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Jay Reinke was the pastor of Concordia Lutheran Church, a Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) congregation in Williston, N.D., for 20 years, until he resigned after acting on what he calls his same-sex impulses. In accordance with the LCMS approach to sin, Reinke publicly confessed to his congregation, and the members of the congregation publicly absolved him. He remains married to his wife, Andrea Reinke, and is now a lay member of the denomination. He can no longer preach, and he attends a different LCMS church 35 miles away for, he said, the sake of the ongoing ministry of the church he led for so long.
Reinke and his church were the subject of the award-winning documentary The Overnighters, which WORLD covered when it premiered last year. The film follows the oil boom in the town of Williston and resulting wave of men seeking work and scarce housing. Reinke’s church saw the influx of characters with “broken” backgrounds as a ministry and opened its doors to the men, teaching them about the gospel and providing temporary shelter until they found jobs.
The Overnighters screened at dozens of festivals around the world and won an award at Sundance. PBS broadcast it nationally, and Paste magazine named it among its “100 best documentaries of all time.” Churches and Christian professors teaching film classes screened the film. But the LCMS, Reinke’s denomination, was silent about the documentary, and declined to comment for this article. Two professors from Concordia University, an LCMS college, interviewed Reinke and wrote a web post stating, “The Gospel is Sufficient Even for Pastors.” They added later in the post, “It is sufficient for former pastors.”
At the opening of the documentary, Reinke spoke of when a person’s public persona differs from his private life. “The result is always pain,” he said. In a wrenching scene at the end of the film, Reinke confessed his own “brokenness” to his wife, a moment he said he didn’t intend to happen on camera. The camera was at a discreet distance, but viewers saw his wife cover her face in her hands and weep. Now two years removed from the resignation, Andrea Reinke was able to talk about the experience of remaining in the town and in church.
“The intensity of the shame I carried made it hard to go out in public,” said Andrea in an email. “Even though my husband sinned, I felt like Hester Prynne with a large ‘A’ plastered across my chest. It may not make sense rationally, but I felt shame and guilt along with him. I guess that is what happens when you are connected in a marriage relationship for as long as we have been. What I discovered, though, is most people didn’t regard me any differently. Most people wanted to show me kindness.”
After his resignation, Jay started working an hourly wage job at a tractor supply company and, when he could, traveling to film festivals for The Overnighters. In New York, he answered audience questions with his son by his side. At festivals, people kept telling Reinke they hoped he would make peace with his “gay identity.”
“The best me is with my wife,” he would tell them. He said later, “What I have to tell myself over and over again: To act on my impulses is a denial of my real self that God created. To not act on them is an affirmation of myself.”
His daughter recently married. She asked him to do the father-daughter dance. They danced to “The Last Goodbye” from The Lord of the Rings soundtrack.
“That meant so much to me, after all the shame I put her through,” he said.
Now, Jay works in sales at a pipeline construction supply company, which offers overtime pay the tractor supply company didn’t. He sells and prices equipment used in the fracking business: welding rods, cutting wheels, brushes, hooks, sandblasting tools, epoxy. Usually for lunch he eats a can of corn or heats up soup. He’d like to do substitute teaching.
“I’m the low guy on the totem pole,” he said. “Not being able to preach or teach in public has been very hard.”
Jay can’t help falling back into his theological teaching habits. He expounded the importance of the “male-female paradigm” in the Bible, starting with Adam and Eve, going through Jesus’ death on the cross, and ending with Christ and His church, the bride, in a wedding feast. He explained that the same-sex issue is a “Christological issue.”
Jesus, he said, is the last Adam. At the crucifixion, a soldier pierced Jesus’ side after He “went to sleep” (died), just as God put Adam to sleep and took a rib to create Eve. Blood and water flowed from Christ’s pierced side—what theologians have seen as a symbol of the birth of the church.
“The cross is a male giving life to female,” Jay said. Churches that, in the name of mercy, turn from the male-female paradigm and endorse homosexuality are “undoing creation and the cross.”
He thought after the publicity of the film that Christians might approach him to talk about the issue of same-sex attraction, but few have. He feels as if the church, broadly speaking, doesn’t want to hear about the same-sex impulse itself.
“It’s almost like the embarrassment closes the doors,” he said. Referring to himself he added, “And let’s face it, there’s lack of credibility.” Struggling with this sin in particular feels “isolating,” he said.
Andrea said Jay told her he struggled with same-sex attraction when they were dating. But she said Christians struggling with same-sex attraction need a number of accountability relationships, and she thinks the church needs to do a better job of listening to such people.
‘To act on my impulses is a denial of my real self that God created.’
“Just telling parishioners certain feelings and desires are wrong doesn’t make those feelings go away,” Andrea said. “People, Christian and non-Christian alike, are struggling and the world is doing a better job listening than the church is. Unfortunately, the world has little to offer but tolerance. The world doesn’t have Christ crucified on a cross for the forgiveness of sins. With Jesus as our hope the church has so much to offer.”
Here’s how Jay described the impulse: “For a man with same-sex attraction, being in the arms of another man feels … like where you belong.” He thinks the church should use the term “brokenness” instead of sin in talking about same-sex attraction, because the feelings are a “departure from the intended structure … a healthy impulse that’s been thwarted.”
Jay connected his struggle to the struggle to serve a community, as he and his church did in The Overnighters.
“I think we Christians say, ‘I’m going to serve where my heart is,’” he said. “No, you don’t get to pick who shows up on your doorstep. … One’s own gender, male or female, is our ‘neighbor’ who God has given us to receive. God has given me a male body. … I may not want it, but He gave it to me. I have to serve Him, serve my neighbor—my wife. We didn’t choose the paradigm. Creation is innately male-female. So we need to receive this paradigm as a gift.”