Full of Grace and Truth
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 experienced same-sex attraction from an early age, but when she became a Christ-follower as an adult, God began to bring her views about sexuality under the authority of the cross.
Full of Grace and Truth
Bob: Rachel Gilson started experiencing same-sex attraction when she was a teenager and was trying to process what that meant for the rest of her life.
Rachel: I was pretty eager to get out of my cow town—literally, my high school had a working farm on the campus—I was pretty eager to get to Yale/to the east coast to be at a place, where I could explore my sexuality more freely/where I could kind of dive into both that part of my life and big ideas. I think it was a huge grace of the Lord to me that He saved me so early in my experience of college so that I actually didn’t have much time to plant my feet there.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, August 26th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. What was it that caused Rachel Gilson, early in her college career, to reconsider the purpose for her life and her sexuality? We’ll talk with Rachel about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Three of us had an opportunity awhile back to be with a group of moms and dads, and we were talking about relationships between parents and adult kids; it was a great interaction that we had. We got to Q&A time at the end—
Dave: That was interesting! [Laughter]
Ann: Oh, yes; I know where you’re going now; I remember!
Dave: When you said it was a great conversation, I said, “Yes, I agree”; and then, boom, the mic opened—
Bob: Anytime I’m talking with parents of adult kids or parents of teen kids today, and you say, “Okay, who has a question?” the subject of sexuality, gender, same-sex attraction—if that’s not the first question, it’s because the person was too afraid to ask it first; right?
Ann: It almost always comes up—
Ann: —because parents are looking for answers and help.
Dave: Yes; it was actually a great conversation. The questions were raw; they were real. There were tears from parents that really are grappling with what the society’s grappling with: “What do I think?” “What do I believe?” “How do I respond?” “What should be my posture?” “How do I love my child?” Bob had all the right answers, so it was great! [Laughter]
Ann: I’m glad he was with us!
Bob: Well, over the years on FamilyLife Today, as we’ve talked with different people about this, it’s been clear to us that Jesus—John describes Him this way in John 1:14—was “full of grace and truth.” Some people come at this issue and say, “I have to be full of truth,” and they closet the grace; and some, “I have to be full of grace,” and they closet the truth. Jesus would not have done that; He would have been full of grace and truth.
That’s hard for us to figure out, because most of us are going to lean in one of those two directions. We’re either going to lean grace or lean truth. We have to figure out: “How do I be full of that part that I’m not typically going to lean in that direction toward?”
We have a guest joining us today, who I’m glad to have as a part of this conversation with us. Rachel Gilson is with us on FamilyLife Today. Rachel, welcome.
Rachel: I’m glad to be here, and I just want to amen everything in that intro right there. [Laughter]
Ann: We’re excited that you’re with us, Rachel.
Bob: Rachel helps give theological direction to all of us, who are a part of the staff of Cru®. You’ve been on Cru staff how long?
Rachel: I joined in 2011, which was right when the name changed from Campus Crusade for Christ® to Cru, so all the swag we got was immediately vintage. [Laughter]
Bob: Rachel has just written a book that is part memoir and part coaching manual. I mean, I really think it provides both of these functions for us.
Dave: Yes, it does.
Bob: It’s a book called Born Again This Way. I’m imagining some of our listeners don’t catch the hip pop culture reference that she makes in the title, but we should start there. Tell everybody who doesn’t get it why you picked that name.
Rachel: Wildly popular performer Lady Gaga released a song—I don’t know how many years ago—Born This Way. It’s kind of an anthem celebrating that, “Hey, however you were born,”—and particularly in view were LGBT attractions—“that is what you should celebrate; that is what you should lean into.”
My experience has been someone who experienced same-sex attraction but is a disciple of Christ. My whole life in Jesus has been figuring out, “What is the relationship between my desires and the God who loves me?” Primary in my life is being born again.
Ann: Yet, Rachel, you didn’t grow up in a Christian home. Share with us a little bit about your story of growing up.
Rachel: I grew up in Southern California in a very non-religious household, actually. Even though the people around me were very church-going, my family—we weren’t even Christmas and Easter people—we just sort of did whatever.
By the time I got to high school, I was really interested in big ideas; but as I tried to talk to the kids around me, who identified as Christian, about big ideas, they just didn’t seem to have the kind of answers I was looking for. I kind of brushed Christianity off, by the end of high school, as a place people went to when they didn’t know how to think for themselves/somewhat of a crutch. I’ve since discovered that Christianity is actually the greatest intellectual tradition that’s ever hit the planet, but I didn’t quite have a view of that as a teenage girl. I was pretty hardened in my atheism by the time I was going off to college.
