by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free
Photo by  Steve Johnson  on  Unsplash

If you’re a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer reader, I hope you already know you don’t need my affirmation to live whole and joyful lives, just as God made you. You are beloved children of God, and there is nothing I or any other Christian writer or church leader can say to alter that. I hope you know, deep in your bones, that there is no height or depth, no angel or demon, no denomination or church or pastor or parent who can separate you from the love of God in Jesus Christ. My heart grieves over the ways this truth has been obscured and denied by the Church, often in destructive and deadly ways, and I apologize for years of complicity in that.

I pray that in the years to come, churches of every denomination will join me in repenting of the ways our communities have marginalized those whom God loves, by what we have done and by what we have left undone, and I look to you for leadership moving forward. As long as there is a need for straight allies like me to speak up in your support, I’ll do it, but like many of you, I pray for a day when your humanity alone is enough, when posts like these just aren’t necessary anymore.

While you’re not the intended audience for this piece, I hope it honors you. I pray you have already reached a point in your own story where posts like these are unnecessary to your self-acceptance, and you can skip the paragraphs ahead knowing I’ve done my best to incorporate your testimonies, scholarship, and leadership into each one. I hope it avoids some of the trappings of ally-centered advocacy, though I suppose some of those are unavoidable. Thank you for all you have taught me about love, courage, faithfulness, and truth. Forgive me for all the ways I have been complicit in your marginalization. I am a better wife, mother, Christian, and person for having you in my life.

I’ve been sitting on this post for a couple years now, torn by the fact that the indisputably redemptive lives and testimonies of the LGBTQ Christians in my life make it seem unnecessary, and the reality that the exclusionary posture of many churches, denominations, and families would suggest that it still is. Recent events, the controversy around Jen Hatmaker’s public affirmation of same-sex relationships, and conversations with LGBTQ friends, have convinced me it’s important to explain to my readers how and why I moved from a more conservative posture that deems variations in gender and sexuality as sinful aberrations against God’s will to a posture that embraces these variations as part of God’s creation and that celebrates the healthy, loving, and Christlike relationships that emerge from them. I’ve shared this evolution in bits and pieces elsewhere, and I’ve been public about my position for quite some time, but I’ve never outlined my journey in a single post.

My aim is to show how such a change is possible—indeed, necessary—and to dispel some of the myths regarding those of us who hold an affirming position.

In short, I affirm LGBTQ people because they are human beings, created in the image of God. I affirm their sexual orientations and gender identities because they reflect the diversity of God’s good creation, where little fits into rigid binary categories.

I affirm their (healthy) relationships.

I affirm them because theology that refuses to accept their personhood is deadly.

I recently read an article that described LGBTQ people and those who love and affirm them as “wolves…prowling, and lions roaring…bold and proud of their heresy.”

That’s not true. That’s not who we are.

We are parents, compelled by unconditional love to embrace our children as God made them and to give them every chance to be healthy and whole.

We are pastors, compelled by Scripture, tradition, and our responsibility to God’s people to preach a gospel that is good news for all, especially for the marginalized and cast-out.

We are therapists and counselors, compelled by stories of trauma and heartache to point to a better way forward.

We are friends and neighbors, siblings and Sunday school teachers, aunts and uncles and Christian college professors spurred by truth and love to speak out. Many of us have paid a steep price for doing so, though never as steep as the LGBTQ people who face the brunt of discrimination every day. We don’t take this posture because it’s easy or popular or rebellious; we do it because we believe, with every fiber of our beings and with the conviction of the Holy Spirit, that it’s the right thing to do.

So, with all that said, this is my story…

I don’t speak from ignorance when I refer to what is often termed the “traditional view” of gender and sexuality; on the contrary, I was raised on it. For many years, it was all I knew.

I immersed myself in the apologetics movement of the 1990s, and early 2000s, memorizing all the Bible verses and familiarizing myself with the arguments around culture war issues like abortion and same sex marriage. Same sex relationships were indisputably regarded as sinful. If you’ve read any of my autobiographical books, you will not be surprised to learn that as a religious overachiever—(ENNEAGRAM THREES RULE!)—I knew the arguments against same-sex relationships backward and forward, and could handily win a proof-text debate against anyone who disagreed with what I believed was the “historic and biblical consensus” on gender, sex, and marriage. I held what many refer to as the “traditional view”—that God created men and women whose gender identities should correspond to the typically-male and typically-female physical features of their birth and whose sexual orientations and relationships must be heterosexual in order to be holy. Though I held these views without perceived malice, I have come to believe that they are inherently damaging and I grieve to think of the harm I might have done by perpetuating them, even for a short time in my late teens and early twenties.

