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'I chose myself': Abby Wambach shares her struggles with religion, homophobia

The soccer star discussed overcoming her traumatic church upbringing on wife Glennon Doyle's podcast.
/ Source: TODAY

On the podcast “We Can Do Hard Things with Glennon Doyle,” Abby Wambach talked about her experience with religion and being gay. While it wasn’t always easy to grapple with God, the church and queerness, Wambach admits she’s facing her past trauma with religion.

“My first memories of church were actually very beautiful. I remember the music. I remember loving to sing,” the 40-year-old former captain of the U.S. women's soccer team said in the episode. “But (there) was a feeling … like an overwhelming sense of understanding both at the same time of who I was inside and who the church expected me to be and those things didn’t match.”

Wambach recalls being a teenager and telling her friend from church that she was gay. Her friend’s reaction reinforced Wambach's feelings that she wasn’t welcome as herself.

“Sadly, we stopped being friends after this moment,” she said. “I understood that I had a choice to make. And it was I was either going to choose me or God … I chose myself.”

This decision didn’t come easily, though. She loved the community she had at church and “feeling like I was a part of something.” But that something also hurt her and she protected herself.

“I had to turn my back from the church, and what I thought was God, out of self-preservation,” she said. “It was almost like well if you don’t accept me then f--- you.”

When she met Doyle, 45 — while the two were promoting their books in 2016 — Wambach was atheist. Sharing a life with Doyle, though, changed how she viewed God and religion and helped Wambach see various facets of faith.

“You see Jesus as a reason to fight for the underdog,” Wambach said to Doyle. “One thing that you’ve been able to give me is almost like a dictionary at how to read through some of the BS.”

Doyle said she connected with the stories of Jesus where he served others, such as prostitutes, tax collectors and lepers.

“He spoke out for them,” she said. “He gathered those people, those hurting, marginalized, pushed to the edge people, he walked with them. This part I love, he just gathered them all up and ate with them.”

But Doyle admitted that she, too, has struggled. She felt Jesus stood for one thing but how churches acted seemed to be different and those differences made a huge impact on LGBTQ people.

“If you are part of an organization — a family, a conversation, a friend, a church that is letting homophobia live insidiously — you have three choices,” Doyle said. “You can stay and be quiet and that means you agree. That means that you are also anti queer. That means that is what you are passing down to your children. That is a decision.”

The other choices, she added, are fighting the organization or leaving it. While that might sound scary, Doyle and Wambach explain that leaving an institution isn’t the same as turning away from God.

“The church isn’t God. And if you are being given a choice between love and God you better think hard. That is a false choice,” Doyle said. “God is love.”

Wambach — who helps Doyle and Doyle’s ex-husband, Craig Melton, raise their three children — transformed her negative experiences into creating a positive coming out for Doyle's son Chase, 18.

“We were at the dinner table and he informs us of who he is for the first time and I remember sitting next to you and I remember holding your hand underneath the table and squeezing your hand really tight,” Wambach said. “I remember us doing everything that we could do to make this coming out story perfect for him … It gave us this beautiful moment to exhale and process.”