Also, in high school, I realized that my sexuality felt so much more at home with other young women. My other understanding of Christianity was: “This is full of people, who don’t like people with my sexuality.” I found this, even though I had never been mistreated by the church or by any Christians, it was just sort of an attitude I picked up. By the time I was going into college, I thought, “Christians are stupid, and Christians are bigots. Goodness, who wants to be associated with stupid bigots?”—you know?
Bob: Let me back up to the first time you had some sense that maybe your way of perceiving attraction was different than your peer group.
Rachel: I happened to meet a girl in high school. She was a senior; I was a sophomore; we were in the same AP European history class. Really, she just wanted to use to me to help study for a test. Because I was a nerd, I was focused; she was a senior, easy-breezy. She invited me over to her house. I knew it was opportunistic, right? I knew she didn’t want to be my friend; she just wanted to study with me.
But you know, when you’re a sophomore, you want to hang out with the seniors; that’s pretty cool. When I was spending time with her, helping prepare for that test, there was just sort of this moment I was with her; we ended up mostly talking all night instead of studying; who’s surprised? I remember it was almost like a little click in my heart, where I thought, “Wait a minute; I really like her. Wait a minute; do I like like her?”—very technical terms, of course. I couldn’t quite shake that maybe this feeling matched how my peers actually described feeling about boys. I spent about a week kind of processing: “Is this allowed? Is this okay? I do think that’s how I feel, but it doesn’t seem like it’s right.”
This was back when Will & Grace was still edgy, not nostalgic—you know—this is 2001. But I remember sort of digging through my junk drawer of morality available, and I couldn’t find any possible reason why this wouldn’t be okay; right? Way before the phrase “Love is love” became culturally popular, it was where I landed. I thought, “Well, it’s not hurting anybody”; so I decided to just go all in. As I gained romantic and sexual experiences with other young women, I thought, “Oh yes; this is definitely my home.”
Bob: When you go back now, and try to deconstruct what was going on in Rachel’s heart and life, as a high school student, were you culturally influenced/were you hormonally influenced? Was it biology?—was it nature/nurture? What’s your sense of what was going on then?
Rachel: You know, on some level, so much of my focus in discipleship hasn’t been on interrogating where the feelings have come from but rather what my faithful response to them should be that I don’t know that I’ve even considered that it matters very much. Maybe it was cultural/maybe it was biological; but at the end of the day, either way, I have a responsibility to say “No,” to temptation to sin and to say “Yes,” to Christ.
At the time, when I was discovering this about myself, it wasn’t yet culturally cool in the way that it is now. It’s actually amazing to me how much this has turned the corner in
20 years/15 years. But I do think it’s something we strongly need to consider as we disciple our children, both the ones that live in our household and just the children with us in church—to think really critically, with a biblical worldview that looks at some of the things they’re seeing in the outside world with an eye of skepticism; right?—like: “Well, what does make someone special?” “How do I tell right from wrong?” “Crucially, where are we supposed to go to understand our own feelings and whether or not we should listen to them?”
Ann: I think that believers that are walking with Jesus—that are raising young kids—are sometimes confused about how to communicate these kinds of things to their kids. What do you think? As you’ve walked this path—and you’re married now—how would you instruct them/what would you say?
Rachel: I think it’s a really important question. I have a six-year-old right now, so—
Ann: —so you’re there!
Rachel: I’m there, but it also means I’m also not there. I’ve never tried to parent a 14-year-old or parent a 24-year-old; I’ve only parented up to a six-year-old. But it is very much on my mind.
I think one of the reasons that parents are feeling so unprepared is that the church, for the past 50 years, has almost been accidentally in agreement with God’s doctrine. It’s been very much instinctual that marriage is male and female, so we haven’t had to dig into our own texts/our own Scriptures to find: “Why is it male/female?” It just seemed obvious. Now that we’re getting a lot of pressure to explain why we think what we think, if the parents haven’t been catechized in a positive view of God’s vision for sexuality, then how in the world are they going to be able to pass that on to their children?—right?
