One of the first people I told about my plan to launch an Internet magazine for LGBTQ Christians back in 1995 (the magazine would launch a year later) was a Georgia State University business professor I had befriended after taking his class. He hated the name Whosoever.
“It’s not catchy,” he opined, worrying that no one would know what the magazine was about or who it was for.
I thought it was curious, since he was gay himself, but upon reflection I realized the name didn’t sound good to him because he wasn’t very religious and didn’t care one way or the other what anyone of any religious persuasion thought about his eternal salvation. I envied him in that moment. He was living in the space I wanted to inhabit — the knowledge that nobody else’s opinion about my relationship with God (or without God) mattered.
Sadly, I knew, without a doubt, that those of us raised in traditional Christian settings would immediately understand the name of the magazine and recognize the importance of that one word: “Whosoever.”
It’s John 3:16, of course, that assures us that “whosoever believes” is saved. There are no caveats after that word. It’s not “whosoever believes” and is also straight, morally upright, doctrinally pure or anything else. The sentence is complete — “whosoever believes” — has salvation, period.
LGBTQIA Christians knew, instinctively, that word — “whosoever” — included them. If it didn’t then all the promises and hope of their religion would be a lie. The arguments I made against those who said LGBTQIA people could not be Christian could be summed up in that one word. God had made no exceptions. We are all “whosoever” as long as we believe.
I’ve always claimed that promise of being a Whosoever. For me, though, what changed was the “belief” part. For most of the 18 years that I ran the magazine, I was fiercely Christian — if not a traditional Christian. I embraced the precepts and teachings of progressive Christianity that ditched many of the dogmatic beliefs such as a literal virgin birth of Jesus and a literal, bodily resurrection.
I wrote every article from the perspective of that Christian belief that Jesus had come to this earth as the only incarnation of God and died for my sins as willing sacrifice to save this world. Then, I met Bishop John Shelby Spong (both on the phone and in person), and he changed my life — as well as the direction of the magazine — and ultimately my own beliefs. Spong, for the uninitiated, has written many books against fundamentalist Christian views and has argued strongly for a universal theology of Christianity. Namely, that we are all “whosoever” — no matter what we believe.
The evolution of “belief”
Even as I wrote my book, Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, I wrestled with my own fading Christian beliefs. Read the chapter on the Bible and with the insight you have now, see how fine of a line I tried to walk to not offend readers who may still believe divine authorship of the contents.
As a budding author, I had planned to use Bulletproof Faith as a jumping off point for a whole franchise of books to guide LGBTQIA Christians through the landmines planted for us by our more fundamentalist siblings — but after the book came out in 2008 and I toured the U.S. and Canada to support it in 2009, I knew I couldn’t hide my waning Christianity for much longer.
I tried to revive Whosoever as a membership site — a place where folks could interact more instead of just reading the magazine, but the Whosoever Community, though I feel it is still needed, didn’t have my heart the way the magazine did when it began in 1996. My passion for the project was gone — and not because I don’t believe Whosoever is no longer needed — it obviously is — but my need for it had disappeared.
I had arrived at that place my business professor had inhabited all those years earlier. I didn’t care what anyone else thought about my salvation, my relationship with Jesus or my beliefs about religion or sexuality. I had arrived at the point where “whosoever” didn’t make a lot of sense to me anymore, either.
It was terrifying — and liberating — all at the same time. Terrifying because I didn’t want to abandon those who still needed the message of the magazine — that we are all “whosoever” — and liberating because I knew that I no longer needed to make any argument to those who disagreed with me.
It was also frustrating because I didn’t know — like my business professor before me — how to explain exactly how I had finally arrived at this land called “freedom.” It was an evolution of my faith — a faith that I realize now needed absolutely no defense.
When we are uncertain that the path we’re on is the right one, we’ll battle anyone who tells us otherwise. That’s not a bug, but a feature of the journey because it is precisely within the battle that we arrive at the knowledge that we seek. Had it not been for Whosoever‘s army of critics, I would never have been prompted to seek out not just what I believed about God, but why I believed that.
This has been the gift of Whosoever, not just to me, but to many readers who, over the years, took time to write to me about the gift of certainty in their sexuality that they had arrived at because Whosoever put them on that same journey. I don’t know if any of them can explain exactly how they went from unsure of God’s love for them to full assurance of it, no matter what, but what’s certain is, they are all stronger for the journey.
Whosoever‘s next chapter
When I terminated publication of Whosoever, I was committed to keeping the archives online for as long as the Internet continued to exist. What we accomplished over the 18 years of the original magazine was remarkable. For years, Whosoever was the only publication (on the Internet or otherwise) offering hope to LGBTQI Christians who struggled to reconcile their spirituality and their sexuality. We were pioneers and we continue to be pioneers as we begin this next phase.
Rev. Paul Turner has been a cheerleader and supporter of Whosoever from the very beginning. His support never wavered even as I mourned the failure of the magazine’s printed form and moved it over to the fledgling Internet of 1996. He has always believed in the value of this venture and when he approached me recently and asked to take it over and revive it for a new generation, I was grateful for continued dedication.
It is with great love and gratitude that I now assume the title of Editor Emeritus and turn the day-to-day duties over to Paul as Editor-in-Chief. Paul has solved my dilemma by expanding the scope of the magazine to include more religious views than Christianity, and that does my apostate soul good.
I am excited to see what comes next for this groundbreaking publication. I know that in its new life, it will continue to be food the journey of all the “whosoevers” out there who feast upon its pages.
Whosoever founder and Editor Emeritus Rev. Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians. 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 serves as the spiritual director of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C., and blogs at Motley Mystic.