US Bishop comes out years after voting no to gay clergy, 'I was a coward'

Bishop Kevin Kanouse is married to a woman, and says the two plan to remain wed.Twitter

In 2009, Evangelical Lutheran bishop Kevin Kanouse voted against his church's decision to affirm same-sex marriage. Six years later, he has come out as gay himself, and says he was too afraid until now to reveal his "true nature".

"I learned early on that I had to hide my true nature," Kanouse wrote in a letter to church leaders explaining his decision. "Especially because I wanted to be a pastor and serve in the church. After all, pastors could not be gay and serve Jesus."

Kanouse came out as gay during the ELCA National Youth Gathering on July 18. "Several of our youth told their powerful stories of God at work in their lives, I was Holy Spirit-moved to tell my own story publicly, for the first time," he explained.

Having grown up in a conservative Christian family, he says he buried his same-sex feelings and eventually married a woman he met in college, to whom he has now been wed for 40 years. He admitted that he was gay to her several years ago, but the two have decided to remain married.

"She accepted me and affirmed me, despite her fears and questions. We are both committed to our marriage, for which I am grateful. I recognize that this is our decision and it is right for us. However, I can now say I respect those of any persuasion who live out their sexuality in bonds of marital commitment," Kanouse explained.

He says he felt "torn" during conversations about human sexuality in the church. "I knew the scriptures that condemn homosexuality and I could quote them well. Yet, I began to recognize the grace of the Gospel and to understand that God loves me just as I am," he said.

"Being gay is not a sin. My sin was a lifetime of denying that the God who created me, also accepts me and loves me. It was faithlessness."

Yet he still voted against polices to affirm same-sex marriages in the Church, and also spoke out against the ordination of gay clergy. "I was afraid I would have to defend my decision to vote "yes" in congregations that would be strongly opposed to gay and lesbian persons. It was safer to hide behind a "no" vote. I was a coward... another sin for which I needed forgiveness."

The ELCA eventually voted in favour of both.

Now, Kanouse says he wants to encourage young people struggling with similar issues to be given the freedom to speak out about them.

"I was moved to share my journey with the youth because I know many are struggling with these and other issues of self-esteem, rejection, and self-loathing. I wanted to instill the hope of the Gospel among youth who are defining themselves. I urged that none of them would endure that pain for as long as I did," he explained.

"I understand that this announcement has significant implications for our churches and my relationship with you. I hope it will promote more open and honest conversation about who we are and whose we are, especially between parents and children. I stand ready to have conversations with you about my journey and yours. May we continue to be a church growing and maturing in our efforts to live out and invite others into the incredible love of God in Jesus Christ."