowed to explain (why I had to step down) by writing about it in the church newsletter or by saying it in church.”

He was also asked to give an oath of celibacy and promise he wouldn’t date.

“That was the only way I could stay in the church.”

Then, a couple months later, he was mysteriously dismissed from the church choir. He was told that he had missed too many practices.

“I only missed two,” said Stueart, explaining that he was on vacation.

Even then, Stueart didn’t consider leaving his church.

“I decided to wait it out,” he said, saying he didn’t want to break connections with the people who’d been close family to him since 2001.

He was also hoping the pastor would initiate a discussion about homosexuality within the church – but that never happened.

Frustrated and feeling silenced, Stueart decided to write letters to everyone in the congregation, as well as the elders board and directors of the Canadian Baptists of Western Canada.

“It was the only way I could say what actually happened to me,” he said.

But the letters went unanswered.

Finally, a month later, he received a letter from the elders.

“We have received your letter and noted your concerns with due consideration,” was all the letter said.

Stueart was more than discouraged.

The church’s response to the letter was organizing a series of four sermons denouncing homosexuality.

“Man as male and female in the image of God being fruitful and multiplying and stewarding God’s creation – this is said to be ‘very good’ in the creation narrative,” said Pastor Greg Anderson at an October 17th sermon.

“The best same-sex sex will always be a parody of this ideal.”

There are no Baptist churches in Canada, Stueart knows of, that openly welcome gays.

Presbyterians, evangelical Lutherans, Anglicans and Episcopalians have all started opening their doors, said Stueart.

“Why can’t the Baptist church?”

In the United States, 48 churches that are part of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists accept homosexuals.

Pastor Sarah Welton heads up one of the churches in Palmer, Alaska.

In the mid ‘90s her church began accepting gays.

Immediately afterwards, it was thrown out of the local association of Baptist churches.

That didn’t bother Welton.

“Our review of the scriptures couldn’t allow us to continue that kind of discrimination,” she said.

Many of the rules in the Bible are outdated.

“In the Old and New Testament people are told to have slaves – but we don’t,” she said.

“So why would we follow this rule (about sexuality)?”

When asked about Riverdale Baptist Church’s policy on homosexuals, pastor Anderson directed the News to the “culture statement,” on the Canadian Baptist Ministries’ website.

He refused comment on anything related to Stueart.

“We don’t have time to make a community response to this,” said Anderson.

“Secondly, Jerome is a formal member of the church and it doesn’t seem right to talk about him in a public way.”

Anderson also referred the News to the October 17th sermon.

In that sermon, Anderson maintained that the church “welcomes everybody without any qualifications.”

But he did make a stipulation.

“It is one thing to live a self-destructive lifestyle, recognizing it for what it is, grieving over it, and urging others to avoid it if they can,” said Anderson, quoting Christian scholar N.T. Wright.

“It is another, more sinister, thing to call evil good and good evil,” he said, explaining homosexual Christians need to repent.

“I live as evidence that Wright is wrong,” said Stueart following the sermon.

Being Christian doesn’t mean that you can’t also be homosexual.

“It’s not the beginning of the apocalypse to let gay and lesbian people come into your church, have community with them, and affirm them for who they are,” said Stueart.

“God and Christianity aren’t that fragile.”

Contact Vivian Belik at