Allison Tucker and Tracy Tucker
Estrangement hits home in a clash between understanding and dogma.
Moderator: As part of the book titled Why the Church of the Nazarene Should Be Fully LGBTQ+ Affirming, we are interviewing two of the contributors to this project. Allison Tucker is a professional theatre artist and filmmaker in the Boston area, and her father, Tracy Tucker, a Nazarene elder with 30 years of full-time service in the Church of the Nazarene. For the past 7 years, Tracy has served full time as a Hospice Chaplain.
Welcome to our discussion. I know both of you have already written essays for this project but because of your unique connection to the topic we have decided to capture your story. Jumping right in: Allison, I understand you had some hidden feelings that surfaced during a visit with your parents several years ago. You came out as gay. Growing up in a Nazarene parsonage, that must have generated some interesting dynamics for you and some stressful and even fearful feelings about how your family might accept this news.
Let’s start with how you would characterize your relationship with your dad growing up?
Allison: My dad was always my best friend and a superhero in my eyes. I wanted to be exactly like him. I remember when I was twelve watching him pour me my first cup of hot black coffee and quickly swallowing it down with a grimace, determined to love it because he did. My favorite pastime was bringing him a new theological or ethical question and soaking up every word. The best compliment you could give me as a kid was that I was just like my dad. Actually, that is still one of my favorite compliments.
Tracy: And I must tell you that while I dearly love and am proud of both of my daughters, Allison did tend to follow more closely to my routines and various roles in ministry.
Moderator: That’s a wonderful picture of your relationship. What was your personal tension with the church and/or each other, and when did you first start feeling it?
Tracy: I was involved in a couple different arenas of training for ministry students through online teaching and a District Training Center for the district where I served. Most of what the curriculum prescribed was fairly basic and didn’t generate much of a tension, but some of it did. I have quite a number of memory snippets of doubt about what I was teaching. I wasn’t sure how I felt about some of what I was saying to the students. I don’t think that is unusual or even a bad thing. I hope I’m never fully satisfied with what I believe about God in particular and everything else in general. But it was the confusing message about divine love as it is expressed to all humanity—all humanity.
I sometimes felt as though the underlying message of what I was teaching promoted an us/them distinction: like the saved and the unsaved, or Christians versus non-Christians. For me this felt too subjective, and it didn’t gel with my understanding of God’s lovingkindness. And eventually it felt as though our goal was to evangelize all those whose view of God didn’t line up with ours.
In a group conversation some years ago with church leaders, it was clearly stated that should a gay couple begin to attend services at a local Nazarene Church and openly express their gayness, it would be the pastor’s responsibility to have an honest conversation with them about that “lifestyle choice.” At the same time it became obvious that we might not extend the same level of judgment to heterosexual couples who would be openly engaged in premarital sexual relationships.
The challenge for me was to reconcile this commitment to correcting the failings of others in such a random and unloving fashion. Regardless how I felt, right or wrong, about homosexuality, the judgment itself is what I struggled with. Then when Allison came out, that tension for me really escalated.
Allison: A critical moment in my life was when I was thirteen and I first realized I disagreed with my dad on something. I can still remember that feeling in the pit of my stomach like the wind had been knocked out of me. We were sitting in the car going through a Dunkin drive-thru and I mentioned that a close friend of mine at the time had confided in me that he was gay. I “knew” that being gay was both a choice and a sin, but that conflicted with what I knew about my friend. He wasn’t making a choice to exist, honestly, and he was a good person, so things didn’t add up. I brought this conversation to my dad like usual and when he reinforced the Nazarene church’s belief system, I felt something within me tense up. I knew that wasn’t true for me, but I also didn’t know how to disagree with him.
I couldn’t separate my relationship with my dad at the time from my relationship with the Church because my dad was the church for me. He was my pastor and my theologian. I trusted him implicitly with my physical and spiritual life. That made my impending conflict with the Church particularly tricky.
Moderator: Allison, it’s obvious this experience has truly cost you something. For either of you, how did being a part of the Church of the Nazarene contribute to your conflict? What were the biggest barriers?
Allison: I felt like the Church of the Nazarene took my dad from me. When I came out to him, I needed him to see ME. But I felt like he could only see the sin as defined by the Church of the Nazarene.
Tracy: Well, there have been several significant barriers for me. But I need to first qualify what I mean by that. I am not establishing blame or pointing a finger; I am responsible for how I respond and how I interpret my surroundings. Having stated that, I also know that context is everything. Growing up in a conservative setting in a southern state, I inherited the best of teachings on what it means to love God. The accompanying legalism and fundamentalist influences, however, have made it difficult to find space for spiritual growth that challenges some of the Nazarene norms. Especially conversations around sensitive topics such as alternative lifestyles and gender leanings are often less of a conversation and more of an argument. There just doesn’t seem to be enough grace for an intelligent and open dialog.
Then, of course, I have to always remember that I am ordained in this church that I love and have been educated through (TNU, NTS) and have served full time for 30 years. I have always considered myself a “team-player.” Taking a stand with my daughter that many in my denomination feel threatened by, creates a tension within me that I don’t always know how to address.
Allison: It took me a while to see this conflict from my dad’s perspective. I saw the Church of the Nazarene turn its back on me when I was met with blatant hostility at ENC and when I saw other members of the LGBTQ+ community openly persecuted in the church. I was used to living in that position. However, I realized that for my dad, taking this stand would be his first experience being at odds with his faith. I was even more angry with the Church of the Nazarene that they put him in this position of having to choose between his church and his daughter.
