Whether Rachel Gilson is a hero or villain depends on your perspective. Her remarkable story doesn’t leave much room in between.
“When pursuing your desire for same-gender sex and romance would publicly mark you as a hero—brave and strong—denying it makes you a villain.”
So Gilson writes in a new book, Born Again This Way: Coming Out, Coming to Faith, and What Comes Next, published by The Good Book Company. Gilson serves on the leadership team of theological development and culture with Cru and lives in the Boston area.
Her book takes on several of the most controversial issues of our time. Her story encourages Christians in holiness and obedience, and challenges those who do not yet believe to trust in Christ. She writes, “A crucial ministry of same-sex-attracted Christians is to point to the validity of God’s word over our deep feelings.” And that’s why I so appreciate this book, not only for readers who can identify with her particular story. It challenges the rest of us to follow Christ, even when we don’t feel like it. It challenges us to obey, even before we understand.
“I am trying to help us realize that God’s words are not like the Apple terms of service we just skim through and click and not really pay attention to so we can just keep using the products,” Gilson told me. “They are exactly like wedding vows. His words flow out of his deep love toward us, and if we divorce ethics from his character, then we’re already off track.”
Gilson joined me on Gospelbound to discuss when she changed her mind about Christianity being stupid and cruel, how she found acceptance and joy in Christian community, and her views on university evangelism today.
This episode of Gospelbound is sponsored by Southeastern Seminary, equipping today’s ministry leaders with the Word of God, a philosophical foundation, and care for the lost through their Masters program in Ethics, Theology, and Culture and the Ph.D. in Public Theology. Learn more at sebts.edu.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Collin Hansen: Whether Rachel Gilson is a hero or a villain depends on your perspective. A remarkable story doesn’t leave much room in between. She says this, “When pursuing your desire for same gender, sex and romance would publicly mark you as a hero, brave and strong, denying it makes you a villain.” So Gilson writes in a new book, Born Again This Way: coming out, coming to faith, and what comes next, published by The Good Book Company. Gilson serves on the leadership team of theological development and culture with Cru, and lives in the Boston area. Her book takes on several of the most controversial issues of our time. Her story encourages Christians in holiness and obedience and challenges those who do not yet believe to trust in Christ. She writes that a crucial ministry of same sex attracted Christians is to point to the validity of God’s Word over our deep feelings.
And that’s why I so appreciate this book, not only for readers who can identify with her particular story, it challenges the rest of us to follow Christ even when we don’t feel like it. Gilson joins me on Gospelbound to discuss when she changed her mind about Christianity being stupid and cruel, how she found acceptance and joy in Christian community and whether she’s encouraged or discouraged by campus evangelism today among other topics. Thank you for joining me, Rachel.
Rachel Gilson: It’s great to be here.
Collin Hansen: You regarded Christianity as not only stupid but cruel. What was it that first punctured this impression?
Rachel Gilson: Well, it’s interesting to me when I was thinking about big ideas as a high school student around to the turn of the century and realizing at the same time that I was attracted to women and not men, it wasn’t hard for me to pick up on the fact that the church was not very kind to people of my sexuality. And I picked that up even though I had never been mistreated by a church or by another Christian. So I’ve been thinking a lot recently, “Gosh, how was it that prevalent that I didn’t even have a personal experience of being bullied or treated poorly, and yet I still intuitively knew in my bones that Christians hated me?” Now, is that a fair statement? I don’t actually think so, but it’s what I felt as a high schooler.
Collin Hansen: What’s the first inclination you had that maybe that wasn’t the full story?
Rachel Gilson: Well, I think meeting two people on Yale’s campus who identified as Christians but were in a gay relationship with each other oddly enough, was one of my first indications. I was thinking, “Oh gosh, here’s some people who identify as Christian but are dating each other.” And so that seemed to me to rule out of balance the idea that all Christians would feel that way. But at the same time, I’ve also come to understand that I don’t think their interpretation of what the Bible says on this issue is correct. And so really my first experience of realizing that Christians didn’t actually feel this way was just becoming a part of the Christian community.
