It all started in the first grade: my deep affinity for stories. For as long as I can remember, I’ve made sense of the complexities of the human experience through stories. I found solace in my suffering by resonating with others’ stories. I found answers to some of life’s big questions in the context of stories. And I’ve made an ongoing decision to allow my own story to fuse into the greater one that’s been whispered through the Scriptures, through the historical Church, through the God who came to dwell among us to invite us into His giant story of restoration.
It’s within the context of that beautiful story of redemption that I make sense of my experience as a woman who likes women and loves Jesus. I declared to myself that I was gay when I was fourteen years old, and then to my family at the age of seventeen. Shortly after coming out, I was taken to an ex-gay ministry where I spent a decade learning about the way of Christ with some incredible people that I treasure to this day. I found a community who loved Jesus and extended endless grace to me, a community I desperately needed as a confused teenager trying to make sense of a chaotic existence.
During my decade with Exodus, I grew to love Christ more than anything else in the world. God’s giant story of redemption was the foundation of every teaching, every piece of advice, every reason behind every step I was encouraged to take at every point in my process. But inherent in the redemption they proclaimed was an assumption that redemption entailed a shift in my orientation—a shift from gay to straight. So I stopped my old habits, confessed every attraction, shadowed straight girls, dated cute guys, and stopped calling myself gay because as a man thinketh, so he is. But I was still a girl who liked girls. I was still gay.
Somewhere along the way I started speaking for Exodus, and it wasn’t until I was holding a microphone on a stage that I realized I had a problem: I was speaking for an ex-gay organization and I was still gay. Their message of hope in Christ was beautiful; I was on board with the call to chastity in order to live into the robust way of Christ. But briefly mentioning somewhere in a talk that I “still struggled with homosexuality” felt like an understatement that bordered a lie. More than that, I wasn’t on board with a message of hope that focused primarily on the potential for God to enable me to marry a man. I yearned to live into the true Christian hope: an adventure of sanctification that culminates in Christ coming back to make all things new. Much to my surprise, Exodus created space for my gay-girl-loves-Jesus story to be told, so I came out of the closet once again, and set my hope on the story of redemption I see promised in the Scriptures.
Long nights lost to angst-ridden questions led me to Wes Hill’s book and the Spiritual Friendship site last year. While I was wrestling with questions of whether or not my orientation would change, these guys were asking the more fruitful questions—practical questions regarding the gay Christians’ quest to honor the Lord. I’m thrilled to join the community because many unanswered questions remain for Christians striving to lead lives filled with relational vitality and whole human flourishing. I’m burdened by the hoards of loved ones I’ve watched crumble under the weight of rejection, alienation, and isolation inside church walls. One who finds an empathetic and compassionate Christian community finds a treasure, and it’s my hope to encourage a more compassionate posture among churches toward gay men and women. I’m also eager to communally imagine a more vibrant relational life for celibate men and women in the church. It’s far too common for gay Christians to become relational robots in their quest for purity, which inevitably leads to secrecy and greater impurity. I also hope to raise difficult questions here, because if we refuse to acknowledge legitimate questions within the church, then gay youth will leave the church to ask them elsewhere. Part of creating a safe place for gay people means making room for them to be in process—a process that might make us uncomfortable at times, but a little more like Christ along the way.
Stories, with all their tragedy and beauty, never develop in isolation. The characters—the real people—affect one another in ways that change who they are and who they become, for better or for worse. It wasn’t enough for me to realize my story was only a small part of God’s greater story unfolding throughout history; I also had to realize my story occurs in the context of a community. Every gay person’s story is shaped by their larger community, and you’re a part of that community for someone. My hope is to join you in imagining ways to create the kinds of communities that lead to relational flourishing and spiritual vitality. What a joy it is to do that in the context of such a rich community here at Spiritual Friendship.
Julie Rodgers shares life with inner city youth in West Dallas. She also writes and speaks about faith and sexuality, so check out her blog or find her on Twitter:@Julie_rodgers.
great to see you here and looking forward to your contributions 🙂
Julie, we had some fruitful conversations back on the old Exodus leaders’ board. I’ve thought for a while that this would be a better community for you. I’m THRILLED to see you on here!
Pingback: Spiritual Friendship and Julie Rodgers | Spiritual Friendship