Vital Signs 
and the Hearts of People 
Vital Signs and the Hearts of People

Carla Harshman, director
Vital Signs
Traverse City, Michigan

Four years after becoming a Christian one of my lesbian friends asked me to play on their basketball team. At first I said no, but after thinking about it decided to go for it. The following spring I played on their softball team and met many new gay friends. I quickly grew to love them and we had some great times. I always went to the bar afterward, no big deal, and after the season was over we started a Bible study in that same bar. I guess that is where the seed began to grow to pursue ministry to persons *desiring* to seek change. It has never been my thought to try to *make* people change. No one could make me unless I wanted to. In college I stayed as far away from the Christians as possible. 

Anyway, through softball I developed some very beautiful relationships with lesbian friends. These are still intact today. They know what I am all about, and that is okay as long as I don't try to push it on them. I think it is sad that so much of the focus regarding friendship between A and B is about sexual orientation. There is so much more to all of us than that. We all have hopes, dreams, hurts, gifts and talents. Why not get to know and enjoy those things about someone? 

About our ministry. We are here as another alternative. I like to hope that we are "pro-choice." There are many who *desire* support and encouragement in overcoming sgb and sga. They believe change is possible through the power of Jesus Christ. Our mission is not to turn gay people straight. It is about relationship with Jesus and healthy relationship with other men and women. There have been man and women in our group who have been in and out, but we have not condemned. They know they can always come back and that we will continue to love them. For some, we are the first group who has shown acceptance to them. 

It has always been my thought that we could peacefully co-exist with the gay community. Maggie has asked me to share more about that. After reading the thoughts in BA and communicating with an activist reporter, I have been rather surprised that many think ex-gays, religious rights, etc. cannot have a working relationship with the gltb community. This has never been my experience. 

I am involved with two local HIV/AIDS volunteer organizations. I am on the board of  one of  them. Many of the gay/lesbian members of our board have been in long term relationships of 20+ years. Another man at one time was a member of the board of the local gltb organization. Many of the members involved with the other HIV/AIDS organization in the city where I go to church are gay, and we seem to have a good working relationship as well. I have been called when there are clients who are/were gay and desired Christian support and encouragement. I respect the members of these organizations as they put the client's desires before personal beliefs, even if they might not personally advocate an organization or ministry. 

I have been shown nothing but respect -- in fact more so than many Christians show for the gltb community.  I consider my fellow board members friends, and truly enjoy working with them.. 

Our ministry decided to embark on a Christmas wish list project for clients. The Christian community has responded in a very positive way. Breaking down walls and building bridges. Our organization's board of directors was somewhat surprised by the positive response of the "religious right." 

Maggie asked if geographical location has anything to do with our relationship with the gay community. I definitely believe it does. Northern Michigan is relatively less densely populated and if one is involved in an organization concerning AIDS or the gltb community, everyone within 100 miles knows everyone else. Same with a lot of the Christian community. I go to a church 60 miles from home, but there is a lot of interaction between the churches I go to and the one I used to go to closer to home. Our AIDS organization services an area that half of New England would fit into. It is hard to hide. We need to get along if possible. I believe the church for the most part would be more than willing to be involved in direct client help. But because of the stereotypes this has not come about. It is my heart to provide education to the church as well as introduce the gltb community to Christians who are not the stereotypical RRR homophobes. Can it work? I am not so naive to believe that the gltb community will embrace us with loving arms. But my hope that we can peacefully co-exist is still alive. 

Like Maggie, I am not that interested in biblical argument. I don't see that the matter will ever be resolved. I am more interested in the hearts of people. For my life my desire is that I will deepen my relationship with Jesus. As I do that, change happens. It has been my desire that I would be obedient as much as I am able to what I believe the scripture says. I have found that in many instances in my life, obedience has come before the revelation. 

During my growing up years I always wanted to be a boy. Like some of you, I prayed very hard for God to change me and many times I fully expected to wake up with different anatomy. I hated being a girl. I don't know if it was because I felt I was born in the wrong body or that boys got to do everything and girls got to do nothing. (I am 41, and we didn't get to play organized sports and such as the guys did. We also had to wear dresses to school and that was not conducive to playing with the boys at recess.) 

At the same time, I had huge emotional crushes on girls who were 3-6 years older than me. In Jr. High when other girls were talking about making out with guys I had thoughts that I would rather make out with girls. So it goes. Because I grew up in a small farm community and liked one guy throughout high school I didn't think about being gay. 

