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In early childhood, tomboy Charla Blair knew she didn’t look or act like her sister, three years older than her. Char wanted to play with trucks and building blocks, wear jeans, and have short hair. People called her “Charlie.” They called her sister, who played with dolls and dishes, “Princess.”
“I thought God made a mistake,” Blair says. “I thought I should have been a boy.”
Even though after puberty Blair felt grateful for being a girl, she continued to struggle.
“I didn’t really know how to be feminine,” recalls Blair, 43. “I needed affirmation from females.”
The daughter and granddaughter of Pentecostal pastors, Blair knew in third grade that she wanted to preach the gospel. Yet sharing her inner conflict with anyone at the Assemblies of God church she attended with her parents didn’t seem wise in the era — the late 1980s when some pastors denounced homosexuality as an abomination and AIDS as God’s punishment. Although she never entered into a lesbian liaison, Blair says she spent years in emotionally unhealthy, inappropriate, and dependent relationships with other females.
“I identify with the Samaritan woman at the well,” Blair says, noting Jesus’ encounter as recorded in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John. “I was looking for relationships to meet my need.” Blair’s shame and denial resulted in gross obesity in an effort to be unattractive.
While attending William Jessup University, Blair attended New Life Assembly in Marysville, California. She confided in college pastor Rodney Waters, who indicated the sexual identity problem fell outside his area of expertise. But Waters and his wife, Sandi, offered to go to a counselor with Blair, a gesture that meant a great deal to her.
She began working part time in the mailroom of the AG Northern California-Nevada district office 19 years ago while a student at Capital Christian Bible College in Sacramento. For the past 13 years, she has been executive administrator to Assistant Superintendent Samuel M. Huddleston.
Blair started Unspoken Ministries in 2005, with the encouragement of then-district youth director Bret L. Allen. Together they wrote an article, sent to youth ministers of the district, offering Blair and her ministry as a resource to help kids trying to deal with same-sex attraction in a godly way.
At the time, Blair led a youth group of 20 kids, and she recognized a couple of them trying to figure out their sexual identity because she experienced similar feelings as a teenager. Back then she would raise her hand during prayer time at church, and simply say she had an “unspoken request,” not wanting to divulge the inner turmoil she sensed about her own attraction to females.
“I know Jesus didn’t die on a cross for me to be gay,” Blair says.
Many ministry doors opened for Blair to tell her story as a young woman of God struggling with unnatural sexual impulses. Various secular LGBT groups tell kids they shouldn’t resist same-sex urges. The trend in some evangelical circles in recent years has been to pressure Christian young people to undergo conversion reparative therapy in an attempt to force an attraction to the opposite sex.
“I show young people there is a third option,” Blair says. “The opposite of homosexuality isn’t heterosexuality. It’s holiness. What does it look like to walk that out?”
Blair is able to share openly now what she long tried to keep hidden. As an ordained Assemblies of God evangelist, the native Californian speaks and teaches on weekends at churches, conferences, and women’s events. A frequent topic at women’s gatherings is the danger of emotionally dependent relationships.
“God is using the very struggle I thought would keep me from going into ministry to propel me forward into ministry,” she says. “Now we really want to talk about it in churches and we have resources for it.”
ReStory Ministries addresses homosexuality and gender identity issues without approving of the lifestyle. Joe Dallas is on the ReStory board of directors, and Blair says his Desires in Conflict — written more than a quarter century ago — was the only book she found to help her grapple with her confusion. Linda Seiler, U.S. missionary with Chi Alpha, also is on the ReStory board.
Blair hopes to bridge the strident voices on each side of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender divide debate. At a recent gay pride parade in Sacramento, Blair passed out bottles of water to people who yelled at each other — the flamboyantly dressed sexual liberation advocates as well as the picketers displaying condemnatory Bible verses on placards.
“A lot of church people misunderstand my message,” Blair says. “I’m trying to reach those in limbo who are struggling.”
Blair says walking in freedom with Christ doesn’t mean temptation doesn’t rear its ugly head on occasion. She likens it to a long-reformed alcoholic who may hanker for a drink, or, in her case, a once-chubby, now-slender woman craving food. She weighs 113 pounds, down from an all-time high of 237 pounds.
“I haven’t eaten flour and sugar for four and a half years, but that doesn’t mean a doughnut won’t still look good,” Blair says. “While we all want to walk in perfect healing, it doesn’t mean we’ll never struggle again.”
Still, Blair is able to live in purity.
“God’s gift for me wasn’t trading lust for women to lust for men,” Blair says. “It was walking in holiness, and turning to Him when I feel lonely or needy.”
Allen, who is now superintendent of the Northern California-Nevada district, says Blair is a gifted communicator whose no-nonsense approach to ministry meets a growing need in the district.
“As our society changes, our churches deal with the ramifications of those changes,” says Allen, 56. “Ministers, teachers, and youth staff are dealing with students who have been brought up to view homosexuality as a normal part of life. When people come to churches and church leaders for answers regarding real life questions, they deserve good answers.”