A Different Type of Love Story
About the Guest
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Rachel GilsonRachel serves on the leadership team of Theological Development and Culture with Cru, and is the author of Born Again This Way: Coming Out, Coming to Faith, and What Comes Next (The Good Book Company, 2020). Her writing has appeared in Christianity Today and for Desiring God and The Gospel Coalition, and she speaks nationally and internationally at churches and on college campuses. Rachel holds a Master of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a history degree from Yale Col...more
Rachel Gilson shares about her ongoing struggle against sexual brokenness. She suggests some helpful things Christians can do to enter into this important cultural conversation with love and wisdom.
A Different Type of Love Story
Bob: After experiencing same-sex attraction, as a young adult and living that out, Rachel Gilson found herself in a relationship with a young man, who wanted to marry her. She had to think long and hard about God’s design for marriage and what it would mean for her to be this man’s wife.
Rachel: Marriage isn’t like a little quick weekend project—like, “I need to stain the deck”; you know? It’s a long-term building project—like, “I need to build a cathedral to worship the Lord.” I think it was really good for me to actually soberly consider, “Do Andrew and I have what it takes to build this partnership in the gospel, long-term?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, August 28th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. There is a lot all of us can learn about marriage from someone who has lived with same-sex attraction and had to think about marriage in some new ways. We’ll hear from Rachel Gilson about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Dave, you’re in pastoral ministry; you’ve been in pastoral ministry for 30 years. Anyone who is in pastoral ministry, in the year of our Lord 2020, is going to be confronted with questions about what we’re talking about this week/issues related to gender and sexuality.
Bob: Some of those questions coming from people, who are struggling—some of those coming from people, who aren’t struggling—who are saying, “No; I’m fine with how I’m living. I want this and Jesus too.” Have you had to have some hard conversations?
Dave: Yes; definitely—I think loving conversations; you know? I think there is a desire—and I think it’s a good desire—for clarity: “Okay; what’s God’s heart?” “What does Scripture say?” “What is true? What is untrue?” “What should be our response to a son or a daughter, who is asking those questions as well as a person in our church?”
I hate to say it—I sort of get excited, you know, about talking about those kind of questions because—
Ann: —you’re excited for honesty.
Ann: You’re excited when people don’t put up a veneer, and they are willing to talk about real issues that they are facing.
Dave: “Don’t hide.
Dave: “Please don’t hide, and let’s talk,”—
Dave: —you know? I hope I can be a representative of the heart of Jesus. You have to go back to Jesus, and back to His Word, to say, “Okay; what does it say?” and “What does that mean for me?”
Bob: We’ve been having a good honest conversation this week with Rachel Gilson, who is joining us on FamilyLife Today. Hello, Rachel; welcome back.
Rachel: It has been honest, and I think it has been gospel-centered. [Laughter]
Bob: That’s how we want it to be.
Rachel is an author; she’s a speaker. She provides theological guidance and oversight for all of us, who are a part of Cru®, and has written a book that is part memoir and part, as I said, coaching manual for all of us in the culture to know, “How do we respond to the questions related to gender and sexuality in our friends’ lives, in our kids’ lives, in the lives of people we love in the church or outside the church?”
Her book is called Born Again This Way; and it tells about your own experience with same-sex attraction, coming to Christ on the Yale campus, recognizing that you were going to have to put your sexual desires under the lordship of Christ if you were going to follow Christ. Ultimately, as we’ve already talked about this week, you making the decision to marry a man and to now be the mother of—is it one child or—
Rachel: —one child. I want to be like an excellent college basketball player—one and done. [Laughter]
Bob: —one [daughter.]
Rachel, tell us a little bit about how somebody, who in high school found yourself attracted—
Ann: Wait; wait; wait. I have to get into this; because I underlined and highlighted this in your book, because it’s not something you read every day—it says: “In 2007, I married a man; but it wasn’t because I had fallen in love.” That’s not something you read every day; tell us about that.
Rachel: Well, as a campus minister, I work with a lot of young college women. They kind of—they get starry-eyed—and they are like, “Tell me your love story!” I’m like, “Ooh, you might be a little disappointed.” [Laughter]
Ann: And that—because it’s not typical—it’s not what you read, and it’s not what our culture tells us is normal or should be normal.
Rachel: No; we’re presented with the idea that romance is the on-ramp into marriage. I never felt romantic with men; I’ve enjoyed the company of men, but that hadn’t been an avenue. I happened to meet a young man named Andrew, who had a bad haircut and wore clothes that were a little too big; but he was really Jesus-centered and really delightful.
