Two dads with two kids equal One Happy Family

One year ago on Easter Sunday, Brad Bullock and Ben Papa joined Second Presbyterian Church of Nashville. Many readers may recognize Second Presbyterian as an affirming and accepting church to the GLBT community. But what stood out about this particular Sunday is the fact that in addition to joining Second Presbyterian, Brad and Ben’s twin children, Eli and Ella, were baptized as well.

According to Jim Kitchens, pastor of Second Presbyterian, “One of the best Sundays we’ve ever had at Second was last Easter, when Ben and Brad were received into membership and we baptized their twins. It was a wonderful witness to the kind of diverse congregation Second dreams about being.”

Second Presbyterian isn’t a “gay church.” But they are setting the standard for churches in the Middle Tennessee area that want to welcome the GLBT community and their families into their fellowship and leadership. For a church to baptize the children of a gay couple is monumental enough. However, this church chose to baptize the children of a gay couple on Easter Sunday…a day set aside to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ…a day that is paramount to the Christian faith.

As I entered the home of Ben Papa and Brad Bullock and their children for this interview, the kids greeted me at the front door. Ella and Eli are upbeat, confident children. They aren’t over-bearing, shy or precocious. They are wonderfully normal. As we sat down for dinner, a wealth of conversation occurred. Eli wanted more beans. What four year old wants more vegetables?! Ella wanted to tell me about her birthday party.

Later, after the dinner dishes were cleared, I began my interview with Brad, known as “papa,” and Ben, known as “daddy.” 

“We visited Second Presbyterian for about 18 months. When we joined and our children were baptized, it was a tremendous way for the church to affirm us as a family,” Ben says. 

“When I first visited, I couldn’t tell what the church thought about me or my family. I’ve been open about who I am from the beginning. But after a few Sundays, I figured out they truly were okay with everything. It didn’t matter. They weren’t going to judge us. I knew they fully accepted us,” says Brad.

Half way through the interview, the children came in to say their evening prayer. To be honest, I was caught off guard…but in a good way. Staring me in the face was the undeniable fact that the four people gathered there were a family. Did it fit any stereotype? Did it fit the image I think of when I think “family”? No. But as these children began to pray with their “papa” and their “daddy” I couldn’t help but think back to my own childhood prayer time with my own mom and dad. 

Led by Brad, the four of them prayed: God of life, God of love, keep us in Thy watch above. Where I’ve done wrong again today, remove these things from me I pray. And for life’s blessings freely given, let my thanks show in my living. Amen.

And without any fuss, without any whining, the children went off to bed…and after I gathered my composure, I continued the interview.

Brad and Ben live in Brentwood and have been together for eleven years. Brad is a physician. Ben is a lawyer. Williamson County has often had the reputation of not being gay friendly. Yet, here are two successful gay men raising two beautiful children. 

“We were nervous about Williamson County. But our neighbors have been pleasantly surprising. Without exception, our neighbors have treated us and our children wonderfully. You can read people’s faces and tell if they don’t approve. But so far, most everyone bends over backward to let us know they are okay with our family,” Brad notes.

Ben says, “We aren’t a perfect family. No family is. But we can do more right than wrong.”

According to their pastor, Jim Kitchens, “Ben and Brad are great dads. And Eli and Ella light up a room when they enter. I love watching them be a family.”

Ben Papa is just a few months away from completing his Masters of Divinity from Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School. Not sure of the connection between being a lawyer and the pursuit of a ministerial degree, I asked Ben to elaborate.

“I became unsettled with the practice of law after a few years and considered several alternative career options. Many career tests revealed that ministry would be a good fit for me. Since then, I have decided to change the focus of my practice to family law. However, my practice is much more holistic now. I think of my work as ministry, much like Brad does being a physician,” says Ben.

Ben grew up as a Southern Baptist. “I knew at the age of four or five that there was something different about me. I knew at the age of ten, that I was gay. But my coming out process was a real relief. I was dating a woman at the time and was very upset due to some difficulties surrounding the relationship. My mom asked me, 'Do you think you could be gay?' And I responded with 'Yes, I am gay.'"

He knew coming out at the age of 18 could cause problems, so he left the church for about six years. All the time, Ben wanted to be in church, but simply couldn’t find a good match theologically. He struggled to find a church that would accept him for who he was and be in line with what he was coming to understand within his faith.

His search led him to the Unitarian Universalist Church. “This church would let me sit with those theological questions. I didn’t have to have the answers. Even as a child, I was so clear I was gay and had not chosen to be so. Every night, for years, I would pray it would go away. And every morning when I woke up, I was still gay.”

But now, when Ben prays, he is able to fully focus on the God who made him, who loves him, and who earnestly desires to have a deep relationship with him. According to Ben, “Every morning, I have a devotion. It is an established part of my day and it is how I feed my walk with Christ. God speaks through the Scriptures, teaching me how I can live a Godly life.”

Brad Bullock grew up in the Methodist faith. He lived in a small town in Florida with a big family. According to Brad, “I have always been involved in the church. A lot of my role models were people I went to church with. I could easily name twenty to thirty people who truly cared about me until they died or still care about me today.”

Brad’s relationship with his family is overall a very positive one. His parents initially struggled with the realization that their son was gay. According to Brad, that struggle seemed to be based in the social stigma, or stereotype often associated with being gay. “Years later they realized that I could be gay and not be a stereotype…that I was still the same stubborn, honest, compassionate, family-oriented guy I had always been.”

While speaking of his family, Brad goes on to say, “My parents are out as well, even in their small town. Anyone who knows them, knows they have a gay son.”

While Brad wrestled with reconciling his faith and his sexuality, he never left the church. “I knew God was not rejecting me. The people who wore the cloak of God were, but not all of them. I knew I needed to find ways to connect with those who were interested in me regardless. I knew I was gay and I was positive I hadn’t chosen it. For decades, I had earnestly asked God to take it from me. If there is such a thing as a loving God, then this is a cruel joke. So God is either cruel, or He is loving. I chose to believe He got it right to begin with. I honestly believe that we are more beautiful than we are flawed. So often it is easy to focus on our deficits, our shortcomings. But we are created by God! How bad can that be?”

To anyone struggling to reconcile their faith and their sexuality, Brad has some very poignant words of advice. “Don’t give your spirituality away to the people who disagree with you. You are a child of God. You can claim that. There IS room at the table for you.”

Brad, Ben, Ella and Eli are a family. The kids go to pre-school. The parents go to work. They all go to church on Sunday. “We realize every day how vital the church is to us as a family. God decided and we agreed that we were to live a whole life. For us, that meant being out, loving ourselves and our neighbors, respecting different points of view, and living as a gay couple in Brentwood with two kids,” says Brad.

This Easter, I hope every reader can follow the example Brad Bullock, Ben Papa and their children have set. Live a whole life, love yourself, love your neighbor, respect different points of view and embrace the love God eagerly wants to give you through the local church.

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