Bob Roehm grew up during the 1950s and 1960s in Columbus, Ohio at Plymouth Congregational Church, which no longer exists, and at First Congregational Church, which is now an “Open and Affirming” congregation within the United Church of Christ [UCC] denomination.
Bob has never “believed in” the traditional “God.” He joined First Congregational Church at the appropriate age after having been assured by the senior minister at that time that religious belief was not necessary in order to become a member of that church. He lost interest in First Congregational Church after graduating from high school in 1971, became active in a different UCC church for several years, and then lost interest in “church” altogether.
Bob came out as gay in 1977. Almost immediately, he became an activist and attended many meetings and events; he would often write about those meetings and events in several different publications. In 1979, during one of his many meetings, he met Rick Moore, who soon became Bob’s partner; “Bob and Rick” thereby became “co-activists” in Columbus.
In 1981, Rev. Jan Griesinger, at that time a UCC campus minister in Athens, Ohio and, also at that time, one of the two co-coordinators of the United Church Coalition for Lesbian/Gay Concerns [UCCL/GC, which in 2014 became the UCC Open and Affirming Coalition], asked “Bob and Rick” to serve as the Local Arrangements Committee for the 1982 UCCL/GC National Gathering to be held in Columbus.
UCCL/GC was denied meeting space at three different colleges or universities in Columbus during the fall of 1981; Rick eventually found a meeting space for the 1982 UCC/GC National Gathering at an ecumenical campus ministry building near The Ohio State University.
Bob and Rick at Cape HatterasOne week after Rick had found a meeting space for the 1982 UCCL/GC National Gathering, he unexpectedly died, in Bob’s presence, during an attack of cardiac arrhythmia. Rick had had an irregular heartbeat for his entire life but certainly had not been planning to die at the age of 22.
Rick’s death precipitated in Bob what he has called — depending on the listener — a “spiritual opening” or a very intense “psychological event” that lasted for the next ten years or so. It had been extremely difficult for Bob to reconcile the unexpected and nearly-continuous “sense of connection” that he had been experiencing with being a life-long skeptic. After several months of this, Bob attended a Quaker Meeting in Columbus for the first time and found a community open to “mystical experiences” such as his that did not pressure him to conform those experiences to any orthodoxy or statement of faith.
Several months later, while Bob had still been trying to make sense of his newly-found spirituality, he chose to tell a close family member who had become a “born-again Christian” two decades earlier that he and Rick had been in a committed relationship. This revelation precipitated an 18-month-long argument with that family member about the notion that Bob is “rebelling against God” by being gay.
The notion that LGBT people are “rebelling against God” merely by being LGBT had been a completely alien concept to Bob at the time because, though he has never believed in any God, he had definitely been familiar with the UCC affirmations that “God is still speaking” and that God “fully affirms” LGBT people.
Bob Roehm circa 1980Now, after several decades of having been an advocate for LGBT people “within the church,” he has concluded that the different ways in which others define “God” — definitions that can vary greatly from person to person — have far more of an impact on the day-to-day lives of LGBT people than does the answer to the question of whether there is a “God” at all.
In 1987, after having worked extensively with UCCL/GC for the previous five years while regularly attending a Quaker Meeting, Bob left the UCC to become a Quaker because he had been able to feel a “sense of connection” with what could potentially be called “the still small voice” — that he had never experienced until moments after Rick’s death — far more easily in a mostly-silent Quaker Meeting for Worship than while standing up and sitting down, reciting words in unison, singing hymns, and listening to sermons.
Bob does not identify as “Christian”; however, he conscientiously avoids using such terms as “non-Christian” to describe himself because he resents the dichotomous thinking that seeks to divide people into two groups by requiring that all people define themselves in relation to the dominant paradigm. He currently identifies both as a “Quaker” and as a “nonbeliever.”
Bob is now fascinated by comparative religion and by the many different “spiritual experiences” that people could potentially have. He currently finds community in groups ranging in perspective from secular humanist to “progressive Catholic” and occasionally engages with groups that are nowhere on that continuum. He is particularly interested in those religions that have relatively few adherents — as well as those people who are nonbelievers — because both of these groups tend to be particularly maligned by the majority.
Now that LGBT people are more accepted than they had been several decades ago, Bob spends much of his energy these days engaging with people of varying beliefs and/or worldviews in an effort to dispel some of the stereotypes that “believers” and “nonbelievers” often have about each other.
(This biographical statement provided by Bob Roehm.)
Biography Date: September, 2015
Friends/Quakers | United Church of Christ/Congregational Church | Griesinger, Jan | Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns | Open and Affirming in the UCC (ONA & formerly UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns) | Activist (religious institutions) | Columbus | Ohio
“I’ve known Bob since about 1987 when I joined the North Columbus Friends Meeting. Bob is probably the most honest person I’ve ever known (besides, perhaps, my father). He is remarkable in many ways, but perhaps mostly because of his integrity. He lives according to his principles, led by the spirit and guided by - I have no idea what, but it works. Whether it was his spiritual experience following Rick’s death or simply an innate grace he has achieved a place in the world that few can even hope to emulate. ”
– as remembered by Kate Eaton on September 29, 2015
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