Affirming – Sally Gary

Affirming: A Memoir of Faith, Sexuality, and Staying in the Church by Sally Gary
Published by Eerdmans on February 23, 2021
Genres: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Buy on Amazon

What is it like to discover that something you’ve believed all your life might be wrong?   Sally Gary knew since her early adulthood that she was attracted to women. But as a devoted Christian, she felt there was no way to fully embrace this aspect of her identity while remaining faithful. Now, as she prepares to marry the love of her life, she’s ready to speak out about why—and how—her perspective changed.   In this deeply personal memoir, Sally traces the experiences, conversations, and scriptural reading that culminated in her seeing her sexuality as something that made sense within the context of her faith—not outside of it or in opposition to it. Along the way, she addresses specific aspects of her journey that will resonate with many other gay Christians: the loneliness and isolation of her previously celibate life, the futile attempts she made to resist or even “change” her sexual orientation, and the fear of intimacy that followed a lifetime of believing same-sex relationships were sinful.   Sally’s story—one of heritage, learning, courage, and love—is written especially for the generations of LGBTQ Christians after her who are questioning whether they can stay part of the church they call home. It’s a resounding reminder that, just like Sally’s own heart, things can change, and sometimes, when we earnestly search for the truth, we find it in the most unexpected places.

In 2013, Sally Gary published a memoir entitled Loves God, Likes Girls. It focused a lot on her early life, her conservative upbringing in the Church of Christ, and the tension she held between reconciling what she believed Scripture said about same-sex behavior while acknowledging the reality of her same-sex attraction. In many ways, it was a groundbreaking work, a sort of spiritual predecessor to Gay Girl, Good God is how it tenuously advocated for something that was only beginning to be understood by many conservative Christians at the time: that you could both believe in Jesus and experience same-sex attraction.

But Loves God, Likes Girls wasn’t the end of the journey. In the years since, Gary has moved to a understanding of Scripture that allows for monogamous, same-sex relationships. It’s a movement in her thinking that made this sequel necessary. She writes “I set out to follow a traditional Christian sexual ethic. But in the end, God showed me a different way.”

Affirming is a second memoir coming from a different place and perspective. It doesn’t negate the story of Loves God, Like Girls. It doesn’t mean that she was lying back then. Gary is honest with herself in both books. Her story is an important one, I think, because it shows how someone can move from non-affirming to affirming in clear, rational ways almost in spite of what they want to believe. Too often, Christians tend to think that people hold to certain theological positions because of what that position allows them to do. Sometimes they’re right (and sometimes it’s projection), but that’s not always the case. Gary’s story shows how someone with every reason to be affirming resisted that because they wanted to be true to Scripture until they came to believe that one could both hold to Scripture and be affirming.

Whether you are affirming or not, Affirming is an important story. For LGBT+ Christians, Sally’s story will give hope, encouragement, and solidarity to stick with the Church and Jesus. For affirming Christians, it will open your eyes to ways in which even affirming churches and believers can do better. And for non-affirming Christians, it will hopefully put a human face on an issue that’s often politicized and reduced to paper-thin stereotypes.

More than everything, I appreciate Gary’s candor and authenticity and her commitment to remain faithful to Jesus and the church. There are so many stories from people who’ve left the church or deconstructed their faith and they look back on their upbringing with disdain and vitriol. I don’t want to discount the validity of those stories, but it’s refreshing to see someone who looks back at their past and still sees value and a richness in the faith of their upbringing. Even now, Gary remains within the Church of Christ, challenging it expand its boundaries and perspectives. While we sometimes need those prophets who will burn the system with fire, we also need those prophets who will poke and prod and challenge from inside the system with sacrificial grace and love. Sally Gary is that latter kind of prophet and her testimony and example is a precious and beautiful gift.