Rachel Gilson: When I was a college student, I got involved almost immediately after meeting Jesus in one of Yale’s libraries. Some of the Cru movement was having a Valentine’s party, and so I just invited myself. And nobody ever gave me a hard time about my past, the relationships that I’d come out of, it were just so welcoming to me. They just treated me like anybody else. I think all college students are struggling to figure out, what does it mean to really thrive in Christ on a college campus, especially a campus like Yale’s. And so it really felt more like we were all in the same boat together as opposed to me being some different type of sailor.
Collin Hansen: If you consider Rachel that your story is in many ways the reverse of what we commonly hear in the church, here’s what I mean specifically. You often hear that somebody grows up sheltered in a Christian home. Even though they don’t really know many non-Christians, they’re told that they’re really terrible people and those youth gay rights activists are doing horrible things out there. And this young Christian goes off to college and they meet somebody who’s not a Christian and they don’t really match that description, and all of a sudden the whole worldview.
Rachel Gilson: The whole plausibility follows them Yep.
Collin Hansen: Right. So have you thought about that before or it’s really just a reverse?
Rachel Gilson: Oh yeah, I’ve often thought about that. I’ve often thought about the fact that I always am in the wrong place at the wrong time. So right before, it was really, really cool to take on an LGBT identification, back when will and grace were still edgy, not nostalgic. That’s really when I was out. And now that you’re required to put a rainbow flag on your business during pride month, and now I’m an evangelical, so I’m just like, “Gosh, I’m always punting for the wrong team in terms of popularity.” But I don’t think it is a problem when we only have stereotypes as each other for each other rather, as we go about the world. I think it’s been interesting for me raising a six-year-old in the Boston area to try to tell her, “Hey, we’re actually all bad and we’re all image bearers so we’re all good, but we’re also all broken.” She asked me in the morning, she’s like, “Mom, are there any bad people in heaven?” I just told her, “Yeah, all of them actually.”
Collin Hansen: Only bad people are in heaven.
Rachel Gilson: Only, yeah. That makes the entire population.
Collin Hansen: One of the things that’s most helpful, Rachel, about your book, again, Born Again This Way, is that you describe in pretty significant detail your attractions and actions didn’t just change overnight when you were born again. I wonder, did you ever grow discouraged or wonder if you were truly converted during that time?
Rachel Gilson: Oh gosh, well yeah. The first couple of years of trying to walk with Christ were a little bit like an open dumpster fire for me. I think if I were my 34-year-old campus minister self now, looking at my 19-year-old self, I would be strongly wondering if that girl was going to make it. At the same time… So I was sometimes discouraged for sure, but my community, not only the students in my campus ministry, but actually particularly my local church grounded me so much that I didn’t worry about my salvation. My pastor at the time was Josh Moody, who is now the pastor of Wheaton College Church. And I’m sitting under his preaching, being in the community that church just reinforced for me that God had a hold of me and that even when I failed, I was still loved. I was still upheld and there was still a future for me.
Collin Hansen: What years were you at that church again?
Rachel Gilson: So I came to Christ in February of 2004, and I stayed at that church until we moved away from New Haven in May of 2015.
Collin Hansen: Oh wow. Okay. So you definitely were there when I was out there writing about Yale for the book Young, Restless, Reformed-
Collin Hansen: … and when I wrote about Josh. But we didn’t know each other back then. But that’s what I was wondering. I think one of the things I try to convey in Gospel Bound in this podcast is that we just don’t really know everything God’s doing out there in the world. And we often assume though, because of ubiquitous media that we have a really good grasp of things, but we hardly have any sense of the stories of redemption that God is weaving. So it’s fun for me to not have any idea when I was meeting with our U.S. students at Yale, when I was meeting with Josh who would then become my pastor at College Church, that he was weaving this beautiful story in your own life. So that’s exciting.
