“Homosexuality,” my friend Jeff says, “is the new ‘shibboleth.'”
Another friend, a college and seminary professor, tells me “Everywhere I go, this (homosexuality) is what everyone (church leaders) wants to talk about.”
A college student follows, as she mentions to me, “The most frequent conversation on campus is about homosexuality.”
It’s no exaggeration to say how Christians have and will approach homosexuality is immensely important to the future of the church. The issues are myriad. Biblical interpretation, grace, reconciliation, and love are all on display. For some, it’s a question of purity to their view of the scriptures. For others, it’s a question of purity to their view of the scriptures.
See the problem?
Even more, behind these questions of scriptural interpretation lays something larger. Who is God? What is God’s nature?
Into this dangerous fray, Justin Lee enters with his tremendous memoir of coming out as a gay teenager, Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate. Lee, whose heart and life had been nurtured and nestled in conservative, southern, evangelical, Christian culture, is the founder and executive director of Gay Christian Network. As a young man, Justin knew two things. He loved God. And he was gay. Justin writes,
“For all my confidence on the issue (homosexuality), there was one thing I couldn’t tell…I wasn’t a late bloomer; my young sex drive was kicking in right along with theirs, bringing with it all the mysterious feelings of attraction to classmates who had previously been only friends on the playground. But in my case, it was guys, not girls who triggered this strange reaction. (Torn, 19, advanced copy)”
As a pastor, I’ve sat with countless Christian men and women, young and old, who’ve recounted the same experience Justin writes about. Reading “Torn” is much like sitting down over coffer with a gay friend and hearing them tell their story. Poignant. Heart-felt. Frustrating. Heartbreaking. Inspiring. And stinging in it’s truthfulness.
Justin’s story is shockingly similar to the stories of men and women who have silently, patiently, and painfully wrestled with their sexuality as they sat in the pews of churches I’ve pastored for nearly two decades. His story is their story. No decision or choice to “become gay.” Few were from broken or dysfunctional families. Each had a desire to follow God’s will. Each tried to pray the gay away or work through an ex-gay ministry. Each heard the cruel, thoughtless, uneducated, parroting of popular “Christian” and “conservative talking points” about homosexuality from well-intended but ignorant people with no experience knowing or loving someone gay.
Like Justin, these men and women (often boys and girls) struggled to understand their role and place in God’s Kingdom – questioning whether they even had one in the first place. This is why everyone who would fain to open their mouth about gays, lesbians, and homosexuality needs to click to buy this book as soon as they can.
Many will dismiss the reality of gays and Christians having a productive, healing, and informative conversation. On one side, a particular reading and exegesis of scripture has settled the issue. Final. Period. No questions asked. No thought required. On the other side, a particular exegesis of culture, understanding of humanity, and a particular understanding of God will be the guiding influence. According to Lee, both sides are misguided. It’s not that Lee is offering the now-ever-popular “3rd way,” but rather identifying for both sides the full range of arguments and issues at work.
Essentially, Torn is for anyone who hasn’t made up their mind about homosexuality. It’s also for anyone who thinks they have made up their mind – left, right, or center. It’s for anyone, for whom, one or two stories – left, right, or center – has determined where they land on the issue and they feel no need to revisit their assumptions and positions. In fact, it’s for anyone who thinks the gay issue is an “issue” and less about people. As Justin writes,
“Jesus radiated grace and compassion in such a way that people came to him to hear his views on things. By contrast, we Christians were so focused on preaching our views on things that we were driving people away, turning them off to the church, Jesus, and everything we had to say.”
Many readers – of this blog and Torn – are ultimately only interested in settling the question. That misses the point – at least of this book. People cannot be reduced to the degree to which they manage their sin or non-sin. Torn reminds us that Jesus teaches that the sins we should be most concerned about are our own. I don’t suspect, Justin Lee will change the minds of those entrenched on either side of the gay debate. Hopefully, hearing his story and beginning to genuinely listen to the stories of those already in our midst, will improve the quality and tone of the conversation.
After all, no matter what we think about the issue of homosexuality we can all be unified by Jesus’ command to love our neighbor.
I’m giving away 3 copies of Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate and YOU can win one.
You need to do ONE of the following FOUR in order to win.
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The Giveaway is now CLOSED. Thank you all for reading.