Paradox or Purpose?
A journey of faith
Sigrid Rutishauser came to personal faith in Christ as a student in Cardiff in 1967, and ‘came out’ to herself as a homosexual in 1974, shortly after moving to Manchester, where she worked as a university lecturer. Sigrid and her life-partner, Sylvia James, have lived in a committed partnership ‘under one roof’ since 1976. Since 1985 they have been active members of The Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian and Gay Christians.
It is a paradox of my faith journey as a Christian that I have experienced renewal through the challenge posed by the recognition of my homosexual orientation. That which threatened to be a rock crushing my faith has turned out to be a means for it to grow. I believe my faith is much deeper, and my perception of Christian truths is much more lively as a consequence of having had to wrestle with making sense of my sexuality against a backdrop of much Christian disbelief and outright antagonism. The Bible which others have used to berate me, has shed light on a rocky path, and encouraged me to continue in the way, despite the suspicions and judgement of other Christians.
I grew up in a church-going family. Regular attendance at church and involvement with the Sunday School and young people’s groups was part of my normal life. As a teenager, I thoroughly enjoyed Inter-School Christian Fellowship Houseparties eagerly looking forward each year to spending two weeks of the summer holidays at ‘Camp’. What I saw and heard of Christianity through the officers who ran the camps as well as Christian young people there, made me want to be a Christian too and I decided to follow Jesus.
My mother died tragically when I was still at school. My sister, then working in Africa with the Medical Research Council, tried to help me in whatever way she could and arranged for me to go and visit her in Uganda when I was finishing 6th form. There I saw a different way of life amongst the expatriates in Kampala. I was introduced to a wider range of experience amongst those who did not declare Christian faith, and I drifted away from Christianity. By the time I went up to University I had thrown over the beliefs of my youth. Initially I resisted the evangelistic attempts of enthusiastic Christian students in my hall of residence. Wishing they would leave me alone in matters of religion, I decided that I would deal with their persistence once and for all by reading the New Testament from cover to cover with as open a mind as possible. I reasoned that, when they next called, I would be able to say that I had read it thoroughly and could not see their point of view. I could then ask them, politely, to leave me be!
I hadn’t got to the end of Matthew’s gospel before the person of Jesus confronted me in a way I had not known before. He became the focus of faith, and I read on as a believer not a sceptic. Having glimpsed the person at the heart of Christian faith I was nervous of re-entering Christian culture. I didn’t want to become submerged in the trappings of Christianity, that I now recognised as peripheral and not central to faith. I wanted to hear things anew, see what God said through the Bible, learn what was important to Him for myself. When I got as far as Acts and read about Christians meeting together regularly I knew that I had to meet with others too, and so I took up the invitation of a friend to go along to the Christian Union one Saturday night. I wondered how it would be, what I would find, what the others there would be like? But I didn’t feel like a fish out of water.
I felt that I had ‘come home’.
And so it was that I spent the remainder of my years at that University, as undergraduate, post-graduate and then research fellow, nurtured in a conservative evangelical environment. The doctrine of salvation by faith was proclaimed fervently by speakers at the Christian Union, and passionately from local pulpits by a variety of gifted preachers, including Martyn Lloyd Jones. Initially, as is often the way with students, I was flexible in my attachments to local churches, but eventually settled into the fellowship of a lively Baptist Church as a baptised member.
Although I had begun to wonder in my early twenties whether there was something different about me, it was not until I moved away to another town that the ‘penny dropped’ and I recognised and acknowledged to myself that my sexual orientation was different from the norm. Close relationships with other women that until then had simply seemed good friendships suddenly were cast in a very different light. And so began a new phase of my journey as I tried to make sense of my changed perception of who I was and the implications this had for my relationships with others.
This stretch of the journey, from my twenties into middle age, has been a challenge. But this is the paradox: it has also been the means of my connecting more deeply in my heart, not just my head, with the truths I had learnt as a student.
