Gay Christians and the Robertson Controversy

I ended yesterday with yet another viewing of Love Actually. After a day bustling with tweets, posts, and articles stating concerns from both sides of the culture war regarding the Phil Robertson controversy (with both sides making legitimate points), it was good to get in touch with some of the fundamental human questions most gay Christians are concerned about: questions of faithfulness, friendship, love, longing, and belonging.

Whenever there’s an explosion in the culture war, it seems like the real people with genuine human struggles are shelved while we argue about rights and agendas. There are legitimate concerns that need to be addressed: How do we share our views in ways that highlight the value and dignity of people made in the image of God? Is there room for Christians to share their unpopular views freely, as there seems to be for folks who hold different values? When someone is directly asked for their opinions, are we ready to actually hear them? And in hearing them, can we respectfully agree or disagree instead of waging war? Can we consider fighting for the marginalized as passionately as we fight other sides in the debate?

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Understanding Sexual Identity

Growing up gay in conservative churches, I felt torn between two worlds and bounced like a ping-pong ball back and forth. One moment I was sitting in church hearing, “Homosexuality is the most disgusting sin in the world” (internalizing it as: “Who you are as a person, Julie Rodgers, is toxic and unlovable”). And the next moment I was in a gay coach’s office hearing, “God made you gay, Julie, and you’ll feel forever tortured until you depart from the faith you grew up with and celebrate the entirety of what it means to be a lesbian in our family.” Something deep inside of me resonated with both communities, but both communities usually insisted I cut off, hide, or deny an integral part of who I was in order to fully belong. I felt like there were conditions upon their acceptance of who I was as a person, and qualifications around “I love you” statements. All I wanted during all those years was for someone to walk with me where I was. I wanted someone to see me, to listen to me, to have some compassion, to get outside the culture war long enough to realize I was a complex person in the process of figuring out what it meant to be gay-as-all-get-out and love Jesus with all my heart.

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If I Don’t Have the Gift

This past Christmas ended with my friend Zach and I watching Love Actually with a glass of wine. I love Zach, and we love wine and Love Actually, so it was a solid ending to a quality Christmas day. But I was keenly aware of the fact that as much as I love Zach and wine and Love Actually, I wanted a girl on the couch with us. I wanted a girl by my side, giggling with me and feeling a rush of warm fuzzies when all the gushy moments caused an explosion in my heart.

I find so much joy in the life I’ve been given, and I tend to write about the joy more than the challenges because the joy far outweighs the difficulties. But I’m human and humans are wired with natural desires for romance—innocent desires to shower affection on that one special person. People often say to me (even here on the blog): “Julie, maybe you just have a special gift for celibacy, and that’s what makes it sustainable for you, but not everyone has that gift”. When it’s fleshed out further, they seem to imply that “the gift” would mean I have a lower level of sexual desire or that I don’t experience romantic longings. The gift would be that thing that makes it easy and convenient to fly solo in a culture crawling with adorable couples.

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A Place to Belong

I was on the basketball team at Wheaton my freshman year in college, and I imagine I’m one of the few players in the history of Wheaton College to sit out the second half of the season due to failing fitness class. My coach called me into the office, remained as calm as I could’ve hoped, and asked how on earth I could possibly fail fitness class. “I have no idea,” I told her with puppy dog eyes. “This is totally shocking.” After going to bat for me with the Fitness for Living prof, she returned to say: “Julie, maybe you failed fitness class because you missed eighteen out of twenty-four classes.”

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When Singleness Isn’t Loneliness

I took a road trip with some friends this past weekend, where six of us shared a one bedroom house and loved every minute of it. There was a moment one afternoon, when we were catching sun on the grass at a swimming hole, after we’d just spotted an old man in a black g-string, when I thought to myself: “I couldn’t be happier than I am in this moment.” My friends and I have taken cross country road trips, cried for no reason, laughed when we should’ve cried, laughed when we should’ve slept, gotten into mischief and loved each other through high tide and low. In that moment, with the hippies and children and cold springs on a sunny day, I wanted nothing more than to capture the feeling in a snow globe to carry it with me everywhere I go. Then I remembered my friends would drive back with me, and they were better than the image in the snow globe, and that the moment only highlighted what’s always unfolding in my life, and I felt even happier.

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Real Talk for Straight Folks

I wrote a post about celibacy recently, where I shared some of the ways God has surprised me in the middle of this awkward celibate gay path. I said I hesitate to talk about celibacy because I’ve heard many gay people feel the traditional sexual ethic is burdensome—that the call to celibacy feels like a death sentence to them. Since the last thing I want to do is contribute to shame in vulnerable people, it can be difficult for me to discuss it. But I write about it because I want people to know some of us are experiencing a robust life in our quest to align with the church’s teaching on sexual ethics. I want them to know this awkward path that’s often framed as impossible can be the place where we experience the richest intimacy with Christ. 

Some of my closest friends are gay affirming in belief and practice. I love these friends and these friends love Jesus. We see this point differently, and we have endless discussions about the Bible and God’s intention for sexual expression, but we love each other and we all love Jesus. We’ve walked together as we’ve prayed, cried, struggled and strived to discern how to honor God with our sexuality. Because I love my friends, I’ve got to share with you a common thread that runs through their stories and tears me up.

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Surprised by Celibacy

If you’ve read many of my posts , you’re aware of the fact that I’m attracted to women. I don’t mean I occasionally see a pretty girl in a magazine and I happen to think she’s cute; I mean I’m attracted to women. All those things straight couples seem to feel for one another physically, emotionally, sexually, spiritually—I feel those things toward other women. It sounds weird even saying it because I tried so hard to hide it, deny it, change it, or at least reframe it in my mind for so long that it feels a little awkward to state it so explicitly on the internet.

You’re also probably aware that I believe sexual expression is reserved for a man and a woman in a lifelong marriage, where the two commit to sharing their lives with one another and never go back on that promise. And when I fell in love with Jesus, I fell in love with the entirety of God’s way: that He created the world with such brilliance, that He grieved when we decided we knew better, that He rescued us when we’d made our choice and our choice was our sin, and that He’s coming back one day to write a glorious ending to a tragic tale. I cry at least 6 times a week when I think about that story because it’s so overwhelming to me that God would take such drastic measures to open the door for a relationship with us, the ones who decided we’d get on better without Him. As cynical and selfish as I can be, that kind of love wins my heart every time I start to feel a little inconvenienced by the call to respond to His love with a life that honors Him.

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When the Gay Eclipses God

I fell in love with Jesus when I was a little girl. I remember sitting by the pond with my blue Snoopy fishing pole, marveling over the magnitude of the story of Jesus in my soul. Something about the stars and still water and inner dialogue with the writer of the world moved me to wonder. I memorized the book of Philippians when I was in middle school because I was captured by the God Paul described when he counted all things worth losing in order to know Christ—in order to connect with his creator. My understanding of what it all meant was surely immature, but I understood the message even more than I do now: Jesus Christ is the most magnificent, beautiful, breath-taking reality in the world, and if you get nothing else for the rest of your life then get Jesus.

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To Tell A Different Story

“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, so I chose to tell myself a different story.”  – Cheryl Strayed

If you’re anything like me, you’ve got a fair share of fears. And if you happen to be a gay Christian, a number of those fears surface when you’re open about your sexuality in the context of a Christian community. While I might not base my theology on the words of Cheryl Strayed, I resonate with her desire to tell a different story than the one my fears impose.

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The Story that Led Me Here

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.​

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