Assistant Professor of Management Kathy Duncan gave a presentation titled “In and Out of the Closet: Gay and Lesbian Pastoral Leadership,” that discussed her research regarding the sexuality of those in religious positions and how it affects their ability to perform as religious leaders.
“People who are gay and Christian struggle trying to synthesize those identities,” Duncan said.
Duncan became interested in the subject when she met a music minister at her inclusive church that welcomes gays and lesbians and she told her about her life as a closeted heterosexual married man.
“One day his boss came in and said to him, ‘You know that new musician you hired, everyone thinks she’s a lesbian fire her,’ “ Duncan said. He fired her because he believed that if he argued against firing her he’d “out himself.”
Duncan’s first approach was to look for only closeted pastors but she recalled how difficult it was finding a group of people who are in hiding. Even though she found a few, she switched her focus to gay and lesbian pastors, with hopes of getting a few closeted ones along the way.
Duncan then discussed how she researched different churches. She explained to audiences the different levels of protestant pastors’ tolerance towards the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
The Episcopal Church for example leaves decisions of ordination of non-celibate homosexuals to the congregation. Methodist churches are often open and affirming towards the congregation but not towards pastors, while southern Baptist churches believe homosexuality is not a valid lifestyle.
She was assisted in her approach by an instrument called the G Quotient. Kirk Snyder from the University of Southern California who had been assessing large organizations and job satisfaction created the application.
Duncan posted a survey and received 74 participants and 16 of the participants agreed to be interviewed by Duncan.Forty-six of the participants were men and 28 were women. Twenty-two percent of participants had been closeted in non-inclusive churches, while two of the participants were still closeted.
Duncan noted that only 11 of the participants were open about their sexuality in non-inclusive churches. One of the questions Duncan asked her participants was, “How do you think being gay or lesbian affects your leadership development?”
Participants said it made them more sensitive to diversity and helped them deal with the coming out process of members of their congregation. While four of the women Duncan interviewed felt that it was more of a challenge to be a woman in the ministry than a lesbian, because the ministry is still a male dominated profession.
Duncan then began to wonder what the differences were between closeted and out. She asked those who had been closeted in the past how it affected them.
“They talked about being very self protective, keeping people at arms length and that it was restrictive,” Duncan said. “They made decisions on whether or not it would possibly ‘out’ them.”
The “out” pastors felt more authentic, and felt as if they were being more effective as a pastor. “Now I can actually share who God created me to be,” said one of the pastors interviewed.
Duncan’s research led her to the conclusion that gay and lesbian pastors are similar to gay and lesbians in the business world. Gay and lesbian pastors share the same calling and training as heterosexual pastors in order to be effective ministers.
“When they pastored while closeted, it had negative effects on their ability to be an effective leader,” Duncan said. She hopes to further her research to broader religions and ethnic backgrounds.
“I’m hoping that her research will open up the eyes of the ministry to reach out to the children and others in the congregation to open people’s eyes to diversity,” Assistant Professor of Education Cindy Giamo-Ballard said.
“I did my senior thesis on religiosity and attitudes towards homosexuality, I wanted to see how my research compared to hers,” senior psychology major Dylan Haro said.
“It was interesting because it is similar to my humanities class,” psychology major Erisa Nishizada said.
Michael Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.