Collin Hansen: One of the things you write about also is how you obeyed before you understood. That seems especially hard for a lot of young people today. And I’m wondering how do you advise them, working with students, to follow this path? There was a particular quote in the book that stood out to me. Here I quote, “Obedience will never lead us away from God’s blessing. It will always lead us toward it. And yet again, we’re told catechize to trust our feelings and then if we don’t feel like we want to do it and therefore we’re out of line with our true self and thus it would be of a trail to obey.”
Rachel Gilson: Right. And I do think that vision of the authentic self is what really speaks to students. Well, more than just students. But I think that the lie is that the authentic self is the one that just springs up within me naturally. Naturally, I’ve got all kinds of problems. I am tainted by my sin in ways I’m sure I don’t even recognize. I really do think it’s actually the authentic self that Christ calls us into.
Rachel Gilson: So when I use a phrase like, “Obey before you understand,” I think there would be a simplistic way to twist that that could actually lead you to probably remain in problematic situations. So I’m not talking about not listening to your instincts when there’s an abuse situation going on with a pastor or things like that. But I am trying to help us realize that God’s words are not like the Apple terms and service that we just skim through and click and not really pay attention to so we can just keep using the products. They are exactly like wedding vows. That His words flow out of His deep love towards us and that if we divorce ethics from His character, then we’re already off track.
I want us to stop thinking, pulling His words out of context and observing them in isolation because I think that that puts us as judges over His law. I instead want us to always consider what He’s saying from the source of His character because some of what He had said seemed arbitrary and cool to me, but the reality was God’s character isn’t arbitrary or cruel. And so I was forced to recognize that I probably wasn’t understanding the words well. There was probably something I was missing because a person who is perfectly loving and perfectly good towards me is not going to tell me things that can contribute to my insanity or contribute to my degradation.
And doesn’t mean His words always feel great. Sometimes obedience absolutely brings suffering and hardship. So it’s not a prosperity gospel, but it’s instead trusting Him in higher purposes. I often think about reading that back half of Hebrews 11, where it talks about some people by faith are shutting the mouths of lions and receiving back from the dead the people that they’ve lost and then other people are being sawn into, and it’s just, they’re all like mixed in and you’re like, “Oh gosh, can I be the person shutting the mouth of lion and not getting sawed into? How do I end up in the right…” It’s just that obedience, sometimes it can lead to both.
Collin Hansen: You represent one of the most intimidating types. It’s as if there would be a really poorly done Christian movie about character. One of the most intimidating types of non-believers for Christians, not only highly intelligent at one of those elite East coast schools, but also same sex attracted. So from that perspective, how would you advise Christians to approach friends and coworkers and neighbors who are like you were?
Rachel Gilson: Well, I think that can be a complicated question on some level. I’ve actually given my book to two of my neighbors and friends who, neither of them are same sex attracted, but they are highly educated women who have nothing to do with an evangelical worldview. And both of them have read my book and have loved it. Honestly, I was maybe even disturbed by how not offended they were by it because I’m like, “You recognize how clearly I am speaking both the gospel and things that you do really disagree with.” But I think part of what allowed them to receive those words and what I hope will give me a platform to continue to share the gospel with them is that we’ve just become friends. That there’s something about actually inviting people who are different from us into our lives, spending time, getting to know each other that we’re not caricatures, that were real people and that we might have lots of things we disagree about, but we’re image bearers, we share something together, we can always find some type of common ground.
Rachel Gilson: So I think about, there’s that phrase about Chicago Democrats in the 19th century to vote early and often, I’m definitely the person who believes in sharing the gospel early and often. But I also want to be a person who is able to, in that, also talk about lots of other things, to listen well to my neighbors and they’re often like deeply confused by me on some level, but we’re all just people together. I think just the art of being a neighbor is something that really can’t be understated.
