“If something happens to Randy or the kids, I have no say in their medical care. Legally I can’t visit them in the Intensive Care Unit. It’s pretty hard that, being the kids’ father, I can tell them when to take a shower or do their homework or go to bed or ground them, but I can’t put them on my insurance at work.”
Today is the final installment of ten LGBT faith stories from the Minneapolis – St Paul area. In just a few days, the ELCA 2009 Church Wide Assembly will convene in Minneapolis, and these ten stories have been offered in support of the resolutions that will sanction gay ordination and gay marriage.
These stories have been borrowed from a booklet compiled and written by seminarian, Kari Aanestad. The Joint Synod Inclusivity Committee of the Minnesota metro synods of the ELCA offers these ten stories as a download on their website.
Here are links to the earlier stories in this series:
Randy and David sit in their living room, with its butternut-squash walls and warm wooden floors. Their older dog, William, falls asleep at my feet to the rhythm of the ticking clock that rests on the mantelpiece behind me. David’s blond hair and light blue eyes contrast with Randy’s own dark
eyes and hair. Their two sons, Mitchell (16) and Matthew (13), huddle over each other in the adjacent room, building something out of paper. Their daughter, McKenna (8), cries softly because of her difficult spelling homework. David quietly soothes her and begins the interview.
“We go to church because we’re there to worship God,” David said. “We’re followers of Christ. We’re not there to be the followers of the rainbow flag. But at the same time, we don’t want to be discriminated against for who we are. We’re kind of caught in the middle there. Luckily our church accepts us as part of the family. We are just members of the congregation.”
The church has been an important part of Randy and David’s lives. They were both raised in small, Midwestern towns in which Lutheranism was not only a theological foundation of their families, but also a cultural identity.
“I was raised in a small town in the middle of ‘Nowhere, North Dakota,’” Randy said. “In the area I’m from you were either Catholic or Lutheran, and that was all there was to it.”
Growing up, Randy was deeply involved in his church community: He was a part of Luther League, went to Sunday school, taught Sunday school, and attended church regularly. After graduating from high school, however, his involvement in the church dwindled. While in his mid 30s, Randy decided to adopt a child.
“Adopting was what brought me back to the church; I wanted to raise my son in the tradition that I had been raised in, which was ELCA Lutheran,” Randy said.
He was one of the first single males to ever adopt within the Russian court system. What also made the adoption nearly impossible was that the boy whom Randy wished to adopt was considered too old for adoption. Despite the odds, in 1997 Randy successfully brought 4 ½ year old Mitchell to his new home in the United States. Even though the first adoption was difficult, Randy’s family was not yet complete; and in the end of 1998, he began the process of a second adoption. He received a referral in December and traveled to Yekatrinburg, Russia, on the western edge of Siberia.
“In March of 1999, we brought Matthew back. That’s about the same time David came into our lives.”
David is from a Minnesota town of 3,000. “I was raised Missouri Synod Lutheran,” David said then paused and laughed. “My parents’ house sat between two Lutheran churches: literally we had the Missouri Synod church across the street on one side and we had the ELCA church on the other side.
”David also distanced himself from religion after moving away from home after high school. It wasn’t until he joined the Air Force that he reconnected with his faith. After the Air Force, David lived in Colorado Springs for a while and became active in the ELCA church during that time. After about 15 years, he decided to move back to Minnesota where he met Randy in 1998. They had a holy union in 2001, but kept it very small and private.
“We didn’t say anything to anyone in the church about it — the pastor knew about it, two friends knew about it, and then of course the kids knew about it. That’s it,” David said. “The reason was, we didn’t want to get our pastor into trouble, to cause any dissension in the church, or to become a spectacle.”
David continued, “I attended several holy unions when I was in Colorado Springs. No matter how much seriousness or gravity was put on the ceremony, inevitably some of the people attending viewed it as a mock wedding. Randy and I didn’t want to have any of that because that was never our intention. We wanted the ceremony and we wanted it to be in church. Whether the law recognizes it or not isn’t nearly as important as affirming our commitment before God, which we did.”
It didn’t take much time for Randy, David, and the two boys to become a family, and their church became central to their shared lives. The four attended a church near their Minneapolis home for many years until its recent closure. During the time of their membership, both Randy and David
served in various leadership roles and, most important, “we were active in almost all the potlucks and bake sales,” Randy said.