Disney movies and the church have both told us that marriage is really about marrying your best friend, having great sex, and maybe kids if you can afford them; right? Two men can do all those things; two women can do all those things. If that’s all marriage is, then no wonder we felt flat-footed when trying to explain to our children why people of the same sex can’t have that.
But when we go back to the Scriptures, we actually find a more robust picture of why marriage exists and what the elements need to be to fulfill that vision that God’s created it for.
Dave: As you go back to, you know, you as a high school girl, walking through this journey, I’m guessing the Scriptures weren’t something you were looking at, at that time; right?
Rachel: Oh, certainly not!
Dave: You’re living out your life. Are you at a point, as you reflect back, was this something that was like, “Wow! I’m going to celebrate this; this is wonderful!”—was there the opposite or was it somewhere in between—like, “I need to hide this”?
Rachel: I never “lived in the closet”—would be the phrase—I never hid it; but I was pretty eager to get out of my cow town—literally, my high school had a working farm on the campus—I was pretty eager to get to Yale/to the east coast to be at a place, where I could explore my sexuality more freely/where I could kind of dive into both that part of my life and big ideas.
I think it was a huge grace of the Lord to me that He saved me so early in my experience of college, so that I actually didn’t have much time to plant my feet there.
Dave: Talk about that. You get to Yale; how did that happen? What happened?
Rachel: On the one hand, I thought very highly of my intellectual prowess; and then I showed up at Yale and realized, “Uh-oh, I’m not the smartest person in the world!” That kind of sent one pillar of my identity crumbling.
Another thing that happened, early on at Yale, was that the girl I was dating at the time broke up with me. I ended up in a little bit of a pit of an identity crisis. You know, I was kind of tossing around for: “Who am I? If I don’t have her/if I don’t have my academic excellence, who am I?” It wasn’t like, “Oh, I’m going to turn to Jesus,” because I didn’t believe in Jesus.
I happened to be in a lecture. I was taking a course of study through the Western canon—it was a philosophy class—and early in the spring semester, we were having a lecture on Rene Descartes—you know, the old dead European, who invented the phrase, “I think, therefore I am.” From that phrase, he invents this whole proof for the existence of God. I remember sitting in the audience, thinking, “That’s a really stupid proof for the existence of God,” which I still think.
But while I was sitting in the audience, I remember thinking, “Well, what if there are better proofs for the existence of God? This one’s not very compelling, but there might be something better.” I sort of immediately tensed up, like: “No, no. That’s not what we think about; that’s for stupid bigots”; you know? It was just like, “We’re not going to go there.”
But once the can had been opened in my mind, I kind of couldn’t shake it. I remember—you know, I’m a good Millennial—so I went back to my room and I would just Google® religious search terms over and over again. [Laughter] Again and again, I kept coming back to reading about the person of Jesus, and He was so much more interesting than I had thought.
Ann: Had you ever read the Bible before?
Rachel: I had occasionally read some sections of the Bible, like when I was in hotel rooms. I would love the Gideon Bibles; I would open them up and read the KJV language sometimes. But this was the first time I was really reading it for myself with interest.
But I immediately felt a type of barrier; I was like, “Well, I’m going to marry a woman someday. Even if I wanted Jesus, this is categorically not for me.” The only two people I knew at Yale, who identified as Christians, were these two women who were dating each other; so I thought, “Maybe they can shed some light on this for me. Maybe they can explain something.”
I went to them as if by night—right?—kind of trembling, like, “How do you reconcile all these things?” They were sweet girls. I remember them saying, “Oh, it’s all been a big misunderstanding! That’s not actually what the Bible really says. The Bible actually supports monogamous same-sex relationships.” I thought, “Well, if that’s true, that’s very interesting.” They gave me a packet of information explaining what the real interpretations were. I love packets—right?—so I took that thing back to my room. I remember ripping through it, and it made a lot of sense; it had an internal logic that I could follow.
But I also thought, “Well, maybe I should look up for myself some of the Bible verses these interpretations are claiming to explain,”—seems like good due diligence. I pull them up on my computer, and then I would compare what I found on my computer to what I saw in the packet, kind of back and forth. Eventually, I was like, “Well, uh-oh; I don’t think this packet is doing as good of a job with this ancient Scripture as it’s claiming to do.” It was difficult for me; because I actually really did want to believe what they gave me, but I just couldn’t see it in the texts. I remember throwing the packet away, kind of feeling stupid for having held out belief that it could be real.
