Thank you for your magazine. You’re so courageous to do it.
Those words were spoken to me by a young man who emerged from a crowd of people at the first gay and lesbian Christian conference I ever attended — the Witness Our Welcome conference in 1998 in Dekalb, Illinois.
He took my hand and shook it as he said those words, and he melted back into the crowd as quickly as he had emerged, but his words have stuck with me all these years.
“Courageous” was the word that rattled around in my head, and still echoes from all those years ago. Whosoever had been born just a scant two years earlier and was, for many years afterward, the only online magazine available for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians. The magazine was, indeed, pioneering and groundbreaking, but courageous? It didn’t feel that way to me. For me, Whosoever was an outlet for my own burgeoning journey toward reconciling my spirituality and sexuality, which made it empowering and joyful for me
Perhaps in a world where just about every Christian denomination still forbade “practicing” LGBT people from serving in pulpits and other leadership positions and marriage equality was a laughable, if not impossible notion, Whosoever was an audacious act of courage on my part. Honestly, it just felt like a ministry, a calling, something I couldn’t NOT do.
Over the years, Whosoever has given me the courage to do a lot of things I didn’t think I could do. I became a spokesperson, both locally and nationally, for the LGBT Christian movement, traveling the country to deliver workshops and lectures. In 2008, I published a book, Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, that served as the culmination of my thoughts and writings over the course of the life of Whosoever.
Along the way, I have gotten to know many people who both support, and oppose, the movement for complete acceptance of LGBT people in both the church and society at large. Most rewarding, however, have been the many letters I have received over the years from people who found hope, love and reconciliation within the pages of this magazine. I know that Whosoever has literally saved the lives of people who believed the lie that God hated them and would send them to hell if they lived into their authentic identity as a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person.
That, frankly, has been reward enough for doing this magazine over the years.
A new kind of courage
Now, the time has come for me to again act with courage as I shut down Whosoever. I do this with great sadness and trepidation. I do not wish to abandon those who have come to rely on Whosoever for support, but I find that my personal theology has shifted so drastically over the years that I no longer can proclaim to be a Christian in any orthodox, or traditional, sense of the word.
I have always been a member of the more progressive spectrum of the faith, this is true, but over the past year, especially, I have discovered another line of theological thinking that has so completely captured my heart and transformed my life in a way that even progressive Christianity had not been able to do. Through the spiritual thinking of scholars such as Bishop John Shelby Spong, A Course in Miracles teacher Marianne Williams, Catholic writer and theologian Richard Rohr, Unity Church leaders Charles Fillmore and Eric Butterworth, Bishop Carlton Pierson and others, my beliefs have been turned on their head.
While I can no longer claim to be a Christian in the traditional sense, I am still an ardent follower of Jesus. I believe Jesus’ true message to us — a message of transformation not just for ourselves but for this world — has been covered over by millennia of useless theology and dogma.
I recall having this kind of uneasy feeling even back in seminary when professors would talk about grand councils of rich, white men convening around Europe to argue the great theological points of the day, which usually had something to do with whether or not each other’s Christology was high enough or not. While they argued whether Jesus was the same substance of the Father or not, I thought to myself, people were starving. People are still starving today while we argue the finer points over whether or not God loves LGBT people.
I can’t live with that kind of religion anymore. I need a faith that puts practical action out into the world, a faith that feeds not only me, but prompts me to get out in the world and feed others as well.
In short, I still need the courage to be a “whosoever” in this world — someone who still believes that Jesus came to show us the only way to save ourselves and everyone else, by cultivating our own Christ consciousness so that it leads us to a place of selfless love and service to ourselves and others.
That seminal quote from John 3:16, which once meant to me — even as a more progressive Christian — that Jesus was the only way to get to God, has new meaning to me now as I read it through this new more metaphysical lens.
This passage meant a lot to me in the beginning of Whosoever, because to me it was a signal of Jesus’ unconditional welcome to anyone who “believed” in him. That, I figured, meant the LGBT believer. We, too, are “whosoever.” While that still remains very good news to LGBT people who continue their journey in orthodox Christianity, those words hold even more hope for me now as I continue a journey of courage to truly become a new kind of “whosoever” — a person who recognizes their own inner divinity and seeks to cultivate that Christ consciousness within myself and encourage others to do the same.
Charles Fillmore writes this about John 3:16 in his book Mysteries of John: “In love God gave His only-begotten Son, the fullness of the perfect-man idea in Divine Mind, the Christ, to be the true, spiritual self of every individual. By following Jesus’ example of recognizing and acknowledging the Christ in our every thought, word, and deed, thus unifying ourselves with His completeness, the outer will become as the inner; we shall be like Christ; we shall know Him as He is. He who truly believes ‘cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life.'”
When we understand that Jesus came to call us into our own higher Christ consciousness, we do not “perish,” which in Greek means we are not lost, destroyed or made useless. Instead, we become alive with the abundant form of life that Jesus promises we all can find in our lives.
This abundant life is the one I have found as I have put on this new way of thinking and believing about Jesus. It is congruent with my True Self and, just like Whosoever, it feels like a calling — a ministry — that I now must pursue with the same vigor and excitement that propelled this magazine.
Passing the torch
Since Whosoever began in 1996, more and more ministries aimed at LGBT people have sprung up, led by young, charismatic leaders who have pushed the envelope and have advanced our progress as a faith community much further than I had ever dreamed. The Evangelical Network, the Gay Christian Network led by Justin Lee as well as newcomers such as Matthew Vines and his Reformation Project and Brandan Robertson at Evangelicals for Marriage, are continuing to do amazing work and serve as models for those still struggling to reconcile their sexuality and spirituality.
By stepping away from Whosoever, I am, by no means, turning my back on the LGBT Christian community, but it is time for me to pass the torch to a new, dynamic generation of leaders in our movement. As an elder in this movement, however, I still intend to serve as a resource and as a source of support for anyone who struggles to live authentically into their sexuality or gender identity. This will always be a core piece of my ministry and I hope people will continue to reach out to me when they need that kind of support. I will always be here.
I extend my thanks and gratitude to everyone who has supported Whosoever over these many years, including the writers who gave their work freely to be published, to donors who helped us pay the bills to keep us online and for every reader who stopped by, whether they agreed with what they read or not.
I am grateful for even those who wrote hate mail to me over the years, because those are the people who challenged me the most to continue to grow my faith and continue to act with courage in the face of their hatred. In the end, they are the ones who made me a more gentle, loving and generous person because they pointed out the places where I was still being violent, hateful and selfish.
For now, access to the archives of Whosoever will remain available, but I plan to take the site down completely this summer, so if there are articles or resources you need, please download and save them now.
Again, thank you all for your love and support over the years. I begin my new journey with a new Web site called “Spiritual Apocalypse.” Come on over and join the party there.
Blessings, Love and Namaste,
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.