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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Woman of the Year? Not so much!



Venus Magazine - Cover Story


Only God!

Reported by Charlene E. Cothran
Images by Kristen Swartz

There is nothing new under the sun. I’m pretty sure that gay folks have been around since shortly after the beginning of time. But what I’m just realizing is that God has been DELIVERING gay folks for just as long! For such a time as this, He has called out, sanctified and planted some incredibly powerful and wonderful people. One such person is the Rev. Carla Thomas Royster, founder and pastor of Blessed Redeemer Church in Burlington, NJ. An educator in one of New Jersey’s finest school districts, Royster also holds a Master of Divinity which prepared her for the work given her by divine appointment.

The 6’ 4” former college basketball star immediately strikes you as a no-nonsense disciplinarian. Then she smiles and her love for God and people fill the room.

A seven year pastor to a growing congregation, Royster enjoys a sterling reputation both locally and throughout the Northeast via the American Baptist association of churches where she is often featured as a speaker. She and husband Mark are raising two beautiful boys. With all going so well, why would she bother to expose herself to a congregation who knew nothing of her previous life as a lesbian in a tell-all book? “To set people free,” says Royster who withheld her original manuscript for nearly five years. “I finally obeyed God.”

VENUS: The book title describes your testimonial experience as a 'struggle' with a lesbian spirit. In this age of sexual liberty explain the word 'struggle' as it pertains to your experience. Was the 'struggle' between choosing gay/straight or heaven/hell or happy/unhappy, purpose/no purpose?

ROYSTER: The struggle was the traditional struggle between the Spirit and the flesh, for all that my flesh desired and fed, was immediately convicted by my spirit. It was a struggle with my inner self and my outer self. That Is why I heavily identify with Apostle Paul's testimony found in Romans 7: 18-20 "I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good, I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me."

VENUS: Your writing style works incredibly well. It dances between the 'THEN' [in a lesbian's voice] and the 'NOW' [in the voice of an experienced pastor who has been delivered from being lesbian] Why was it important to separate these voices?

ROYSTER: God Bless You. The separation of the voices is empowering for me, for it is symbolic of Gods delivering power in my life. For years I was so entangled in my inner and outer life (that is: the Carla that I was within, and the Carla that I presented to other people) that even I could not predict what would trigger my lesbian desires. When I began to get into my Word and seek clarity in prayer, I found that one of my most powerful strongholds was the inability to separate my lesbian voice, from my delivered voice. I was ashamed, and worried about allowing that voice to speak in my delivered life, because whenever it had spoken in the past, it would initiate a hostile take-over. But today I write in two voices, one that reflectively reminds me of my life before Christ, and one that humbly basks in the knowledge of Gods delivering presence in my life today. I feel like Paul who wrote: I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Phillipians 3:13-14

VENUS: When and how did you begin to recognize God calling you out of homosexuality?

ROYSTER: I began to sense God calling me out of a variety of things as soon as I truly began to get into His presence. By that I mean studying His Word for myself, praying, meditating, fasting, tithing (giving my time talent treasure to the work of the kingdom). In short, the call from homosexuality came for me as soon as I ceased to be conformed to this world, but decided to be transformed by the renewing of my mind in Christ Jesus. Romans 12:2

VENUS: When and how did you begin to answer your call into the ministry and pastoral calling?

ROYSTER: I knew that God had blessed me with spiritual gifts from childhood...but being unchurched, I did not understand what that meant, or how they would ever be translated into something that would be a blessing to anyone, even myself. Romans 11:29 says: the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. I did not understand this until I was deeper in God's Word. I interpret it as meaning that our gifts can be used or abused (abnormally used). For instance, a gift of prophecy can be used in fortunetelling, witchcraft, or palm-reading (same gift -different uses) My call was always upon me, I was the captain, president, or spokesperson for every club, team organization I ever joined, the gift and the call to leadership, discernment and exhortation was just being abused for the first 20 or 30 years, but now the gifts are being multiplied for His Good! Once I grasped all that I could alone, and in Bible study, I applied for and was accepted into a Masters Program at a local seminary, and from there I was anchored in my passion for His Word....and as I began to minister, sing, preach, teach and lead worship, His anointing began to unfold....and next came my graduation, examination, ordination, calling to plant churches, and the pastorate. Thank God for grace!!

VENUS: What were your initial fears regarding publishing this book? Have those fears proven right or wrong?

