“I lived 30 years alone”: A Christian lesbian grandmother tells her story

Here is a letter I got in response to the call I put out on my blog awhile back asking for the personal testimony of gay Christians:

I am a 72-year-old Christian mother and grandmother. I had a wonderful career as a teacher for every age, from pre-school through college. I served as a member of our church council, as a Sunday school teacher, as a Vacation Bible School superintendent, and I have been on mission trips to every continent. My hobbies are studying, reading, travel, genealogy, gardening, and dogs.

I am a lesbian. For most of my life, I hid that part of who I am, deeply in denial. I did not choose to be a lesbian, but I did choose to deny that part of myself, in the belief that I had to choose if I wanted to follow Christ. From the time I was seven years old, I wanted, most of all, to follow Jesus. As a young teen, I wanted to be a pastor, but I learned that “girls couldn’t do that.” I got married because that was what was expected of me, and I tried for fifteen years to make that marriage work.

Then—out of the blue!—I fell deeply in love with a woman with whom I worked in ministry at our church. The day came when we spoke to each other about our feelings. As we shared our hearts together, we learned that we both had felt something of these forbidden feelings since childhood, and had kept them hidden. But we felt so perfect together; and we began to believe that God had brought us to the place we were.

Oh! Then we were found out! We were threatened with losing our children (my four children, and her son). Our children were told that we were filled with evil spirits, that we were an abomination to God. We were counseled in ways that filled us with fear and shame. We were convinced that we had to choose God and our children, and give up our love for each other.
With broken hearts, we went our separate ways. We began to try to restore our children’s trust, along with our relationship with God and with our church. We moved to different towns so that we couldn’t see each other.

For the next thirty years I lived alone. I was never fully successful in restoring my children’s love after what they went through, but I was able to develop a good career, and to serve in Christian ministries in my church. As a single Christian woman, I was free to do volunteer work, travel, and work on genealogy. Although my heart ached for the loss of my children’s love, I was able to go on, trusting and loving God, and continuing to hope that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

For all of my adult life I spent New Year’s Day in prayer, seeking God’s direction for the coming year. Each year I ended the day with a strong impression of someone for whom to pray, and some special need for ministry. I would write it in my Bible, and at the end of the year, I could see how God had worked.

But on New Year’s Day four years ago, after a long day of fasting and prayer, I sensed God’s message: “This time it’s not about someone else. It’s about you. You need to be honest with yourself about who you really are.”

And I knew it was time to do something I had ignored and denied for thirty years. I walked over to my computer and Googled “Gay Christian,” not knowing what, if anything, would appear.

And suddenly the pages opened up. I read for hours, learning about better Bible translations, learning about organizations for welcoming gay and lesbian Christians. With tears of joy and relief I learned that I didn’t have to hide that part of who I am anymore. I could admit to God, and to myself, without condemnation, that I am a lesbian. A huge burden was lifted from me.

I had no intention of changing anything of my outward life or relationships. I was single and content. But I decided to tell my children, and they made the decision to remove me from their lives and from the lives of my grandchildren. They continue to believe that being gay or lesbian is a terrible sin, and that they must protect their children from me.

Now, little by little, I am beginning to realize that I need to “come out” as a lesbian Christian. While I have lost my family, I have found a church that is welcoming. I am still not out to most of my neigh- bors and friends. But I am beginning to understand that coming out as a Christian lesbian may be a new way to love and serve others. And I continue to hope and pray that someday my family will be restored to me.

