Craig Peterson – Spirituality and Religion

“God was okay with this.”

I’d been raised United Methodist—probably fourth generation. I never grew up hearing sermons that said gay people were going to hell. But because it was never addressed—I guess that’s the way I learned that it was this awful thing that you didn’t talk about. That was probably, in my religious experience, the hardest part. I’ve always had this really instinctive conviction, really from day one, that God was okay with this. That this is who I am. I knew that God’s people [laughs] had issues, and I was able to separate God from the church, and move through some of my pain in a way that kept me spiritually connected.

[After I came out] I started the local chapter of pro-GLBT United Methodists called Affirmation. It often gets confused because the Mormons’ [LGBT group of] the same name. And really, I was, for political purposes, the only out United Methodist in terms of organizing. There were other folks, of course, behind the scenes, who told the pastor. [There were] others, but I was the presence at district meetings, and meeting with the district superintendent, and those sorts of things. I had quite a bit of support from the [church] leadership there, at the district level. It was always hard to really build a larger groundswell of support. We actually had probably more participation by supportive straight clergy allies than we ever did from the lay people. So that was in ’94.

I lost [the election] in ’99 and came to the Iliff School of Theology, which is a United Methodist seminary. I had really wrestled with where my call was. Was it to be in the field of politics or public policy? I’d been doing that for about eight years at the time. Or was my call more of a faith-based piece? Through my election experience, I really learned that I think the faith piece was bigger for me than just the politics piece.

When I came to the seminary, I knew there was a ban on ordination of gay and lesbians in the United Methodist Church. So I just came to seminary expecting to get my Master’s degree in three years and go back and work for a church agency, but not get ordained. Through my seminary experience, I realized that my call was actually to serve in parish or church ministry.

So, the way that story culminates, because it has Eastern Washington connections here, I presented myself for candidate for ordination in the year 2000. In order to do that and adopt this system you have to have your local home church vote by a 2/3 majority in support of your candidacy. My membership was still at the Deer Park United Methodist Church, and so they voted in 2001. I fell short of the vote that was needed by two votes. Because they went through and you know, contacted folks who had been technically members and hadn’t attended church for years [to have them vote].

The good news is that, when I lost that vote in 2001, I ended up switching my membership to the United Church of Christ, and now I’m partnered, and fully out, and have the kind of life I would’ve never had in the Methodist system. [The United Church of Christ is] what’s called a Congregational Church and it’s really, right now [in 2006], the only mainline Protestant church that has a blanket policy saying that gays or lesbians can be ordained. There are some denominations, like the Lutheran or Episcopal Church, where in certain localities you might be able to get ordained. But in those instances they would have to kind of break or bend the rules. United Church of Christ specifically names sexual orientation as one category that should not be considered for the ordination.

I was ordained in January of 2004, and six months later I was moderator of the [metro Denver] association here, which is kind of the administrative position for the 29 churches in Denver.


Sources: Interview with Maureen Nickerson, [December 2006?]; transcribed by Maureen Nickerson and Laura S. Hodgman; edited by Laura S. Hodgman; held at the Northwest Museum for Arts and Culture. Interview with Laura S. Hodgman on 21 August 2012; transcribed by J. Zander; edited by Laura S. Hodgman.