Like a lot of folks raised in a conservative evangelical culture, I grew up believing that some people, in an act of rebellion against God, chose to pursue a “gay lifestyle” by identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual and by engaging in relationships with people of the same sex. Similarly, those who identified as transgender were rebelling against the gender God assigned to them via biology, and thus also living in sin. This was not something we talked about a lot in my home, which was always loving and grace-filled, but it’s something I learned about in church, at the conservative Christian college I attended, and in books and magazines I consumed voraciously as a teenager and young adult.

So what changed?

Things began to unravel in college, when the answers I’d memorized in apologetics class failed to satisfy my own nagging questions regarding conservative evangelical views on politics, science, religious pluralism, heaven and hell, sexuality and gender roles. This led to something of a crisis of faith, a story I’ve outlined in several of my books.

Even as I held the traditional view, I noticed how fellow Christians disproportionately targeted gay people.

Professors at my evangelical college argued against the legalization of same-sex marriage, but had no problem with remarriage after divorce remaining legal, despite biblical prohibitions against it. I never saw anyone kicked out of church for the “lifestyle sins” of greed or gluttony or gossip. We didn’t argue that bakers should be able to refuse service to cohabitating heterosexual couples.

Evangelicals seemed content to classify debates over women in ministry and methods of baptism as “secondary issues,” but turned LGBTQ acceptance into a doctrinal line in the sand.

It was like how, in Jesus’ day, everyone acknowledged themselves as sinners, and yet there remained a special classification for, you know, Sinners. Interestingly enough, Jesus preferred to associate with the latter.

It became clear to me that LGBTQ people were being singled out, marginalized, and rejected.

I heard stories from people like Justin Lee, whose life looked remarkably like my own—raised evangelical by loving and involved parents, deeply committed to his faith, known to his public school classmates as “God Boy” (I was “Bible Girl”), and committed to the “traditional view” that homosexuality was a sin—but with one important difference: Justin is gay. As he writes in his excellent book, Torn, Justin didn’t want to be gay. He didn’t choose to be gay. “Night after night, I cried myself to sleep,” he writes, “begging and pleading with God to take away my sexual attractions to other guys.”

Like so many other gay and lesbian Christians, Justin attempted conversion therapy through a (now defunct) organization promising “healing” and “deliverance” from homosexuality, complete with testimonies from “ex-gay” men and women that included pictures of them smiling with their families. Counselors at the organization tried to convince Justin that his same-sex attractions were the fault of his parents—“an overbearing mother and a distant father,” they said—but this simply didn’t fit with Justin’s lived experience. He was close to his father and had a healthy relationship with his mom. Justin eventually soured on conversion therapy when he saw just how much pain and guilt it instilled in himself and other LGBTQ Christians, and when high-profile “ex-gays” like Colin Cook, Michael Bussee, Gary Cooper, and John Paulk, whose testimonies helped fuel the ex-gay movement which crashed with scandals and broken families.

Several of those men later disavowed conversion therapy. Alan Chambers, the former president of Exodus International, apologized for the “pain and hurt” caused by Exodus.

It would be one thing if Justin’s story was an isolated one. But as I began traveling, speaking, and visiting with my readers in person, I heard similar stories over and over and over again.

Justin’s story was not the exception. It was the norm.

These people were not “broken.”

Far from being “unnatural,” homosexuality has been widely documented in the animal kingdom, and far from being a product of American culture, variations in gender and sexuality have been observed in hundreds of cultures around the world, from those that embrace variance in gender and sexuality (like the Navajo, or the Bugis of Indonesia), to those that make them punishable by death.

Rachel passed away before she had a chance to finish this article. She would reference it sometimes when we talked. She worked on it off and on for years. She started working on it again just before she got sick and was planning to post it earlier this year. This post is my best effort to show her intent. It’s based on writing and notes of hers that I found on her computer. I’ve posted it publically because I know how important this message is. It’s important enough to be public even though it’s imperfect and incomplete.

Silent allies with platforms, Clergy, Employers: It’s your turn to advocate for your LGBTQ family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. It’s your turn to be public even if you’re imperfect and incomplete. -Dan

Related: The False Gospel of Gender Binaries

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