Connie Tuttle- A Queer Calling
I heard about Connie long before I met her; she was the first open lesbian at my seminary, a spiritual heretic with a small house church, and a woman who turned every single “no” into a “yes” on her own terms, and a recently published author. Connie, you are a legend, thank you for letting us share your story.
Name: Connie L. Tuttle
Hometown: Vilosnes sur Muse
How do you identify? Lesbian, feminist, Christian
What do you do? Pastor, counselor, writer
What are your favorite queer resources? Books & bookstores! The places of Information and community.
What are you reading these days? Books about current politics
Out of all the crayon colors, which one would you be? Cornflower blue
Outside of your family, who was the first person to inspire you? Martin Luther King, Jr., Abigail Adams
Describe yourself in 3 words. open/vulnerable, creative, compassionate
The Heart of it:
Let’s begin by talking about your childhood in France and the life of an army brat.
I am sure there are many experiences which capture what it means to be an army brat; for me, it meant living in a nearly idyllic world. In the 50’s and 60’s my classmates, neighbors, Sunday school, brownie and dance class friends were of every race and background. It was my norm. Now I have to work to make that my reality.
I also think living outside the U.S. gave me a very different perspective, a much more open perspective rather than thinking in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’.
When did you start to question your identity?
It’s interesting that you use the word question. I’m not sure I ever questioned my identity, I just accepted it as it started to unfold. I actually unintentionally came across a book, Lesbian/Woman by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. After that, coming out was more of a process of figuring out what it meant for me.
What was coming out like for you?
I was in love, so it was glorious! I was also naïve and it hadn’t occurred to me that folks wouldn’t be happy for me. Being gay or a lesbian was a mystery to me so I spent a lot of time reading books, what I could find that is, and finding a gay bar, there were two in the relatively small Southern town I lived in.
Did the church play a role in your coming out experience?
No, it didn’t really. My faith did, to some extent. I remember singing the doxology in my head when my first love and I realized what was going on between us.
If coming out truly is a journey however, then the church has played a role. At times, the institutional church played the role of adversary. I never internalized homophobic theology, but I did have to apply my understandings and experiences about who I am, as a being thoroughly loved by Godde, when I engaged the institution of the church.
What coming out advice would you offer readers?
Love yourself and have courage. It is your job to define what being queer means to you. Don’t be defined by the ignorance of others. Hating yourself is an unacceptable alternative. Find community. Make family. Breathe.
Can you tell me about your ministry?
I would describe my ministry as prophetic. What I mean by prophetic is speaking truth to power, even in those times, as Audre Lorde says, “when your voice shakes.” I have often done this, with a significant amount of naïveté. I was led by a call to this sort of ministry that I only began to understand as I followed it. In the beginning following this call meant seeking a seminary education and ordination within the PC(USA) church as an open lesbian.
My theology has always been shaped by my experience of mind-blowing expansive grace.
So when I graduated from seminary and left the Presbyterian Church, or it left me, I looked for work that mattered: feeding the hungry, freeing the prisoners, liberating the oppressed. My first job was directing the Atlanta Hunger Walk, then I worked as an administrator for the Southern Prisoner’s Defense Committee, and finally, Circle of Grace.
Circle of Grace began as a group of women who wanted to explore what it would mean to be a Christian feminist worshiping community. When we started Circle of Grace, we began with inclusive language in our services for both Godde and humanity and explore/d what it means to be in a non-hierarchical, power-sharing, faith community. (Ed: Godde as in both God and Goddess.)
How did the members of Circle of Grace find you initially?
I put up posters for a 6 week class on feminist, Christian theology and spirituality. I taught the class three times and what emerged was a group of women from diverse traditions, from Greek Orthodox to Roman Catholic, Lutheran to Pentecostal, United Methodist to Presbyterian, who wanted to ‘do church’ differently. And we did.
In what ways has the Church accepted or rejected your call to prophetic ministry?
Wow! That’s a loaded question. The answer is: it changes. Because my book is so much about that process, I hope folks will read it. I can say that today is very different from all those yesterdays. I hope that my walk and witness have been a part of making those changes possible.
The story I can share today is that when I returned at their invitation to the seminary I attended, where I was both hounded and discarded, grace prevailed. The new president of the seminary apologized to me on behalf of the institution. It was a profoundly graceful moment.
I would love to hear a little bit about your home life.
Well, I’m a mom. A surprising amount of people excluded me in the lesbian community because I was both a mom and a lesbian in a time when it ‘wasn’t cool’ to hold both of those identities. I’ve often said that I felt like a Victorian in the lesbian community and a radical in the church community.
My daughter and I had to prove we were the best, if not perfect, to justify my keeping her. We had to figure out who was safe to tell and who wasn’t. There was a very real possibility that some authority might try to take her away from me.
What is one of your deeply held convictions:
Today it’s called intersectionality, but the idea is not new. There have, I believe, always been those who understand that my freedom is linked to yours, that my oppression is linked to yours, and that we are all in this together.
Lets’ talk about your writing.
I love to write. I love creative expressions and it’s the only one I’m pretty good at. Well, that and cooking. I wish I could paint and dance and sing – and I do all those things, though not well. But writing is where my creativity gets fully expressed. For a long time, my writing desire was expressed in sermons. Writing sermons is a deeply creative process. One that I’ve lived into and have loved. Then, I started my blog, The Gracious Heretic. I love blog writing because it provides a constant challenge for me to think and create theologically, politically, and personally. Then, I set out to write a book—A Gracious Heresy: The Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet.
I’ve always wanted to write a book. At some point, it became a call. And, for me, there has always been joy in following a call. I believe it is important for us to tell our own stories and to place them in historical context. It is important for those who are a part of today’s struggles with the church to know how far the church has come so that there is greater hope for the future.
In a time when hundreds of thousands of books are published each year, it’s a difficult thing for anyone to make the foray into a top selling book. My book has been well received by those who have found it. I have met and heard from wonderful people who tell me how deeply they were touched by it and what the book has meant to them. That is an unexpected and amazing grace.
What advice would you leave for aspiring writers?
Write because you love to write. Find mentors and peers. Be a part of a creative community. Revise, revise, revise.
A Book’s End:
Connie’s book, A Gracious Heresy: The Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet, was at the top of my 2019 goodreads list. Having met Connie, I knew how truthful, unapologetic, and poetic this book would end up being, and she exceeded my expectation. Connie is a storyteller at heart and has a similar writing style to Nadia Bolz-Weber. Throughout A Gracious Heresy, she weaves memories throughout her book calling on both times of hardship and beauty in a very frank manner and the outcome is this insanely relatable and inspiring narrative. If you’re looking for a book that talks about finding yourself and the divine amongst the margins, this is your book.
You can also find more of Connie’s writing on her blog!