ROYSTER: My initial fear was that the publishing of my book would hurt and expose those that I loved and cherish the most. I held it in complete manuscript form for over 5 years, until God sent a prophet into our midst to liberate my heart, mind, soul and spirit in ways I never imagined. Our family, like many other African-American families is immersed in secrecy, and we tend to be closed especially as it relates to pain, and suffering, –although our pain has constantly and generationally expressed itself in passive-aggressive ways that I have found to be far more destructive than just dealing with it out front. So for me, my greatest fear was that my truth would trespass on the territory of those who had not yet embraced their own truths.

Yes, my fears were proven right, because even though my self-exposure has helped thousands of others gain deliverance in areas that sometimes involve sexuality, but often did not, many pivotal people in my life have not yet read the book, and I respect the fact that everyone is not ready for this level of disclosure.

VENUS: What stands out as the most adverse reaction to your coming out story?

ROYSTER: The uncensored, descriptive, unapologetic, raw, nature of my testimony has caused more concerns than anything else. I find that people say "we want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" but the whole TRUTH is wanted in a way that is palatable, and easy to digest or it is not wanted at all. People in and out of my religious circles are not prepared to hear that "my first love was a woman," or that "I had an abortion", or that "I was abused", because it is not comfortable. It is almost as if some people want me to go back and live my life over, so that it can be easier for them to digest, but I can't change the past...and if it is difficult to read, try having to live it! So my answer to those who are offended is "I am sorry if my testimony offends you...but It is what it is." The other concern is that many people want to argue with me, about whether I was ever lesbian, while others feel obligated to say to me, I knew you were gay!! But God has me in a place of peace so I do not argue or debate, I just respond by telling them that "the half hasn't even been told"..and "my testimony is what it is."

VENUS: What has been the most supportive or positive reaction or outcome?

ROYSTER: My husband and my first and only heterosexual girlfriends, and my church have been 100% supportive. I did not bring it up to them until I was about to publish and their love, and support for me has not changed. Struggling with what I call my lesbian spirit has also been my husband’s struggle, because when I struggle so does he, because we are one in the spirit. I was concerned that my congregation would ask me to sit down or kick me out, or that my denomination would call me into counsel. But God always knows what He is doing because the release of my book has served to deepen my relationships on every level...and I love and Thank God for each and every relationship He has deepened.

Also I have been blessed to meet wonderful, courageous, Holy Ghost filled women like you, Sister Cothran. It is so wonderful to be able to talk to someone without having to over-explain and fill in the blanks. I 've had some very negative expressions shared with me over the months with people calling me "a liar," "homophobic" and the like...and I am okay with feedback that is negative and positive, because it is in our differences of opinion, and experience ...where the dialogue lies. But I have also heard testimonies, offered counsel, and prayed for people, as I have been blessed to witness the deliverance of the Lord manifested in a variety of ways.

The greatest positive is that I would not have been a part of a conversation that has deepened my understanding, my relationships and my faith, unless I had first allowed "my truth to set me free" (John 8:32) and a portion of my truth can be found in: Only God Brings Us Out Of The Closet" An Uncensored Testimony of One Woman's Struggle With Life and a Lesbian Spirit.

www.onlygodbringsusout.org

http://www.venusmagazine.org/royster.html

25 comments:

The Ranter said...

I recall reading about a president of Integrity who is no longer gay.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Oh, do tell, dear Ranter. That would be . . . .?

Inquiring minds what to know.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Ranter,

When you can present EVIDENCE - as in PROOF - I'll gladly, happily, reprint it.

Until then, I'll not reproduce slander - which is what you are pandering it.

KJ said...

The verses she quotes from Paul are the same ones that called me out to be authentic precisely as I was, regardless of the cost.

Ironic.

The Ranter said...

You seem a little defensive... I was just throwing out something I had read. I couldn't tell from your presentation of the article, whether you bought into the idea of a sexual appetite being something someone could be delivered from (they have twelve step groups for sex addiction) or what. I am not Archbishop Quackinola. I am just trying to wrap my mind around differing perspectives, since I have always seen this as an issue of sexual morality and the church setting boundaries on sexual behavior, and I am coming to understand that others see it as an issue of oppression of a minority. I would tell you to relax, but that would be insulting, because I realize there is a lot at stake in this church issue for you... try to believe me when I say I wish you peace... for what thats worth anyway

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Ranter,

You know, after more than twenty years in this struggle, I think I know when I'm being attacked - even if subtly.

Relax? That's not a word in the lexicon of an activist.

Persistence is the only assurance for any semblence of justice in any institution - but especially in the institutional church.

Grace said...