Collin Hansen: I was talking with somebody in my family who said kind of really confused by you. You’re a conservative liberal. And it wasn’t because of my views on tariffs, it wasn’t because of my views on tax policy or whatever, it was just confusing to him because he couldn’t understand why I would seem to go in one direction on some things, but then in a totally different direction on other things. And he just thought they were all supposed to be mashed up. And I thought, “Well, at least that’s the start of someone of godly confusion in somebody’s life to be liberal with our love and with our friendship, but to be conservative in our allegiance to Christ, into his words alone, which include words like love your neighbor as yourself.
Collin Hansen: So there are ways I think to do it, but I see conservatives and evangelicals waste a lot of time complaining about media. And I want to tell them they’re not going to change. I mean, there’s just too many vested interests here of making it sound that way. And so, for young Rachel growing up in the ’90s and early 2,000s in a small town California, a conservative California, you’re probably not going to be able to change that impression. What can change the impression is if there were Christian neighbor next door that she got to know, so less time worried about all of those different media dynamics and more time just bringing some foods to your neighbors and-
Rachel Gilson: Yeah, with each other.
Collin Hansen: Yeah. So you said something that I think is perfectly compelling and obvious, but I think it’s become controversial for reasons that I don’t completely know. But you said that same sex attracted Christians have a unique and powerful ministry. And I couldn’t agree more, but I want to hear from it in your words.
Rachel Gilson: Yeah. So I released my testimony in Christianity Today in 2017 and got a bunch of emails in response. But what really surprised me was how many emails I got from self-identified straight people. I would get all these emails from men and women often who were telling me they were older than me, so I don’t know what that meant. Sort of like very quickly being like, “Well, I don’t deal with what you deal with. I’m only attracted to people of the opposite sex. But man, I needed to hear this word on obedience.” And some of them I wasn’t really expecting that, but I’ve actually heard it so many other times that it’s pressed me to examine whether we as evangelicals have been having good conversations about what desire is, what we should do with it, whether it actually owns us, to think about our relationships with each other.
Rachel Gilson: Like what should we expect in friendship and in church family to think about what does it actually mean to follow Christ when it costs you something. One of the things I’ve been reflecting on recently is that, really strangely, it hasn’t cost much as a white American to follow Jesus, maybe for as long as this country has existed. And so there can be a fence. There can be offense even to Christians when it’s really recognized that actually some of us give up a lot. I often get asked incredulously, “Okay. So let’s say I’ve got neighbors who are lesbians, who are married to each other, and I share the gospel with them and one of them comes to Christ or both of them do. Should they get divorced?” They ask the question almost in a level of like, “Well certainly, we could never ask God as followers of God to do something that extreme.”
So on the one hand, I don’t want to say, “Well, yeah, we should ask them to end their marriage,” as if that’s the end of our responsibility. If someone’s actually going to follow Christ in that way, we as a church need to be very ready to support them and become their family. But at the same time, I’m a little confused. You recognize, right, the New Testament says we could literally lose our lives over this. We actually should be ready to call everything from our previous life into question when Christ takes over. Now, I don’t want to suggest… I mean a lot of that’s difficult. It can be really difficult to figure out what that looks like in the practicalities. There absolutely can be grief and loss because of some of the things that we chose while we were still in our sin and having to say goodbye to it. But I’m more persuaded that the gospel really is the treasure that’s hidden in the field and that it is actually worth selling everything.
Collin Hansen: Oh, one of my favorite parables and you’re right, it’s not so much because we do know plainly that they will have to follow up on a divorce, but the problem is what it says to us-
Rachel Gilson: Yeah. Exactly.
Collin Hansen: … about the decisions that we make, about whether or not we’re pursuing Christ at the sense of that loss. I agree. I’ve lived in the Midwest to the Northeast and the Deep South. Never lived on the West Coast except for one summer with Cru evangelizing in Lake Tahoe, which was a very-
Rachel Gilson: Oh, suffering for Jesus. Exactly. Yeah.
