Rev. Debra Peevey became the first open LGBT person to be ordained in her denomination when she was ordained by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in 1981. She served as pastor of Findlay Street Christian Church and later as a hospice chaplain. While serving as chaplain, she attended Seattle University’s program in Transforming Spirituality and became a spiritual director. She continues her private practice as a spiritual director today. Debra was one of two statewide faith field organizers in California against Prop. 8 and also has served as the outreach director for More Light Presbyterians in their work to end ordination barriers for LGBT faithful. Most recently, she served as the faith director of Washington United for Marriage, helping to pass marriage equality for loving, committed same-sex couples in Washington State. Debra lives in Arizona with her partner of 29 years, Candy Cox.
How has your journey strengthened/challenged your faith?
My faith has been both challenged and strengthened by my journey. I met unspeakable discrimination in the early years. Being out as a pastor meant I was the target for the Conservative Renewal movement in the denomination. Candy and I considered ourselves the poster children for Disciple Renewal—because we were their best fundraising tools! That being said, I also had moments of amazing transcendence when people who had also been marginalized were brought into the experience of inclusion. Many allies over the years told me that belonging to an Open and Affirming congregation had expanded their experience of feeling included so much that should they have to change congregations, they would never belong to a congregation that was not Open and Affirming. What began as a process of welcoming LGBT Christians became a process of extending inclusion for all the members of the congregation. Christ, the One who came to absolutely clarify that we are equals before God, was my companion and guide.
Is there a prayer or meditation that helps you make it through trying times?
Yes, there are many. A perennial favorite is Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” It is a breath prayer that guides my head and quiets my heart. I recite it slowly, and with each recitation I drop a phrase, so it becomes a prayer within a prayer:
Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am
Be still and know
As I come to stillness, all else drops away, and I rest in the presence of Being.
As I settle and my mind grows quiet and my heart still, I experience the presence of God and realize peace, joy and other fruits of the Spirit.
What is one of the defining moments of your life as a Christian?
In the late 1970’s when I went to seminary and entered the care process for ordination, I was counseled to lie about my sexual orientation. I understood the concern people had for me, but I couldn’t reconcile lying as part of my ordination process. I came out at my first in-care meeting, and fortunately in the Christian Church in Northern California, it wasn’t a deal breaker because each committee member genuinely sensed my call. At the following year’s national meeting, when the Assembly voted that ordination of “self avowed practicing homosexuals was outside the will of God,” I was able to return to the committee and ask them what they wanted to do next. They offered a resolution that was passed by the Regional Assembly that stated, “no one human condition can be an absolute barrier to ordination.” Telling the truth definitely didn’t make my path easier, but it was absolutely defining for my ongoing work in the church.
Do you have a story of a person who embodies Christ’s teachings?
I recently watched a documentary on the life of Harry Belafonte. I think his life embodies Christ’s teachings. The power, wealth and influence he gained by being a sensational singer were all put to work to end racism in the U.S. and South Africa as well as to bring liberation to the racially oppressed at home and abroad. He is a political activist who believes in the power of people to change their lives non-violently. At the end of the documentary, I thought to myself, “that man is a saint.” He has his critics, as all agents of change do, but in my eyes he lives to improve the lives of others as well as to challenge the powers and principalities that necessitate such improvements.
In your mind, what are the Biblical foundations for LGBT inclusion in the Church?
We are created in the image and likeness of God, which God pronounced good! We are to remember our own life-threatening status as strangers and thus to provide hospitality to those who are the strangers in our midst. We are to remember that we are the Body of Christ, and one part cannot say to another, “I have no need of you.”
What would you say to those Christians who have a different view on inclusion?
The church has stood on the wrong side of Biblical interpretation throughout history including (but not limited to) the earth being round; the earth not being the center of the universe; the Bible being translated into the vernacular and out of the hands of priests; slavery; the role of women; the protection of predator priests over the innocent lives of children; and the existence and place of LGBT people within the heart of God. The same arguments have been used to secure power in the hands of the few over the rights and well-being of the many. Love one another is the first and final commandment. Learning actually to love a person who is LGBT will go a very long way toward your understanding of why the love shared by LGBT people is not the sin you believe it is. Paul was speaking against cultic Temple prostitution, not the love shared by same-gender couples. And finally, homophobia is a scourge that affects us all. It is imperative for Christians to own how much unconscious homophobia drives the conversation about LGBT inclusion.
What can we do to foster dialogue and build bridges with people with different views on inclusion?
We can remember that Christ enjoined humanity to guard against being self-righteous more than anything else. If we let humility be our guide and justice our path, we will begin to find more ways to one another.