Elizabeth Woning began questioning her sexuality when she was 16. By the time she was in her 30s, she says, she was “stereotypically butch.”
But after an experience at a local church, Woning said she began to question what lesbianism meant to her.
“I recognized that it gave meaning and purpose to my life,” Woning said. ” … And so, before the Lord, I began analyzing what that meant and why it was so challenging for me, such a letdown, to be just a woman.”
Woning spent about 18 months trying to understand “the character of God and where I fit in that,” she said. “And the Lord was able to displace my sense of belonging as a lesbian with my sense of belonging as a daughter of God.”
Today, Woning co-leads the Changed Movement, a Christian organization that works with people who are seeking to leave the homosexual lifestyle or who are struggling with same-sex attraction.
Woning joins the “Problematic Women” podcast to share her story and to talk about the LGBTQ agenda.
Also on today’s show, we discuss tennis star Naomi Osaka’s decision to drop out of the 2021 French Open. And as always, we’ll be crowning our “Problematic Woman of the Week.”
And be sure to check out the short documentary telling the story of Cynthia Monteleone and her daughter Margaret here.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Virginia Allen: I am so pleased to be joined by Elizabeth Woning. She’s the co-founder of the Changed Movement, which is a Christian organization based in California that works with people who are seeking to leave the homosexual lifestyle or who are struggling with same-sex attraction.
Elizabeth, welcome to the show.
Elizabeth Woning: Thank you so much. It’s such a pleasure to be here.
Allen: Well, you joined “The Daily Signal Podcast” about two years ago, I think it was. And you have a personal story that you shared at that time. I want to ask you just to share briefly a little bit of your own story of walking through homosexuality, what that looked like for you, and what that journey out was.
Woning: Well, when I was about 16, I began questioning my sexuality after a very intense and intimate relationship that began forming with another woman. And she and I, we became such incredible close friends. My relationship with her set the standard for every other relationship that I would have. And out of that, I began questioning my sexuality for years. Both of us did.
I ended up coming out as a lesbian in my early 20s and then moved into a metropolitan area, into a gay neighborhood. I had been raised Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). And so, I was following my faith to the best of my ability, which in the [1990s], as a lesbian woman and as a Christian, that was a challenge.
In my own local [church] body, I was a rising elder. So, I was on the board of elders in my church, and I was grappling with my faith and decided that I would go to seminary.
So, I asked for my pastor’s recommendation or requirement to go to seminary. So, I went to seminary, openly gay, and pretty much his first words to me were, “Well, you’ll have to come out to the board of elders and resign.” So, I resigned on the basis of immorality from my church.
I was not sexually active at the time. I was seeking a celibate life, but by virtue of my new identity or my newly discovered identity, I was no longer qualified. So, I resigned and then went to seminary. I graduated from seminary with a master’s [degree] in theology. At a time in the church when nobody was ordaining gays and lesbians. And the PC (U.S.A.) was really just … I was moving forward with the More Light movement at the time. And really trying to encourage the church to open its doors to LGBTQ-identifying people.
And struggling with that place of, I know I’m called to ministry. I love the Lord, but yet I’m suddenly disqualified and found myself among several other seminarians who had similar experiences and even had been thrown out of their churches. It wasn’t just that they were asked to resign but they weren’t even allowed in fellowship.
So, I was addressing that issue among my fellow peers. I was going to school in a major metropolitan area. I moved from that area, which had a huge gay neighborhood down to a rural neighborhood, just on the fringe of the Bible Belt.
And so, there I was. I want people to picture this. I was about 30, 35, and very stereotypically butch. So, I mostly shaved my head. I had piercings and some tattoos, which in the early 2000s, was not common. So, here I am in this rural community, pretty much the token lesbian with my “pride” stickers on the back of my truck and everything else.
And in a very, very small community of 5,000 people. And a local pastor, a young man, saw me and said, “Oh, she needs to know the Lord.” And so, he approached me and began trying to witness to me. And at one point asked, “Well, where are you going?” And I said, “Well, I’m a pastor, and I’m going to the office at my church.” And just the look on his face was like, “This does not compute.”
Woning: It was very funny. But that moment caused us to strike up a relationship. And he invited me to his outreach. He was a youth pastor. And so, I went one night to his gathering, and he was charismatic. And I often tell people it was a Presbyterian’s worst nightmare.
Here I am, a dignified hymn-singing Presbyterian in the midst of this contemporary worship. And kids were being filled with the Holy Spirit. And He was on the move that night. Kids were on the floor, and there was weeping and running and speaking in tongues. All things I had never seen before.