It was sometime soon after that I happened to be in the room of one of my friends, who was a non-practicing Catholic. She was getting something out of her room, putting things in bag or whatever. I was standing in her doorway. One of my favorite hobbies is to look at people’s bookshelves and judge them. [Laughter] She had a really nice bookshelf right by her doorframe. I was checking out the titles on that, and I saw a book with the title Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Now, I hadn’t been raised on Narnia, so I didn’t fully realize the significance of this book; but the title alone made me want to read it.
I was also too embarrassed to let my friend know that I was interested, so I just stole the book. [Laughter] It’s not that big; you can put it easily into your bag. I happened to be reading this book one day, in between classes, because it was easier and more interesting than my homework. There wasn’t like—I don’t remember where I was; I don’t remember what chapter or paragraph or anything like that—but while I was reading it one day, I suddenly was overwhelmed with, “Oh my goodness, not only does God exist,”—like in a generic, store-brand way—“but the God exists: the God who made me, the God who is transcendent, who is perfect; in fact, actually, the God to whom I’m going to owe an account of my life.”
At that moment, all I felt was fear; because I knew—I mean, I was arrogant; I was a liar; I was a cheater; I was sexually immoral; I was cruel—
Dave: —you were a thief!
Rachel: I was reading a stolen book! [Laughter] Yes, exactly! All of the evidence—right?—was pushed firmly into the “Guilty” category. I really felt afraid; but at the same time, I also realized—I think the Spirit revealed to me—that part of the reason Jesus had come was to place Himself as a barrier between God’s wrath and me and that the only way to be safe was to run towards Him, not away from Him.
I remember sitting there, thinking, “Well, I don’t want to become a Christian; that’s really lame!” [Laughter] But at the same time, I was like, “I can’t pretend that this isn’t true just because it’s inconvenient for my life. That strikes me as the height of stupidity.” I didn’t have a nice campus minister sitting with me, but I kind of understood that I needed to pray, so I just sort of shut my eyes and said, “Fine! I’ll be a Christian!” and then I went to class! You know, that was my introduction. [Laughter]
Bob: You know, I’m just wondering if we should change our literature to include that as the prayer: “This is the prayer you can pray: ‘Fine; I’ll be a Christian.’” [Laughter]
Dave: A new “sinner’s prayer”—right there it is. [Laughter]
Rachel: It’s short and sweet.
Bob: Well, it worked for you; didn’t it?
Ann: It did work.
Rachel: That’s right!
Ann: I love your story; I love that Jesus grabbed you and He wooed you to Himself. You’re smart; you’re intelligent, and it was a process that you kind of discovered on your own, through your own search. For me, that says, “God loves you.”
I think of all of us, as parents, that are so petrified for our kids—and “If we don’t say the right thing…” and “If we do say the right thing, and should we act like this?” or “…say this?” and “…go to this church?” and “…go to this camp?”—there are so many things; and yet, when I listen to your story, I think, “There is a God who loves your child more than you do; and He will go to all costs to find them, to woo them, and to bring them to Himself, even if it’s a prayer like, ‘Fine! I’ll become a Christian.’”
Dave: I would even add this—I think someone listening has felt pursued by God, like Rachel did, and finally gave in. I mean, we’re laughing at the “Fine”; but at some point, it’s like: “You know what? I’m not going to run away anymore. I’m going to follow You and see where that leads.”
It’s interesting—it wasn’t: “I’m going to give up my sexuality,”—it was, “I’m going to follow You, and then let’s see what happens.” We’ll hear the rest of the story.
Bob: Let me just say to listeners, you may right now need to pray a prayer that says, “Fine!”
Ann: I kind of like that prayer.
Bob: Yes; it’s a prayer of surrender, which is exactly the posture that we need to take when we are surrendering to Jesus and saying: “I’m going to accept what You have made so clear that there’s no escaping it,” and “I’m going to accept it, whatever the cost and whatever the implications.” As we’ll hear, they wind up being significant for Rachel and wind up being significant, really, for all of us.
Rachel has chronicled her story in a book she’s written called Born Again This Way: Coming Out, Coming to Faith, and What Comes Next. We have copies of Rachel’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order it from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get your copy. Again, the title of the book is Born Again This Way by Rachel Gilson. Order online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get your copy—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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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk about the arguments that are being made within the church today about why Christians ought to embrace same-sex marriage. We’ll see what Rachel Gilson has to say about that and how she believes we ought to respond. That comes up tomorrow. 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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