Ted Clark – Spirituality and Religion

They attacked the minister.”

Fortunately—because I do come from a church background [and was] active in our church program—I never had to go through the guilt bit. I don’t know why, but it just didn’t gel for me. I had support from church people, and I had a lot of probably arrogant self-confidence. [By the time I realized I was gay,] I’d completed my master’s in counseling and guidance. I had some background, you know, from the professional side also. So, it just wasn’t a matter of feeling a lot of guilt.

During that time, I said [to my wife], “Whatever support you need, go for it. If you need to talk to friends and explain what’s going on, fine.” One of the persons she chose to talk to was our minister. That was the first time that I got positive support back from our church relationship. Because in my own mind, I thought, “Well. Pft. This is the end of that. I won’t be welcome and I’ll be on my own.” [Our minister] made it a point coming to the house and saying, quite honestly—I mean, we’re talking 1975—he said, “I don’t understand this. I don’t have any tools to deal with it. But the one thing I can tell you is that, if you’re willing to continue your relationship in the church, you need to be there. You’re welcome [there].” I thought, for that time period, for a Presbyterian minister, [that was] pretty far reaching. So I did maintain it. Then, [in] ’76 Gene and I came back to Spokane. We wound up singing in a church choir and have been there ever since. All during those years, every minister we’ve had has had quiet, positive support for the two of us.

[Gene and I] had agreed to be interviewed back in [2001] through PFLAG. It was explained that the paper was doing a factual article on nationwide how churches were dealing with the issues of homosexuality. There was to be a news article. They wanted a little local follow-up on gay people that were active in their churches. That was how we were referred from PFLAG. That was the focus of the interview: how we were involved [with the church]. Gene and I had both been ordained in leadership roles in the church.

So, the interview itself was pretty innocuous—until the article came out. Well, what happened is there was a nice front-page article on the national church. Then, in the “In Life” section, of course, there was this huge, half page, full color photograph of Gene and I in our choir robes. [1] Everybody in the world read the “In Life” section and nobody read the front page! [Laughs.] So the whole balance was completely off [from what we expected].

The timing was also ironic, because it was our 25th anniversary [as a couple]. Gene’s sisters decided we needed a big party. So, we had a party. In our church the minister had been saying, “Feel free to share your family stories with the congregation.” We thought, “What the heck?” I sent a little note to the minister and I said, “Your decision what you want to do with this. If you want to put it in the bulletin, and say we’re having an open house and everybody is welcomed, you’re free to do so. And if you decide that it’s not a good idea and trash it, that’s fine with us.” You know, “Do what’s best.” So, Bill talked to two or three people on session and they thought, “Why not?” So, we put the article in the bulletin. It came out the same day as the Spokesman Review article. It was like, “Oh!” The timing couldn’t have been worse. [Laughs.] [It turned out that] a lot of people in the church didn’t know we were a couple. We were surprised at the number, because by then we’d been there 19 years and we thought we were, you know, fairly—not obvious—but everybody knew we were a couple. They knew we lived together. They knew, you know, da, da, da, da, da. We thought that it was kind of understood, but the fact that we made a public statement about it, and were photographed in their choir robes, da, da, da. [Laughs.] We’re really talking a group of five families, out of a church of, at that point, 600 members. But they just came unglued, because we actually made the statement that they had homosexuals in their church, singing in their choir robes, and they wouldn’t let it die. They harassed the minister. No criticism to us. We never had any direct negative criticism, even from the most vocal of the different families. They attacked the minister, because he [had] encouraged this sort of thing; he was “the personification of the devil” in our church. It was just obscene. Key families just kept stirring, and kept stirring, and kept stirring, until [the minister] finally came to the point: he said, “I can’t be an effective leader in this congregation anymore.” He resigned, about a year later. It was really a very painful time for a lot of people. Personally, we had lots of support. We had a lot of very key families in the church that quietly said to us, “I hope you’re not leaving,” “You belong here,” and “You’re welcome here.”

I know that families also attacked the people that were causing the problems, and said, “This is ridiculous.” But it didn’t stop the emotional anger. The irony is, out of the five families, three of them are still in the church. Two left, and the other three stayed on. After [the minister] resigned, the wife of the most vocal family member said to Gene—she needed his help doing something on a project—she said, “Well, I guess the bottom of all of this is we just have to agree to disagree.” I’m like, “Okay. [Laughs.] That’s all right. But why did you have to create all that animosity in the process?”

One of the things of the religious right community, that I constantly bristle at is that “Well, he chose this.” You don’t choose it. You admit it. You accept it. But you didn’t choose anything. A minister friend of mine, years ago, we were talking about that. I looked him straight in the eye and I said, “Do you think I would choose to put myself in a position of ridicule and disgust, and all of the things that come with saying ‘Yes, I’m gay?’” You don’t choose it. You get to the point that you say, “I need to be honest. I need to be who I am. I need to live my life the way I feel it needs to be lived, and do it with honor, respect, dignity, and all the rest of it.”

 

[1]“Gays Who Believe,” Spokesman Review, 5 August, 2001.

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Sources: Interview with Susan Williams on 3 December 2006, held at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture; interviews with Laura S. Hodgman on 30 November 2012 and on 27 February 2014.