After 35 years, a Kenosha church is welcoming back a pastor who was told to leave because he is gay. It's part of an effort to reconcile the church's past and move forward.
Even though it's been more than three decades since Rev. Kevin A. Johnson left the United Methodist Church in Kenosha, he says he is still the same man. Only now he feels like his church is finally accepting him.
"I feel very excited about it," he said. "I also know that I am at times moved to tears by it."
Johnson now lives in California, after co-founding Bloom in the Desert Ministries with his husband. On February 4, he will return for a weekend to the church that told him to leave all those years ago.
"It was devastating to me and to my career aspirations," said Johnson. "I basically had to pick up and start life over again."
He says a member of the congregation violated his confidence and alerted the church to the fact that he was gay. After several meetings, he says he was basically told to leave.
Official church law still prohibits gay clergy in the United Methodist Church, but the Kenosha church is one of a growing number joining a movement against that law.
"Unjust laws should not be followed," said Rev. Justin Elliott Lowe, an associate pastor at the United Methodist Church in Kenosha. "You have to stand up against those just because it's a law, if it's unjust, it's not right."
Lowe says almost the entire congregation voted in favor of joining this movement, and as a show of support, they decided to invite Johnson back to apologize.
"Our hope is that it will encourage people to be voices of justice, and love, and peace, and to live that out in real ways," said Lowe.
During his weekend in Kenosha, Johnson will participate in several discussions, reunite with the congregation and will preach during the Sunday service at 10:30 a.m.
"I'm expecting there to be tearful reunions as well as lots of hugs and embraces," said Lowe. "It means a great deal to me. In essence I don't think I ever really left that church and I don't think they see me as having gone away."
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