I’ve had lots of coming out experiences, sharing with family, close friends, even a former professor in order to be considered for a job teaching at a Christian university. They were all anxiety-producing to various degrees, depending on my relationship with the person and how I perceived they would respond. The overwhelming majority of those experiences were positive, with people expressing love, even if they didn’t quite know what to say.
My favorite all-time response was from the wife of a dear friend. They had just recently married and I didn’t know her as well as I knew her husband, so I was quite nervous. I went through my schpiel and when I finished, she got up from her seat, came over and hugged me tightly. Then she looked at her husband and me and asked so very matter-of-factly, “ so who wants banana daiquiris?” We all laughed and it was perfect!
Coming out in a more public way was terrifying to me, both times.
The first time was to a 5,000 seat coliseum in a chapel assembly of the faculty and student body of Abilene Christian University, where I was teaching at the time. In preparation, I made sure that people closest to me heard from me beforehand in a more personal way. 12 times I gave that chapel talk to individuals, usually sitting in their recliners in their living rooms. It was exhausting, but I’m glad I did that. Those were important people who needed to hear from me personally. I tried to anticipate any potential fallout ahead of time, and I had people praying for me before, during, and after that event.
In 2020, I came out again as fully affirming (a place I had been for almost a decade, but had not shared publicly in my role with CenterPeace). Even though I was completely comfortable in my own skin by that time, I was terrified of losing my community. While I knew many leaders and had many, many friends who were fully affirming and fully supportive of me and my decision to marry, I knew it would not be well received by many people within my tribe. People I love dearly and respect, for these were the first ones to teach me about Jesus. I did not want to hurt them, and yet I knew, as some would tell me later, that they would feel betrayed.
To prepare for this moment, I shared with everyone closest to me - and those folks had known for quite some time that my views of scripture regarding same-sex sexuality had changed, plus they certainly knew when I started dating Karen. But there was another layer of people I went to privately to share where I was, before I made this public announcement in a keynote address at the 2020 CenterPeace Conference (which was all online due to the pandemic). I wrote a letter to the elders of my church (elders compose the governing body in churches of Christ), and asked to meet with them in person. In that meeting I came out to them again, sharing my plans to announce the shift in my views, and that Karen and I would marry a few months later.
I won’t sugarcoat it - that meeting was hard, as well as the subsequent meeting they requested to hear how I saw scripture differently. This was a group of men whom I felt loved by and whom I loved. They didn’t kick me out or scream at me (although a couple were pretty hostile on the second visit). The majority just simply didn’t know how to respond. They didn’t know how to even ask questions, so it was hard and felt very awkward. I gave them each a copy of my book and invited them to contact me to talk, to ask questions. I gave them free access to our virtual conference that year. Sadly, no one came, and I only heard from one of the elders after those two meetings.
That was hard. And I’ve had to grieve the loss of a community I’ve known all my life - and one I’ve known in a much broader sense in my adult life, working with so many of these churches and their leadership for the past 17 years through CenterPeace.
My coming out in that public way deeply impacted my ability to maneuver the only world I’d ever known. CenterPeace lost our top three donors of all time when that happened, one of whom was a family member. To this day, there are moments that I’m sitting in another church, happily serving and feeling fully embraced by this community, and I will hear a tune or a phrase and I’m overcome with grief.
I never wanted to leave, but it became impossible to stay.
If you’re still reading - and if you are, kudos to you because this is really LONG! But it’s not an easy thing to discern whether to potentially turn your world upside down, right?
First, it is absolutely in your best interest to not carry secrets - to not expend one more bit of energy having to manage yourself in different groups of people. What I wouldn’t give to have all the energy I used trying to be who people wanted me to be, instead of my authentic self - ALL of myself. So ask God to give you the strength to share the truth of who you are. And the beauty is, you’re still the same absolutely adorable person you were the second before you shared this one more bit of information about yourself!
Maybe you’re thinking, well if it was so painful and scary, Sally, why did you do it?
First, I’d lived enough years alone. Far too many for my own good. I was not called to live by myself. Being married - and especially to Karen - is the second best thing that’s ever happened to me. Following Jesus is always first, right?!
And here’s the truth - more people have come out of the woodwork in support of me. More people have felt safe in coming out or exploring their faith again. As an enneagram three, it is excruciating to think of people not liking me. But my heart cares more about those coming after me, who need to hear someone who is devoutly Christian and gay and married and who loves teaching a Sunday school class. If we all stand up and say that, scary and potentially painful as it is, it will change the church.
It will change the world.