A blog by Jenna Sullivan
I always felt safe at Second Baptist. Sometimes when I describe my church experience to others, they look at me with shock and awe. So many beloved humans have had such wounding experiences with institutional religion. They have been scarred and shamed in ways that make returning impossible. And so they look at me in disbelief. Safety? How could it be?
I didn’t realize it at the time how unique my Baptist church experience was. It was just normal to me. I felt deeply known and seen at Second—in ways I had never felt before from any other group. People knew my name, saw my gifts, and wanted to see me grow. They trusted me, laughed with me, and delighted in my presence. And the best part of it all was there was no ulterior motive, no bait and switch. They were not investing in my soul to get to some destination of conversion. It was simply the gift of belonging in the body of Christ. But this, in fact, is what led to a conversion of sorts. I began to know the story of Jesus and wanted to spend my life participating in it. Second knows how to truly wrap you up in the love of Christ so that you want to spend your life doing nothing else but that which draws you back to this love.
I didn’t know I was queer as a young person. Many people have experiences of knowing early on and we can often describe this discovery in a rigid binary. If you didn’t “always know”, how could your experience be valid?
I know I am not alone as I meet more and more women who have found sexuality and attraction to be much more complicated than our culture allows them to be. And our theological traditions certainly don’t prepare us for understanding the nuances of this divine gift from God.
Interestingly, I have spoken with more than one woman who, like me, found the pandemic to be a life-changing season of reflection and discovery. This season of life slowed everything down. I had also begun participating in a new therapy here in Dallas called Somatic Experiencing. I am so passionate about sharing the word about this new modality. SE helps you get connected to sensations, emotions, and memories in your body so you can heal in beautiful and sacred ways. God has brought so much healing in my body and soul in these last couple years. For me, this meant discovering that I am mostly attracted to women at this point in my life and envision meeting a woman to marry one day.
I had certainly faced questions and doubts about my “straightness” before this season of life. And looking back, I wonder how much of my “former life” was seeking what I truly wanted or what was socially and professionally safe for me to want. Does it really take a global pandemic for a woman to know what she really wants and what God wants her to have? This is how complicated it is. Patriarchy and trauma can weave its way into our very bodies and society has an impact in our own felt desires as women.
All that to say, I have begun to make peace with it all. I make peace with the Jenna who deeply loved a man for several years, and I am continuing to make peace with the Jenna who is attracted to women.
It comes back to safety. Second may have not had the unashamedly affirming theology that it does now, but it always created a safe place for me. I am so thrilled to watch Second Baptist expand its radical love in ways that are clearly affirming. It makes my heart sing to see queer people feel truly safe to thrive at this special church. Second is a place that will inspire you to find your truest self and go live your very best story as you follow Jesus.
What will it take for more churches to embrace a theology and spiritualty that loves the body and its sacred wisdom?
Respectable, straight church lady is who I thought the church wanted.
But who I really am—queer, alive, vibrant, becoming—is exactly who the church needs.
I now feel like my anointing into the queer community is perhaps the biggest blessing of my life. I feel more connected to my truest purpose in ministry. I feel called to bring about healing for all God’s children to long to feel safe in the circle of faith. And Second Baptist helped me begin that calling.