‘Be who you are’

Sunday, September 7, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:30 a.m. CDT, Thursday, June 26, 2008

Joe Hoover grew up in Climax Springs, where gay people were not discussed. He says by age 14 he was the “big man on campus” musically. He sang frequently and won the state music contest. The pastor of Lazy Acres Baptist Church asked him to help with the church music. Often he was the only person younger than 50 at the church. Joe became song leader, and soon the pastor asked him to give a sermon.

  “The pastor was leaving for a week. He said, ‘I want you to preach next week.’ So I did and people loved it,” Joe says.

  This led him to study music at Southwest Baptist University, but he struggled.

  “I had no formal background in music, so when it came to theory I was lost,” Joe says. “I nearly flunked out, so I switched to an elementary education degree and minored in music.”

  He was a minister of music at First Baptist Church in Appleton City and First Baptist Churches in Lincoln and Warsaw.

“They said I was too busy during service,” Joe says. “I always say, ‘My brain is Baptist but my feet are Pentecostal.’”

  Joe returned to the Baptist Church in Collins where he had been minister of music and became pastor. He met a girl and they married, but it didn’t last long.

“I knew I was attracted to men,” Joe says. “I had gone to counseling and had many churches try to pray the gay out of me. I didn’t want to be gay. But none of it worked. I was really angry. I would put on praise music, pray, walk, read, sing and pray again.”

After it was known he was gay, Joe didn’t feel welcome in church.

“ I prayed to God and said, ‘Something has to happen here. If being gay is such a terrible thing, you’re all powerful, you can make me attracted to women.’ Then I considered how the message of the Bible was misused to oppress women and condone slavery. I thought perhaps it was the same with homosexuality. I said to God, ‘If that is a possibility you have to let me know.’ God spoke to me and told me to be who I am. I said excuse me? Literally. He said, just be who you are. So I went back to church and was open with everyone. They told me I might be more comfortable someplace else.”

  Joe says he studied the Bible carefully and found only six passages of Scripture which people use to condemn homosexuals. He says the passages are taken out of context.

“The rebuke was directed toward heterosexuals who engaged in homosexual orgies as part of Pagan worship. You’ll never find in the scripture where God condemns two people in a committed, loving relationship who happen to be the same gender.”

Joe says people in town are pretty cool, and his parents treat Mike, his partner of eight years, as they do his sibling’s spouses. But he says it was hard to not be able to pray or preach, and he’s convinced other people are in the same situation. So he e-mailed members of the gay community:

“Prior to this time I had been active playing and singing music in church and eventually serving as pastor. When I finally learned who I was and refused to hide the fact that I’m gay, I found that many churches which had sought my musical, teaching and preaching skills now said I was not welcome to even attend their services. I was devastated, to say the least, because some of the most important things in my life were no longer available to me. After years of prayer and Bible study, I learned that we have been taught a lie.

God does not ever in the Scripture condemn homosexuals in a blanket manner. He loves us as His children just as he does any person. I am now doing things that were once such an important part of my life and having a fantastic time. I am writing this post to let you know you can once again have those things in life.”

 Although he works full time as a pastor, Joe plans to return to nursing. He thinks attitudes toward homosexuality in most churches will change, when enough people, who believe as he does, speak out — “God said, be who you are.”

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