But what happened was, a 17-year-old boy approached me and said, “I believe I have a word from the Lord for you.” Now, can you imagine being a 17-year-old boy and looking at me. He’d probably never spoken to a lesbian before. Maybe never even seen one and was brave enough to come up and say, “I think the Lord is speaking to you.”
I’d never heard of anything like that. And so, I remember thinking in that moment, “I don’t know what this is, but I need to hear.” And so, he proceeded to tell me something that I had been praying about for years.
And that caused me to question whether I believed God knew me, specifically. So, here, I had gone all this way, which seemed to me, great sacrifices for my faith. And I found myself in the position where I was actually questioning what I knew of God. And that caused me to think, “I need to know.”
So, I did the thing that I most relied on. I picked up a new Bible, and I began highlighting in the Bible every place where God describes himself. And it was really that journey over about 18 months of rereading the Bible, looking at the character of God, and then interacting with people who claimed that they experienced the love of God and that they could directly interact with that.
It was this experiential Christianity that I had never been a part of before. I’d been a part of a strongly intellectualized, academic Christianity, strongly weighted on the social justice end, but never been exposed to this personal witness.
And that set me on the journey that caused me to begin looking at Scripture and realizing, “OK. I identify as a lesbian, and I’m a woman.” Clearly in Scripture, that isn’t represented. We can go a lot of places in gay theology looking at men, but there aren’t too many places you can go with gay theology looking at women. And I began questioning what lesbianism was to me. And I recognized that it gave meaning and purpose to my life. It gave personal power and authority to my life. It really gave me my voice.
And that caused a bit of an existential crisis for me in the context of my faith. And so, before the Lord, I began analyzing what that meant and why it was so challenging for me, such a letdown to be just a woman.
And analyzing that and prayerfully walking through that with the Lord, learning the Lord’s language for my life, revisiting Scripture, understanding the character of God and where I fit in that.
And the Lord was able to displace my sense of belonging as a lesbian with my sense of belonging as a daughter of God.
And it was that kind of threshold, that crossover moment that really pulled me out of the gay community. That wasn’t a quick journey. Once I started moving in that direction, I began questioning what I had believed and everything that I had believed.
At first, I was in a panic, because I thought, “I have been teaching and preaching and promoting heresy.” That was my first thought. And so, in that panic of fearful, really, before the Lord, I did some hard separation from the gay community and from my community where I had been before. Burned a lot of bridges in that as I was leaving that.
But in the process, I began to see that there was much more to my life and so much more to the story. And over the next 15 years, then, was able in the context of my faith to analyze my childhood, to understand how lesbianism really entered into my life. What was the sexual attraction? What were the roots of that? What I had come to believe and why I needed it.
And then, I’m married. I’m married to my husband. We’ve been married for 16-going-on-17 years this year.
Allen: That’s wonderful.
Woning: And today, I’m a pastor. I’m a pastor at a large church in Northern California and co-lead the Changed Movement as well as Equipped to Love, which focuses on this dialogue that we’re having. What is the LGBTQ experience in the context of our faith and what is possible for someone who experiences that in the context of their faith? As well as making a safe space for people who experienced same-sex attraction or gender confusion to follow their faith, because increasingly, that space is getting narrower and narrower.
One of the questions I find myself asking is: Do you believe that LGBTQ-identifying people should be allowed to follow their faith, wholeheartedly, even if the implication is that they leave that identity behind? And more and more people are saying, “No.”
Allen: So, talk just a little bit more about what you all do through the Changed Movement and how you really journey with people. Because increasingly, I think we’re seeing more and more people say, “Yeah. This is something I struggle with,” or be drawn into the LGBTQ lifestyle. You can’t escape it in society now. It’s very prevalent.
So, how do you all kind of enter that space and really journey with people in a loving way?
Woning: Well, let me tell you a little bit about Changed. So, Ken Williams and I, the other founder, we were minding our own business, being pastors in the church, leading Equipped to Love when California raised some legislation that would have been a consumer-fraud bill that essentially said, “We know sexual orientation can’t change. So, any suggestion that it can be … any service or any resource that is sold in this state is fraud and should be banned.” And so, Ken just published his first book. That would have meant he could not sell it. A person could not buy it in the state of California.
So, we saw this as a really dramatic limitation on free speech and religious liberty. And so, we began getting involved at the Capitol, just sharing our stories and testifying in committee hearings and other things. And out of that, we recognized that nobody believed us.
Woning: We knew hundreds of people at the time. We had lots of friends. And so, we thought, “Well, what can we do?” And Ken said, “I think we need a book.” So, we drove home to our home church and presented that idea to some of our leadership. And we quickly threw together a book that we ended up calling “Changed,” an intentionally provocative name. And it was comprised of about 30 stories of men and women who had left LGBTQ. And they are very brief. There was no rhetoric. Just their stories.