Collin Hansen: Suffering, not in the sense of just working at Kmart and evangelizing on the beaches of the most beautiful place you could ever imagine to a bunch of new age ex hippies. That was basically liked. I learned some things that-
Rachel Gilson: Yeah. That sounds great.
Collin Hansen: … I didn’t hear a lot about there. But I do think you’re more clearly here in certain parts of the country, the expectation that this is going to cost something, this is not normal. And I heard from somebody in the Midwest just recently, a pastor, who said, “I don’t understand why you keep talking about this pilgrim identity, how the world is not our home. I mean, we have it so good here.” And I thought, “Well, yes, we want to appreciate our blessings here. I’m not sure how you’re reading the New Testament. If you expect us to have everything good, it probably means that our faith is not really radical the way that it’s supposed to be or that it’s not challenging certain norms.”
Collin Hansen: And I do think it’s helpful context in this environment to say that the pastor is most likely not sharing the same view that we would have on homosexuality. Like, well, I mean if you’re reconciling your views to the culture on all kinds of different things, well I guess you do expect things to go pretty swimmingly. You write this, Rachel, “A generation of young people growing up in the church were sold the vision that their reward for saying no to sex before marriage would be a perfect spouse who would provide them with perfect sex until the end of their days.” I mean, it does sound like a pretty good deal to offer.
Rachel Gilson: Yeah, right. Why not?
Collin Hansen: What’s wrong with that message?
Rachel Gilson: Well, there are so many things that are wrong with that message. The first would be that it’s not biblical. And so if you are selling to your children that God has made them a promise that He has not made them, when the promise doesn’t come true, they’re going to think it’s God’s fault and they’re going to accuse Him, especially if you haven’t taught them to read the Bible, which is a different problem of biblical illiteracy in the church that we could cover in a different podcast. The other problem is that it makes marriage the goal, which is funny because a marriage is the goal. Christ and His church at the new heavens and the new earth is the goal, that reuniting of heaven and earth is the goal and our little marriages point to it.
Rachel Gilson: But if you make a spouse, if you put your spouse in the place of Jesus Christ, you will become a terror. You will demand of that person something that they just are literally not even designed to do. And then what do you do of course when your spouse dies? Singleness is actually the default human status. And something we’ve treated like it’s JV when actually I think in the new covenant it’s pretty clearly varsity. Or what do you do with the fact when you get married and actually sex is really hard, either physically or emotionally? What do you do if that makes you feel like, “Oh, actually I’m a bad Christian. I wasn’t good enough so I didn’t earn this thing.” It feeds into a type of prosperity gospel that undercuts God’s character and how he actually relates to us. When suffering comes our way, it’s not… I mean, sometimes it’s because of our sin. Let’s be honest. Sometimes we sin, do something stupid and we suffer. But sometimes it’s just part of living in the fallen world. We’re supposed to ache right now for the time that’s coming.
Rachel Gilson: Even when things are going well, there should be this lingering, like when a song doesn’t end quite on the right note, that’s where we are right now. We’re waiting for the resolution. And so I don’t want to make any promises in scripture that God hasn’t made. I don’t think it’s safe for any of us.
Collin Hansen: No, it’s not. And it’s a lesson that I’ve had to learn painfully a number of different times of holding God accountable to promises that He never made. And as if that’s eroding my faith when no one is just clarifying that this world exists for God’s glory and not for my gratification. Eventually, in the book you reveal that you married a man at the age of 22. It surprised you. And if you don’t know about your story before you pick up the book, I think it probably surprises the reader as well. What I want you to explain is the difference and the distinction that you draw between love and romance.
Rachel Gilson: Yeah. So when I started dating my future husband, I was in a little bit of a panic because if you ever have a chance to meet my husband, he’s just delightful. He is a wonderful human being. So it’s not hard to feel affection towards him, to enjoy him. And I felt all those things. But I had in my history, these relationships with a couple other women, which had been deeply romantic, fireworks and butterflies in the stomach and the whole thing. So I was thinking about those combustible romances and even how they matched my TV experiences and things I heard in songs. And then I thought about this affection that was growing for Andrew. And it felt instead like this little flame, that you’d have to like protect from the wind by cupping your hands over it.
