EXCLUSIVE | Queer Eye's gay pastor Noah Hepler says he hopes his story can help 'others experience God's grace'
The openly gay pastor Noah Hepler was the first "hero" of Season 5 of 'Queer Eye', the latest one from the series. In his episode on the show, viewers found out that he has dedicated his life to the church even though it was not very accepting of him in his initial years because of his sexuality. Bobby Berk from the Fab Five too had a similar experience with the church to a point that he's determined to never introduce his future kids to the establishment. Hepler not only bonded with Berk over similar experiences but also showed accountability and apologized to the latter for what he had to go through. In an exclusive interview with MEA WorldWide (MEAWW), Hepler speaks about his experience with the church while growing up, his understanding of God, and his 'Queer Eye' experience.
Speaking about his experience with the church while growing up, Hepler says that even though the church he belonged to was a "loving" space, it was also "strict and rigid". Elaborating further, he adds, "In that church, and school, there was little emphasis on grace and more on decisions and associated moral codes. In that view, God is one who is essentially always watching, judging, and waiting for us to get our lives together before befriending us. And this view of God could be applied to playing cards, going to secular movies, dancing, and music, let alone sexuality and gender norms."
Hepler says that his family was always an oasis of respite for him. "My family, as a whole, was comparatively very relaxed. My mom, especially, was the first to find her way out of seeing the faith through that lens. But none of my family really enforced rules about movies and such. I was even playing 'Dungeons & Dragons' on the weekends as a teenager". Hepler reveals he was never negative towards God even though the church painted Him as a judgemental figure. "But there were also these little moments of grace scattered throughout my life where I saw God (more like I now understand God to be witnessed to in the scriptures) as one who is not waiting for us to get it together but has been our friend since the beginning. And instead of breathing continual threats at us, God offers a new beginning every time we mess up".
Talking about his understanding of the Bible, he says, "I think the grace depicted in the Bible is more like the Japanese art of Kintsugi, where broken pottery is put back together using gold to fill the cracks. It’s not easy, but it is always worth it. The item always ends up being more beautiful than it was before". His episode on the show also featured an interaction between him and other faith leaders from the LGBTQ community that was arranged by the Fab Five to build his confidence. Talking about his biggest takeaway from that experience, he says, "The biggest thing that came out of it -- other than new friendships -- was really summed up in the clip where Pastor Megan asks me why I would keep applying a negative script to myself when I am constantly emphasizing grace for others. That kept being said by a variety of people from that moment on, including other conversations with Pastor Megan, Bishop Guy, as well as conversations with friends and colleagues after the reveal".
Hepler further adds, "I was being too hard on myself, to the point that I was a least partially blinded from the very grace of God that I try to point people to all the time. Now, I hope my own story helps others to see that they should also let themselves experience that grace". Summarizing his experience on the show, Hepler says, "I think Atonement and my friends have seen some healing taking place in myself. I hear, 'You seem better" a lot. I had been having conversations with the leadership at Atonement and with my friends about how I was feeling disconnected from myself. I think there was more than one cause for that. But my conversations with the Fab 5, Bishop Guy, and Pastor Megan pushed me through one of the biggest hurdles. After that, it has been easier to have more general healing and restoration in my life".
All episodes of 'Queer Eye' Season 5 are now streaming on Netflix.
EXCLUSIVE | Queer Eye's gay pastor Noah Hepler hopes his story can help 'others experience God's grace'