Gunn was rising in stock at Mariners with Beshore’s blessing even then, Lobdell says. “Together, they were a super team that was better than their parts. As the years went on, Bob took more and more of a central role at Mariners. He seemed more of a partner.”

Nevertheless, the reporter in him doesn’t think Gunn stands a chance with his lawsuit (he tried to get Gunn to talk to the Times last year, to no avail). “It’s incredibly difficult for the courts to get involved in internal church decisions without violating the First Amendment,” Lobdell says. “As unfair as it seems that a practicing homosexual can’t be in ministry, that’s [Mariners’] belief, and that’s what it says in the Bible for them. There are all kinds of charlatans who can get away with much worse things under the guise of religion, but the courts can’t touch them.

“I was really sad for Bob because I’m sure he expected a different reaction,” Lobdell adds. “He’s a good guy—he doesn’t really deserve this. I wonder how tortured Bob was being in the church with such teachings, knowing what was going on in his church. He loved Mariners, he loved Kenton, but he was who he was.”

Bob Gunn, now associate conductor for the Orange County Gay Men's Chorus, Men Alive
Drew Faber Photography
Bob Gunn, now associate conductor for the Orange County Gay Men's Chorus, Men Alive
The Mariners campus
Keith May
The Mariners campus

Gunn declined to comment for this story—Toledano says the case is “profoundly painful” for his client. According to court documents, here’s what Gunn wrote to his choir seven years ago when he left:

I appreciate this opportunity to share my thoughts at this difficult time.

There are two things I am confident of: 1. That God accepts and loves me for who I am, that I am fearfully and wonderfully made, 2. That God brought me to Mariners Church.

I have great love for Mariners Church and believe that God has great things ahead for Mariners. I am honored to have been a part of that.

I also have great love for Kenton and the staff and people that I have had the privilege to serve within the worship community and I am sorry for the pain that this will cause. I am gay and was involved in a 5-year committed and loving relationship during my time here that ended some time ago.

I was trying to live my life with integrity according to my convictions. Never was it my intent to get away with something. At the time, I made what I thought was the best decision—choosing not to reveal the relationship. I knew that this was not a good decision. I am incredibly sorry for the hurt and pain that will result from this.

It is clear to me that there is a fundamental difference in theological perspective between me and Mariners, and therefore it is necessary to part ways and I understand the board’s decision to do so.

I encourage you to seek God, to grow in him, and to worship him with all that you are and all that you have.

*     *     *

Years after their parting of ways, Beshore and Gunn remain connected through music. The two found themselves a day apart, about 3 miles apart on the weekend of Dec. 6 at two separate events.

That Saturday, the Irvine Barclay Theater rang with the rich baritones, tenors and basses of Men Alive, the Orange County Gay Men’s Chorus. The group had rented the facility to stage a lighthearted musical depicting a reality-TV show about the chaos in the North Pole come Christmas. Men Alive’s production of Secret Santa! featured all the pleasures of their genre—“choralography,” cross-dressing, bawdy double-entendres, all to the delight of the capacity crowd. At the center of it all was Gunn, handsome in a suit, glasses and well-coiffed hair, unwinding tunes on a grand piano as he once did at Mariners. He’s a founding member of Men Alive and has served as the group’s assistant conductor since early 2002, just after he left Mariners. Beside him was Rich Cook, Men Alive’s artistic director who worked for Trinity Broadcasting Network, Melodyland Christian Center and Pat Robertson before an admission of homosexuality cast him out of the Christian-music world.

Not all was camp and vamp, however. About halfway through the performance, the lights failed—on purpose. The head elf in charge urged the choir to sing, so that the blackout might leave. The 100-plus men of Men Alive launched into reverential renditions of “Silent Night” and “O Magnum Mysterium” that silenced the crowd quickly.

The giant wreath above the choir became illuminated anew. The elf urged more music. Gunn worked the piano. The symbolism was obvious—remember the reason for the season and let the Light enter the world. And yes, even gay men can praise the Lord.

The following day, Mariners held its own winter celebration: a tree-lighting ceremony. Thousands spread across the church’s lawn, enjoying a mini-fair complete with craft tables, food stands, photo booths and dozens of women hawking tchotchkes. A 45-foot Christmas tree loomed above the joyous crowd. It was a simulacrum of small-town Americana at its finest, and the only reminder for casual observers that this was a church was an 80-foot cross standing outside the worship center, lit like the moon.

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