(Photo: Leafwood Publishers/Acu Press)
Sally Gary's story is unique in that it is her own, but as a follower of Jesus Christ living with same-sex attraction, the Texas native undeniably has much to say that would resonate with countless other women who find that they, too "love God but like girls."
While her journey to healing and acceptance rely greatly on addressing the lies and confusion that took root in her childhood and in relating to her parents, Gary rests in her relationship with God to navigate "the tension, the unresolved conflict" of desiring to live a life of holiness and yet yearning to fulfill the desire for relationship she believes that same God has placed in everyone.
In addition to telling of the experiences that shaped her ideas of self-worth and femininity, Gary uses her new memoir, Loves God, Likes Girls, to remind churches and Christians of their special privilege and responsibility to create safe places for men and women dealing with unwanted same-sex attraction.
In a recent interview with The Christian Post, Gary discussed both the difficulty and joy of writing Loves God, Likes Girls, shared what she believes are some of the most common and harmful myths Christians believe about those living with unwanted same-sex attraction, and explained why she is glad that Exodus International has "fallen back and decided to regroup" after founder Alan Chambers issued an apology for the ex-gay ministry's practices.
Below is transcript of CP's interview with Gary. It has been edited for clarity.
CP: Please share a little about yourself, such as your profession, the work you do through CenterPeace, where you worship, etc.
Gary: I've done a lot of things over the last 51 years. I'm a former high school speech and debate coach. I went to law school and practiced trial law for a little while. And then I taught most recently and Abilene Christian University, I taught there for 10 years in the Communication Department. Most recently, I became director of CenterPeace, which is a ministry that I founded in 2006. It's a ministry that helps provide safe places for men and women who experience same-sex attraction. We do different types of events to help churches and families know how to start conversations and talk more openly and more comfortably about reconciling faith and homosexuality, and helping families who have sons and daughters who identify as gay know how to really walk through that, and to have a more Christ-like response in the way that we talk about homosexuality ... How do we walk alongside someone who experiences same-sex attraction. That's been a great blessing in my life, to be able to do that ministry.
I worship at the Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas. That's just been a great support system for me. Wonderful elders who love and support me and are fully supportive, in fact, agreed this year to become financially supportive of the ministry of CenterPeace. So they're a part of our financial support in the ministry as well as just being a safe place for me personally and holding me accountable as I walk with the Lord. That's been a really good place for me.
I didn't grow up in Abilene. I grew up in Wichita Falls, Texas. Of course, lots of stories that I write about in the book took place there. My mom and dad still live in Wichita Falls and they are extremely supportive of what I'm doing now. It's just been a great blessing to have family and church support like I have.
CP: Before I get into questions about Loves God, Likes Girls, I'm wondering if you could share briefly your theology on human sexuality for The Christian Post's readers.
Gary: That's a really broad question. The most basic answer is that I believe in a God who created every aspect of this universe and every aspect of our selves, including our sexuality, and so our sexuality arises out of a lot of things I think. I don't know that we have a clear understanding any more than we have a clear understanding of every aspect of how these human bodies of ours work, but as Christians, there's a deeply held belief that God created those bodies. Do things go awry with those bodies? Yeah, because we're human, and He knows that. Not everything about our physical makeup, including our sexuality, may work exactly like God intended but He is the great redeemer of all of that and helps us live in these human bodies as He intended whether those bodies cooperate with that or not.
Some of us may have struggles in other areas of our sexuality, with promiscuity, with faithfulness in a marriage, all kinds of ways that are human frailties and weaknesses (that) manifest themselves through our sexuality. I believe that God designed all of that and yet so many factors enter in to influence how we see ourselves as sexual beings and influence how we live that out. I believe it's important for us as Christians to surrender every part of ourselves, every part of our being to God, including our sexuality to try to capture what He did originally intend. That's not always easy and for some of us it's easier than others, some struggle in other areas. I think that's all that God really requires of us, is that we be willing to submit every part of ourselves to Him and let Him work out the details of all of that.
CP: How was it writing Loves God, Likes Girls? I imagine that, as you were reliving some of these situations, it might have been a bit difficult.