R.W., Seattle, Washington

This woman’s story, titled “I lived alone 30 years,” is one of twenty-seven stories from gay Christians that I collected, edited, and included in my book UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question. The titles of the other letters are:

“I did not want to exist anymore”
“Is my pretense worth it?”
“An aching loneliness”
“A better world if I was dead”
“I was in unsafe territory”
“My son and I aren’t welcomed”
“I was scared”
“I lived in terror”
“I am torn”
“I was the worst of the worst”
“Lying and hiding”
“The fallout was horrific”
“Deep pain and rejection”
“Years of feeling lost”
“Desperate to not be gay”
“I destroyed my parents’ dreams”
“My life fell apart”
“I hit bottom”
“On Sundays I’m alone”
“I’m an abomination”
“It would be all over for me”
“I begged God”
“I attempted suicide”
“They publicly prayed for my death”
“The Church hated me”
“Angry and ashamed”

Each of these letters is more affecting than the last. Taken all together they’ll tear your heart out. I’ve watched four different people read the letters while I was standing there. One of them was a pastor. Each of them cried.

Included in UNFAIR are sixteen of my best/most influential essays on the matter of Christians and LGBT people—including Taking God at His Word: The Bible and Homosexuality, which you can read here.

I’m not posting this just to hawk a book of mine. But I am proud of UNFAIR, which is the culmination of six years’ worth of  my work on this issue. I’m proud of what UNFAIR is; I’m proud of what it’s done; I’m proud of its painstakingly designed cover and interior pages. (Thanks to designer Dan Wilkinson for the love he showed this book.)

But what I am easily most proud of is knowing that with UNFAIR I have something that I or anyone else can give to any person who is wondering what, finally, is the right—the most moral, the most honest, the most manifestly and provably biblical—position that a Christian should take on the LGBT question. It’s a real pleasure for me to know that there’s no way on earth I could make a better argument than this book for why the Christian church and all of its members needs to renounce the idea that God condemns homosexuality, and embrace the truth that God cares no more about a person’s sexual orientation than God cares about the color of a person’s hair or eyes.

That’s why you work: so that you can have something that you can … use. And UNFAIR, for me, on this issue, is that something.

(I just now saw that Amazon has the paperback edition of UNFAIR on sale, down from its usual $12.99 to $11.25. I have no idea why such Amazon sales occur, nor when they might end. You can also buy UNFAIR directly from me, autographed and inscribed according to your directions: scroll down a bit on this page for the order form. It’s also available in both Kindle and Nook editions. If you purchased as a Kindle book the first edition of UNFAIR [UNFAIR: Why the "Christian" View of Gays Doesn't Work], go to your Manage My Kindle, where you will find waiting for you a free update for the new edition.)

Thanks for reading/buying/caring/sharing. Together, the Unfundamentalist Christians community has made a difference in this crucial matter. And we’re not done yet; I’m now involved with a very exciting project, which I’m looking forward to telling you more about. Stay tuned.

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • Margaret Placentra Johnston

    This is a heart-breaking story – one) that the 72 year old woman could have spent her life in love with that potential partner, and two) that her children and grandchildren didn’t love her enough to see past the superficial “rules” of their religion to accept the real, live human being and love her no matter who or what she is. (I’ll bet if she had admitted to illegal drug use or embezzlement, they would have treated her more kindly…)

    If there is a god up there, s/he for sure would not want us to exclude a real, live human being who need our love for the sake of rules offered in some old book written in a different time and for a different culture. Tragic!

  • oregon catholic

    Another way to look at this is that declaring her lesbianism became more important than her children and grandchildren. Why, I wonder.

    • cajaquarius

      Of course. Just look at all the heterosexual unions with kids; the ones with divorce clearly have kids who turn out better because once they are divorced they won’t be putting their heterosexuality before the needs of their children. Any time I see a man and woman kiss each other while their kids are around I wonder why they would declare their heterosexuality as more important than their children. Sad, really. You are totally right.

      • oregon catholic

        Her children already knew she was a lesbian. She chose, 30 years later, to make it an in-their-face issue knowing it would probably rupture her relationship with them further. I just can’t get my head around her priorities. I think she made her decision and needs to live with it like an adult without looking for sympathy over the foreseeable outcome.

        • mrichardson84

          What an outrageous, homophobic statement. Being who she is is NOT in-their-face. You are disgusting. Shame on you.

