A Lutheran pastor has come out in a moving sermon at a youth conference.
Bishop Kevin Kanouse, head of the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana area of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, revealed he was gay last weekend to a group of 400 youth and adults.
Kanouse recounted the experience in a letter to local leadership, which was published online this week. In the document, he wrote he was "Holy Spirit-moved to tell my own story publicly, for the first time," after hearing the emotional stories recounted by young people at the conference, concerning the role of God in their lives.
As a young man, Kanouse said he knew of his sexual orientation, but "buried it deep" after hearing antigay slurs and that "homosexuality was a sin" from his conservative upbringing in Pennsylvania.
"I learned early on that I had to hide my true nature ... especially because I wanted to be a pastor and serve in the church," he said. "After all, pastors could not be gay and serve Jesus."
He found his experience as a closeted religious person both liberating and stifling, particularly after marrying his wife of now 40 years, and fathering two sons.
"On the one hand, I felt safety and joy in the church, along with a strong sense of call to ministry. On the other hand, church was also where I felt I most had to hide. I lived with terribly low self-esteem, self-loathing, and feelings of guilt and rejection," he wrote.
His conflicted emotions led him to speak out against the denomination's decision to allow gay pastors in 2009, and also vote against allowing the recognition of same-sex marriages. (The ELCA ultimately voted to allow both.) The experience of voting "no" to the blessing of these unions left him with conflicted emotions, and eventually allowed him to see how "hollow" nature of criticisms against gays and lesbians.
"God created me as I am and God loves me completely and fully," he affirmed in the letter.
Kanouse remains committed to his marriage to his wife. But he hopes his story will allow other young people to avoid the turmoil he endured for so long.
"I was moved to share my journey with the youth because I know many are struggling with these and other issues of self-esteem, rejection, and self-loathing," he wrote. "I wanted to instill the hope of the Gospel at a much earlier age than I received it. I prayed that none of them would endure that pain for as long as I did."