Gary: It was difficult at times. There were scenes that I remembered, and I believe wholeheartedly that the Lord gave me as I was writing different memories and stories, things that I had not perhaps thought about in a long, long time. Some of that was painful to go back and recall. As I was resurrecting that on paper, it was painful. But the sweet thing about that is that I was blessed to have my mom and dad just a phone call away. We were able to talk about some things that we had not talked about in 30, 40 years. For instance, I wrote a whole chapter about a Christmas that was extremely difficult, it was painful. Yet we had never talked about that since 1977, we really had never had a conversation about that. Yet to be able to sit down with my dad and say, 'What was that like for you, Daddy? What were you thinking, what was going through your head in those moments?' You know, there were some things that he remembered well and he was able to explain and we were able to talk about that in a way that was just amazing. It just brings a smile to my face now to think about how God has redeemed that relationship and brought reconciliation in a way that I never thought possible. Even though it was painful to remember some of those things, bringing that back up and talking through it, letting the Lord bring even more healing to that relationship and into my family in the ways that we communicate, that was really sweet. It was very much worth it from that perspective.
CP: I guess it's safe to say, then, you don't have any regrets about the things you shared or in the way you might have presented them?
Gary: No, I don't. I think the enemy wanted me to be fearful. Before the book came out, there were moments of 'what are people gonna think of me, what are people gonna think of my family? Are they gonna get that my family is absolutely precious and that so much good came from my family?' You know, the goodness that is in me came from the ways that my parents raised me and the values that they instilled in me. Are you gonna get that, too?
I think for the most part, the people that I've heard from who have read the book certainly see that. The enemy wanted me to fear that that wouldn't be the case before the book came out. Once it was out there, and I've had such a positive response from so many people literally across the globe that I'm very thankful that what was shared was shared. If it can help one person feel less alone and have a better understanding of what someone who experiences same-sex attraction goes through, then that's all worth it.
CP: I read on your blog that when it came time to discuss the title of the book, you told Leafwood Press director Dr. Leonard Allen that there was a certain message you wanted to convey with the title Loves God, Likes Girls. Can you share briefly what that message is that you wanted to put across?
Gary: I think a lot of Christians believe that if someone experiences same-sex attraction that person has just completely walked off the deep end, that they've walked away from God, that they couldn't possibly have a relationship with God or any feeling for what God wants in their lives. That's just not true. That is a myth that the enemy has perpetuated, that has separated and alienated us from the folks who are right in our midst. There's never been a time in my life that I've walked away from God. There's never been a time I didn't want God in my life. I talked to many, many people who've experienced same-sex attraction and most of us have grown up in church, have a deep desire for God, and come from strong, sweet Christian families. There is much confusion in how you reconcile all of that. So if Christians' only response is 'well, you obviously can't be right with God.' Or the idea that we somehow don't want God is just not true and it's extremely hurtful. It has the effect of making a lot of people eventually walk away from God, eventually walk away from church …
CP: A big part of your journey involved your parents, your home life and close friends. How important is it for people dealing with unwanted same-sex attraction to have those closest to them involved in their journey?
Gary: I think it's important to remember that everybody's story is different, everybody's journey is different and God works in our lives in different ways. I presented counseling as a part of the path that God led me on to working through some things, because there were some things in my family and in my relationship with my dad in particular that I needed to work through, and that required someone to guide us through that, to help us through that. I don't know that that's going to be the case for everybody. I don't know that we need to continue to look at this as if you experience same-sex attraction, you need to go to counseling and there's something terribly wrong with your family. That is certainly not the message of Loves God, Likes Girls. I think that also is another misnomer that Christians have bought into.
I think that every family can benefit from having someone who can be more objective look in and see some ways that we can improve our family life, improve how we parent, improve how we relate to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ as well as moms and dads and sons and daughters, and siblings, grandparents and aunts and uncles, all of that. It was helpful to me to be able to have that experience, to know, if nothing else, I think the common factor for anyone is to know that you have your family's support and encouragement in this. I think some of the most effective families I see are the families who say, 'My son or daughter may have shocked me with telling me that they're gay, but I'm gonna walk alongside them, I'm gonna learn as much as I can about this and I'm gonna learn some things about myself in the process. And are there some ways perhaps that I have related to my son or daughter that could be different, that could improve our relationship?'
