“My Religious Identity Is As Important To Me As My Sexual Identity.”

by john russell stanger

I’m the Reverend John Russell Stanger and I’m from Brazoria, Texas. I grew up on my family’s cattle ranch outside Brazoria. One of things I remember doing when I was about 10 was putting on my own church service in our living room. Because I had grown up going to church, my parents were both Elders in our small presbyterian church and I loved it, I loved going to church, I felt at home there, there was something about everything we sort of did at church that spoke to me.

I had a music stand as a pulpit that I put in the center of our living room and I laid out on the coffee table bibles from around our house and some hymnal and I wrote out an order of service. So we started with a call to worship, and we sang hymns, and I asked my parents to read from scripture, and then I’m sure I preached to them as a 10-year-old and they were really great at humoring me. The one thing that sticks out to me as really gay was that I had bathrobes that I wore that were my clerical vestments and I would switch between a bathrobe that was me as the pastor and one that was me as the choir director. And my dad who’s this like 6’3” rancher, I remember him saying, “Why do you keep switching bathrobes?” And my mom said, “I think he’s supposed to be different people.”

But as I grew up, I grew up not knowing any out gay people at all. There were none in my life. And I clearly had this call to ministry. But I didn’t know as I started to figure out that I was probably gay, I didn’t know how to reconcile that. So I went all the way through high school and then through college, I got a BA in religion, and then ended up in Seminary still convincing myself somehow that I wasn’t gay even though I had been putting on gay church since I was 10.

And it wasn’t until being in Seminary in that first year and kind of learning that this religious tradition that I had been told doesn’t support gay people actually has all this beautiful tradition that does celebrate people who are on the margin, people who are different, and we follow this guy named Jesus who hung out with people that society rejected and that started to click for me. And I ended up coming out at the end of my first year.

And it was this really reconciling moment, but when I came out in Seminary, the Presbyterian Church USA which is my denomination would not ordain out gay people. So I decided that I would finish Seminary but I would not seek ordination because I didn’t want to subject myself to that. But then the second year, a year later, the Presbyterian Church voted to change the ruling and I immediately started seeking ordination and because of that, as of November 2013, I was the first out person in Texas to be ordained in the Presbyterian Church. I never questioned being religious. My religious identity is as important to me as my sexual identity. So the only way I could kind of keep going when I thought I couldn’t be gay and religious was to convince myself I wasn’t gay because I couldn’t convince myself I wasn’t Christian. And then in the end being Christian is what helped me be gay.

Because I didn’t know anyone gay growing up, I made a conscious decision to be publicly gay and to model that you could be gay and Christian and even gay or LGBT as a religious leader and that is something that is a good thing. So people knew I was being ordained and proud of being gay and that really annoys people who don’t understand why we’re proud to be gay.

When I realized the only form of sin isn’t having too much pride or turning your back on God but it was also to not believe in yourself and who God made you to be. That is what saved me and helped me come out was knowing that my own sin was repression and so for me to accept who I was was to be gay but also be a better Christian.

I think a lot of people believe there is one type of religious person because they’ve grown up with people who are religious and families who are religious and religious communities who are anti-LGBT so I hope those kids know that there are pastors and gay communities and churches who will embrace them fully as who they are and make it clear to them that Jesus loves them as an LGBT youth and young adult.



  1. A Brother in Christ

    It is with love for my brothers and sisters that I reply with these fine scriptures of undeniable truth. I pray, God use this to further your work and bring people to repentance and restoration, allowing them to be under your grace again. There is no hate here at all, only love. Let no crime be deemed from this act of free speech that condemns no one but only serves as a reminder of the truth. God will be a just judge, not I.
    1 Timothy 1:3-11
    Timothy Charged to Oppose False Teachers

    3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer 4 or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. 5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. 7 They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

    8 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9 We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
    Romans 1:18-32
    God’s Wrath Against Sinful Humanity

    18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

    21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

    24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

    26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

    28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
    Revelation 22: 12-21
    Epilogue: Invitation and Warning

    12 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

    14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

    16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you[a] this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

    17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

    18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.

    20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

    Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

    21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

  2. A Lesbian Sister in Christ

    Dear a Brother in Christ,

    Do you know that the word “homosexual” wasn’t used in bible until approximately 1958? This happened because a translator decided that is what the original Greek text referred to. Actually, from what I’ve learned in recent years, the words that are now commonly translated as males lying with males or homosexuals may actually refer to someone who is morally soft, not a practicing homosexual.

    By the way, did you realize that the word “Homosexual” wasn’t even coined until the late 19th century? You may ask where I learned all of this. I learned it all by reading the scriptures, praying about it, and reading not only Gay history, but also researching the original Greek and Hebrew texts and words that are used in what are commonly called the “clobber” passages. I’ve also researched Greek and Roman history as well. I will respectfully suggest that you might do the same.

    I will close by saying that I KNOW that God, and his Son Jesus Christ loves me, and my LGBT brothers and sisters, just as we are. You are correct in one point though, that Jesus and his Father will be the judge of ALL of us. With great love to you,

    Your respectful Sister in Christ.

    • the word homosexual wasn’t used but it was described in Leviticus 20:13

      i am also aware of the apologetics concerning the temple practices…but consider this. if that were the case, there are 2 sexual relationships that were not prohibited…
      sex between a man and his wives and sex between women…therefore if you are going to say god was only laying down the law as to what would be appropriate in the temple, then god would allow for sex between a man and his wives and sex between women…or we could just take leviticus 18:13 as a way of saying ‘laying with a man as a man would with a woman’ as an abomination before god…so if that were true, you have 2 choices to make….either agree that sex between 2 ppl of the same sex is not allowed or you can scrap the entire thing and live by the conviction of your moral compass.

  3. I don’t understand how an antiquated ideology that one is born into or is exposed to since an early age can mean as much as them as the identity one is born with.

    If religious beliefs, such as christianity, is guilty of harming people, why is it protected and seen as something more meaningful than an excuse to harm.
    I say get rid of dogma and you get rid of another excuse to harm people. As a bisexual woman I ask, why make excuses for something we have been marginalized by?

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  6. Thank you for sharing. Your story is very encouraging as I am finding my way into ministry after years of figuring I couldn’t because I am gay and the Methodist church still hasn’t become as reconciling as it claims to be. Your statement about your spiritual identity being as important as your sexual identity – it was good for me to hear that being said by someone other than myself! Thanks, again, and God bless you!

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