Rachel Gilson: Stewarding Your Story
A conversation with the award-winning author about balancing truth and transformation.
Rachel Gilson's first-person article "I Never Became Straight" won second place at the 2018 Evangelical Press Association Awards in April. She received over 700 emails from people responding to the article when it came out in the October 2017 issue of Christianity Today, and she's still fielding emails months later.
While Gilson has only now gotten to share her testimony to a larger platform through CT, opening up a global audience to her previously small tribe of Cru students and small group members, this is simply a continuation of her journey. "I don't think of the article as the beginning of sharing my story; it just becomes one iteration of me sharing over time," Gilson said.
However, the decision to go public with her story, one that sparked a wave of sharing and discussion across CT's social media, was not an easy one, especially given the nature of Gilson's testimony: "Initially the idea of publishing my testimony seemed to invite more attention than I wanted. But a friend used the angle of stewardship, of stewarding the story that God has given me. So I prayed about it and came to the conclusion that in the course of seeing how God has encouraged other people through my testimony, maybe it could be encouraging to those I haven't even met yet."
Though she prepared herself for backlash, Gilson said that the responses have been overwhelmingly positive, even though she acknowledged the fear she experienced upon publishing the piece. Out of all of the emails she has received, one stands out:
I remember an older man, he identified himself as a grandpa, and he said he had experienced same-sex attraction his whole life and he had never read something that had helped him piece it all together before. He was a Christian and had been faithful, but there was something in the way the piece articulated intention that he was able to recognize that foundationally God is good and calls us to good things, no matter how broken we are. I'm 32, so the idea that I could help someone who has walked a hard path for so long felt really humbling.
Gilson credits the power of narrative storytelling, something she sees modeled throughout Scripture, for the resonance of her article. "People listen differently when it's your own story. Part of me doesn't like that—if something is true, it should be true no matter how it's said. But that's not how we hear people. Most of Scripture is narrative, and God expressed his truth to us in specific stories. These narratives can convey the universal in a better way than facts and figures can. So we have a good model to follow as we try to bring truth into the world."
And Gilson is committed to truth as she continues to help the church be a safe space for same-sex attracted individuals:
According to a recent survey, 86 percent of LGBT people grew up in the church, and many of those report being hurt by the church and now they're walking away. The church needs to recognize that we have a history of harming people, not necessarily because we intended to. But we're not starting with a clean slate. There are a lot of people who've been injured by us, and it's past time to consider what we can do differently. I am not advocating for sacrificing what God's Word says—we never do that—but we can consider how we're carrying that truth to the world in a way that it brings opportunity for transformation in Christ.
Gilson's commitment to keeping the tension between truth and transformation while longing to draw people in, as Christ drew in the crowds, sits at the heart of Christianity Today's ministry cause of Beautiful Orthodoxy. Though Gilson may have initially felt hesitant about publishing her testimony, once she embraced the idea, she knew where to share her story : "CT takes an appropriately serious tone on topics that require it. I knew the readership of CT would include many people I wanted to speak to, and that was encouraging to me. I wanted to be helpful to them in humanizing the issue, and I really believe God has given each of us gifts to serve the church. I'm so grateful that I could do that in the pages of CT."
Joy Beth Smith is a managing editor at Christianity Today.