He started pursuing me, and this thing that was growing with Andrew really was real. I could tell: “Our lives are centered in the same way. I really like him,”—I felt a lot of affection—“I think there’s even some attraction here”; but it felt kind of like a little flame that you have to cup your hands around to protect it. I thought, “Oh my goodness! Can I build a marriage on that?”
Well, it drew me back to the Scriptures: “Well, what does the Word say?” I had to examine marriage again. What I saw as God’s picture for marriage is that marriage does one thing: it is designed to explain—in living, breathing pictures, around the world, over the course of history—the gospel. It is a picture of God’s relationship with His people. Part of that is faithfulness; part of that is sexual pleasure; part of that is procreation; part of that is male/female—and that you can have romance be a part of that picture—but actually, you don’t need romance to be a part of that picture.
Marriage isn’t like a little quick weekend project—like, “I need to stain the deck”; you know? It is a long-term building project—like, “I need to build a cathedral to worship the Lord.” I think it was really good for me to actually soberly consider, “Do Andrew and I have what it takes to build this partnership in the gospel, long-term?”
Honestly, I kind of wish more of my students would have that kind of clarity as they sat down and considered what marriage is for instead of just being/letting infatuation be the gateway into marriage, because it’s a long-term thing.
Bob: Rachel, I just finished writing a book that has just been released called Love Like You Mean It; and it’s 1 Corinthians 13 applied to marriage. It’s exactly what you’re saying—it’s saying, “If we approach this with the romantic comedy mentality/with a pop song mentality, we’re majoring on a minor part of the love relationship.” Paul makes it clear—under the inspiration of the Spirit, he puts hard words to what love is—words like: patience, and kindness, and not self-seeking, and bearing all things, and hoping all things, and enduring all things. This is what we are signing up for when we stand and say, “I will love, honor, and cherish you for the rest of my life.”
Rachel: I’m not sure how any husband decides to be a husband when they read Ephesians 5.
Rachel: It’s like, “Oh, just love exactly like Christ did”—you know—“by dying to yourself.”
Ann: But what about Andrew? That had to be a little disconcerting to him—it’s not fireworks—“Is she attracted to me?” What was he feeling?
Bob: Yes; “You remind me of a little flame,”—not fireworks—“I’m drawn to you like a little flame.”
Ann: I’m not sure how excited Dave would have been had I said, “Yes; I think there is a little something, maybe, there.”
Rachel: Well, Andrew, luckily, is very secure as a human being. I remember trying to put him off when he first asked me out. He knew everything about my story before he even got involved, which I think was really important. He just looked at me very realistically; he was like, “Well, Jesus has forgiven you; so how could I possibly hold that against you?”
The thing about Andrew is that he loves Jesus just as much as I do, and he looks at everything through the gospel lens as well. I do think there have been times—especially early in marriage, when you’re still figuring out the sexual relationship—so I think it’s important that we talk about sex in marriage realistically because, actually, sex takes work.
Dave: How much—if you could be honest to say, how much did your past affect your sexual relationship in your marriage?
Rachel: You know, honestly, my sexual relationship in marriage has brought so much healing to my sexuality that it actually has nothing to do with my attractional patterns but has to do with some other major places, where I had experienced sexual brokenness. I had to realize, over time, “Ooh, my sexuality is tied into some things that are really unhelpful and really unbiblical”; and actually, experiencing the safety and the joy in a committed sexual relationship with one person has been such a blessing to me. I’ve actually experienced healing in kind of—I’m picturing like a wall with deep cracks—like healing that gets poured deep down into those places; so for me, it’s been a lot of joy.
Ann: I think, too, as we think about our marriage—
Dave: We’re going to talk about our marriage now?
Ann: —yes; Dave and I have been married 40 years. Bob and Mary Ann just had 41 years for their anniversary. You know what?—I’m going to be honest—it’s not a big bonfire all the time; it seldom is, actually. [Laughter] Yet, that little flame that keeps going—that has warmed my soul and continues to—that steadfast love that Jesus has and the bond of Christ that we have together—it’s living for something bigger than yourself.
Ann: Isn’t that what we all need? Because when I’m living for Dave, he will be so disappointed; because there is not a whole lot there; but if we’re living on mission together—and that’s what it sounds like you and Andrew have—
Rachel: Our lives were oriented in the same direction. And you know, I was just reading Nancy Percy’s book, Love Thy Body. She was reporting a statistic I’ve seen other places, where it turns out the happiest people, sexually, are middle-aged, married Christians. I think there is something very realistic about saying, “Oh, sex doesn’t have to be this movie scene all the time”; and yet, it can still be a place of such intimacy, and joy, and promise, and connection.
