By Jody Joyner, Treasurer of the Board of Directors of the Alliance of Baptists
My spiritual coming out story involves a bit of a long, windy road. Growing up in a military town in central Texas, going to church was central to my upbringing. Sunday School, worship on Sundays (occasionally on Wednesdays as well), VBS, etc.—all were staples during my formative years, ultimately leading to my salvation as a high school junior during a revival meeting at my home church. I knew then and there God accepted me into His kingdom. Buried within my subconscious, though, was a question of the depth of God’s love…did He love all of me? At this juncture, I felt that I fit in everywhere and nowhere all at the same time…there was something a bit different about me. In those days, homosexuality wasn’t really discussed much in my circles, and there were no role models around me for what it looked like to be gay…and certainly not within a church context. Frankly, this side of me was
put on pause while I focused upon my other pursuits. That pause lasted until just after completing my undergraduate studies when I met my first boyfriend and first love. Suddenly, I was forced to begin to deal with my sexuality as it related to my faith.
Did God love this part of me? As a member of a fairly large, conservative Southern Baptist church at the time as a young adult I embraced most of what I was taught, and I am thankful for the foundation it helped to develop within me. However, it was unthinkable to even bring my boyfriend to worship with me on Sundays. The church made it abundantly clear, from the pulpit and otherwise, that I couldn’t be entirely me and still retain my membership. This presented a tug-of-war of sorts for me and, honestly, cast some doubt on my faith for the first time in my life. Ultimately, I ended the decade-long relationship with my then-boyfriend without seeing a way forward in my spiritual walk. After the breakup, I took quite a long time to find myself and to further understand my relationship with God. During that time, I often found myself being drawn to Romans 8:35-39 where I understood that there’s nothing that would separate God’s love from me through His Son. That scripture resonated with
me internally to indicate that the scope of God’s love was limitless, unconditional, and applied to ALL of me…who He made me to be. And, as a result, my personal coming out commenced as a bit of a “slow reveal” to family and friends. But how would I handle this in terms of my church life?
After nearly 20 years with this church as a member and with the beginning of a new long-term relationship with my current partner, I sensed that God was calling me to find a new church home. During the search, a friend of mine recommended his church home…a small, progressive, welcoming and affirming Baptist church (University Baptist Church in Austin, Tex.). At the time, I didn’t know a church like this even existed. I learned that this wasn’t a traditional Baptist church, but an American Baptist church and Alliance congregational partner. This opportunity presented me with a feeling of liberation and, at long last, a true church home. For the first time in my life I was able to have my partner join me openly in worship and to have my whole, authentic self be accepted within a church body. Now, nearly six years later as a member, I’ve immersed myself as a full participant in the life of the church by assisting during worship wherever I’m needed and by serving in numerous leadership capacities. This service, along with some kind recommendations, led to me being named to the Alliance board just over a year ago and now as the Alliance’s new Treasurer. To put it mildly, my younger self struggling at the intersection of my faith and sexuality couldn’t have dreamed that any of this would be possible at all, but I’m truly looking forward to the days ahead!