Rachel Gilson: And I thought, “Gosh, like is that enough? Is that enough to build a marriage on?” I absorb from the culture that romance was a necessary ingredient for marriage. And so what that period did was it forced me back into the text of the Bible, which I think that’s the best thing we can do with our questions, is to get us forced back into God’s word. And especially as I was reflecting on the vision of marriage put forth by Paul in Ephesians 5, it’s a beautiful vision of love. But it doesn’t actually require what we think of as romance. With the husband representing Christ by dying for her, and actually by taking on a lot of these first century woman’s work verbs, cleaning and cherishing and those sorts of things, and then the wife submitting to that as she would submit to the Lord, those things can absolutely happen in a deep bond of affection and respect. But it doesn’t have to happen with romance.
Rachel Gilson: I think romance can be a part of it. It’s not saying that romance in a marriage makes it bad, but I do think that there can be something about romance that actually blinds people from considering marriage. Well, romance can be such an overwhelming feeling, an intoxicating feeling that sometimes men and women don’t stop to consider whether they’re taking the call to marriage, what that means really seriously. And let’s be honest, I got married at 22 so did I… I mean, that’s functionally a baby. So did I understand what I was getting involved in fully? No. But I do think that actually my questions about romance helped me enter into marriage more soberly and actually more appropriately than some of my peers who just fell in big emoji heart eyes, love. And then only after sealing the deal said, “Oh gosh, what is this?”
Collin Hansen: Oh yeah. That’s the reason the old liturgy uses that term, so really when it comes to those wedding-
Rachel Gilson: Oh really?
Collin Hansen: Yeah.
Rachel Gilson: I’m a Southern Baptist so we don’t … But some of my best friends are Anglicans.
Collin Hansen: You indicate some of the changes… I’m just fascinated to know where you go with this. Some of the changes in non-Christian views toward identity and sex may actually help Christians teach the biblical alternatives. But I want to know how.
Rachel Gilson: Well, I think when the culture accidentally agrees with what God says, it’s hard to make the distinction clearly. When the culture actually starts teaching things that are radically different, well, it makes our view really stand out. And so one of the things that’s happening more and more right now is there is a basic level confusion about the value and really the ontological reality of male and female. I think some of this… I mean, this confusion comes from all kinds of things. Partially it can come from places of historic sexism, partially it can just come from trying to respond to the transgender movement. But there does seem to be a rejection in certain corners of male and female as rightful categories.
Rachel Gilson: There can be a promise that if we reject the gender binary, then there’s freedom and joy on the other side because it just restricts us. But actually, there’s a whole lot of freedom in a biblically grasped understanding of what male and female is. That there is actually an expansive way for us to live into the sex that God gave us, that it’s not restricting, that it’s beautiful. Now, sometimes certain gender stereotypes that have been baptized by the church as biblical masculinity or femininity or whatever can be roadblocks.
Rachel Gilson: But I think we need to be able to parse out what’s that’s stereotype that’s crept in and what’s actually biblical. And that’s good. Things that drive us back to God’s Word are good and they help us communicate to the world around us that God had a purpose in making us male and female, that we both equally bear both His image in the world and His mission in the world. And that I think is really good news, especially for people who are confused about what they’re supposed to do with themselves. Are they someone who has a body or are they someone who is a body? Just really important questions that actually God has answers for, if we would faithfully interpret them for the watching world.
Collin Hansen: Rachel, I’m 17 years now removed from campus ministry and as much as I like to pretend as if I can keep up with different trends, even sitting here-
Rachel Gilson: Oh gosh.
