Jeanne Hanson’s lived testimony, in her own words
Following is a transcript of a short testimony given by Jeanne Hanson during the special Saturday night presentation at the 2018 CFT Gathering in St. Louis, MO. CFT is publishing this piece as a part of our 50th Anniversary Celebration. Jeanne Hanson passed away at 94 in July 2023. She was a treasured long-time member of CFT. Read more about her life here. This piece has been lightly edited for clarity.
So many dear friends here.
A lot of you know me. I mean, you think you know me…
You don’t know me. [laughter]
I want to just give you some very brief background, because history, for me, is important in terms of my life’s activities and my present activities.
I came from a very religious, strict family and schools. I went to two very conservative Bible schools, graduated from Multnomah and Biola.
Before I was in high school, I had what I felt was a call from God, telling me that I should be a missionary. But not just a missionary. I wanted to work at a Christian missionary radio station, and I didn’t want to do programming. I wanted to be the engineer.
I never lost that vision. After I finished school, the only way I was going to prepare to be an engineer was to go to school, and the only way I could go to school, because I had no money, was to join the Navy. I was in the Navy for four years and got training in engineering so I could go to the mission field to work in a radio station.
I did get there, and in the process of this, I also began to be very aware that I was a person living two lives. I was not just this person that was a leader or a dreamer or ambitious. I was a person who was living with dread all my life, all the time, because somebody was going to find out the other part of me that nobody knew and that I didn’t even understand myself.
When I got to Korea, I lived my life in that way. I had a leadership role. I did the things I wanted to do. My life was very meaningful and purposeful, but the other side of it was filled with dread. I knew if anybody found out about the real me I would be sent home.
I did that missionary work for 12 years in Korea, and then I came home.
Let’s move forward quickly to 1972. When I came back from Korea, I was 44 years old. I went back to college, which was really a wonderful thing because I found out when I got home that the United States was a different place. I missed all the sixties. I hardly even recognized the language.
I was at a Christian college, Seattle Pacific University, and I started hearing about Christian feminism and I thought, well, now that’s an oxymoron. I was very conservative still. We were so conservative in Korea that they wouldn’t let us even sponsor Billy Graham when he came to the country because he was too liberal!
And you know what I’m talking about.
The first time in my life that I heard the word lesbian was at Seattle Pacific. I had never heard that word. I had to look it up in the dictionary, to tell you the truth. I didn’t know what it meant the first time somebody said it, but I knew they were talking about me.
Then I heard about the book All We’re Meant to Be. Somebody gave it to me and I read it. Actually I devoured it, and read it again. And then I went with a friend down to Pasadena where this organization called the Evangelical Women’s Caucus was having their national conference in 1978. While I was there, I met Letha [Dawson Scanzoni] and my heroes, Nancy [Hardesty] and Virginia [Ramey Mollenkott]. At that conference, they had a presentation about Christian lesbians, and that blew me away. I couldn’t believe it, but I went to it and found out that the organization had lesbian members.
Let’s move on to 1980. The 1980 EWC conference was in Albany, New York, and chapters were being built around the country. Seattle started a EWC chapter, and I became a coordinator of the chapter, and went on to co-coordinate the next national conference, in Seattle. That was right when the ERA was being voted upon by the states, and it failed two days before our conference started.
Anyway, we had about a thousand people attend that conference. It was incredible.
Anyway, [one of the next conferences] was in Wellesley, and you’ve heard the history about the conference and the business meeting at Wellesley.[more] At that time, I was the national Executive Council coordinator and I was leading the business meeting when a debate started regarding a motion that was made about respecting and supporting lesbian and gay persons in our organization and in the country. And the debate went on and on. Finally, trying to keep to Roberts Rules of Order, we ended the debate. It was tabled so we couldn’t vote on it.
Two years later, at the Fresno conference, the issue came up again, and this is where I met a challenge, my own challenge.
I could not understand the hypocrisy of having lesbian and gay members in our organization and not being willing to support them in the organization and in the country. So I was sitting there listening to the debate. I wasn’t leading it this time. I was just sitting there. But I just had to get up. I took the mic and I spoke up and I said, “We cannot be hypocrites anymore. We have to pass this resolution. We have to.”
Well, that was the first time I ever in my life really spoke up about anything that was controversial. I had been so guarded all my life, but this time I spoke up. I stood up and I spoke up, and I’m so proud of that. Not only did I do that but, well, it changed my life. That was a changing point.
From that point on, I stood up. I have continued to stand up and speak up when I needed to.
I don’t like to rock the boat, but I will speak up. I’m so thankful for that.
It isn’t enough to stand up. You have to speak up.
In honor of CFT’s 50th anniversary, CFT is publishing some important historical reflections, articles, reviews, and other pieces which were previously unavailable online. See more from this series here.
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