Ex-Southern Baptist Pastor Ted Hayes–80 Years Old and Still Speaking His Mind

I received this from Dr. Ted Hayes, a retired Southern Baptist pastor living in Kingston, New York, a few days ago ( 2012/08/06).  Thanks for sharing this, Pastor Hayes.

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Dear Ron:

Thank you again for your sincere and insightful response to Sheree, but once again I have a response of my own, since I believe that much of the misunderstanding and “anti-gay” attitude could be ameliorated with a better understanding of Scripture that can be attained by utilizing the biblical scholarship of the last 150 years to try and get us to a better understanding of the Bible for us in the 21st century.

When I was a child back in the 1930s and 1940s, (knowing by the time I was 8 that I was “one of them”) I was threatened and overwhelmed, not so much by the the laws and initiatives, but by the vitriol I heard, as a “different” child, in my “loving, Christ-like religious environment.”   I heard all the death threats claimed to be in the Bible for people like me and the claims that my homosexuality was a learned “behavior.”  From whom would I have learned it if I did not meet anyone I knew to be like me until the late 1970s?

But as I have aged, I have just really wearied of having to explain to other Christians about myself and my orientation.  I am simply the person that I believe God created me to be.  If I am a “sinner” as a result, neither the Sherees nor other Christians will have to stand in judgment (if there is one) for my life.  It is just I who will be responsible.

The following is something I wrote on my Facebook wall early in 2011 in response to persistent questions about my “chosen lifestyle.”

As many of you know, I am an 80 year-old gay male living alone after the death of my beloved nearly two years ago.  In my twilight years, and especially in the 21st century, I really don’t find it necessary to defend who I am and what I have become.  I am just one happy guy still involved in the experiences of life and basking in the memories of the preceding 80 years.

Yet, even at this age and in this century, I still receive inquiries like the following and I want to put an answer out here so that any who wish may see my response.  Some of you may know also that I was a Southern Baptist minister for a number of years during the last century.  It is from my life in that capacity that I receive the most inquiries and to a degree I believe they are legitimate, especially when one comes along under the subject heading: “Educate me.”  I believe that is the primary way that those of the heterosexual “lifestyle” will gain greater understanding of who I am and why.  I want to give their sincere searches the attention they merit.

My response may at times sound flippant or condescending, but it is not intended to be that at all.  (If you, as a reader, are offended, please accept my apology up front.)  It may demonstrate my weariness at being asked the same question year after year when there is such an abundance of written material available to those who sincerely want answers.  But I will address the question from my perspective – the only one to which I can truly speak.

Late last night (2/20/2011) I received the following via Facebook.  It is from someone in my “ministerial” past.  I present it to you verbatim:

Hi, Ted. I’ve been wondering about something and finally am getting down to just asking you about it.  I only want to get a better understanding; I’m not being judgmental.  How do you reconcile your practice of homosexuality with what the scriptures say about it? My interpretation of the scriptures is that it is a sin.  I know we are all sinners, but the sins that I realize I commit, I ask for forgiveness and don’t make a conscious effort to continue.  Just wondering.

Six sentences about which books, theses and dissertations have been written, have been directed at me on Facebook where the normal response is limited to some 400-500 characters, not words.  That is why I have chosen the format of a “note” that I can post on my wall.  I hope it will provide the inquirer, and others who may read this, with a “better understanding.”

I always have to smile when I read, “your practice of homosexuality.”  It is almost like there is the belief – though I am confident that is not the case — that at some point in my life I chose to get a degree in homosexuality so that I could take the state exam, get my license and then open up my office to practice.  It seems similar to someone who might at some point choose to pursue a career in medicine or law and who chooses classes that will provide a solid background for the rigors of either a medical school or a law school curriculum.

Such is not the case with my homosexuality.  I did not wake up one morning and decide that I would be homosexual and set about learning what I needed to know so that I could “practice” my sexuality.  When my family asked me what I was planning on doing with my life, I did not say, “Oh, I think I will be a homosexual even though it will take years of study.”  Being homosexual is what I am, not something I became or something I practice.  Too, I don’t need to “practice” my homosexuality any longer since I am really quite proficient and professional in my ability to be gay.