Ann: Let’s talk about, too: “How do we as a church”—there are so many blind spots that we carry—“How do we lovingly help our friends that are same-sex attracted? What are the do’s and don’ts?” I think we’re walking on eggshells, so nobody will say anything in fear of hurting or offending. What do you think, Rachel? What are some steps that we can take in the church, as a body of Christ, but also as friends and even as parents?
Rachel: Yes; well, of course, some of our churches are in really different places. You know, you have some churches, where love and acceptance is really high; but knowledge of the Bible is really, really low. Then you have other churches, where knowledge of the Bible is really strong; but there is maybe insecurity about what having same-sex attracted people in the congregation would look like. Different churches are facing different realities as they come to the topic.
One of the number-one things we can do to love same-sex attracted people is just to listen. Let’s say for a moment we’re just talking about same-sex attracted people, who are disciples/who are Christians. You just want to listen to their story; because many people, who experience same-sex attraction, grew up in the church and were wounded in some way by the church. It’s really helpful for us to take the time to listen to the stories; sometimes, to apologize where necessary and to try to learn. Listening is such an important act of love.
Then I think, too, another thing we can do is we can talk very honestly about whether a life of long-term singleness looks like a prison or looks like a place of thriving in our church community; because so many disciples, who experience same-sex attraction, will be called to long-term singleness. If singleness looks like the Sahara Desert, then we are not living up to what Jesus has talked about.
He said, very clearly, “You will leave fathers and mothers and children and lands for my sake, but you will receive a hundred times more, not just in the life to come, but now.” The church is designed to be a family now—and marrieds and singles—we need each other; we need each other. Sometimes, the only view of singleness in the church has been, “In your early 20s, let’s just try to figure out how to pair you off; because our only vision of the good life is the married life.” Well, what do we say about Jesus Christ, Himself, who was an unmarried man, where that was extremely abnormal—or to Paul?
I think we need to keep the dignity of marriage and recover the dignity of singleness—and have honest conversations with our children, with our young adults, with our older adults—about how both of those life stages are a part of God’s vision for the way that He is glorified on earth. I think, also, just being able to say, “I experience same-sex attraction,” and have that be okay in the church. We’re not looking for a place to be celebrated, like, “Yay! You’re so fantastic because you experience same-sex attraction”; but how in the world can I get support for an issue in my life if I feel like I can’t talk about it; right? If we practice speaking about all types of sexual temptation, as things that people really face, we’ll create space for people to be open and honest.
Bob: Rachel, there is—you know this—a little bit of a debate among whether the desire/the same-sex desire is something that will be perpetual/a lifetime phenomenon or whether it ought to be—the expectation ought to be that it’s lessening over time as you grow in grace and in sanctification. What’s your thinking on that?
Rachel: Sometimes, God comes in and completely removes a set of temptations to prove that He has all power in the universe. I know people whose attractions have been entirely changed, either immediately or slowly over time; I think that demonstrates God’s power. There are also plenty of people, who have earnestly sought change, and haven’t received it. A lot of those people have quoted back to me when Paul asked three times for the thorn in his flesh to be removed; and what God said is, “Your weakness will show My strength; My grace is sufficient for you.”
I think, at other times, God allows same-sex attraction to remain. He allows temptations to remain because when I say, “I’m going to say, ‘No,’ to this very strong desire so that I can say, ‘Yes,’ to Jesus,” what I am saying is: “Jesus is worth saying, ‘Yes,’ to.”
Ann: That’s good.
Rachel: Maybe, it doesn’t demonstrate power in the same way; but it demonstrates His worth and His beauty. I think He calls some Christians to be that kind of light in the world; because our culture thinks you are literally insane if you say, “No,” to this.
Rachel: They’ll tell me: “You’re repressed,” “You’re homophobic,”—or these types of things—I’m saying, “I’m not any of those things. I’ve never been repressed. What I am is in love with the God who made me.”
Bob: That’s good.
As a mother of a six-year-old in a part of the country, where public schools are rapidly embracing a cultural view of sexuality,—
Rachel: My daughter’s kindergarten teacher is a woman who is married to another woman.
Bob: —so how are you thinking about this as you think about raising a six-year-old and then a 16-year-old eventually?