Moderator: I hope you are finding a pathway to some level of peace in this. What has the healing process for you looked like?
Allison: The healing process was a seemingly endless series of the most difficult conversations of my life. It didn’t help that we lived so far apart. We both had to dig in with both hands and embrace the discomfort of the situation. I remember several conversations early on where I sobbed the entire time. More than once when I hung up, I had to consider whether I could keep investing in this process with him. I wanted to be patient, but it was so emotionally taxing to have to defend my reality over and over. I think what gave me the most strength was focusing on empathy. I knew how far into Nazarene thought he was. I had been there, too. It has taken me so many years to unlearn the hatred I felt towards myself because of my orientation. How could I expect him to unlearn that programming overnight? I focused my attention on what it must be like for a man who lived his life devoted to Nazarene thought, rather than what it would be like for him as a father. That was helpful for sustaining our continued conversations. They didn’t get easier for a while, but they were so worth it in the end.
Tracy: For me the first step was to recognize that my passion for my daughters is far more of a priority than loyalty to a religious system. Once I drew that conclusion, I was then forced into a process of exploring other ways of identifying and talking about the real issue. I guess it’s kind of like “necessity is the mother of invention.” It wasn’t until I realized that I had no idea how I felt about what it means for someone to be gay, that I finally explored that matter in any real depth. I had read certain places in the Bible that seem at first blush to speak to homosexuality, and I have read what other people believe and even what the denominational leadership has written, but I had never entered the dialog myself. Now I have been compelled to immerse myself in it.
But really, the healing has taken place because of the very difficult and painful hard work of staying in dialog with Allison, in fact with both of my daughters.
Moderator: You used the word “painful.” In what sense do you mean?
Tracy: After Allison came out, we couldn’t talk for a while. It wasn’t about being angry. I’m sure my response wasn’t helpful and she was more than a little wounded. But the real pain, at least for me, was the separation. We had always been able to talk with each other. I think we both felt the relationship was worth the effort. But it didn’t happen without a lot of work and tears.
Allison: More than once I have referred to that time of separation as the most painful time of my life. I have always known my dad was just a text or a phone call away, and when I needed him most, he felt impossibly far away. I don’t think I left my bed for a month. I knew coming out would be incredibly difficult, and it was, but afterwards I desperately wanted my dad. Instead, every time I called or answered the phone I was speaking with Pastor Tracy or Counselor Tracy, not my dad. That was difficult. I kept pushing with the hope that I would reach my dad. I could hear the pain in his voice, and I could hear him struggling so hard to make sense of everything, but I just wanted to be held and loved.
Moderator: What would either or both of you do differently?
Tracy: I’m not really sure how to answer that question. This was actually like a perfect storm for me. It caught me by surprise, yet it was inevitable. The convergence of doctrine that I was committed to, along with Allison’s new awareness as she revealed it to me, and then the social pressure of having to own this new reality in the marketplace. And with social media being what it is… need I say more? Perhaps I simply need to respond to the question with, “What I would do differently would be to create safe space early on that promotes open dialog regardless of the content of the dialog.” I don’t think such conversations were restricted, but I didn’t do a good enough job of promoting them. Instead, I think I encouraged an authoritarian view of God and the church. And I think this same lack of dialog exists in many church settings.
Allison: I don’t think I could have done anything differently. Coming out is an extremely personal journey, and I did the best that I could in my circumstances. So many young people in my situation don’t, and they haven’t made it out alive. I am keenly aware that I am lucky. When I didn’t feel the love and support of my family in the way I felt I needed, I was still surrounded by chosen family who held me together. Not everyone has that support.
Moderator: Looking forward, what are you most afraid of or most concerned about?
Tracy: So it’s confession time. And I have to confess that I like to be liked. I am a bit traumatized as I respond to your questions knowing that they will likely be published and I will likely face some difficult feedback or backlash.
Allison: I would like to think I’m through the worst of it. My worst fears have been realized already. I’ve lost jobs, friends, and family members…and I survived. I suppose I fear for the future of the church but it’s more of a passive fear for me at this point. It’s difficult to think about the mission of a church that I gave my heart and soul to for most of my life, only to have that church turn its back on me. At this point I’m waiting to see if they make what I see to be the only ethical decision in this matter.
Tracy: Actually, my real fear is that other families will face this same conflict and not survive. I am so fortunate to have such a great relationship with my girls that we can sludge through our challenges and pull back together. Not every Nazarene or even Christian home can boast that. It seems to me that it’s the responsibility of our Church to promote and facilitate healthy and open conversations on the questions, fears, biases, feelings, possibilities and attitudes, helpful and hurtful on the matter of embracing members of the LGBTQ+ community, especially within our own families.
Allison Nicole Tucker is a professional theatre artist and filmmaker in the greater Boston area. She is the owner and executive director of South Shore School of Theatre in Quincy, MA and works with a variety of film companies in the New England area. Allison has degrees in theatre arts from Eastern Nazarene College and Emerson University and is working on her PhD at Lesley University in Cambridge.
Tracy L. Tucker is a Senior Chaplain for Community Hospice and Palliative Care in Jacksonville Florida, following 30 years in fulltime parish ministry. He earned his MDiv from Nazarene Theological Seminary and is currently working on his DTM through Northwind Theological Seminary. Tracy is a Board Certified Chaplain through the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC) and has a Certification in Thanatology through the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC).