Julie Rodgers is today’s Chapel speaker and has identified herself as “a part of the LGBT community at large.” She said that in her childhood, she felt like she was treated differently and that’s partly why she’s shared such solidarity with LGBT. The Point emailed her about what students can expect from her visit to PLNU.
You serve in the Chaplain’s Office at Wheaton College as the Ministry Associate for Spiritual Care, but also were a student at Wheaton your freshmen year of college. Tell us about that transition and what you feel called to do in the position you currently hold. How long have you been in this position?
This is my first year on staff at Wheaton College and it’s been a real joy to provide a safe place for students to process their questions, concerns, fears, and dreams. I went to Wheaton my freshman year and spent the rest of my time in college at Christian universities, so I know some of the challenges students face—particularly minority students. My hope is that any and all students will feel like there’s a place where they can be totally honest and encounter the love of Christ in that space. There are so many staff and faculty already serving in that capacity at Wheaton, and I’m grateful to join in what they’re already doing.
Prior to working at Wheaton, you worked with inner city high school students at an urban ministry in West Dallas. What was that like?
The teenagers totally changed my life. They gave me a vision for friendship and community that continues to inform the way I approach conversations about sexuality in the church (plus they were just so fun!). It was also the first time I saw the effects of systemic racism, which destroyed me and transformed the way I see the entire world.
In the Christian faith, it can be difficult to have conversations about things like LGBT, depression, sex before marriage or consumption of alcohol in that context of Christianity or at PLNU, in the Nazarene faith. How do you start those conversations?
It’s always seemed strange to me that we Christians feel pressure to look so put together when the point of our faith is that we’re not okay, that we need to be rescued. We can’t have an honest encounter with Christ in that deep, transformative sort of way if we don’t start from a place of acknowledging our own failures and our continual need for a Savior. So I start by being honest about my own failures or doubts or insecurities and invite others to do the same.
In your blog, you speak about humanizing “conversations related to sexual minorities in Christian communities.” How have you been engaging in these conversations and have you been to other schools to have these conversations?
Homosexuality is often framed as an “issue” or a “debate”, so I think it’s important to highlight the lived experiences of human beings. I do this by sharing my stories and encouraging others to do the same (when they’re in safe communities). Our stories invite people into all of the questions that have marked our lives—the challenges, fears, hopes and dreams—and they move Christian communities to think about gay people as part of the “us” rather than “those people out there.”
In your blog, you also talk about how Christians have faced the conflict of self hatred and self loathing because they feel like they are evil and entirely sinful because of who they are. When speaking with someone from LGBT, how do you get them out of that mindset?
We see in Scripture that all humans are made in the image of God and all humans are broken. LGBT people are in the same boat with the rest of humanity. The problem is that the church has often had a message to sexual minorities that they’re MORE broken or uniquely toxic, so I try to highlight the ways we’re all on level ground, side by side, and that all of us—including LGBT people—have gifts to offer our communities.
Do you feel there is a specific way to be Christian and part of the LGBT community when it comes to sexuality and what people argue about the Bible’s message toward LGBT?
Well, since I believe Scripture defines a Christian marriage as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, my vision for intimacy and community is different than that of many in the LGBT community. I tend to focus more on what we have in common, though—ways that I can be a blessing—such as anti-bullying efforts and creating safe spaces for LGBT youth to be known and loved. Christianity has a lot to say about seeking justice and caring for the marginalized, which means there’s a lot the church can (and should) do to show love and support to the LGBT community.
You also speak in your blog post, ‘Surprised by Celibacy’ about not liking that conversation and being burdened by the belief that sexuality is reserved for a man and a woman. How do you approach this conversation personally and for others who struggle between what they believe (or even don’t believe) and what they feel?
It would be strange if we didn’t experience a struggle between our immediate desires and the demand Scriptures places on our lives. I don’t think that struggle is in any way reserved for LGBT people, as every Christian is called to “die daily” in following Christ, but I do think there are unique challenges faced by sexual minorities. Our culture (and most of our churches) have held marriage up as the primary place for one to find love and intimacy, and the need for relationship is central to human flourishing. We can live without sex, but we can’t live without intimacy, and the way we’re set up as a society presents challenges to someone pursuing celibacy—challenges that are unrelated to the common Christian call to holiness.
There is sometimes a stereotype surrounding people of the LGBT community and a stigma among Christians to engage in real conversation about challenging portions of the Christian faith or different ideas about the interpretation of parts of that faith. In particular, the “homosexuality is a sin” Bible passage is often a source of debate and some people argue that it is no more than any other sin.
In the LGBT community, some people find the conversation of celibacy in the context of sexuality shaming when their feelings are something that can’t be controlled. How have you addressed that perception or stigma in the context of the Christian faith without isolating people by what they’re willing to believe about who they are?
I’m primarily concerned with LGBT people truly knowing the love of God and staying closely connected to Him. It’s really hard to grow up gay in the church, and many choose to leave because of the shame they felt in their Christian communities. My hope is for them to know God is good, that He loves them, and for them to experience His love through the Body of Christ. Questions about how one will steward their sexuality are important, but they’re not the most important thing to address when you look at a whole human being.
How were you chosen to speak for April 20th’s chapel? And what made you want to speak at PLNU?
I work with college students at Wheaton College and it’s a real joy to talk about following Jesus in the midst of all the changes, challenges, fears, and dreams that come with being a college student. It was a really formative time in my own life so I see it as a privilege to play some small part in the lives of college students now.
What are your thoughts coming to PLNU? What do you plan to tell the students?
I plan to talk honestly about following Jesus in the midst of doubt and disappointment.
What are you hoping the PLNU students will take from your discussion?
I hope they’ll consider the possibility that God is there and He’s good—that He’s for them—even when they feel disillusioned.
What is the topic of the later conversation?
We will be having more conversations about sexuality and community in small group gatherings here and there. I love stories, so I hope to hear some questions and stories from students, and I plan to share some of my own as well.