Since he was 5, Scott Jones knew he wanted to be a minister. For nearly as long, he’s known that he is gay.
For Jones, these parts of himself were never in conflict. There was no great internal struggle. He knew he could live as a Christian, a minister and a gay man. What he didn’t know is if the rest of the world would be so understanding.
Since 2010, Jones has been the senior minister at Omaha’s First Central Congregational Church. He says the church and Omaha have been welcoming to him and his husband (and their now-3-year-old son).
But things haven’t always run so smoothly. Jones grew up Baptist in Oklahoma, and when he came out in 2003, some of his family had a very difficult time dealing with it. He was a pastor in Dallas at the time, and gradually realized he would have to leave the Baptist denomination if he wanted to live as an openly gay minister. He moved to the United Church of Christ, first as a pastor in Oklahoma City, then in Omaha.
Since moving to town, he’s been an active member of the LGBT community. He served as a leader of the Equal Omaha Coalition that lobbied successfully in 2012 for the passage of Omaha’s Equal Employment Ordinance.
Jones recounts his story in a new book, “Open: A Memoir of Faith, Family and Sexuality in the Heartland.”
We spoke to Jones about his memoir, his time in Omaha and what advice he has for anyone struggling to reconcile being gay with being a Christian.
Note: The interview was edited for length.
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Q: At what point did you realize that your sexuality and your faith were not incompatible?
A: That was never really much of a problem for me. Part of doing an academic degree in religion, I learned to read the Bible from a critical perspective. That’s a big issue for a lot of people. But that really was not part of my particular struggle, trying to see if the Bible says it’s OK to be a gay person. I figured that out kind of early on.
For me, the big question was, could I still be a minister and be an openly gay man? Because I just didn’t have a model for that. And there definitely weren’t Baptist models for it. So it was this question of, is it worth risking one element of my identity for another? Can I authentically and honestly hold all of them at the same time? Fortunately, the answer ended up being yes.
Q: There are a lot of stories about people who left the Midwest or left the South to go to the coasts where people were generally more progressive and accepting. But you stayed here.
A: I think that’s one reason I wrote the book. Because I hadn’t really seen a lot of stories about people who stayed in the heartland. Who stayed in the church. Who didn’t stay connected with the family. Part of it was, this was home. My husband is also from Oklahoma so the center of the country is just where we’re from, it’s where our family is, it’s the place we know. And early on we perceived that these states were actually the front lines of LGBT rights. And there needed to be people leading the charge as activists in these states.
Q: In Omaha, have you faced any resistance — in your congregation or outside of it?
A: The congregation, no. There’s always been a kind of refreshing surprise at how easy that transition went, for this really old, traditional, predominantly heterosexual congregation. It just wasn’t a live issue here in 2010. In Omaha, we’ve never quite experienced the kind of rabid anti-gay politics that we did in Oklahoma.
Q: Do you think that, generally, the Christian community has become more socially progressive, particularly on LGBT issues?
A: I think that far more of the wider society is welcoming and comfortable with openly gay people and their relationships and their families. Just existing as a gay family in Omaha, it’s one of those things we don’t even think about much anymore. It is rare that we encounter anything other than it just being a normal environment.
Q: Though this wasn’t your experience, do you have any advice for a person who is struggling with being both gay and a Christian?
A: My advice is first to inform them that there are a wide array of Christians who believe a wide array of different things about the Bible. Particularly on issues of sexuality. I happen to believe from my study and a whole wealth of scholarship that the Bible is on the side of inclusion and welcoming of LGBT people. And that you can find a faith community that will embrace and welcome it.
Take the courage to take steps to live authentically and honestly and find the community that will be supporting and encouraging of you. Because we don’t need to waste time in our lives with people and communities that are going to make it more difficult for us.