And we took that book along with everyone who had been in it to the Capitol and passed it out to every senator ahead of the [state Senate] Judiciary Committee hearing and spoke to people in their offices. And then on the day of the hearing, we staged a rally where we all shared our stories.
It was five minutes of testimony, each person, and it ended up being roughly two-and-a-half hours of live testimony from the Sacramento Capitol that was livestreamed. And that livestream ended up touching hundreds of people. Today, Ken and I know thousands of people who have been exposed to that livestream or some other moment that we’ve spoken of and come our way.
We began collecting testimonies and recognizing that people needed to know we existed. And out of that, we have found ourselves using a political platform and addressing public policy to do a couple of things. One, to just let the world know that God enters into the life of an LGBTQ person. And sometimes the impossible does happen. And the Lord is an incredible bringer of wholeness. And so, we are able to pronounce the Gospel in unusual places by doing that.
But then, also recognizing that a lot of the legislation that’s happening right now is closing the door for the Gospel as we’ve experienced it, to be expressed to the gay community. And so, Changed mainly has as its focus this cultivation of a grassroots network. Really a worldwide grassroots network, but mostly here in the U.S., that just encourages our membership to share their stories, whether it’s in church or in a public arena, so that people hear what God can do in a person’s life. And also, how important it is that there be protections for free speech and religious liberty for the gay community to have the choice to move forward on their faith.
Allen: I love your approach. It’s so powerful because you can’t argue with someone’s personal story and what they’ve experienced, what they’ve walked through, what they’ve journeyed. That’s incredible.
Now, I know this week, you and Ken have been here in D.C. You’ve been talking with policymakers and you’ve been gathering individuals together to talk about this issue. So, share just a little bit about the issues that you’re focused on, the policies that you all are focused on right now, and where we are as a country at this moment, kind of wrestling through so much promotion of LGBTQ agenda.
Woning: Well, the LGBTQ “agenda” is so complex.
What I see is this somewhat superficial conversation or oversimplified conversation of even what it means to be LGBTQ. And so, one significant problem that we have is that identity politics are being codified into legislation, which is such a constraint on the human experience.
Honestly, the LGBTQ experience is to a measure—and this could be offensive to many—to a measure, it’s dehumanizing because it essentially says, “You don’t really belong among the rest. You have to have a special label in order to belong among the rest of the male and female population.” And that sense of belonging is such a sore spot for people who experience LGBTQ.
And so, there’s this conundrum of when you apply the label to yourself, you find belonging among that niche, or that small group of people, but you don’t find belonging among the larger group, and you really want belonging among the larger group.
So, now you’re constrained in the smaller group. And what legislation is trying to do is force the larger group to accommodate you in a way that you still have legal protections that exclude you from simple identification as a person among persons.
And so, it’s a very strange semantic conundrum that we’re watching unfold. And the problem of rejection and abandonment in the gay community is a lasting and often lifelong problem. And so, I’m not entirely convinced that legislation is going to assuage that.
There needs to be a larger conversation for America on what it means to be human. What is human dignity and how do we accommodate our differences and truly love one another in a way that is relational, communal and cultural?
I’m fearful that the legislation that we’re creating will be even more divisive, as opposed to unifying. Yet, I think the heart behind much of the legislation is to force unity. We’ll see whether that plays out. So, there are a number of problems. I think one of them that is particularly painful for us is the conversation on counseling choice because it’s very strongly stigmatized.
Allen: Is that also conversion therapy, essentially? I know that term is thrown around a lot.
Woning: So-called conversion therapy, which is so poorly … it’s so ill-defined. We have a friend from Canada, Jojo Ruba, who has analyzed legislation across the world, and he’s found over 150 different definitions of conversion therapy.
And so, there’s this presumption of what it is, but no clear legal definition. And many of us in Changed have availed ourselves of, and benefited from, programs that focused on some of the unique problems that are common to people with LGBTQ experience, whether it’s rejection or even sexual abuse. Although, of course, not every person has sexual-abuse issues or trauma issues or attachment issues. Everyone is so unique.
Nevertheless, there are so many of us who do. And so, what do you say to a woman, for example, who was molested as a child and raped as a teenager, and now can no longer find herself safe with another man?
And so, turns to a woman for the security of that relationship and comfort of that relationship. And so, now is encouraged to identify as a lesbian and to believe that she was born that way and to believe that there could be no particular root to her experience of same-sex attraction. And so, never get the opportunity to address the trauma with the possibility of resolution that’s not encouraged.