My focus in counseling was in helping my relationship with my father. I think if that's the way we approached it rather than to "fix the person who's gay," then we would have a lot more success, if you will, in the way all of that turns out. If your goal is to get rid of being gay, to get rid of same-sex attraction, God doesn't always work that way in our lives. God doesn't always remove the things that we struggle with. I could go to counseling for my struggle with impatience, but the goal is not to get rid of that completely, (but) to manage that, to live a life that's pleasing to God, even if God never takes away my struggle with anger and impatience. The same is true for same-sex attraction. To the extent that counseling helped my family relate better and helped me to build a relationship with my father, it was extremely important and extremely important to have my parents involved in that process. I wish every family that I came in contact with would be willing to go through that process of just exploring 'how can we be better and how can we love each other more as God intended for us to show love to one another?' That would be wonderful if we could all get there.
CP: What kind of attitude should churches and those in ministry have toward others who experience unwanted same-sex attraction? What kinds of things could or should they be doing to help them?
Gary: I think one of the most important things that we as Christians can do is follow the model of Jesus in the way that he related to people in the gospels. I love the story of Zacchaeus when he invites him down out of the tree. How many people were walking with Jesus who didn't even see Zacchaeus? But Jesus always saw people who were on the fringe. It was as though he honed in on that, and he didn't just stop there. He didn't let the first thing that come out of his mouth (be) 'Zacchaeus, I need to let you know how I feel about this tax collecting stuff that you're doing. I need to let you know where I stand on that and that I don't approve of that. Nonetheless, I love you.' That was not Jesus' response. Jesus' response was to say 'I want to go to your house. I want to spend time with you.'
I think that's so important for us to remember as we encounter people who may be very different from us, (and) maybe have very different beliefs. Who knows what a person has been exposed to in terms of Christianity. So it's important for us to convey an accurate picture of Christ, that's willing to listen, that's willing to sit down. What would it be like if, instead of the first thing that we think of is to tell people where we stand on homosexuality, the first thing we did was to listen and say, 'Tell me what it's been like for you, and what it's been like for you and your family. How has your family responded? Tell me what it's been like for you in church' if the person has grown up in church. 'Tell me about some of those hard experiences and what it's like for you now.'
If we would stop and really and truly have a heart to listen to people and to understand, rather than to make it clear where we stand, I think that would do wonders. We're so afraid that if we do that, that we're not standing up for what's right. Yet this is the only thing that people struggle with, if you view it as a struggle, that we think we have to tell people exactly where we stand before we can be in relationship with anyone. And if they don't agree with us that we can't be in relationship. We don't think that way on anything else. Materialism, we can disagree on how we ought to live our lives according to what God wants materialistically. We can disagree on that and not have any problem worshipping together, being friends with people. It's the same thing in regard to lots of other things that we deem central. But with this, we've just not been willing to really listen and try to understand and be willing to agree to disagree, if that's what it takes. But let Jesus keep us connected. Who knows what God could do in the process of that? We would all be changed in lots of areas of our lives that I believe the Lord wants us to be changed, if we would listen more.
CP: You write in the epilogue that you find yourself living in a sort of tension and unresolved conflict of what it is you believe God calls you to do in this life, to live holy, and your desire for an "intimate relationship with one person for life." Can you comment briefly on that tension and conflict?
Gary: I think the epilogue states it pretty concisely. I think it just simply is a great illustration of what it is like to walk daily, trying to find what God calls us to. What if we did that in every area of our life? That we were willing to admit that we just don't have our act together in lots of areas of our lives, that we can't do it on our own, and that we have to rely on God's presence and power to work in us and through us? Some days we're gonna do it better than others. That's the way I am in regard to my selfishness. That's the way I am in regard to my pride. It's also the way I am in regard to my attraction to women, and the desire to not live alone. God created us to be in relationship, He created us to be connected to each other. I don't know that we as the Body of Christ really know how to do that for people except in the area of marriage. That is what we view as the ultimate type of relationship and connection. We're living in a day and age where so many people feel disconnected. With all the social media and the ways that it gives us a sense of connection, it's a false connection in a lot of ways.