          • oregon catholic

            WOW. Talk about jumping to conclusions.

            I said I did not understand her priorities and I thought she ought to pull up her big girl panties and accept the decision she made with foreseeable results, not look to find sympathy for “poor me”. It is you who has written homophobe into MY script and I don’t own it.

            I assume your apology for attempting to assassinate my character will be forthcoming?

          • Grotoff

            You are definitely a homophobe. The decision to break ties is on her children, not on this poor woman who was only honest about herself. The fact that you try to turn their hate and fear around on this woman makes you a terrible human being. For shame.

          • Emily O’Malley

            Exactly. Simply telling people she was gay did not qualify as being “in-their-face” about it. It qualified as finally stepping out of denial and being honest. Sharing that truth with them was a very courageous step for her to take and required her to place a lot of trust in them, which they betrayed. They rejected her in one of her most vulnerable moments. They shunned their own mother and took her away from her grandchildren. Their rejection of her is their own responsibility. Those who defend such heartless behavior share the blame. Homophobia kills compassion, and those who are already uncompassionate cling to homophobia because it allows them to feel “righteous” in their cruelty. It’s all an ugly cycle.

          • mrichardson84

            I don’t apologize if someone demands it. So there.

            I think you are homophobic, as I have heard the phrase “in your face” used so often by homophobes who can’t stand for LGBT people to be honest about who they are, and to just be themselves.
            And homophobic or not, I think your attitude toward this woman is revolting. You have no compassion and a complete lack of sympathy for your fellow human.

            So no. I won’t apologize. I think my assessment (or as you call it, “assassination”) of your character is pretty accurate. Goodbye.

          • K.C.Thomas

            Honesty seems to be admitting you love to have lavish sex in all Imaginable and unimaginable ways. That is honesty when sex is detached from its sacredness and utility.This Western ideas and philosophy are driving the human civilization to destruction.Let us agree to disagree. Only results like alqueda ,s hatred philosophy will teach the proud hearted.

          • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

            Not sure what lavish sex is, Most of us have pretty good imaginations, and have participated in the act of sex in all, or at least some of its variety. Most of us embrace the gift of pleasure, companionship and physical stress relief that sex gives us, knowing that it is a gift, and that, as a species, we don’t procreate as easily as others, we are one of several who can enjoy sex without the surety of procreation afterwards. Plus, we can choose when and if we want to procreate, thanks to advances in contraception. (Thank the divine! Let us hope that all people have that available in our lifetimes.) It is interesting one of the earliest sex manuals, is not western…its Eastern. We learned from our ancestors.

            And its not sex that is driving any civilization to destruction, Its disregard for our natural resources, our environment and our inhabitants. Its people telling us to hate others because of religion, or gender, or culture. Its people deciding that more stuff is better, and making sure that others don’t have as much stuff as you is best. And who cares if we make a location uninhabitable for any life, just as long as we make a profit.
            Those are the bigger threats to our continued existence, not sex..

          • mrichardson84

            Um…what are you talking about? I never commented to you about this, and what is this talk about honesty and sex? I’m confused.

          • Scott McDaniel

            She’s not allowed to be sad because of the outcomes? She’s gone on to a life of Christian service and you have the rude gall to tell her to “put on her big girl panties”?
            You do not understand. Perhaps you should ask more sincere questions instead of throwing more stones at someone who spent a lifetime dealing with them from people like you.

        • AtalantaBethulia

          It seems she was honest with them and herself after consulting God in prayer. This hardly seems like an “in-their-face issue.” She makes no indication of “knowing it would probably rupture her relationship with them further.”

          Why is her honesty so difficult to understand as a priority?

          She lived with her decision to hide the truth for over thirty years and experienced pain and isolation because of it. She explains the sense of peace she felt once she felt led by God to be honest with herself and others about her truth. This is often the truth that sets us free: When we submit to reality and stop living in untruth. She doesn’t ask for sympathy; she speaks her truth with grace and dignity. She relays facts. She hopes for healing and reconciliation.