I cannot remember when I was not homosexual.  I may not have known the vocabulary that is available now but I did know that I was different before I entered grammar school.  I discovered what that difference was a year or two later.  There were no role models in Tennessee back in the 1930s so I lived a life of abject loneliness and sexual abstinence until I screwed up (Freudian choice of words?) the courage to come out when I was a few weeks shy of my 47th birthday and after I had left the ministry.

At that point I became a more serious student of scripture than I had ever been before.  I did not read the Bible and simply say, “That’s what that means.”  I began the kind of study that necessitated a lot of hard work since it required looking at it in the context of the time and customs when it was written, not just my reading it and interpreting it as I saw fit.  I read books by scholars who were on both sides of right/wrong controversy where my sexuality was concerned.  After years, I became convinced that what those scholars said — who were much more intelligent and versed in scripture than I – was true.

“If you want to find a book that condemns homosexuality as an orientation, you must look somewhere else other than in the Bible.”

If we look at scripture in that manner we will find that many of the instances where a verse or two look as if they were condemning homosexual orientation, they were really polemics against idolatry, sexual abuse, inhospitality and other such subjects.  We need to look at all of scripture in its historical context to better understand what the writing was saying then and determine what it means in the context of 21st century life.

When an inquirer states, “I am not being judgmental,” I begin looking for the judgment that undoubtedly will come, if not immediately, then certainly, soon.  That happened in this inquiry as well.  Notice the reference to “sin.”  The statements, “How do you reconcile your practice of homosexuality with what the scriptures say about it? My interpretation of the scriptures is that it is a sin. I know we are all sinners, but the sins that I realize I commit, I ask for forgiveness and don’t make a conscious effort to continue,” say, in essence, “I make changes and you haven’t” or “my repentance has been more effective than yours.”  Reminds me of the little ditty we used to chant after Sunday school as children back in the dark ages: “We don’t smoke and we don’t chew and we don’t go with girls who do.  Our class won the Bible.”

If we are speaking in theological terms, then, yes, I am a sinner.  But my sin is not my homosexuality.  The inquirer seems to define homosexuality as a behavior that is interpreted as sin.  I did not engage in “homosexual behavior” until I was 47 years old.  Does that mean that, even though I was homosexual all those years before, I did not become the sinner until I engaged in the behavior defined as sin?  Does it mean that since I am now alone again and “not practicing my homosexuality” I am no longer a sinner?  I think you can begin to see how ludicrous this becomes.

It also necessitates calling up that old standby that many anti-gay individuals and groups use: “Love the sinner; hate the sin.”  This is an effort to relieve the guilt felt for hatred.  If I (the sinner) am defined as the behavior that is defined as “sin,” then those who use the little statement above have not gained absolution of their guilt, they have rather compounded it.  If I am the sin and the sinner, then the statement really reads: “Hate the sinner; hate the sin” and there needs to be some other escape from the unchristian act of hatred.

Dr. Ted Hayes

I would encourage those who read scripture, and use it to pass judgment, to begin reading the scripture as a means of confronting their biases and not as a tool for confirming them. Many of those who condemn on the basis of scripture apparently have not confronted their own sins during their “studies.”  Some of the most outspoken critics, of those of us who are gay, base it on scripture while they themselves, for example, have been through numerous marriages and are, therefore, guilty of adultery according to scripture.  And we know what the Bible says the penalty for adultery is, don’t we?

Stones, anyone?


Dr. Ted Hayes,  Kingston, NY

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Click here for more LGBT Testimonies.

About Ron Goetz

My first wife used to say, "There's nothing so sacred that Ron won't pick it apart." My desire to be a pastor -- that was a temperamental mismatch. She was so patient. If my birth mother had lived somewhere else, maybe I would've become a cold case detective. But I would have had to be J instead of a P, I think. And that mid-life reevaluation, starting adolescence as a GARB fundamentalist and transitioning to a non-theist, that gave me an unusual skill set.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christianity, Gay Christians, Homosexuality, Homosexuality and the Bible, Life and Testimony, Pastoral Ministry, Southern Baptist, Testimony. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Ex-Southern Baptist Pastor Ted Hayes–80 Years Old and Still Speaking His Mind

  1. Duncan Beach says:

    This poor guy. Losing his partner, then having to defend himself against this…well, ‘crap’ is about the politest term I can think of for it, in any language (I can actually say that word in six different tongues). At any rate, Pastor Ron, please convey my sincere though belated condolences and sympathies..


