Saturday, March 10, 2007
Woman of the Year? Not so much!
Venus Magazine - Cover Story
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.