MPR News with Kerri Miller: Women of Faith

Local pastor embraces life of a queer Christian

Rev. Emmy Kegler sits for a portrait.
Rev. Emmy Kegler sits for a portrait at MPR on Wednesday, May 29, 2019.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Christians in the LGBTQ community have a fraught relationship with the church. But according to a study by the Marin Foundation, 76 percent who have walked away from their faith say they are open to returning — if things change.

The Rev. Emmy Kegler wants to be a beacon for that group. She spoke with Kerri Miller this morning, as part of Miller's continuing Women of Faith series. Kegler's new memoir, "One Coin Found", is a personal, thoughtful, and grace-filled look at what it means to wrestle with one's faith when that same faith is often an instrument to wound and exclude.

Kegler said she grew up in the Episcopal Church and found comfort and community there. But as she grew older and set out to find a church of her own, she was surprised to find that the teachings at other denominations were often damning and damaging to the identity she was coming to accept for herself. She remembered one incident in particular: She was 17, and a visiting pastor decried what he saw as the three besetting sins of the day: alcoholism, abortion, and homosexuality.

"To hear them say so concretely, from the pulpit, that my core identity, my sexuality, completely separated me from the love of God, was devastating," she said.

Something in this [faith] has claimed me, and I can't get out of it. So how do I live into it?

The next few days, she felt lonelier than ever before. It's a crisis many people of faith face at some point: how to reconcile the dissonance? Do you stay, or do you go?

For Kegler, the answer was simple. Leaving the church wasn't an option. Instead, she chose to wrestle a path to God.

"The work I did in the days and years to follow was less theological or philosophical or mental or even academic gymnastics, and more about — something in this has claimed me, and I can't get out of it," she said. "So how do I live into it?"

Today, she tries to help others on the same path. She serves as pastor to Grace Lutheran Church in northeast Minneapolis and co-leads Queer Grace Community, a group of LGBTQ Christians in the Twin Cities who meet for worship, study, and friendship.

Compassion is the key, she said — for both sides of the LBGTQ debate raging right now within the church.

"Compassion in Greek is 'a twisting of the gut,'" she said. "It's a divine and a human stab in the stomach about how much empathy and care you feel for the other being. It should make you uncomfortable."

It might even force you to rethink how you read your holy text. That's what happened during her time of wrestling. And much to her surprise, when she embraced the humanness of the Bible, she fell in love with it again.

"It gets to be this beautiful, messy, faithful confession of what people have experienced and named as the divine," said Kegler. "That's much easier for me to feel excited and hopeful about than to turn it into a weapon with which I can beat people over the head."

Women of Faith series with Kerri Miller

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