While teaching Sunday school, David received some drawings from two little girls who were in Matthew’s class. “Dealing with those two was so different than with boys,” David said. He then began to think about adopting a girl. “In the summer of 2001 we did a lot of soul-searching and praying and decided to adopt a girl,” Randy said. Randy began the adoption process as a single parent, knowing that if David were legally involved, the adoption would be impossible.
“We initially tried to adopt from Ukraine, but that opportunity came and went. Then we had what looked like a much more successful adoption from Russia. It took about 6-9 months to get things ready, jump through the hoops, get the paperwork in place and get the money. Randy was in court finalizing the adoption when the judge told him the child had siblings ranging in age up to 10 years old.”
In order to adopt the young girl, the judge told Randy that he would have to adopt all four children.
After much discussion Randy and David decided they couldn’t take all of the children. Their church grieved with Randy and David at the devastation of these two failed adoption attempts.
“All of our friends at church had been praying, and it was mentioned almost weekly in church where we stood, so when this adoption fell through it was devastating to the entire church. Everybody mourned with us,” David said.
David quickly began to lose hope in adopting a girl. “Everybody, including me, underestimated Randy’s resolve, but the Russian government didn’t stand a chance against Randy,” David said.
“Sure enough another opportunity came up and Randy was just as dogged and determined
as he was with the first. I was very apprehensive. I did not believe that this adoption would go through for sure until they were on the ground in the United States. But sure enough Randy emailed me from Russia, and a couple days later the boys and I met Randy and McKenna in the airport.”
“The next Sunday we went to church. At this particular church it was standard practice for people to have spontaneous announcements at the end of worship. So I went up there at the end and announced that she was here. After the first adoption had failed, we decided not to tell anyone about this attempt because failure is so painful. But when we were able to introduce McKenna to
our church, everybody was so excited and surprised.”
McKenna was the final addition to the now completed family. She was embraced not only by her new parents and brothers, but also by her new church family.
“Some of the older, more conservative members absolutely adore our family, especially McKenna,”
David said. “We like to think that we’re the kind of family that has nothing to prove. I’ll admit that we’ve never marched in a parade. We’re certainly not active in any gay community; frankly, we’re too busy. We’re busy helping with homework, driving to soccer games, and working. We hope that we set just a regular example for people. Randy and I consider sexual orientation to be a non-issue: we are who we are; we are a family.”
Randy added, “We never introduce ourselves as a gay family. We introduce ourselves as ‘This is Randy, this is David, and these are our three kids. Now what can we do?’”
In spite of the fact that Randy, David, and their three kids have been a family for over ten years, they still face many social and legal challenges.
David said, “Randy and I are not out to define marriage, which is a traditional term. I’m not as concerned with people calling us married as for me to be able to claim Randy as my partner. But what really concerns me are the legal protections. If something happens to Randy or the kids, I have no say in their medical care. Legally I can’t visit them in the Intensive Care Unit. It’s pretty hard that, being the kids’ father, I can tell them when to take a shower or do their homework or go to bed or ground them, but I can’t put them on my insurance at work.”
“This system needs reform,” Randy said. “It can be reformed by doing exactly what we’re doing: by being involved in our church, involved in our schools, and being like everybody else.”
David added, “Don’t get me wrong — we’re not going to condemn anybody who marches in a parade. In fact, we need people like that, absolutely. We need the people who are vocal politically. We need the people who are more visible to the general population, absolutely. There does need to be that visible, active presence — something to draw attention to the issues. But this is our role.
Our role might not be to be out there carrying a banner necessarily, but I know the way we live speaks volumes to our friends and family and neighbors who find us to be ‘ just like them.’”
“We did go to a couple of gay-friendly churches once, but there worship became political. The reason why we didn’t join those churches is because the whole sermons had to do with homosexuality. Their motto seemed to be, ‘We’re so inclusive that let’s put up neon lights.’
Even in spite of the fact that the ELCA at large wouldn’t allow us the same rights that the other
members have, our church accepted us as part of the family.
“That’s why we came back to the Lutheran Church, having initially left because they voted to not ordain homosexuals. Even in spite of the fact that the ELCA at large wouldn’t allow us the same rights that the other members have, our church accepted us as part of the family.”
And so David, Randy, Mitchell, Matthew, and McKenna continue to live as a stable family and members of the Lutheran Church. Their lives are governed by their faith, commitment to each other, and love for one another. Hopeful that their example will inspire others to reevaluate preconceived notions about various sexual orientations, David says, “We are just members of the congregation. We’re just Randy and David.”