Pastor Ben Speaks Out About Coming Out Colton
Updated: Dec 19, 2021
When I was first approached by a team of producers to take part in Colton Underwood's journey to freedom on Netflix, I was naturally flattered. It's not every day that Hollywood knocks on one's door and says, "You're really something special - a voice we want to feature in our project." Naturally, I had many questions. For example, "Why is this production so white? Where are the transgender people?" I am grateful that these questions led to changes in the line-up of featured cast members, including the inclusion of the Rev. Nicole Garcia, my friend and colleague, whom I am proud to say left her church and joined mine in the months between our work on Coming Out Colton and its release.
I hate to admit it, but I let myself get lost in the glamour and illusion of reality television. I wasn't previously familiar with Colton or any of the Bachelors; however, once on the inside, I understood why this world is so attractive. It was equal parts nerve-wracking and alluring to be filmed. It made me feel special and, dare I say, powerful. And "just like that" - to quote our beloved Carrie from Sex in the City - it was over, and I was left with months of intervening silence.
It felt strange, especially, because in including my friends and peers; sharing vulnerable parts of our individual stories, I began to fully realize the risk of exposure. Would we be overexposed? Had we said too much? I was relieved when the show released that this was not the case. In fact, we were just a short segment of the story, yet I felt some frustration too, because many of the stories that were shared were erased. One person named James from my congregation is barely visible. Erasure is a deeply felt experience in the LGBTQ+ community, because many of us are frequently erased, whether in our workplaces, neighborhoods, or families.
Paralleling my concerns with exposure and erasure, were my concerns with Colton's public image following his relationship with Cassie. The headlines and court reports of stalking and harassment were a lot to digest as someone who considered themselves an ardent feminist. I came to a crossroads asking myself what to do with this information. Also, I asked myself what I would do with someone under similar circumstances who was not famous, but just as imperfect a human as Colton. This is a fairly common dilemma for a pastor, there are plenty of broken people seeking help, healing, and counsel. And so, while internally conflicted, I decided to choose love, trying to see past the man and look forward to his potential redemption and reconciliation. These are principles that are core tenants of my faith, which means that I have to hold them equitably for any person who crosses my path. Obviously, this is not an easy call, especially in a culture where it is seen as honorable to write-off people for their mistakes. I refused to do that with Colton, and I am happy that as a result, the bigger message that I wanted to share shone through. The message that God loves us (period) exactly how we are, and this is true for you, dear reader, as well!
In the last days before the show released on Netflix, I was once again inundated with the messages that I was somehow special. I was told to expect BIG THINGS in response to my "excellent performance". And, again, those feelings of expectant power crawled back into my mind. The show's release was a lovely day. I received a rush of messages from all over the world. The reach of the show was vividly apparent, as strangers, friends, ex-lovers, former bosses, you name it, sent me messages of appreciation, approval, and sincere desire to connect. It was a bit overwhelming, especially for someone as private as me, but I embraced the moment and tried to engage and respond to it with the best of my ability.
Days passed and more messages streamed into my inboxes from all over the US, New Zealand, Spain, Brazil, and beyond. I read of heartache and resilience; stories of rejection; and, the occasional creep wanting to let me know that they wanted to have sex with me, despite knowing nothing about me. Between all the lines and messages, I read an evident theme, which was that people, especially my beloved queer people, were starved for spiritual connection. They shared how lost and disconnected they felt, whether it was from their past or within themselves. They remarked how being told that they were loved unconditionally was almost a foreign concept, and that they found meaning in what I had offered on the show. In my clinical and spiritual training, I easily diagnosed the ever-apparent trauma that so many shared, and I was grateful to hold their confidences.
But, what do I do with this insight and this moment? This has to be the question that any celebrity - no matter how temporary - asks themselves. The truth is that my church, as is the case for many "liberally minded" churches is dying - financially and in membership, meaning it is hit-or-miss whether we will be around in our current construct in the near future. And mine is not the only one, which means that many of these lost souls have fewer and fewer places to go with their frustrations, fears, or questions. Sure, there are many heteronormative spaces that offer a queer-lite experience. They recognize LGBTQ+ people and stories in June for PRIDE, but the other 11 months, it is heteronormative dominance as far as the ear can hear. In addition, young people have been leaving faith community for decades, as made most evident that we recently hit a critical milestone in the United States where the majority of people no longer consider themselves aligned with any religion or belief system.
I am not arguing that people need religion to find meaning, but in the lapse and failure of a loving space for spiritual exploration, all the lovely people reaching out to me in the aftermath of Colton's show had nowhere to go - nothing that was speaking to them or reaching them regularly with messages like I shared in our episodes. Honestly, I am not surprised, but being in the Netflix family, seeing how 10 minutes of fame could reach so many, I felt this disparity so much deeper than before.
The truth is that we need a moral and spiritual revolution, dare I say a revival, something akin to our history pointing us toward something better. I recognize that our history is also problematic, especially as it has left out many along the way. Regardless, the desperation is real and raw and should remind us that we can do better. I do not know what my place is in this moment, but for me and those closest to me, we will continue to share a message and a movement of grace for all people, attempting our best, although imperfectly, to push our culture forward. I pray that this future is one filled with opportunity and equity; grace and growth; and, an enduring agility in the face of complex and dire challenges. I hope that you will join me in this calling. Please, stay tuned for what's next.
Pastor Ben Mann @queerpastorben (Instagram) is the Senior Pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of the Rockies where "Coming Out Colton" was filmed. THEY are also a Chaplain at UCHealth and the University of Colorado Hospital. Pastor Ben is a Presidential Scholar at Central Seminary where they are presently studying toward a degree in Clinical Counseling with a specialty in Trauma.