Collin Hansen: … on a college campus right now at the Sanford University in Birmingham, Alabama, it’s pretty much impossible for me like keeping up with popular music. It’s useless. But you work in theological development for Cru and I’m wondering, are you more encouraged or discouraged by what you see with campus evangelism today compared to when you studied at Yale?
Rachel Gilson: It’s a great question. Part of the conversation we’re having in various Cru movements, especially here in Boston, New England often is the cutting edge of some things that hit the country later is, noticing that some of our techniques in evangelism for campus ministry are not as effective as they once were. We do have to remember, so I’ll just speak of Campus Crusade because that’s what I know best. Campus Crusade was launched in 1951 when you had a lot of people who were either non-activated Christians, like they had a faith, but they’d never been explained to them the beautiful mission God called them into. Or you had nominal Christians, people who always assume they were Christians, but then when they heard the gospel realized, “Oh no, I never understood it.”
Rachel Gilson: And it is a different task to mobilize a population that is mostly made up of those types of people than it is to engage a population where, when they hear the word Christian, nine out of 10 of them according to Barna think anti homosexual, which for an 18-year-old right now to be anti gay is to be a bigot. So it’s very different to bear a message as a Christian when you go from being Christian means basically respectable to Christian means basically deplorable. So that’s going to naturally affect some of the ways we do evangelism.
Rachel Gilson: We’re doing ministry in a different context that we’ve been doing. Right now, the basic posture towards Christians from non-Christians is I think a rightful suspicion. And so it’s different to share the gospel in that context. I think it means we need to be more creative, I think it means we need to be more centered on the person of Christ, and I think it means we need to do a better job of following Tim Keller in a yes, no, yes pattern. So singing, observing the people on my campus out of love and saying, “Okay, they have real fears, they have real desires,” but because they’re image bearers link up into something real.
Collin Hansen: Real morals.
Rachel Gilson: Real morals, even.
Collin Hansen: Real consciences.
Rachel Gilson: So the first move is to find what can we affirm? And then the second move is to actually help them understand that because they’re broken image bearers, the answers they’re trying to construct for their questions are never going to be as sufficient as they hope. None of them actually have the resources that the gospel has. So not in a belittling way, but just to help them see that Jesus Christ Himself and his church and His word are the answer that they’re looking for. And I think I’m encouraged by our staff figuring out how to communicate the beauty and worth of Christ in a way that surprises and disarms of people on a college campus. Because it’s still such a unique time in somebody’s life when you’re out on your own for the first time, ready to engage with questions and ready to have your stereotypes challenged. And I think campus ministry is still one of the most valuable places that people can be investing their time and money.
Collin Hansen: One example I use often when I’m teaching seminarians or churches about apologetics and evangelism came from a trip to Cornell. And I was speaking with some of the campus ministry leaders and students. And I asked them what thoughts people had about Christians there. And they all identified one church. One church that everybody associates with Christians. You want to guess, Rachel, what that church was?
Rachel Gilson: Was it Westboro?
Collin Hansen: Westboro Baptist. And so I said, “Okay, so let’s just be clear about what’s happening here.” I’m speaking at one of the elite universities in the world and we’re talking about the perception of a church that’s basically an overgrown family cult. I mean, it’s tiny in the middle of Kansas, like this is really strange that we’ve taken the very foundations of Western civilization, kind of the only reason any of us is here today at a university, but we’ve boiled it down to that. I don’t use it to shame the students. I don’t use it to say, “Hey, look at those stupid elites.” I use it simply to say, “That’s what we’re up against.”
Collin Hansen: And complaining about how the media has created this perception, it just isn’t going to get us anywhere because well, there’s not going to be an apology check in the mail. No comment. So this is just what we have to deal with. And so we’re going to have to find those creative ways to be able to disarm people. And so I’m grateful, Rachel, for people like you who do that. And I will say, just looking back on those last 17 years, I would say even just you go back to the last 10 years, the rise of sexual issues to be the place of primacy has really only happened in the last 12 years or so.
