by Allen McAlister
On a July evening in 2006, Don Schlosser directed the cities GLBT chorus, Nashville in Harmony, on the stage of the historic Ryman Auditorium… the most coveted stage in Nashville.
It was by any measure an incredible accomplishment. From the house Don exudes confidence and a light-hearted spirit. Here is a man many would describe as “charismatic.” And why not? He has a lot to be proud of.
In less than two years he has grown this fledgling group of 15 members to one that has over 60. Again, an incredible accomplishment.
However, these are only two items on a rather lengthy list of accomplishments for this man. He is a gifted composer, arranger, and conference leader. Don has been publishing music for more than 15 years. When I interviewed Don, I found him to be very careful in his words…he was precise, articulate. And much more serious.
Don grew up in a Southern Baptist home. He would describe himself as a “Super Christian.” Always ready to memorize lengthy passages of Scripture. However, despite the volumes of Scripture he committed to memory, Don struggled with “the worst of all sins.”
The environment he grew up in said it was “the one thing that made God throw up.” A rather harsh reality for a young man who had been given many gifts from the same God. He knew he was gay from his earliest memories, and yet he felt it was a sin that needed to be confessed.
In the early 1980’s Don began attending Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. This self-described “Super Christian” had a calling on his life. He desired to serve the God he loved in some kind of vocational ministry.
Southern Seminary is a beautiful campus…long in tradition of training an abundance of Christian leaders. During Don’s tenure there, he described himself as “repressed.” He knew the feelings were there, but if he prayed enough, if he confessed enough, he could change. He never acted on it. While other seminary friends were out drinking and other vices, Don thought those activities were unthinkable. His time at seminary was sacred. He respected himself. He respected the God he was called to serve.
In the early 1990’s, Don began working at LifeWay Resources in the Church Music Department. He was married by then and had served on staff at a church in Kentucky for seven years as their Minister of Music and Youth.
Don had already published music at LifeWay, so it made perfect sense for him to now be asked to come on board full time. The gifts God had given him had an outlet. Don was producing music projects, selecting music for seniors and youth, writing, publishing, and leading conferences across the Southern Baptist Convention. Don would describe this period as “a perfect fit for me and my gifts.”
Despite this perfect fit, Don knew that he still had homosexual feelings. As part of the hiring process, Don had to sign a document stating he was a heterosexual.
“I never even considered that I wouldn’t be healed,” Don said.
It was simply a factor that would have to be dealt with in prayer and a closer relationship with God. He soon realized he needed more help. So, Don began attending a 12-step group. This would be the first time he ever met individuals from a faith perspective who had come to this bizarre conclusion that being a gay Christian was ok.
“That was so foreign to me,” he said.
So foreign that he couldn’t accept it.
Eventually, Don became active with the Promise Keepers. Promise Keepers is a group of men committed to a strong relationship with the Lord and to being the spiritual foundation of their home. Seemed like a good idea. He found an accountability group to continue his faith journey. This group created an environment that was comfortable enough for him to come out. “I felt like I needed to be transparent. I wasn’t saying “this is how I am” but rather “this is what I am struggling with.” The other members of his group said he should come out to his wife.
He did and soon afterward, Don and his wife were in Christian counseling. The counselors asked him, “What do you want to do?”…as if to say, “If you want to feel comfortable with it, I can help you do that. If you want to get over it, I can give you some tools to help you.” But this was not what Don wanted to hear. He wanted a conservative Christian counselor who would help heal him and get his life back on track.
The counseling he attended only backfired. The more counseling he received to be healed, the more comfortable he became with it. Even though Don never considered this at the time, perhaps he was being healed in a completely different manner. He was fortunate enough to have a group of gay Christian friends around him…the accountability group baled on him…they wanted no part of him after he came out to them.
A counselor eventually diagnosed him as an obsessive compulsive. Not that he actually was, but with this diagnosis, Don could get under the care of a Vanderbilt psychiatrist who could then prescribe Paxil…a drug known to create a low sex drive. This too backfired. It didn’t change who he is. Despite Don’s well-meaning intentions, despite his devoted time in prayer and counseling, and despite his honest desire to change, Don’s efforts could not change who God created him to be. The same homosexual feelings he had all of his life were still present. The psychiatrist told him he would never be "cured". He could give Don some tools to deal with it, but he would never be "healed."
A harsh reality. Anger. Frustration.
“I felt completely betrayed by God. I was the hyper-Christian. I memorized passage after passage of Scripture…if you pray in faith believing…ask whatever in My name and I will do it…I was the speaker on Youth Sunday, I received a concordance for Christmas,” Don said.
