What I Knew About Julie Rodgers Before She Resigned From Wheaton (1/2)

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I say with lament, not malice, that Julie Rodgers' defection from orthodox sexual ethics has been in the making for some time. For those reading the warning signs along the way, it was not a great shock to read on July 13 that she no longer believed that homosexual relations were wrong. It was less of a surprise to read that, given that change of mind, she had immediately resigned from her job at Wheaton caring for students with same-sex attractions. All the same, these developments were sad occasion for many of us.

Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon is associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon is associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary | (Photo: Robert Gagnon)

For me personally, a discussion of this regrettable step breaks down into two parts: (1) a partial narrative of what I knew about Julie leading up to her resignation; and (2) my response to the defense she gave for her change of mind.

I think that I first became acquainted with Julie Rodgers in the first months before the late-June 2013 Exodus conference, where Julie was to be a plenary speaker on the last day. I read a noteworthy Nov., 2012, post by Julie on the Exodus blog, called Making Room: A Shift toward Compassion. There were missteps in her presentation. Chief among them were her support of Exodus president Alan Chambers' discouragement of SOCE (sexual orientation change efforts); and not addressing the daily necessity of combatting a false sexual narrative (more on that later).

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Despite these problems, she impressed me as both a dedicated Christian and as a winsome and artful storyteller of what she perceived to be God's work in the world and in her own life. The following illustration was memorable to me, perhaps for its endearing combination of pathos, vulnerability, honesty, humility, and humor:

"In an attempt to fit the hetero mold, I gave dating men my best shot. I enjoyed spending time with them and often imagined we could be happy together — holding hands and giggling with our Starbucks Christmas cups in hand. Yet the moment it moved beyond the get-to-know-you stage, I knew I was missing the 'it' factor (romantic attraction). I distinctly remember the night one boyfriend tried to work up the courage to sneak the first kiss, and I dodged the bullets only to rush home and break up with him on Facebook (real mature)."

I had the opportunity of meeting Julie once in May 2013, at the Richard Land Center at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (great organization, by the way). We shared a meal alongside other participants in the conference at which I was speaking.

Julie struck me as a bit boyish in dress and manner, yet still mainly female in expression. Though I think she was 27 at the time, she looked closer to 17. She was a little shy and timid, respectful but also engaging with a strong personality. My main impression: Julie was winsome in person, not just on paper, evincing an enthusiastic faith in God and a love for others, especially distressed teens.

My hope in meeting her was to encourage this gifted, caring person to remain committed to Jesus' vision of sexual ethics and to the apostolic witness to that vision. I felt good about the meeting and at least hopeful, if not convinced, that she would stay theologically solid.

Things didn't go exactly as I had hoped in the next couple of months. She expressed support for the closing of Exodus at the last day of the 2013 conference and continued her association with Alan Chambers. Chambers had bought into a cheap-grace theology, regularly assuring homosexually active persons who professed to be Christians that they would "go to heaven" irrespective of their impenitent behavior.

She gravitated strongly to a Christian couple who, after their "gay" son committed suicide, promoted publicly an acceptance of homosexual relations (including at the 2013 Exodus conference). Her blog chastising Christians for opposing "gay marriage" (July 1, 2013) caused me enough concern that I responded in an online article.

Julie had a habit of lumping everything under the rubric of an amorphous "gay Christianity," often blurring the critical boundary between (1) those whose identity was wrapped up in gratifying same-sex attractions and (2) those who in the midst of such attractions faithfully located their identity in a Spirit-led life. Where biblical writers were very much concerned with moral choices that could lead to exclusion from God's eternal kingdom and warned repeatedly against such false steps, Julie seemed to me to take more of a laissez-faire approach: Let's support the person's decision, whatever it is.

"Gay" had become her own reified identity. The prospect of one day being in a heterosexual marriage felt to her "as likely as becoming Santa's chief elf" (cited also here). Although she continued to acknowledge that some persons did experience substantial orientation change, she came across as dismissive of all ministries and counselors operating with this hope. She adopted the concept of "sexual minorities," despite the fact that the benign, non-behavioral condition of race is very different from unnatural sexual desires to do what God forbids.

Given these warning signs, I was surprised to hear in Summer 2014 that Julie had been appointed to the post of Ministry Associate for Spiritual Care in the Chaplain's Office at Wheaton College. She was charged with the care of students in a group called Refuge.

Officially recognized in Feb. 2013, Refuge was supposed to be a "safe place for students who have questions about their sexual orientation or gender identity." Wheaton's website makes clear that it was not set up to be "a gay-straight alliance" or "advocacy group." Members were expected to have "a fervent striving toward sexual purity and holiness" and abstain from "homosexual behavior." In practice it is not clear that all the students in Refuge share this vision. Wheaton permits — whether naïvely, pragmatically, or for legal reasons, I do not know — students to adopt obfuscating, politically-charged "LBGTQ" identity labels.

Why Wheaton officials didn't recognize the red flags when they hired Julie, I can only guess. (Lest there be confusion, I think Wheaton College is a great Christian institution, with wonderful staff and faculty, which I would not hesitate to recommend to others.) The fact that she was winsome, energetic, edgy, and communicated both love for Jesus and compassion for distressed same-sex-attracted youth must have been part of the reason. She was committed to celibacy and still acknowledged that Scripture was clear about a male-female requirement for marriage (see this video of her posted Feb. 2015; also her Apr. 2014 blog on Matthew Vines; her comments at an Apr. 2015 Q Conference). She had a Wheaton connection, having attended Wheaton her freshman year. Perhaps too she was recommended to Wheaton by a Wheaton alum, fellow celibate "gay" Christian, Dr. Wesley Hill.

I thought about warning Wheaton officials. However, since Julie was still committed to a celibate life and was someone in whom I saw great potential for good, I decided to keep my mouth shut. I was wrong.

Shortly after the end of her first academic year at Wheaton (July 13), Julie posted on her blog site an article entitled, "An Update on the Gay Debate: evolving ideas, untidy stories, and hopes for the church," in which she explained why she could no longer abide by Wheaton's policy on sexual ethics. The next day the Washington Post published her blog post verbatim under the new title, "I used to attend an ex-gay ministry. Here's why I now support same-sex relationships." In it she acknowledges: "Though I've been slow to admit it to myself, I've quietly supported same-sex relationships for a while now." On the same day Wheaton released a short non-descript statement that states, without explanation, that Julie had resigned her position.

Sadly, many Evangelical Christian colleges and some evangelical organizations have had a love affair with the "celibate 'gay' Christian" movement for the past few years and ignored Christians who, having come out of the homosexual life, have had decades of life experience in transformation ministry to same-sex attracted persons. These include ministry leaders associated with Restored Hope Network (Andy Comiskey, Jason Thompson, Stephen Black, Ron Citlau, Garry Ingraham, Anne Paulk, etc.) and others outside of RHN (Joe Dallas, Mario Bergner, etc.).

Editor's Note: Part 2, "A Response to Julie Rodgers' Reasons for Changing Her Mind on Homosexuality," will be published Thursday.

Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon is associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice (Abingdon).

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