Broadleaf Books, 235 pages
The author’s objective in writing “Outlove: A Queer Christian Survival Story” is summarized perfectly in its subtitle:
- It embraces Queer, formerly an adjective of homophobic abuse but now worn proudly by those rejecting traditional binary categories.
- It is clearly Christian, intersecting the liminal boundaries dividing fundamentalist, evangelical and mainline persuasions.
- It concerns Survival, which the author unfolds in painful detail.
- It recounts the author’s Story, the denouement of which is still in play.
Julie Rodgers openly acknowledged her same-sex orientation at 17, agreeing with her church’s portrayal of homosexuality as “broken and sinful.” She joined Living Hope Ministries in Arlington, Texas, trusting in its promise to cure her errant sexual proclivities. But as she struggled mightily to change, nothing could transform her attraction to female partners.
Upon graduation from Dallas Baptist University, she moved into Hope House, a residence for lesbian and gay Christians wanting to become straight, where she caught the attention of Exodus International, an advocate of “conversion therapy,” which contended that same-sex persons could reorient their sexual attraction. Rodgers soon began sharing her testimony with larger audiences nationwide.
After promoting conversion therapy in regional conferences with Exodus for a full year, in 2013 she confided to its president, “I still have traditional views of sex and marriage, but this ex-gay stuff doesn’t work.” Exodus International soon closed — after 37 years of offering the false promise of conversion therapy.
A year later, having accepted a position at Wheaton College, she continued to deal with the idea that homosexuality reflects “broken and sinful” impulses. She was encouraged to say that she was open to the Lord healing her in ways that could lead to a holy marriage with a man but found she could not. When an article in WORLD Magazine reported that Wheaton College had hired a gay, celibate Christian, conservative evangelicals were outraged over Rodgers’ presence there. She resigned the following summer. (Full disclosure: this reviewer served for two years on the Wheaton College faculty.)
She reflects, “I wasn’t aware that I was reading the Bible with an interpretive lens because Evangelicals claimed to have absolute truth. They didn’t acknowledge . . . how their context shaped their understanding of the text, or how they read into the Bible just as much as they read from the Bible” [emphasis added].
Rodgers’ book will especially resonate with parents and families of LBGTQ youth growing up in Christian communities. And her candid, sympathetic telling of her story will provide both affirmation and hope to those dealing with similar issues. Young adult groups, especially those who have not been exposed to LBGTQ peers, will gain valuable insights from reading and discussing her struggles within the evangelical religious establishment.
Rodgers’ memoir is neither bitter nor — save for one regrettable high school incident — remorseful. She helps readers outside fundamentalist circles to better understand why its devotees embrace their dogma with such fervor. And for those experiencing rejection at the hands of well-meaning but sternly authoritarian church leaders, she offers hope by exposing conversion therapy as a hoax and through the example of her own life: accepting her true self, marrying another woman and leading in the movement for full inclusion for LGBTQ people in Christian communities.
Emery J. Cummins is emeritus professor of counseling at San Diego State University and a ruling elder in the Presbytery of San Diego.
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