Mars Hill Forums #105 and #106: Does “Coming Out” Help the Deeper Issues?

John C. Rankin (February 14, 2006)

Yesterday I addressed Mars Hill Forums 105 and 106 at The Master’s School in West Simsbury, Connecticut. The morning was for the high school students and available faculty, and the evening was for the wider community. The topic was same-sex marriage, and my guest was the Rev. Joshua Pawelek, Unitarian minister in Manchester, Connecticut. No same-sex marriage leader in the state will address a forum with me apart from Josh. He heads up the Connecticut Clergy for Marriage Equality, a pro same-sex marriage association. Josh is a heterosexual man, married with his second son due in May, and a graduate of Harvard Divinity School.

Let me share two highlights.

First, after the morning forum, Josh gave a remarkable compliment to the headmaster, Rick Burslem. Josh speaks often to public school students, and finds them to be rent with a divisive and fearful spirit, most often unable to engage in critical thinking. Josh was delighted with the students at The Master’s School, a private K-12 Christian school ( He found them to be gracious, prospering in intellectual and relational freedom, and posing thoughtful questions. Rick Burslem told the students that such forums achieve far greater intellectual content than almost anything available on college campuses today, and Josh Pawelek agreed.

Second, Josh spoke of the many homosexual persons and others he has counseled, and who rage and cry at the forms of abuse they have experienced in their lives. I relayed a story from my studies at Harvard, where in the 1980s three fellow students identified themselves as lesbian, and of their own initiative told me that every lesbian they know has been sexually, physically and/or emotionally abused by some man in her formative years. This is not a statistical claim, but it is an overwhelming reality, and for male homosexuals too. Josh agreed with this assessment — the difference between us is what we do with that information. Josh tries to help them find refuge in his Unitarian church while affirming their sexual identity choices. I seek to help such persons choose their deeper and prior identities as men or women made in God’s image, to gain release through the love of the heavenly Father, through the power to forgive in the name of Jesus. As Psalm 9:9 says: “Yahweh is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.”

Josh also made a remarkable and candid observation. Whereas he has counseled many struggling people to “come out” if they think they are homosexual, he also knows how many other life-controlling issues these people have, and even many years later, their “coming out” did not improve those other variables.

Here is a summary statement of the truth: Homosexual persons seek refuge from a heterosexual and/or chauvinistic world which has been unkind to them. The question is whether or not that refuge is found in the church that honors God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; or whether that refuge is sought under the rubric of some form of pansexual identity or the specific edifice of same-sex marriage. In the church that is faithful to the Gospel, the refuge is true. In pansexuality or in same-sex marriage, these are ersatz or facsimile places of refuge which will only disappoint again, and multiply the brokenness over time.

Josh Pawelek is a gracious man, and cares deeply for those to whom he ministers. He was most thoughtful and respectful of my ideas, and even began the evening dialogue by asking me to explain some summary elements concerning the nature of Genesis 1-2. Jesus came to seek and save the lost, those who in humility admit their needs. I find great rapport with a man like Josh Pawelek, who is forthright in his skepticisms about the Bible while interested in honest dialogue. I find it difficult to have rapport with someone whose doctrine is “orthodox” but who proves more interested in winning an argument for its own sake, caring little to listen well to those who believe otherwise.