 We attended church every Sunday as I was growing up. I knew about God and Jesus and even believed all the Bible stories. I was never told about salvation and a personal relationship with Jesus so I guess I was just "religious." At college I became involved in a Bible study with real born again Christians but it still didn't register. I think they assumed I had asked Jesus into my life because I knew all the lingo. Shortly after school begun, I became a manager for the women's basketball team and later played on that team. I knew something was different about them but didn't know what. All I knew was that I felt I had finally arrived. These women had the same interests as I and seemed to have much more fun than the Christians. So I dumped the Christians. 

That summer I found out that most of the players were lesbians. There were two lesbians on my softball team so I decided to find out what it was all about. That summer (I was 18) I kissed a woman for the first time and went to drag shows at gay bars. I loved it. I finally found out who I was. I didn't deny my attractions for women and embarked on a journey to try to live what I felt but at the same time stay in the closet to family and friends. 

 I moved to Northern Michigan after college to live with the woman of my dreams. We sort of had our own little community here and it was a topic of scandal in town. "Who are these women living in the woods, building cabins, driving trucks and jeeps and dressing like men, etc.?" So what, we had an absolute blast. If you haven't figured it out, I was part of the butch/party/jock world. 

 The dream relationship broke up but I was not disenchanted with the lesbian world. That was just who I was. One day as I was walking in the woods I had the distinct thought that I needed to check out Jesus. I hadn't been to church in years and it was the farthest thing from my mind. I told a couple of friends about it and we decided we would go to church. We happened upon a church that taught about a personal relationship with Jesus and the people were really nice. A while later I prayed with the pastor to receive Jesus into my heart as Savior and Lord. I am not overly expressive emotionally so there were no fireworks, bells or whistles. But something happened in my heart and I knew my life would not be the same. 

This decision did not "turn me straight." I had never read the Bible other than the verses in Sunday School lessons. I began to read the Bible, especially the New Testament. As I was reading I argued with God a lot about how it wasn't fair that I couldn't have a relationship with a woman. Please keep in mind there was no ex-gay ministry, no Christian counseling -- just me, the Bible and the Holy Spirit. All of make life decisions based upon what we believe to be truth. After reading the Scripture I decided I wanted to try to live life in a way I believed the Scripture taught. 

The "Big H" for me is not homosexuality but holiness, a topic I find conspicuously lacking in much of the gay Christian material. Holiness seems to be a major theme from Genesis to Revelation. (I am not saying I have arrived, the older I am the more I realize how far I am away from "arriving.") As I look back, another thing I realized is that God was probably more concerned about the anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, hatred, etc. I had in my heart than my homosexual behavior. He began to work from the inside out, and I don't even know how it works. All I know is that my thoughts began to change. I went through some very lonely times, but it was through these times that Jesus proved His faithfulness and that He is real. 

And yes, I became self-righteous. As loving as the church was, there was an element that "we don't smoke, drink, cuss or dance with people who do." In my zealousness I chased most of my gay friends away. (I think most new Christians should be locked in a closet for a while.) After becoming a Christian I had no desire to be part of the gay world and pretty much lost contact. Even though the sgb had stopped I became involved in a very intense emotional dependence with a woman in the church. (By this time I was going to a different church.) Our Christian friends said that we were more married than most married people. True. 

That "divorce" was worse than any break-up of a lesbian relationship. But once again God was faithful to see me through that. My friend is now married, has two beautiful children, and we are closer today than we ever were during the emotional dependent relationship. (I am open to any questions concerning this relationship.) 

I have been asked what brought the greatest change as far as sga. It was healthy, non-sexual relationship with women in the church. It was being accepted as a woman among women. Many of them know of my past and are not threatened by that. This was a process that took many years and it was and continues to be very healing. 

I have a dear friend and mentor who lived a lesbian lifestyle for 40 years. She is an Exodus ministry founder, and she says that acceptance produces change. That has been her experience and many others I know as well. I enjoyed what Terri shared about people who "haven't let their heart inform their face about the joy of the Lord" that is supposedly a part of their lives. Romans 2:4 says it is God's kindness that leads to repentance. 

 At group we were talking about John 21:15-23. I do not pretend to understand why some people still have sga after years of praying, fasting, asking God for deliverance. But as Jesus said to Peter, "What is it to you what happens to John? You follow me." 

Guess I will put this email to rest for now. 

email Carla

Carla was a panelist at the B-A workshop at the 1998 GLSEN Midwest Conference

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text © 1998 Carla Harshman