Mother Kaeton,

I think haloscan may have eaten my last post, so I'm going to try and retype it to the best of my memory. Please delete this if it just turns out to be a repeat.

I have read and know other Christian people with a similar witness. Do you think it possible people may experience same gender attraction for differing reasons? What if not all are constitutionally gay? Perhaps for some there is even a strong bi-sexual component. For others, might childhood sexual abuse or other issues play a part?

What if there are Christians who God has made to be gay or transgendered as His gift and ideal will, while others not?

Could this at least partly explain why some people experience healing and authenticity like Royster, and others like KJ?

What do you think? Could this whole issue be alot more complex than many folks on either side of the divide in the church can imagine?

Ann said...

What drives me crazy is when people decide that their way is the only way. I don't care if her partner is a man or woman but what makes her think what she does is right for others. Sounds like any new "convert" (we like to lock them up for few years) - check back with her later in life.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

It has long been known among psychologists and social anthropologists that sexual orientation exists along a continuum with only 10% at either end being completely, inalterably heterosexual or homomosexual, and a solid 10% who are inalterably bisexual.

That leaves 70% of the rest of the general population somewhere along the rest of the continuum.

I was married for seven years and had two children with my husband. I have been in a 30+ year relationship with my beloved.

Does that mean I'm "bisexual"?

In a strict manner of speaking, I suppose it does, but the fact that the past 30 years have been spent with another woman, I suppose others would consider me a lesbian.

I consider myself and normal, sexually active adult woman who is living in a faithful, committed. loving, mutually respectful and honorable, holy and godly and blessed relationship with a person of the same sex.

I dont' care how you define yourself or what you do in bed with whomever you love.

I will define myself. You define yourself.

I won't "force" or compel you to love the one I think you should.

Please don't "force" or compel me to love the one you think I should.

It's really that simple.

The Ranter said...

That would be a baby boomer attitude-- your generation has been sniffing out and trying to end institutional injustice and mistreatment for decades. I think my generation (genX)is much more blase about that--and my students, who are Millenials, are in many ways a 1950's throwback generation, much more concerned with themselves, and very closely connected to their families, and very intent on making their families proud of them. I think these traits have a way of coming full circle. I am also kind of writing this as an observer... a layman... just middle aged... I have every expectation that I will be alive in 30 years to see how this gay stuff plays itself out, once the war is fought, the casualties counted, and the perspective develops that is achieved only through the passage of time.
I am still sort of bristling that you accused me of slander... since when is being an ex-gay a crime? And all I said was that I recalled reading about it. You were the one who wanted the person's name. I didn't even remember it, I had to go digging. And you must admit, there are a lot of ex-straights out there... people who have, through the passage of time, reconsidered their sexual orientation for whatever reason. We had an interim rector at the church we used to attend, who was married with two children, and then decided she was a lesbian and left the marriage, and had just ended her third "covenant" relationship since her ordination, and then had to leave our parish when she decided to start her fourth "covenant" relationship with the woman who ran the Sunday School program.
I want you to know that I am reading your blog because I am trying to hear out the other side of this issue. I've sort of gone through life with my mind made up, rather smugly at that, on this issue, and I'm trying to see if I can gain a more balanced understanding of the issue... and I hope you can believe that this is what I am trying to do.

Ann said...

to The Ranter - the priest you speak of has her own "issues" - nothing to do with being gay or not.

muerk said...

As another Gen X-er I have to say that looking back at the previous generation of activists sometimes leaves me cold.

Labeling sexuality just seems overtly political to many of my generation.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you Muerk, and yes, you too, Ranter (Stop bristling and get a grip. Until you've walked a mile in my shoes, just have the humility to know that while you were not wrong, you were insensitive).

Try having the identity of your entire humanity reduced to a sex act.

Political?

You bet it is.

"Personal is Political" was the chant which my soul heard when I was where you now are.

Does it have to stop?

You bet it does.

I'm counting on your generation and the next to do just that.

MadPriest said...

Lesbian Spirit?
Bloomin' heck!
Do lesbians get their own Spirit, as well?
Typical.

And this praying for delivery from sexual appetite - can you ask Ranter if it works the other round - it's just I'm getting older and I'm not as hungry as I used to be.

Finally. Do you, Lisbeth, being of that tendency, have two voices? If so, your lesbian voice, how would someone recognise it? Is it deeper than your other voice - more husky maybe? I was just wondering because, as you know, I'm hoping to be a lesbian next time round and I thought I'd get some practice in now on things like how to speak like a lesbian.

Anyway, may the lesbian spirit bless you and I'm going to bed now.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hang on, Maddy.