So, you can maybe talk about the trauma, but when you resolve the trauma like that, if your natural disposition would be towards opposite sex, saying that, that’s impossible, or that now that is incongruent with your identity, traps you then in that trauma for life. And I’ve talked to so many women, for whom that is their living experience as a gay person. It’s anathema to suggest that a trauma or childhood experience informs your sexuality.
Nevertheless, that’s true.
Or another scenario would be a child experiencing gender dysphoria. So, we know statistically … that children below the age of puberty, if they’re allowed to, if they’re not encouraged to transition … If they’re allowed to naturally grow and encouraged to align with their biological sex … so, watchful waiting. They will desist from opposite-sex identification, gender confusion. And so, often what has happened in a moment like that is that child has experienced some kind of trauma. There’s a perception that being the sex that I am is wrong.
So, for example, our friend, Kathy Grace Duncan, experienced some sexual abuse and then watched her father beat her mother. And she made a childhood judgment that, “I could be a better husband to my mother than my father could be. So, I’m going to become the man that my father isn’t,” and that played out for her.
That childhood perception took root and began bearing fruit. And she eventually transitioned and lived as a man for 11 years. Now, if someone along the way could have identified that she was traumatized as a child, how much pain and confusion, and even self-mutilation, could have been avoided?
And yet, with the conversion therapy ban, that would be forbidden. A conversion therapy ban would insist that the transgender identity be affirmed. And so, we’re setting ourselves up for ongoing harm while we’re almost delusional about some of the nuance of the LGBTQ experience.
Allen: Yeah. And I know we were talking a little bit before we started recording just about women and the impact and the perception that women have within this movement and the resources that are afforded to women, specifically, who are struggling with homosexuality. Could you just talk a little bit about that?
Woning: Well, yeah, because I think, culturally, the presentation of what it means to be LGBTQ mostly is weighted on the gay side as a gay man. So, mostly the experience of a gay man is the presumption for lesbian woman. So, we presume that she has had the same kinds of experiences where at puberty, she was strongly sexually attracted to the same sex. When most commonly, a woman’s sexuality begins or sexual expression begins with an emotional attachment. Rather than a simple—I don’t want to oversimplify this—but rather than just the immediate sexual arousal.
And so, there’s this complexity of a woman’s sexuality that is never discussed. And the fluidity that is natural to a woman and well-known scientifically. So, women typically, if you read Lisa Diamond’s work, their sexual orientation follows their strongest love interest.
And so, a woman’s sexuality is not being clearly explained or described in culture. Instead, women are being told, “You’re born this way. And if you have any nuance in your sexuality, well, then you’re either lesbian or you’re [bisexual]” And once you’re one of those, there’s no turning back. And then even the scientific studies that are being used to undergird some of the legislation that is bringing SOGI language, sexual orientation/gender identity language. So, replacing the word “sex” with language that is more “inclusive” denies a woman’s biological reality, first of all. And the necessity of protections for that.
But then many of the studies that are being used, I want to say, particularly on the conversion therapy ban side, don’t incorporate women’s experience. … We have not been studied. And so, for example, the Williams Institute study that’s being used most often to suggest that suicide is the typical outcome for conversion therapy doesn’t have a single woman included in this study.
So, women are still poorly understood in our culture, in my opinion. And the woman’s experience is … No one is acknowledging that particularly the transgender movement and much of culture’s embrace of LGBT also has this vein of misogyny peppered throughout.
Allen: Share with us a little bit about the resources that you all offer, and for anyone listening, who’s either thinking, “OK, well, this is something I struggle with. I want help. I want resources or maybe I have a son or a daughter or niece or nephew.” How can they tap into what you all offer?
Woning: Well, Changed, as I said, is a network of a bunch of people. And many of us, particularly, if you have dropped that identity and moved on, like me, marrying an opposite-sex spouse. That knowledge, that wisdom, that compassionate and understanding is a resource. And so, many of us disciple other people. And so, Changed is kind of, as I said, a network of all of these different people, many of which are pastors, many of which lead their own ministries.
And so, we do our best to plug people into those ministries via our website and represent the membership of our website and direct people regionally to those.
The Changed Movement website itself has a listing of many of our favorite resources. So, we’re collecting those because you can’t just go to Amazon to get many of these resources anymore. They’re being censored. And so, we’re trying to make sure that we have a listing of all the available resources and then taking people to the individual’s website. Like Joe Dallas’ resources are listed on our website, and you can go to him to get the books that he’s written. And so, Changed doesn’t particularly offer any services. We’re not doing any counseling under the umbrella of Changed. Instead, we’re availing ourselves of the witness of the membership.
Allen: That’s excellent. So, so critical.
Elizabeth, thank you for your time. Really appreciate the work that you’re doing.
Woning: Thank you so much.
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