Collin Hansen: Tim Keller will himself say that there was a difference between even say The Reason for God published in 2008 and probably as quickly as 2010 or so-
Rachel Gilson: Wow, I agree.
Collin Hansen: … and I would say probably the Obama administration was a big part of that difference. Then by the time the reelection campaign comes in, then Obergefell, you’ve had a pretty dramatic transformation there. I mean, that’s a legitimate difference that we can’t hide from, that we have to confront and yet it’s an opportunity because it’s not like the culture has settled in some happy place.
Rachel Gilson: No. And the conversation is still frothy even among non-Christians about the body, about desire, about sexuality, what is or isn’t respectable, permissible. And as Christians, we have some really valuable things to say. We have perspectives and questions and answers that I think really add to the public good here. I mean, hopefully challenge it. But we can be really good conversation partners if we’re willing to get in the fray.
Collin Hansen: Well, I think main reason I agree with that and the main reason I brought that up is because I’m trying to remember the first time, it was probably Rosaria Butterfield. I’m trying to think, the first time I saw any widespread testimony about Christian faith from somebody who had come from within the LGBTQ community. And as I realized that looking back, I understood something of the concerns that people had about homophobia in the church of how this couldn’t have happened. I mean, there’s a lot of points in history where you just couldn’t have been honest about this. And I remember thinking that, “Praise God for just such a time as this, He’s raised up believers, and we can name a number of them here, friends of ours who have stepped forward to offer their stories of God’s transforming grace.” And to my experience, Rachel, it is the only thing that has been able to blunt that overwhelming narrative against the church and against the Christian sexual ethic.
Rachel Gilson: Yeah. And I think that’s part of what we have to offer the church is, as we thrive in Christ, it becomes plausible in a new way. And not just plausible in that sometimes God changes some of our attractions. It’s true. Sometimes people experience a change in their attractions. But for many of us, it doesn’t happen. And for us to be able to be honest about that, not so that we can flaunt it and not to the we can indulge it, but actually just so that we can receive and offer support that that’s a much healthier place to be.
Collin Hansen: Yeah. And a prophetic message to the church that the church has not gone far enough. It’s not gone far enough in love, it’s not gone far enough in obedience, it’s not gone far enough in sacrifice. And so for all of the criticism that I hear and all the confusion that spreads within the church is issues that I keep coming back to that basic appreciation for you, Rachel, and for others who are willing to help point us in that direction. Ultimately to that not the hope of our earthly marriages as wonderful as they may be, but the ultimate marriage of Christ in the church that we all look forward to.
Rachel Gilson: And what I’m thinking about too is that I think Gen Z is actually going to be able to do fruitful work in this area that Millennials, Gen Xers and boomers are not able to because we still just have these kinds of hangups. It’s almost like I think about some of the work that I’m doing and that Sam Alberry and others are doing, really is like clearing trees from a lot. And the people behind us are going to come in and plant and that there’s going to be something really fruitful and beautiful that God does as we work in the longterm to recover His vision for these things.
Collin Hansen: Yeah. My five-year-old son is having debates with peers about gay marriage. Not because he likes to just go around and argue about this stuff, but because it comes up in the silliest ways of a boy saying, “I’m going to marry so and so.” And my son saying, “Well, no, you can’t do that.” “Oh yes, I can.” Well, of course he can. I mean, it’s legal. I mean, just considering that remarkable shift, my son will simply never know a world where that isn’t a certain norm. And the opportunity then is to come back and to say to him, “We’re not like everybody else. Here, we follow Christ. We obey His word, even if everybody else doesn’t do that, even if your own family members don’t do that, but we do that because we follow Christ alone.”
Collin Hansen: And so I agree. I see some fruitful days ahead even as we come through a pretty painful brush clearing but your imagery is there. The book we’ve been discussing, Born Again This Way: coming out, coming to faith, and what comes next, my guest on Gospel Bound and the author is Rachel Gilson. And Rachel, thank you.
Rachel Gilson: Thanks. It was a pleasure.