  2. Tom says:

    Ignorance, fear, bigotry, and intolerance are more to the point Duncan, but… “crap” works fine.


    • thayes9217 says:

      Tom, thanks to you, Duncan and the others here for you support. I deeply appreciate it. I’d like to throw out an idea out to you for your consideration. Do with it what you will.

      I am trying to rid my vocabulary of the words “tolerance” and “intolerance” when used in reference to people. When I began thinking about “tolerance,” it seemed to me that implicit in the word is the idea that the one(s) doing the tolerating are somehow better than the one(s) being tolerated. I have serious difficulty accepting that. Just my two cents worth.



  3. Sarah says:

    Another awesome, well thought response to a biased question… love how the person originally asking the question ends “not being judgmental” with a period, then goes into his judgement – he just left out the “but” part and put in a period… but the same judgmental point was addressed… Shared this one on FB as well. Great post!


  4. thayes9217 says:

    Wow, Ron! Thanks for sharing my thoughts with your thoughtful readers. I am both humbled and honored by your having done so.

    But, please forgive me if I have led you astray. I was never the pastor of a church but rather served as minister of education (or youth, or youth education). I was ordained after completion of my seminary training while serving my first full-time church, the First Baptist Church of Hapeville, in suburban Atlanta. I left the church ministry at the beginning of 1976 after serving in Florida, Tennessee and Mississippi.

    Yet I like to think that my ministry continues through other means, especially writing. I never allow a denigrating remark seen printed in local newspapers to go unchallenged. Since 1995, I have written some 175 letters to the editor of my local paper alone. A large percentage was printed.

    Thank you again, though, for printing the above.



    • Ron Goetz says:

      Thanks go to you, Ted. Your experiences and reflections are a valuable resource for people, including me. Your persistence in speaking out is an example for all of us. I assume that in spite of periods of discouragement, you have refused to call it quits, something all of us need modeled for us.

      You go, Ted!

      For me the word “pastor” is similar to the word “rabbi.” Jesus was a rabbi, but not in the sense of other rabbis. He was a teacher. Teacher, pastor — are kinds of “functions.” I’m sure that in your clerical career, as well as in retirement, you have always “pastored.”

      Thanks again for sharing.


      • It is interesting that the words tolerance and non-judgmental are on the continuum of intolerance and judgement spectrum. We are limited in our vocabulary but we must start somewhere to heal and express ourselves. Perhaps when two opposing forces are joined together with understanding and acceptance a stable beam of balance is created.

        As I enter my “senior” years, I am beginning to finally understand why Jesus said that God is love and that love is the most important lens to use as we look to heal any wound. From the medical standpoint… love and light in the right manner is at the core of what we all need to truly heal.

        The Bible is full of words that have been translated and passed along for many, many years and in many languages. As with the game of rumors some of the words may give a false impression. I believe that God’s intent was a world that worked for everyone founded on the principles of love and sharing the resources of this gardenship, called Earth, in a just way. We need love and forgiveness for real personal growth…we have the ability to heal if we believe.

        What a nice gift to find people who can stimulate critical thinking and help bloom heaven on earth as we grow into a world that works for everyone! I invite you to be a part of the Wellness Weavers system where ever you are.

        Fresh manure will burn a crop, but the crap of the past can make good compost when it has mellowed enough to be calm post material…a little fun pun from Sister Sue 🙂

        Thank you Pastor Ron and Pastor Ted for your stimulating and healing calm posts! That includes just a few aspects of wholistic health and healing…what else do we need to do to be in good stewardship of people and the environment?


      • Ron Goetz says:

        Helen, it’s funny how some people are like shit, and mellow with age. Sounds like me. Wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with age, but it certainly can.

