Rachel Gilson, a writer, speaker and campus minister, shared her personal journey of reconciling her sexuality and her Christian faith in chapel on Thursday, Jan. 24.
In high school, Gilson identified as an atheist and a lesbian. During this time, her perception was that Christians opposed her because of her sexual orientation. However, when she got to college, she couldn’t shake a strong curiosity in Jesus. As she began to read the Bible and other Christian texts, she decided that her homosexual lifestyle couldn’t coexist with a Christian lifestyle.
“I thought, ‘There’s a lot of things you like that definitely don’t fit into the Christian lifestyle,’ but I couldn’t pretend the Gospel wasn’t true, just because it was inconvenient,” Gilson said.
While coming to terms with the changes that she now felt were necessary, Gilson tried to understand why the Bible limited marriage to those between a man and a woman. However, she said that her trust in God superseded her desire to completely understand his law.
“Can you obey before you fully understand? What God wants us to do is to ask, ‘Do you trust me?’…Is he worth it, even if we don’t quite get it?” Gilson said. For her, the answer is yes.
Gilson also talked about hypocrisy she has seen within the Christian community of focusing on homosexual sins but turning a blind eye to heterosexual sins. “We’ve been extremely hypocritical, calling out a tiny minority- sometimes people who aren’t even sinning sexually, they’re just saying, ‘This is my brand of temptation’- and then not at all really reckoning with the damage being done on the other side.”
Ashley Mercer, freshman kinesiology major, went to both the chapel and talkback session and was encouraged by the number of students who attended. Mercer felt that Gilson brought a unique perspective to the LGBTQ+ conversation.
“Usually you only get one side of the story, either where people more emotionally justify what they are doing, or the side where people are just ‘boom, boom, boom, this is what the Bible says,” Mercer said. “I liked how she understood both, and was like, ‘Well, neither one of those seems completely whole.’”
Gilson also called the church to action and repentance of “how we’ve treated gay people both outside the church and inside the church.”
Mercer agreed with Gilson’s point that the church has often mistreated members of the gay community. “Whether or not you believe something is or isn’t correct, it’s really disappointing to watch the church respond to something so unlovingly,” Mercer said. “I was reminded that I need to look into that community and hear what they have to say and let them help me understand where they are coming from … We can do a better job of asking questions out of a desire to learn about and love people instead of out of a desire to fix and correct people.”
Colton Philpott, freshman communication major, attended both of Gilson’s sessions. While he was initially excited to hear a chapel speaker talk about LGBTQ+ issues, he soon felt discouraged by the direction in which Gilson headed – specifically, Gilson’s stance that marriage is between a man and woman. “It was as if… she was there to better LGBTQ+ people rather than support them… I’m being told that being LGBTQ+ is still wrong,” Philpott said. “They were trying to tell me how to change… I just want people to be more open about who they are.”
Philpott felt that what LGBTQ+ students needed was a message of inclusion and acceptance, instead of one that agreed with traditional biblical views of marriage. He believed that homosexuality and Christianity can coexist and wishes that more people agreed.
“People try to tell me that you can’t be Christian and believe in LGBTQ+ rights… why can’t you have both?” Philpott said. “Why can’t there be a middle ground? Was this rule for a certain people in a certain time?”
As discussions surrounding the church and LGBTQ+ people and issues continues, Philpott said he wished the LGBTQ+ community at JBU was more open. “LGBTQ+ students here need to know that there’s someone else who is in the same boat as they are,” Philpott said.
Gilson emphasized the importance of approaching this conversation and those involved in it with love, correcting and apologizing for hateful behavior towards the LGBTQ+ community.
“Every single one of us is sexually broken. There’s enough sin to go around. But the good news, of course, is that we have a savior in Jesus Christ… there’s enough space in Jesus for all of us.”