I want to whisper something to you in my "Lesbian voice" and in my "Lesbian Spirit" -

Ready?

Are you sure?

Here goes:

"God loves you just the way God made you and intends for you to grow into the full stature of Christ."

There.

Now, off to bed with you.

Sweet dreams, my darling.

I love you madly, Maddy.

The Ranter said...

See, I wonder the same thing, too. Why is a behavior inseparable from an individual's personhood. I came to realize I am an addict. My addiction is something the church says I need to turn away from. I am okay with that. I don't feel as if the church needs to bless my addiction. I don't feel that the church is oppressing me or not respecting my dignity by telling me I need to turn away from my addiction. The addiction is one part of me, and I am a deeply flawed sinner. (my childhood was steeped in Calvinism, my mother went from being Dutch Reformed to Episcopal even though I was raised in Dio Newark under Spong... I would bet EK+ would shudder if I told her the name of the parish where I was confirmed...)
Why do so many in the gay community feel that rejecting the behavior is rejecting their whole personhood. Why does a sexual appetite have to be tied to one's personhood... why does rejection of a behavior get interpreted into rejection of a whole person. We are ALL sinners. And sinners belong in church. Sexual sin is one of the least serious sins, from what I understand, because it involves a flawed love. And it has become inflated to this huge issue that the church is going bonkers over. Yet there are other sins which we all would rather ignore--greed, pride, spite, gluttony-- a gay bishop makes the national news and gets the Anglican Communion in an uproar-- but greedy, arrogant, spiteful bishops are being ordained and people are more than willing to brush that under the rug, because its a sin we all committ. And in that sense, I think the gay Christians in TEC are scapegoated.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Ranter,

I belive you are genuinely earnest and honest, but I think your logic is deeply flawed.

Still, I respect your opinion which is why, even though we ultimately end up in the same place, I disagree with you. I have published your response out of that deep respect - and because you have been respectful.

BTW, permit me a shudder. I can handle it. I've certainly handled worse.

Where in the Diocese of Newark were you confirmed?

Karl Maria said...

For some it most definitely is about sex. But for many more, it's about love. Who we love. We happen to fall in love with members of the same sex. It's not homosexuality. It's homoaffectionality (not my term... someone much more brilliant came up with that).

muerk said...

"Try having the identity of your entire humanity reduced to a sex act."

As someone who used to hang out sometimes with the GLTB crowd at university I think that is something that we do to ourselves as individuals.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

If someone wants to do that to themselves, that's one thing. I find it dehumanizing and reject it.

Hiram - I'll post your findings if they are from a reputable source (note, that would not be those wackadoo's from Germany that the AAC and Fr. Fox and David Virtue are always trotting out).

My stats are the basis upon which the APA was able to remove homosexuality from the list of pathological diagnoses in the 70's.

Ranter - your post is safe with me. Good hearing from you.

Suzer said...

Hi Ranter. While we disagree on the issue of sexuality and the church, I checked out your blog and was impressed by your honesty. I, too, am a food addict, though I have not suffered from it to the extent that you have. Your experience and story was very powerful.

What is troubling to me about what you write here is that it seems you reduce my (or any gay or lesbian's) love experience to a "sexual appetite" or "behavior." It saddens me that some folks can't seem to understand that my relationship with my partner is the same as any marriage. It is based on love and fidelity, care and concern for each other, mutual respect, enjoyment of life together as a couple. My love is not a behavior or addiction to be overcome.

What I hear in your words, and I've seen and heard so many times on the internet, is the suggestion that GLBT folks should deny themselves a primary love relationship in their lives, that we should be unable to find that fulfillment that comes from a committed and loving relationship. I do not believe that God requires that of me. We could go round and round in the same old argument about six Biblical passages, but I'm unwilling to do that nnymore. I don't have to justify my relationship. What I do is hope and pray that someday God will open people's hearts to love. And wait -- before you suggest that my love is a "flawed love", please realize how deeply insulting that is to GLBT people. I would never suggest that your love for your wife is flawed -- I don't know you or your relationship with her. So please don't assume that GLBT peoples' love for each other is flawed either -- there's simply no way you can know that.

My love and my relationship cannot be reduced to a "behavior" as a food addiction can be. Homosexual orientation is not a sex addiction. It seems your perceptions have been colored by your experience of knowing a lesbian minister who has had multiple partners and you find that offensive. I have known many heterosexuals with multiple life partners and a variety of infidelities and other shortcomings, but I do not based my perceptions of ALL heterosexuals on those who have had troubled relationships. It is unfair to expect more from GLBT people than you do from straight people, or to be more forgiving of straight people when their relationships go wrong. I sense from your words that you do not judge failed hetero relationships as strongly as failed gay relationships, but you may correct me if I am wrong.

