Rachel Gilson, Born Again This Way: Coming Out, Coming to Faith, and What Comes Next (The Good Book Company, 2020)
Rachel Gilson’s short book left me wanting more. She uses her personal story – a sexually active gay woman prior to her conversion and in her early Christian life – as an illustration rather than as core to the message she wants to convey. And what is that message? That Jesus ‘is beautiful, powerful, and worthy right at the heart of this conversation, right at the heart of our sexuality’ (p.13).
Gilson’s gentle and compassionate writing style guides the reader through an explanation of God’s intent in creating male and female and how opposite-sex marriage relationships illustrate the forthcoming marriage between Christ and his bride, the Church.
She writes helpfully on the dignity of singleness. She also challenges (with grace) the recent history of a Church that promotes marriage and the nuclear family, often at the expense of those who don’t fit in its attractively packaged narrative. Her observations on the importance of spiritual parenthood and the legacy we can all leave (that has nothing to do with physical reproduction) are timely and encouraging. In a deceptively short book, she covers a wide range of areas, such as the importance of recognising the need to acknowledge and enjoy the richness of sex difference, the role of personal responsibility around temptation, and the call for all to pursue radical obedience in the face of societal norms.
But the strength of this book, and the reason I’d love her to write more, is when Gilson tackles the biggies of sexuality and relationships, and the way we navigate these two behemoths healthily within a local congregation.
When I came to faith in 1985, same-sex attraction (or whatever phrase was used back then) was not even mentioned in Christian circles. I had nothing to read and no one to talk to who could offer understanding or help during this grim time. Gilson’s words speak powerfully both to my situation back then and to the position many face today. In a world that promotes the exploration of personal sexual identity and encourages varied sexual expression as a necessary human right, she explains:
‘Stewarding our sexuality is about faithfulness to Jesus, which is so much more than exchanging one set of attractions for another—in many ways this is much harder, but ultimately it is much more beautiful’ (p. 55).
Stewarding our sexuality. This is so much more than being gay or straight, married or single. Our sexuality is God-given; we shouldn’t be ashamed of it, misuse it, or consider it problematic. Our sexuality is a gift to be treasured and, like every other gift, to be stewarded in a way that most glorifies God and benefits us and others.
Rachel recognises that friendship relationships can so often lead to misplaced attraction and feelings of romance. In their place she proposes a model of sibling relationships, with their accompanying intimacy and blessings. Sibling relationships offer intimacy and transparency without crossing the unseen but powerful line towards romance. How I wish I had been offered this way of thinking back when I lurched from one emotionally dependent relationship to the next.
I lived through the period when, although not overtly stated, marriage was often considered as the next stage in the journey of healing for someone who was same-sex attracted. It was a painful time for those of us who, despite our efforts to change attraction and move on, never achieved that coveted level of wholeness. I was fascinated and encouraged by Rachel’s description of her growing relationship with her now husband, Andrew. I loved the way it bore no semblance to the all-consuming nature of her previous same-sex encounters.
‘Whereas the other feeling was overpowering and explosive, the feeling in me that was growing toward him felt much more vulnerable—like a small flame being protected by cupped hands from the wind’ (p. 96).
This is pure gold. Such an example would have revolutionised my life and it will open a great vista to those women who are emerging from various turbulent and intense relationships and are wondering what, if any, possibilities may be available.
My only criticism is that, aware of history and knowing that most same-sex attracted men and women don’t go on to marry, Rachel seems almost embarrassed to admit that she is married. Please don’t be. Silence will never rectify the past mistakes, but a fresh and more nuanced approach to this sensitive subject is much needed. Although Gilson touches on this, a concerted exploration of sex difference and a reasoned assessment of what one can expect and may experience as a same-sex attracted person is desperately required. Perhaps this author is the one to meet this need.
Rachel’s young daughter advised her to ‘not write any more articles, but only books. Hundreds of books’ (p.146). Well, another couple would be a great start!