Allow me to introduce Cali. To be honest, I don’t know Cali incredibly well. She was a student at a church I was a part of years ago (not the one where I used to work).
Cali identifies as LGBTQ. And though we only knew one another in passing years ago, she reached out to me when I started blogging about LGBTQ inclusion and we’ve since had a chance to catch up.
Cali’s story, or some form of it, is quite common in the Church, especially – I suspect – the evangelical church (which I discussed some in an earlier post).
I asked Cali to share her story for this reason. Not only does it relate to the challenges of being LGBTQ in an evangelical context, but it also addresses longstanding issues in the Church regarding the idolatry of sexual purity, especially for women.
What follows are Cali’s words. I’ll swing back around at the end to provide some reflection and resources for further consideration.
*Trigger Warning – Sexual Abuse and Spiritual Abuse*
**In this post I will use LGBTQ+ to encompass all expressions of non-heteronormative sexuality**
I was sold the lie that sex was going to be wonderful and flawless.
I was convinced that losing my virginity was going to be the best moment of my life.
If I waited until marriage to have sex.
I was sold this lie from the one place that is not supposed to lie. Church. In church youth group, girls and boys weren’t allowed to sit next to each other in the church van for fear of making “purple.” (In this analogy girls are pink, and boys are blue. When girls and boys get too close or touch, they are then making purple.)
I was a part of many bible studies and heard church services lied to me in saying that I am a princess and I needed to wait for my prince to come and sweep me off my feet.
When I was 16, I found my prince.
We had been dating for a few weeks before he brought up sex. I was 16. He was 19. He told me that it was God’s will that we have sex since we were going to get married anyway. He told me since God is outside of time, in His eyes we were already married.
I decided to let “god” be in control that night. My prince was forceful and rough. Even though I was crying and pleading for it to stop, he continued to force himself on me. I left that incident a broken and confused spirit.
My first experience with sex was nothing like what I had believed it would be. I thought all of my sexual encounters would be like being raped because I had not been told anything different.
Throughout our relationship my prince raped me many times. When church leaders found out we were “having sex” (I use this terminology because this is what I said. I now know I was being raped) the all-male pastoral staff at our church called him in for a meeting and told him that he could no longer have leadership positions within the church until we “stopped having sex.”
My parents were never alerted and I was never checked on.
The church sure does a lot of talking about sex, but fails to mention any other sex besides a straight man and a straight woman losing their virginity on their wedding night. As I continued to attend church I was compared to “chewed gum” or an “ugly rose” because I was tainted. I believed I had committed the worst sin in the world by letting my body be touched before I was married.
I prayed for forgiveness for years. I still feel inadequate of my wife’s love some days.
I broke up with my prince before my senior year in high school. I went away to a small conservative Christian college and began to really look at my sexuality.
Upon coming into puberty, I had started having sexual fantasies about women. I was confused and ashamed of these thoughts. I had no context in which to put them. I pushed those thoughts deep into my soul and vowed to keep them to myself. I did not tell one single person in my life because I did not have the vernacular to even begin to express how I was feeling.
While I was away at college, I made some head way in finding healing from my abuser and made great strides in becoming whole during my four years in Chicago. While I was pursuing a degree in Christian Ministry, I had innumerable conversations with my friends and professors about my sexuality. I was able to find a safe space to admit to myself and others that I am exclusively attracted to women.
After I came out to myself as a lesbian, I had a problem on my hands.
How could I be a lesbian and a Christian? I did not think I knew anyone else who was LGBTQ+ and I definitely did not think I knew any LGBTQ+ Christians!
I started drifting from the church and God because I was desperate and lonely. I knew that I was attracted to women and I wanted to get married and have a family. I did not know that a Christian woman could be with another woman. At this point, my pull to date women was stronger than my pull to God.
When I came out to myself, I immediately started coming out to my friends, family and acquaintances. I was overjoyed to finally have a word to say what I had been feeling for so many years. I was free to be who I was created to be.
It was only after I came out to myself and others, that I started doing research into what God has to say about LGBTQ+ people. I went into my research with a closed heart because I knew that if I came to the conclusion that God did not want me to be with a woman, I would abandon God and be with a woman.
As I did my research, however, I found out that in the Bible, LGBTQ+ people are not mentioned by Jesus once.
I also learned that in Biblical times, sex was used to show power over another person. Sex was not an expression of love as it seen as today. A loving LGBTQ+ relationship did not exist in Biblical times and is therefore never mentioned.
Any mention of men lying with men is talking about the practice of gay rape for punishment and to show power. Check out this website for more info on this.
I was blessed to have a supportive community around me when I came out and started dating my wife. I lost some friends, but my true friends leaned in closer than ever. I had a beautiful wedding that was full of love and support from many areas of my life.
Not everyone is this lucky.
But I implore anyone who is wrestling with their sexuality to continue to do so until they discover who God made them to be. I do not fit into the “Christian box” because of my sexuality but I am overjoyed to able to live the life I was created to live.
While Cali’s story obviously illustrates some of the challenges and confusion an LGBTQ Christian often faces within the Church, what is less often discussed is the way Christian purity culture intersects with other issues of gender and sexuality.
Even if she didn’t also identify as LGBTQ, Cali’s story would be important because of the ways it exposes the double standard that women in the church often face when it comes to sex and abuse.
The Church needs to do better. There needs to be more grace. There needs to be more empathy. And there needs to be a lot more openness and willingness to discuss sexuality realistically, honestly, and even handedly.
One of the most tragic details of Cali’s story is that she didn’t possess the means to articulate her abuse. And so being honest about it didn’t serve to set her free, it simply left her further isolated.
Let me say that neither Cali nor myself are advocating for the trivializing of sex or the marginalization of faithful commitment. You’ll be hard pressed to find a progressive Christian advocating for an “anything goes” approach to sexual ethics.
Love and faithfulness are virtues. But so are consent, empathy, and equality.
Rather, Cali’s story serves to highlight the ways that the Church, especially the evangelical church, has objectified and idolized sexual purity, especially in women.
Much has been written on this topic and so it deserves a closer look that I won’t provide here, at least not today, at least not directly. For the time being I have linked to a number of excellent articles that address the subject from various angles below.
But first I want to thank Cali for her bravery in sharing her story and for being a voice for Christian women and faithfully LGBTQ persons everywhere.