Rachel: What we do is—we just don’t talk about it and hope it all resolves itself. [Laughter]
Ann: That’s what we all want to do. [Laughter]
Rachel: Well, it’s been a big challenge. I just want to be very clear that—partially, I feel like I’m flying blind; because I wasn’t raised in the Christian household. I don’t really have a lot of great examples to look to; so I’m just trying to rely on God’s Spirit, and God’s Word, and God’s people.
One of the things I want to do over and over again—and I try to practice with my daughter—is we make it clear that Christians are not better than non-Christians. Actually, we are all—all—all sinners in need of the grace and truth of Jesus; and that the first thing we want to see happen in someone’s life is that they say, “Yes,” to the gospel; because if you don’t say, “Yes,” to the gospel, well, what good is it to live up to the externals of religion if you don’t have the Person who it is all about? I try to talk about that with my daughter all the time.
Then I try to explain to her the positive vision for sexuality. I try to explain to her that husbands and wives are a picture of the gospel. Now, I’ve been talking to her about this since she was two or three; basically, because I didn’t know what to do. I figured if I just talked to her about sex really early, maybe I’ll catch it before it becomes awkward. [Laughter] I do think it’s brought some fruit. She does understand there is a major link between our bodies and procreation. Now, could she explain that as articulately as me?—I don’t think so—but I think there is power and safety in being honest, because she’s going to hear it on the playground.
The youngest age of boys being exposed to pornography right now is nine. If I’m waiting until after nine years old to talk about what sexuality is, I have lost the game.
Ann: And how did you explain her teacher being married to a woman of the same sex?
Rachel: She actually just found out pretty recently, because her teacher’s wife gave birth to a child. My daughter came home: “Did you know that she is married to a woman?” “Oh, I did know.” She was like, “How did they have a baby? How does that happen?” We talked about: “Well, you know that they can’t,”—because she knew those two women couldn’t take their bodies and make a baby. I was like, “Right; so they had to go outside their marriage.” She was kind of quickly like, “Is that wrong?”
I was like, “Right; we understand that there is only one place where sexual expression”—I forget; she likes to refer to it as connecting bodies—that’s the phrase she’s locked onto.
Ann: It’s a good one.
Rachel: It’s a good one; right? So like: “There is only one place where God sanctions that; but we have to remember: ‘Your teacher isn’t a terrible person just because this is how she is living her life. Her main issue is that she needs the gospel.’” I mean, I love the quote Rosaria Butterfield has said, “A non-Christian gay person’s problem isn’t that they are gay; it’s their unbelief.”
Bob: You know, Rachel, none of us in this room were ever having conversations with our six-year-olds about the things you’re having to have conversations with your six-year-old about. I applaud you and the moms and dads, who are in the middle of a cultural tsunami, and trying to hang on for dear life and grasp for air in the process.
Rachel: I think there is a lot of reason why parents of my age, with kids who are young, we’re feeling overwhelmed/we’re feeling afraid; because we haven’t really had to do this in this culture. However, the gospel shines extremely bright in the darkness. The gospel is the power of salvation for everyone who believes, and it actually makes the best sense of the world. If we equip our children with a worldview that actually explains who we are, what our bodies are for, and there is Someone who made us and loves us, it is actually more compelling than everything else that is happening in the world outside.
Ann: This is not an easy book to write; you have been incredibly vulnerable and real. That takes incredible courage, knowing that there are going to be people who don’t agree with you. You are a grace-giver and a truth-teller in a beautiful way. Thank you! This helps us, and we need this in a time, where we are pointing people to Jesus.
Rachel: Well, if any of that’s true, to Him be the glory.
Bob: We believe it is true. Again, thank you for being with us. We want to let our listeners know how they can get a copy of Rachel’s book; it’s called Born Again This Way. We’ve got copies in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. I’d encourage you to get it, and to read it, and to share it with others. Go online to FamilyLifeToday.com to get your copy, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the title of Rachel’s book, Born Again This Way: Coming Out, Coming to Faith, and What Comes Next. Order online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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With that, we have to wrap things up for today. Thanks for being with us. Hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able, one way or another, to worship together with your local church this weekend.
I hope you can join us back on Monday when we’re going to talk about how important it is for you, as parents, not just to be praying for your children as they head back to school this year, but to be praying with them as they head to school this year. Holly Melton will be here to talk about how she’s been doing that with her kids, and she’s got some great ideas for all of us, as moms and dads. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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