Julie Rodgers, ministry associate at Wheaton College, is the first openly gay staff or faculty member to be hired at the school. She is also celibate, because the way she reads Scripture does not allow her to be any other way, she said. She discussed her experiences and her beliefs about marriage to a packed Robinson Teaching Theater on March 9.
“I don’t read Scripture that way [that homosexual marriage is okay],” she said. “I wish I could because then I could have a wife.”
The policy at Wheaton says as long as the gay staff or faculty members align with the beliefs of celibacy for homosexuals and no sex before marriage in any relationship, they are protected from discrimination. However, Rodgers said she doesn’t necessarily think this is the best option for all schools, as the decision should depend on its community and values.
Rodgers said there are redemptive movements in Scripture that put some Old Testament laws into context. For example, although slavery in the Old Testament is commonplace, a passage from the New Testament says, “There is… neither slave nor free,” (Galatians 3:28).
However, Rodgers said laws against homosexual marriage and relations are only reinforced in the New Testament.
Rodgers said procreation is key to marriage. She also said that the church should be consistent in the definition of marriage.
Rodgers grew up home schooled in a conservative Christian home until high school.
“I was drawn to Jesus from a young age. I wanted to know God,” she said.
By middle school she had memorized Philippians, but she was also starting to get butterflies around other girls, she said.
“[Being with high school mentors] was a safe space to explore questions that I had shoved down growing up in the church,” she said.
When she came out to her parents at 17, they sent her to an ex-gay ministry, which is an organization that attempts to help young people shift into heterosexuality after a series of steps. Many of these ministries are very damaging, although Rodgers said the one she went to “loved her well.”
“At first I was grateful because [the ministry] provided a space for me to both accept my orientation and love Jesus. In that space both were welcome and celebrated to some degree,” she said.
Needless to say, Rodgers’ sexual preferences did not change as a result. She studied many theological arguments on both sides of the debate. It came down to whether or not Scripture affirmed the mortality of homosexual marriage might be immoral, Rodgers said. She found that it did not.
From there, Rodgers started asking questions like, ‘what is marriage?’ and ‘what is marriage for?’ She had decided, because of her faith, to be celibate. She also, after spending ten years in an ex-gay ministry, knew her feelings wouldn’t change.
Because of that struggle, Rodgers said she wants the church to change how it treats gay people. For many people, the path of celibacy looks like a path to loneliness.
“I can live without sex, but I can’t live without intimacy,” Rodgers said.
Churches and society offer marriage as the ultimate hope, coupled with the “American dream” mentality that an ideal life includes marriage, she said.
Rodgers posed the question, “What does it look like to flourish outside of a nuclear family relationship?”
Loneliness affects not only single people and gay people, but married people as well, she said.
“No one person can meet all your needs,” she said. “We’ve got to have something more when it comes to people experiencing intimacy in the church.”
Rodgers said the church should take the call to hospitality as seriously as the call to celibacy.
“The gay debate is actually about human beings,” she said. “We need to move away from debating issues and toward humans.”
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