This week my office amplified the story of Pr. Alicia Johnston, who, until very recently, served an Adventist congregation in Arizona. As she studied Christian theology about sexuality, Alicia’s beliefs changed and she came to a deeper understanding of her own orientation and faith.
Alicia also moved beyond simple self-awareness, and chose to disclose her new understanding to her congregation and employers. Wisely, given the climate in Adventism right now, she then resigned.
As Alicia has talked and written about how her disclosure changed her standing among relatives, friends, former colleagues, and the community they all shared, I’ve been thinking about how much power this culture gives to “coming out.”
Part of that power is down to our cultural distinctions between “private” and “public.” Another good measure is how much we conflate “private” and “secret” or “unspoken” and “shameful.”
Someone cut through this concept for me today with the statement “You are disclosing whether you use words or not.” Everything radiates its nature, even in environments where there’s no easy, shared language for that nature. We express who we are, long before we build up the words or friendships and peer groups that empower us to express who we are and express with joy.
I moved out of my subcultural box long before I came to Alicia’s position, rising in a vocation that integrity would require me to withdraw from, but even I had a few people in my network who responded to my disclosures with “We wondered about you a decade and a half ago.”
My stock answer to that quip is still, “Well you could have saved me some time.”
In the end, it’s reassuring to me that the evolving self does seem to radiate outward, trading information with the world of other evolving selves and not being bounded by the limits of language or community consensus.
I love that what we are springs forth in time, much like the season of spring itself. What we are emerges from the soil of silence, denial, and self-rejection.
There are so many cultural disincentives to hold onto what’s real and resilient and trade it for what will keep us primed for praise. But in the season of spring, we acknowledge all that is, all that has been, until now, latent. And we celebrate it: no matter what fear says, life can’t be repressed forever.
I wish Alicia every good thing in this next chapter of her life and ministry.
Please remember her and her family and send them love.