There is no way in this comment section that I can completely explain what I am trying to say, but I hope some of what I've written makes some sense to you. I can't change your heart about GLBT people, only God can do that, but I hope that my words do reach you. There is much information out there about the love and experience of committed and monogamous GLBT people, so I hope you will continue your journey in trying to get some perspective on this. Some folks make it awfully hard for me to be a Christian and a lesbian, and at times I am ready to give up on church (though not God) altogether. I sense a genuine seeking in you and I wish you well.

Peace to you and blessings. I will keep you and your wife in prayer as I see you are planning to adopt a child -- I wish you joy in that endeavor (I know it can be a long and arduous process).

Susan

The Ranter said...

Suzer,
Isn't all love flawed, by virtue of us being human beings on this flawed Earth. The PB goes on and on about setting up God's kingdom here, but Jesus said His kingdom is not of this world. Expecting love to be perfect is setting oneself up for disappointment. My love for my wife is deeply satisfying... but I would never assert that it is without flaws.
Of course, I believe in the total depravity of humanity. If humankind was perfectable, it would have happened already. I think WWI, WWII, the holocaust and 9-11 have all pretty much proved for me that we are all depraved sinners.
I "judge" a failed marriage worse than I would a failed same sex partnership, at least in the church context, because marriage is a holy sacrament and individuals desiring it are supposed to do everything within their power to make the marriage work. I was opposed to the consecration of +VGR moreso over the fact that he was divorced than I was over the fact that he was gay. If he can't handle marriage vows-- and it is easier to get the church to marry you than it is to get the church to ordain you-- then how can he be trusted with ordination vows? I would probably classify myself as being skeptical of the ministry of divorced clergy-- not necessarily in favor of a blanket ban on divorced clergy, mind you-- but I think, in the case of aspiring clergy who are divorced, there needs to be special attention paid to the divorce, and ascertaining that, as one who will be acting as gate-keeper of the church's power to marry couples, the cleric will not be operating with a speck in his or her eye. This importance is escalated tenfold in the case with bishops, who have sayso over clergy.
So I consider a failed marriage worse than I would judge a failed same-sex partnership, or a failed relationship, because the stakes are much higher. Or at least that is my perception. At the same time, I am learning there are other perceptions.

Suzer said...

Hi Ranter. I only have a few minutes, so I'll try to be brief.

I'm not sure I can agree that love can be flawed. I think people can be flawed, most certainly. But love? Love is love. Love is all that is good. God is Love. I, in my humanness can be, and am, flawed, but my love as felt and expressed cannot be wrong.

However, I will mull it over some more to see if I can see what you are getting at.

Failed relationships (gay or straight) are sometimes the broken places wherein the light shines through and we find God. I hope my post did not lead you (or anyone) to believe that I judge anyone's broken relationship harshly, for I do not. What does irritate me at times (and what I had thought you were saying, which apparently you were not) is when failed gay relationships are judged more harshly than failed straight relationships. Not that we should judge them at all, really, for we are all human and trying to muddle through and make sense of it all, trying to heal the broken places and find right relationship with God. I have many broken places in my life, but my love for my partner, praise God, is not one of them. My love for God and for my partner sustains me through life's difficulties -- even when things become very, very dim.

Are we all sinners? Most certainly, we are -- not just by what we do, but by what we leave undone. But are we sinners because of who we love? No, I do not think so. I dare say we are sinners because of those whom we do not love enough.

My grandmother is dying, so my partner and I will be summoned home soon and I probably won't be able to carry on this conversation. But I appreciate your input here and at your blog. And, thanks, Elizabeth, for allowing me the space to comment here.

Blessings, y'all.

Susan

Dermot said...

Elizabeth, you said
"My stats are the basis upon which the APA was able to remove homosexuality from the list of pathological diagnoses in the 70's."

What stats are these? Are they Kinsey or some other? Do you have references connecting them to APA decision?

As someone from a different viewpoint from you I am interested in listening and learning about these things.

Thanks

Dermot

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

The best way to learn, Dermot, especially if you have a different POV, is to do your own research.

You can do that online or you can visit your local library. Your local community colleges may also offer psych courses and teach about homosexuality and human sexuality as part of that.

The best way to learn, especially when you are challenging your own assumptions, is to do your own research.