Pastor Kris Widmer is a fourth generation Adventist and has been a pastor for the past 32 years. His wife, Debbie, was also born and raised in Adventism. Pastor Widmer has been ministering at his current church in Antioch, California, for seven years.
But a letter from their child turned everything that the Widmers thought they knew upside down.
“Timothy sat down with us on a Friday night and read us a 10-page letter,” Pastor Widmer said in a video. “And that was the way Timothy came out to us as being transgender.”
The video is one in a series called "Outspoken" from producer Daneen Aker and director Stephen Eyer that focuses on LGBTQ Seventh-day Adventists. The series is meant to shine a light on people of faith in the margins and to spark dialogue about theological opinions on LGBTQ people.
In their video, the Widmers struggle to come to terms with their daughter Teagan’s identity. They describe a process that they say was similar to grief, as well as a distinct feeling of solitude within their community.
“We were in this, as you describe it sometimes, the second closet,” Pastor Widmer said. As Teagan came out of a closet to us, out of her closet of not having told anybody or, not told us particularly, we went into a closet. Who could we tell? Who could we talk to?”
A statement on “transgenderism” is posted to the official Seventh-day Adventist Church’s website, which describes being transgender as a “phenomenon” and goes on to say that the Church “strongly cautions transgender people against sex reassignment surgery and against marriage, if they have undergone such a procedure.”
Pastor Widmer speaks frankly about his struggles in the video, and discusses the challenge of supporting his daughter while adhering to the teachings of his church.
“Most of the time, I have my dad hat on, and when I keep my dad hat on, I can respond in loving ways and receive affirmation for that,” Pastor Widmer said. “But when I put my pastor hat on, I perceive that my church, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, does not allow me to respond in loving ways to other people's transgender kids.”
The Widmers are not alone in their struggles to reconcile their faith with LGBTQ identities. A Seventh-day Adventist pastor in Arizona recently stepped down from her position after coming out as bisexual.
But at the intersection where faith and the LGBTQ community meet, there is hope for a more inclusive, affirming future.
“We would like the church to continue to grow and change and to become the community of Christ, where love is more important than law and people are more important than policy,” Debbie Widmer said.