The words of the old hymn ‘Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling’ became a survival line when some Christians said, as some still do, that any homosexual person is damned. ‘Salvation by faith through grace’ , not by adherence to particular rules and customs, speaks loudly into the Christian court room where homosexual Christians are judged and sentenced by fellow believers. The story of the man born blind, in John’s gospel, takes on a new vitality as one empathises with his inability to answer all the questions fired at Him by the Pharisees. Those of us who, as Christians, find our sexuality to differ from the norm also don’t have all the answers, particularly to theological questions. Most of us are not experts in biblical exegesis; neither are we especially well versed in the Greek and Hebrew. All we know is that we too have met with the man Jesus, and the encounter has changed our lives. Like the man in the story, we place our faith and trust in Him.
And like the man in the story, more often than not we find ourselves thrown out of the religious institution, excluded from the ‘Temple’ . But there outside the city is where Jesus meets us as He always did, and as we fall into step with Him we discover that He understands all too well our experience of rejection. And we begin to see a new way, a resurrection life springing up in the most unexpected of places. We find Jesus with us, outside ‘The Church’ . He has always been in the world and that is where we find Him still. Hasn’t it always been thus? Where do we seek Him? In a stable with farm workers and their animals? In a boat in the middle of a storm amongst a frightened crew? On a cross experiencing all the senselessness of the injustice and violence of which human beings are capable?
I believe my journey has been one of re-connecting with the Jesus I first met in my student days. In my immersion in a particular form of Christianity I had lost my way in its culture. All too easily and subtly, fear replaces faith. Yet we don’t see it. We believe we are contending for the ‘truth of the gospel’, ‘standing up for God’s ways’ , whilst not seeing that we are threatening the very life we claim to be protecting. As each of us seeks to live out our faith, unwittingly we so easily replace the seed of living faith with adherence to a new set of religious rules and regulations. Without perceiving what is happening, we grow to doubt that we have really heard God aright, and salvation by faith becomes salvation by the affirmation of ‘sound’ doctrine and by the practice of a ‘traditional’ ethic.
If I had not had to wrestle with my sexuality on the edge of the church, barred from full involvement in its life, I would not be standing where I do, feeling that I know more deeply than ever before that I am accepted in Him. I doubt that I would have been able to see, as I now do, that all our ‘workings out’ of faith are provisional. They represent our best efforts at any time to express the new life and love we have found.
Each of us is given freedom in Christ to work out our own salvation, being accountable to God only. Each of us must take responsibility for ourselves and not cede it to ‘The Church’, to religious leaders, or to a particular view of the Bible. The calling to full humanity is the calling to take responsibility, to risk ‘getting it wrong’ , not from a position of conceited self-assurance but from trust in the over-arching love of God. It is not a case of throwing caution to the winds, of not caring a damn, of living as we please, but of discovering that God intends us to live adventurously within the security of His re-creative and redemptive love.
Who would have thought that finding oneself to be homosexual in orientation would be a means of grace? I certain1y didn’t expect it to be so. God brings life into unexpected places, and touches the hearts and lives of unexpected people. Wasn’t it ever thus? The Bible tells us of a Samaritan woman, an Ethiopian eunuch, a Gentile centurion. Now in our day, the list includes those bearing the alien label of ‘homosexual’. We are meeting the same Jesus, encountering the same incredulity, mistrust and suspicion from other believers, but going on our way with the same ‘rejoicing’ in the new life we have found in Him.
Which is not to say that life is easy. The journey continues to be rocky and fraught with danger. We are attacked from many directions. We are treated often as ‘lepers’ and barred from travelling with others. Frequently we have to journey alone through the wilderness. But the paradoxical plus is this: we have had to learn to lean on, and trust more fully, the One who invites us to journey onward.
© Sigrid Rutishauser
17 November 1998
Courage is most grateful to Sigrid Rutishauser-James for her kind permission to allow us to reproduce her article.