It was a new realization. It would not go away. Even though God had gifted him with abilities that were being used, even though the deepest desire in his heart was to pray this thing through, these feelings were not changeable…they would be with him forever. All his life Don felt God would love him if…this was a new day for him. Don’s feelings were not a surprise to God. God knew who he was all along.
“My wife’s counselor convinced her I was going to hell with the ‘choices’ I was making. So we were soon divorced,” he described.
Surprisingly, Don’s superiors at LifeWay were ok with his divorce. Others were getting divorced. Don also became more active politically…he attended the Gay Chamber of Commerce meetings as well as the AIDS walk.
With this new revelation of who he was, Don’s theology began to change. Being a strong Southern Baptist boy myself, I asked Don if he was adapting his interpretation of Scripture and theology to fit his lifestyle.
Don said “I don’t know how to answer that…but this I do know. I began to put my faith in the God of the Bible, and not the Bible itself. Some people place the Bible as the sole authority to the point of idolatry…a very specific and narrow interpretation. This began to be inconsistent with the truth as I was experiencing it. I had to step back from the Bible as the sole authority and look to the Living Word instead of the written Word.”
Meanwhile, Don is still working at LifeWay. The internal struggle had to be enormous. Here is a man, gifted of God, who had outlets for these gifts, and yet the environment in which he worked was filled with the daily stress of being outed and fired. Despite these pressures, Don garnered an abundance of awards…he was a Star Performer, his work was nominated for a Dove Award, and his work created novel projects which ultimately created a new paradigm in youth music ministry.
Soon, he met a gentleman who managed one of the LifeWay stores. They became friends. Their relationship was never sexual. Don’s friend came out to him and they were able to help each other through dialogue and support for one another. Eventually, Don’s friend was relocated to another store and his friend was outed and fired. Somehow, someone at LifeWay knew that the man who had been fired had a friend in the Music Department. LifeWay personnel were desperate to find this individual, so all the phone records were checked. They found out Don was the one who been calling him. Don was called into the Human Resources Department along with his supervisor. They asked if he was a homosexual. They wanted to know if he knew this other man and how he knew him.
Surprised, Don denied it all with the exception of having talked to him. They knew Don had talked to him 16 times from his office phone that month. This was put in his permanent file and that was it. Nothing more.
From then on, paranoia set in. Every time he got a phone call he was waiting for the bomb to go off.
And one day, it did…
"It was a Thursday. I was visiting my mother in a nursing home when I got a call on my cell phone asking me to return to work," Don said. "The boss wants to see you,” I was told. As I arrived, everyone from my floor was pouring out of the elevator. No emergency. They were told they had to clear the floor due to some problem with facilities management. I was told I couldn’t go upstairs. Because of the inconvenience, everyone was given a complimentary pastry and drink in the cafeteria.
Thinking this was a bit odd, I called upstairs to my office. The administrative assistant said to come on up. I’m thinking, ‘this is it.’ As I got to my office, I saw my supervisor and department director who immediately invited me into their office. As I sat down, they told me this had come from up line; they had nothing to do with it.
‘You are being dismissed effective immediately due to your lifestyle. You can resign or be terminated.’
I tried to question them, but they held fast to their script. Moving boxes and dollies were already parked outside my office. They helped me load my things and take them to the elevator and out to the parking lot. A perfectly planned exit."
Oddly, Don was in the midst of co-writing the big Easter project for that year. LifeWay dropped his name from the project…as a matter of fact, all music Don had previously written was pulled and published with another name on it or no name at all. He still gets royalty checks though. They just don’t want anyone else to know they are publishing his music. They are in the closet now.
In one sense, Don feels he has to blame himself.
“Who I was, was inconsistent with their mission. So this came as no real surprise…the only surprise is that it wasn’t sooner…I can’t fault them.”
I asked Don what he missed at LifeWay.
"I miss the professional opportunities," he said. "I miss the salary. But now, I am at a job where I can be out. I don’t have to worry…it doesn’t matter…no one cares. I also direct Nashville in Harmony…and this feels like ministry. I work with a variety of people with a variety of gifts and many levels of emotional need.”
To those who are reading this and struggling with the relationship between their sexuality and their faith, what do you say to them?
Don pauses for a long time. His face is covered with concern.
And very carefully he says, “Learn that you are ok. You aren’t damaged, broken or a mistake. God loves you as you are. He joins you in your struggle.”
Don was the first of several interviews I hope to conduct. Living in Nashville allows me to come across many individuals who have in one way or another worked in a ministry, church setting, the Christian music Industry or other venues, but once their sexuality was known, were forced to leave. God apparently trusts these individuals with gifts and abilities, why can’t others?