Recently, two support facilitators with the Straight Spouse Network met with a group of Evangelical clergy and lay ministers. The purpose of the meeting was to let them know of the existence of the Straight Spouse Network, and how we can be a resource for them in their counseling of mixed orientation couples.
This clergy group very much favored transformational ministries. However, they recognized that the spouse and family were often not given much attention. They were interested in finding out about the needs of straight spouses, and the stages of grief and recovery that we go through. They were given copies of our brochures, and also a copy of Amity Buxton’s article Paths and Pitfalls; How Heterosexual Spouses Cope When Their Husbands or Wives Come Out .
We were invited to speak to this group because they serve large military communities on several installations. While not chaplains, they serve the military families, and realized that with the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, they are likely to be encountering more spouses in crisis, as well as those who have lived in the closet for a while and are now safe to come out. SSN is not affiliated with any religion, and is purely secular. In that respect, we are able to offer help to those who are reluctant to speak with a member of the clergy about their marriage.
Almost all of the individuals present had encountered a straight spouse in their lifetime. Some told stories of accountability sessions with fellow clergy who were attempting to overcome same sex attractions, and having no knowledge of how to approach the clergy spouse, or any process in place for outreach to spouse and children. Others told stories of individuals in their congregations receiving a lot of compassion and support when a spouse came out and deserted the family, but acknowledged that the ongoing ministry over years was difficult, and many issues of anger, children acting out, depression, and shock took many years to resolve. And of course, nothing in their training ever mentioned mixed orientation marriages.
We were invited to make future presentations to other clergy in the area. The convener of the meeting, a superintendent in the Methodist Church, was particularly complimentary of our brochure. He commented that he has had difficulty in the past referring heterosexual family members who experience crisis when a gay person comes out to other straight ally support organizations. He found that the focus is seldom on crisis support, but on civil rights, advocacy, or immediately solving the problem in the short term. “When I look at this picture”, he said, holding up our brochure with a group picture from a recent Florida gathering, “I see a family. A family that supports one another no matter how long it takes”. He indicated that he would have no problem recommending SSN as a resource to those he counsels and to other ministers.
While SSN does not support reparative therapies or transformational ministries, we do offer support to spouses who are involved in those processes. We recognize that there is no single resolution to the crisis of discovering that your spouse or significant other is gay or questioning. We support straight spouses and partners whether they stay married or divorce, and recognize that a major piece of our unique peer to peer support is to affirm where you are today – not where we think you need to be.
Clergy play a vital part in the spiritual and emotional healing of some straight spouses. We are looking forward to having more opportunities to help them help us