I think that's one of the biggest struggle for me, is to constantly find connection and community. I do that with people being willing to walk with me and be okay with that tension that I live in and not feel like they have to fix me or tell me what to think, but will just walk alongside me. It's amazing how that defuses the tension and how it kind of brings perspective back to 'oh, okay this is like all the other things that I struggle with.' Yet we get so caught up, and there's such a turmoil about this that I think the enemy thrives on that, of making it bigger than it seems. If you dwell on that and you stay in 'oh how horrible this is' and 'I can't ever have this' and 'I can't ever be in…' then we lose sight of all the good that's in our lives. I think if we could just kind of diffuse the power of all his lies, we would live a more peaceful life. It's not that it goes away, but it just is not nearly as big as we've made it out to be. But as long as it's big and it's confusing, then I'm more apt to make a decision rashly (and) try to fill that need in ways that are gonna make me feel better for the moment, but in the long run may not really be what God desires for me. But if I can just kind of settle down and have people stay with me, it becomes less powerful.
CP: I'm guessing based on your work at CenterPeace that you've heard about Alan Chambers of Exodus International and him shutting down the organization and apologizing for whatever hurt might have been caused throught its practices. Do you have any thoughts on that, and perhaps even the debate concerning reparative, or conversion therapy?
Gary: I certainly appreciated what Alan said. I loved his heart and his desire to not be hurtful and to help people grow in their relationship with God. That certainly has been the purpose and goal of CenterPeace. CenterPeace has never been affiliated with Exodus and I did that purposefully from the start because I saw that as problematic when we first were thinking and talking about another type of ministry that would simply help people find safe places to have conversations. If the goal is trying to "fix" people, then that's not helpful. I'm glad that the folks at Exodus have seen that and have wanted to kind of fall back and regroup and let the focus be on bringing people into deeper relationship with the Lord in seeking what He wants for their lives. The truth is that it may look different for each of us.
I don't know anything about reparative therapy. I'm not a counselor (and) that's certainly not what I went through in the counseling that I did. I didn't even know that term until I had finished and done some reading elsewhere. I've not met anyone who has ever experienced a total lifelong reversal of feelings of same-sex attraction – not that that's not possible, because all things are possible with God. I believe that wholeheartedly. But my experience and the experience of so many people I know has been that He works in our lives differently and it's not necessarily the removal of the things that…whether you view it as a struggle, a temptation or just who you are, He doesn't typically work that way in our lives. So I'm thankful that the folks at Exodus have seen that.
CP: What do you make of the debates and noise today concerning marriage, especially considering the Supreme Court decisions on two major marriage-related cases (DOMA and Proposition 8)?
Gary: I think that we hurt ourselves when we focus on political remedies, focus on legal conversations that most of us are not equipped to really discuss from a legal standpoint. Wouldn't it be nice, again, if we could take Jesus' approach? He came to change hearts, not laws. He didn't go through the systems that people expected him to go through, and yet what he did was transformational beyond anything anyone's ever done. I think that's what we need to be about. If we would have less noise about decisions that are made in courts, and really focused on people's lives, the person who is in our family, the person who lives next door who's really wrestling with these issues and yet may not know God at all. Wouldn't it be better to start there? Which is more likely to open a conversation about what it means to be a follower of Christ – arguing and debating whether same-sex marriage is okay? Or just simply having a conversation about what's life been like for you and what's difficult now and where could we be more helpful? Being good neighbors, loving our neighbors as ourselves – what would happen if that became our focus, rather than all of the arguing? Some of the things that we say in response when we truly believe that we're trying to do a good thing, I don't doubt the sincerely of my brothers and sisters at all, but the way that we approach people is more off-putting. It alienates the very folks that we claim to want to reach. It does more to distance ourselves from them, and that's what I find most hurtful about all of that.
CP: That was my final question. Was there anything else you wanted to highlight or put out there for readers that we didn't touch on?
Gary: I hope this book will be a conversation starter, that it will open eyes both in the pews and outside to see that this is not something that we have to be afraid of. It's a conversation that's long overdue, especially in the church.