        You sound pretty mellow, Helen. Blessings on your and your work.


  5. John A. Nelson says:

    Ron, most grateful for your posting this. Dr. Hayes, your testimony is a blessing — a powerful story, a gracious spirit, a helpful corrective to ideological posturing of any sort. And I do appreciate your gentle facetiousness in reflecting on the absurd concept of the “practice of homosexuality.”

    As a tangential reflection, I understand Mt 5:28 as Jesus’ insistence that each person become entirely the beloved child that God created him or her to be — and decidedly not a declaration that we’ll all be measured against a one-perfection-fits-all standard. So in Dr. Hayes’ writing I hear a disciple who is much further along the way to perfection than I (a non-gay, married minister), giving encouragement to all of us in the struggle for God’s justice and grace.

    May God give you joy, brother.


    • Ron Goetz says:

      Joy to you also, John.

      Thanks for sharing your understanding of the Matthew passage. There are so many affirmations of diversity and acceptance in the Scripture, yet we still miss them.

      And on another tangent. There’s a reason Paul called for the appointment of “elders.” I’m not suggesting that years automatically equal wisdom, but there are some things that can only be learned with the passage of time.

      Thanks for commenting, Pastor John.


  6. Jake Gordon says:

    i just don’t understand why you’re still a christian. the bible is full of gaping holes of logic. it seems clear at face value that the bible condemns homosexuality, and yet your argument is that if you read it with ‘historical context’ in mind, it shows that its actually other things that the bible is condemning. it always seems like this with modern christians, as the bible gradually becomes more and more absurd and outdated, people twist it to reflect what they want it to say, ‘interpreting’ it to suit themselves and give them the green light on their issue, in this case homosexuality. i mean, i’m fairly sure the bible says its a sin for a man to lie with another man, (‘You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.” (NASB)
    “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” (ESV, NKJV) ) and its pretty shaky to say it doesn’t mean this because of historical context. this is fairly open and shut. so 1. even if you’re right and its ambiguous because of the historical context, surely the bible is deeply flawed to be so ambiguous in the first place. and 2. if you’re saying that practicing homosexuality is the sin, not being a homosexual, then that’s a blatant attempt to get the bible to suit yourself, I mean just because the bible doesn’t explicitly state that being a homosexual is a sin, its very very clearly implied by saying homosexual acts are a sin. i just find it bizarre that people spend hours researching and trying to interpret the bible to be able to find loopholes like this. don’t you ever think that if this truly was a good religion and a good book you wouldn’t have to in the first place? i have nothing against homosexuals, what i do find odd is people who work so hard to make excuses for and support a religion which has clearly cast them out.


    • Ron Goetz says:

      There are of reasons for people staying in groups with which they disagree. or not you agree with them, or understand them, is not relevant to everyone.

      I have stayed in groups and churches long after I should have left. Oh well. Live and learn


    • hfont2000 says:

      Open letter to all Judgy McJudgerson Christians,
      I’m a 43yo heterosexual Catholic woman. I used birth control. I had premarital sex. I’ve lied. Heck, I’ve committed every single one of the seven deadly sins and I’ll bet every single one of you has too. I have (and so have you) eaten more than I required (gluttony), spent days lazily on the couch (sloth), wanted something a friend possessed(envy), bought things I didn’t need just because (greed), desired partners sexually (lust), fawned over myself in the mirror and accepted attention for my attractiveness (pride), and gotten horrifically angry (wrath).
      The only “lifestyle” homosexuals live, is a HUMAN lifestyle. Until those stones don’t break your glass house, keep your opinions (yes, they’re opinions) to yourself, and your inquiries private.
      The only right way to ask a homosexual (or any human being) about any curiosities you have is to phrase it exactly as Ted explained above… “Please, would you EDUCATE me on such and such. I’m woefully ignorant as to xyz.”
      And guess what? If a person decides not to answer your personal and invasive questions, unlike their sexuality, that’s their choice.
      Your travels have been rocky, Ted. The fact that you have survived such bigotry and loathing and maintain a positive outlook is a testimonial to your inherent goodness and love for both yourself, and others, despite their (and all of our) flaws.


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