Finding Full Freedom
From her earliest memories, Karen E. Abbott says she felt consumed by a desire to be a boy. Although the reason for rejecting her female identity isn’t entirely clear, she suspects it stems from the molestation she endured from two great uncles during early childhood.
She never told her parents about her proclivity for members of the same sex. Even though her parents had concerns about their daughter not wanting to be a girl, they thought the desires would fade away.
They didn’t. At 16, in her confusion Karen engaged in her first relationship with another girl, beginning a journey that lasted two decades.
In her teens, the Abbott family attended a liberal church. Karen went to the pastor to try to find answers for her troubled soul. The minister offered no counsel, instead telling of his spiritual disillusionment about whether God really existed.
Soon after she turned 18, a desperate Karen figured a traditional marriage to a man would fix her. She had met her future husband at a church college group. He had no idea of the struggles she dealt with when they wed.
The same-sex attractions didn’t dissipate after the ceremony. In fact, they increased. At 21, Abbott left her husband. Although he tried to salvage the union, Abbott had become convinced she couldn’t escape her lesbian identity. Her life went downhill from there, including an increasing dependence on alcohol.
As a new product production control worker for Western Electric in Denver, Abbott engaged in regular conversations with a co-worker named Dave, who had a strong Christian faith. Because she attended church in her childhood and youth, Abbott thought of herself as a Christian, despite being in relationships with women.
“I was vocal about my lifestyle, and David challenged me about what it really means to believe in God, what it means to accept the Bible as a whole,” Abbott says. “He made me mad, often.”
Dave told Abbott that he and his wife prayed for her. Abbott told him she didn’t need prayer. Still, Dave kept a caring attitude toward his fellow employee.
Later, Abbott learned others had been praying for her as well. Once she began living openly as a lesbian, her Spirit-filled mother, Martha, prayed fervently for her daughter’s deliverance.
“She was strongly convinced God could bring me out,” recalls Abbott, who lived in lesbian relationships for 12 years. “I was on prayer lists all across the country.”
Because of her excessive drinking, Abbott started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Once Abbott began wrestling with step 3 — deciding to turn her will and life over to the care of God as she understood Him — she started recalling Scripture verses memorized as a child.
“I had rationalized that the Bible was true — except for certain Scriptures that had been misinterpreted regarding homosexuality,” Abbott says. “But then I decided to believe God’s Word was fully His Word. I fell on my knees, cried out to the Lord, and suddenly saw the lies I had believed.”
Abbott immediately ceased sexual activity, but it took a while for her to fully grasp the unhealthy emotional dependency she had built with some other women. For several years, she endured a pattern of occasionally giving in to temptation.
After 30 years of battling with same-sex attraction issues, Abbott in 1991 returned to her hometown of Manhattan, Kansas, and visited Manhattan First Assembly of God. Todd and Sheri Weston had recently become lead pastors.
The Westons early on learned of Abbott’s vestiges of lesbianism, but they established a relationship with her. They offered mercy, grace, and godly correction. Abbott submitted to their leadership.
“It was important for Karen to know that, in spite of her past, we loved her, wanted to help her, and didn’t condemn her,” says Todd Weston, 60. “We believed her sincerity, repentance, and desire to move forward.”
“Todd and Sheri Weston were instrumental in helping me find freedom,” says Abbott, now 76. “They showed me I needed to cut off connections with my old life that had kept me vulnerable.”
After proving to be a faithful disciple, Abbott went on to assume various leadership posts in the church.
“God has used her in that community to be a voice of freedom and deliverance,” Weston says. Manhattan, a city of 54,100, is home to Kansas State University.
When the Westons moved to Estero, Florida, to plant River of Life Assembly, Abbott relocated as well to help them. She stayed two years, setting up the financial structure of the church, which now has 300 regular adherents.
Since returning to Manhattan, Abbott has focused on ministry. She had an active ministry from 2011-18 as a volunteer chaplain at the Topeka Correctional Facility for women. After completing Global University courses, Abbott received her ministerial license in 2012 and ordination in 2016. She gave up her prison ministry responsibilities to care for her aging parents, who only learned of the molestation Karen suffered decades later. Her mother Martha died in 2018, father Alvin in 2019. Both lived into their 90s.
Billy J. Simar, who has been pastor at Manhattan First Assembly since 2014, is glad to have Abbott as a volunteer staff member.
“She has a heart for the lost and stays in the Word,” says Simar, 56. “She is easy to love.”
Simar says Abbott’s active involvement includes visiting sick congregants as well as teaching Sunday night and Wednesday night Bible studies — which he enjoys attending.
When COVID-19 hit, Abbott began teaching Bible studies online through First Assembly’s Facebook page. The class has drawn seekers from outside the area who aren’t connected with Jesus, Simar says.
In her Bible teaching, Abbott doesn’t dwell on her past troubles, but rather focuses on teaching about God and His Word.
“We all have issues,” says Abbott, who ultimately apologized to her remarried former husband. “We need to know where the answer lies, no matter what the problem is.”
Abbott remains grateful that her life changed when she first cried out for help at Manhattan First Assembly more than 30 years ago. Her message is especially relevant today in an era with so many gender-confused teenagers. She is one of several ordained AG ministers and missionaries speaking out on the issue.
“I have been truly, fully set free from my same-sex desires, and I don’t take that lightly,” Abbott says. “It’s been vital to stay true to the Lord, to live a crucified life, and be unwavering about the inerrancy of God’s Word. I also had to settle that God created us male and female as His original plan.”
“Karen is totally new, both inward and outward,” says Weston, who maintains a friendship with her. “She is a living, walking, breathing testimony of God’s transforming power. She is a trophy of God’s grace.”
Bottom Photo: Todd Weston (right) counseled Karen Abbott in the 1990s in Kansas.