          Do you feel any compassion for her situation?

    • AtalantaBethulia

      She explains why this became important to her: it was a revelation from God through prayer.

      Another way to look at this is that she was honest with herself and with her family. I wonder why rejection of the truth and their mother was more important to her family than was forgiveness, compassion and love?

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

      Another way. to look at it is to ask…what about myself or my past do I hide? What about who or what I am do I know others won’t like? Is hiding that being honest and authentic or am I living a lie? Does my peace of mind matter less then the opinions of others?

    • Michael Edwards

      She did not say being a lesbian was more important than her children or grandchildren. Other people decided to shame the children and tell them she was evil. With your attitude, surely you would have done the same to her. The woman was just being honest, and you on the other hand have a heart of stone, much like your friends the Pharisees.

  • Michael Edwards

    John, many thanks for this labor of love. Some “Christians” will shriek in horror that you dare to put people ahead of rules (like Jesus did). But as one who was taught to hate myself for decades, I can’t help but be grateful for your compassionate heart and for the truth that sets us free.

  • http://chriscoppenbarger.drupalgardens.com Chris Coppenbarger

    While it may be heartbreaking that this woman’s children and grandchildren may disown her, it still doesn’t regard the fact that the Bible still speaks clearly against sexual relationships outside of heterosexual marriage. No real-world experience or emotional rollercoaster can override what God’s Word says.

    • http://chriscoppenbarger.drupalgardens.com Chris Coppenbarger

      We are all idolaters….

      What’s your point?

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

      Like that threat has any weight.

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

      As the bible doesn’t cover every real world situation, not even close, its not that reliable an aid for all scenarios we face.

      And the Bible seems to not only accept but make allowances for non married relationships., even those we now consider today to be immoral There is no clarity there any all where it says only one kind is biblical.

      • K.C.Thomas

        allegro63 has freedom to think,interprete and act as she please. Those who have different values as taught by Christ believe in chastity,prayer,sacrifice,control,sublimation and not simply gratification. Let them have their faith and follow that way.Christians who love Christ knows the value of suffering and sacrifice. If allegro likes we can have discussion dispassionately between two of us through email

        • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

          First of all God is not a Christian. Christianity developed over a period of a few hundred years

          As for this whole chastity, prayer list. That doesn’t define a Christian. It may be a way of life for some of faith, just as people of Islamic, Buddhist and others may. Choose an esoteric life. But its a life choice, not a definition of true religion.

          As for mine. I don’t kowtow to anyone’s opinion on my beliefs
          They have developed over my life. I don’t demand others agree or fall in line behind me. I also refuse to let anyone else attempt the same if me. You and anyone else can draw whatever conclusions you like about another’s faith. But at the end of the day, that is all it is…an opinion. I am certain God, who loves us immeasurably, no matter who we are, what we believe or do, trumps all those opinions.

    • http://johnshore.com/ John Shore

      But that’s not what God’s Words says, and pretending that the Bible does support ignorant bigotry is the very antithesis of what the Bible and Jesus Christ stand for. You need to read the book you’re so ready to turn into a club to beat people with. Taking God at His Word: The Bible and Homosexuality.

    • AtalantaBethulia

      How about that Tamar on Judah action: justice by deception by posing as a prostitute? No condemnation by God.

      Those familiar with Jewish literature are well aware that Ruth didn’t “uncover Boaz’s feet” on the threshing room floor in the post-modern way, but in the Jewish, “biblical” sense. And they weren’t married. No condemnation by God.

      Jacob gets Leah and Rachel. No condemnation by God.

      • kcthomas

        The Christians has a set of rules an

        • AtalantaBethulia

          From where did those rules come?

          Chris asserted that “the Bible still speaks clearly against sexual relationships outside of heterosexual marriage.”

          I gave examples where it does not. He has given no examples of where it does, only asserted that it does.

    • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

      But this woman avoided sexual relationships. She’s remained single. The question she speaks about is identity. I don’t hear at all that she has an interest in sex outside of marriage. She is just beginning to be honest about the attractions she experiences. These are the people I think the church has really failed. They play by the rules and stay celibate, but they can’t force themselves to be attracted in a heterosexual way. The church pretends these people don’t exist, or calls them sinners for feeling attraction they never even act on. They have chosen a very hard road, and every one who has remained most of their lives celibate in a desire to follow God should be honored, even if you would make a different choice.

      • kcthomas

        What kind of people Kathleen writes or thinks about ? The person is a grandmother, meaning she had children. After all this if she wants to lead a celibate life, it is o k with the permission of her husband. She should know what is a Christian marriage and its spiritual implications. Simply saying that one loves God or one wants to serve Church has no meaning if the basic rules are not followed.

        • AtalantaBethulia

          kc, The article doesn’t spell it out, but this woman doesn’t appear to be with her husband anymore. That’s why it’s called “I lived 30 years alone.”

        • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

          I am talking about many people – Christians who cannot change their sexual orientation. Almost none can change this. Some leave Christianity over it, others stay.
          If following the ‘basic rules’ is so simple, why is the divorce rate the same for evangelical Christians as it is for the general population? Jesus was clear about divorce. Yet Christians as a group behave the exact same way in the same numbers as people who make no profession of Christianity.
          Real life is just a whole lot messier than the basic rules.

          • K.C.Thomas

            God. Knows our weaknesses and he sent his Son Jesus to die on yhe cross as a ransome imagine your son or daughter erring and your chastising and punishing . Yet you love them God loved us so much he gave his Son to the world todie for us

          • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

            God knows our weaknesses, yet does nothing to remove them so they are no longer weaknesses, instead telling us to suck it up and stop being weak? Is that what you are saying?

        • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

          She can choose to be celibate if she has the permission of her husband? She’s 72, and she hasn’t been married for a long time. She doen’t need anyone’s permission, to abstain from sex, or to find someone she can spend her remaining years with sharing their lives, part of which can include sex.

  • kcthomas

    I understand from the article that this grandmother thinks that any sexual relation is fully o k if two persons agree or consent, irrespective of Bible or pastor or anything. Gratification of thoughts including sexual is the priority and is the ” love of God”. I would like to ask her. Is it o k if one loves another ,s husband or wife and so wants to live all together in great love including sexual love ? If this grandmother and her grand son loves so much most selflessly, can they live like husband and wife ?
    All these gimmicks will go only in some parts of Europe or America.

    • AtalantaBethulia

      Two unmarried people not committed to anyone else are available to love each other. Married people are not because they have made a commitment to someone else. Adults are not free to engage in romantic relationships with children because it is an inequitable relationship, manipulative, exploitative and causes harm to the child.

      Comparing these things is called a false equivalency.

      • K.C.Thomas

        Those who do not believe in Christian morality,the thoughts and perspective are different. If Bethulia thinks that two unmarried people can have sexual relationship and that is o.k., I do not want to argue.if someone saysthere is nothing wrong in any sexual relationships between two consenting persons, I do not want to argue. According to me Eurpe and America have plenty of people who reject God and any traditional sexual morality.Let them live as they like, but there are people who value chastity,control,suffering etc. I CONSIDER Christian sexual morality ( do no quote deviations in Old Testament sll of which have been changed by Christ ) Thanks for your sincerity.

        • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

          How has the Old Testament been Changed by Christ? It is still there, with all its warty stories. And speaking of him. He didn’t seem to mind the relationship status of the woman of the well. He knew her status, mentioned it, and moved on. And the woman accused of adultery, which Im still not convinced was her cheating on her husband, but quite possibly a rape victim? Christ rescued her from the people who would have murdered her. What about all the prostitutes he befriended?

  • kcthomas

    Why my comments already in the format has been removed .

    • AtalantaBethulia

      They haven’t.


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