As part of our series on sexuality and the Church, today we continue our discussion around Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate by Justin Lee.
This week, we’re talking about Chapters 7-11, in which Justin describes how Christians responded to his sexuality.
Chapter 7 – “That The Man Should Be Alone”
After his experience with ex-gay ministries, (which we discussed last week), Justin had to confront the reality that he would likely never become straight. This left him with three options, as he saw it: the first was to hide his same-sex attraction and marry a woman in spite of his lack of attraction to her, which he felt would be unfair to both himself and the woman in such a relationship; the second was to pursue a relationship with another guy, which he had trouble reconciling with what he’d been taught regarding the Bible’s teachings on homosexuality; and the third option was to remain celibate, which left Justin with the prospect of being alone for the rest of his life.
“I don’t have the words to convey how much this questions weighed on me,” writes Justin. “I knew I couldn’t continue calling myself a Christian unless I was willing to accept whatever God had planned for me, even if it was a lie of loneliness…After agonizing over the decision I knew I had to make, I finally reached the inescapable conclusion: I had to follow God, whatever that might mean. I knelt down in my bedroom and I made a promise to God… Dear God, I prayed, I don’t want to be celibate. I don’t want to be alone. I want to fall in love with someone and spend my life with that person. But even more than that, I want to serve You. And if Your will is for me to celibate my entire life, I will do it. Please show me what You want for my life, and help me to do Your will, whatever it is.” (p. 104)
Justin says this moment marked a turning point in his journey. He felt a wave of peace rush over him. He didn’t have any answers right away, but he knew that “whatever the future might hold, I was committed to endure whatever God called me to. And God was going to be with me.” (p. 105)
Chapter 8 – “South Park Christians”
Justin knew that God would be faithful to him, but the Church, he said, was another story.
Recalling an episode in “South Park” in which Stan discovers his dog Sparky is gay and responds by simply shouting “Don’t be gay!” again and again at the poor dog, Justin says that most of the Christians in his life were “South Park” Christians who responded to his agonizing questions about his future with a flippant, “Don’t be gay!”
“The Christians I knew typically assumed it was all a matter of choice, so admitting the truth about my feelings only subjected me to ostracism, misunderstandings, and the brand of ‘unrepentant sinner,’” he recalls.
When Justin told one of his pastors that he didn’t think the ex-gay ministries could make him straight, the pastor told him that as long as Justin remained celibate, he was welcome to continue worshipping with the congregation, but that if Justin entered a same-sex relationship, he would be asked to leave. Justin had never even considered that he might be kicked out of the congregation, so his pastor’s words stung. The pastor then encouraged him to return to the ex-gay ministries.
One of Justin’s friend contacted Focus on the Family on Justin’s behalf; another bought him porn, hoping it would make him straight; still others questioned Justin’s commitment to his faith, and many approached him with contention, eager to debate the Bible with him.
When Justin became involved with a campus ministry, the reactions among his classmates were largely the same. When Justin shared his struggle, they were kind, but tended to turn every conversation into a debate over Scripture and homosexuality. One girl even asked Justin to “leave his agenda at home,” and respect the group’s views on homosexuality. “My agenda?” Justin thought. “No one had ever accused me of having an ‘agenda’ before. The only ‘agenda’ I knew I had was my day planner…”
Time and again, the message Justin received from the Christians in his life was simply, “Don’t be gay!”
Chapter 9 – “The Poisoned Yeast”
Still, Justin loved his evangelical brothers and sisters, knowing them to be good, generous people who were passionate about the gospel and eager to do the right thing. The reason these good people responded to him so inappropriately was because of misinformation, he says.
Justin recalls a frustrating conversation with an evangelical leader named Mark who tried to convince Justin that his homosexuality must be the result of faulty parenting, or some sort of childhood trauma, because there was no concrete scientific “proof” that biology contributed to same-sex attraction. When Justin noted that there was no scientific evidence to support the theory that homosexuality was the result of bad parenting, Mark had no idea how to respond. Mark went on to suggest that perhaps Justin was gay because he was raised Southern Baptist and not given opportunities for artistic expression which created a form of defensive detachment! Justin had to stifle a laugh. Mark then continued to posit that Justin must be gay because his alopecia areata (a hereditary condition that makes Justin lose his hair) gave him a “traumatic” childhood. But Justin insisted that, in spite of some teasing here and there, he had a happy childhood. But the guy wouldn’t give up! He was determined to point to a trauma that had made Justin gay and that could be fixed with therapy.
“It didn’t really matter to me what Mark thought of me,” Justin writes. “I would likely never see him again…It was Mark’s influence that bothered me. No matter what I said, Mark was going to keep going to groups like this one and telling thousands upon thousands of Christians that being gay was caused by faulty parenting, that it only led to misery, and that anyone who wanted to become straight could…And they would pass those beliefs on to their children and other Christians, who would act upon that misinformation whenever they encountered gay people.” (133)
“A little bit of misinformation, like yeast or poison, can work its way through the entire church,” Justin writes. “contaminating an important force for good in the world and turning it into something doing damage. With the church contaminated by misinformation, people feel that they have two choices: either accept the church and the misinformation along with it, or reject the whole thing.” (134)
Justin determines to participate in a third option: fighting the misinformation.
Chapter 10 – “Faith Assassins”
In this chapter, Justin discusses with refreshing charity the ways in which the reputation of Christianity, particularly evangelical Christianity, is damaged by this misinformation and by a preoccupation with waging culture wars against the LGBT community.
“Well-intentioned Christians, believing that being gay is a sinful choice that can be easily changed, speak and act accordingly,” he writes, “recommending ex-gay ministries and fighting against cultural acceptance of homosexuality. To those who know better, this comes across as hurtful and unkind.” (p. 139)
This I something we have discussed at length here on the blog in the past, (see "How to Win a Culture War and Lose a Generation") so I won’t spend much more time on it here. Justin does a fantastic job addressing it in the book, which I recommend reading in its entirety.
At the end of this chapter, he laments over the divide between Christians who advocate “God’s Truth” on one hand and “Love” on the other when “in the Bible, Truth and Love are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other. God’s Truth is all about God’s Love for us and the Love we ought to have for one another. We are being untrue to that Truth if we treat people unlovingly. And we are missing out on the full extent of that Love if we try to divorce it from Ultimate Truth…We Christians must work to repair this schism in the church. If the church is to survive much longer in our culture, it must teach and model the Christianity of Jesus—a faith that combines Truth and Love in the person of Jesus Christ, revealed to us in the Bible and lived out in the everyday lives of his followers.” (p. 147)
Chapter 11 – “The Other Side”
On the other hand, Justin found himself struggling to fit in with other gay people. When some of his gay friends convinced him to visit a gay club, he felt totally out-of-place. Even many of the gay Christians he knew seemed uninterested in engaging what the Bible said about sexuality, which Justin was eager to do. Others, angered by their experience with the Church, left the faith altogether.
Justin joined a LGBT club on his campus and begins taking more leadership in it. What he discovered as he got to know more gay people was this: “The one big thing the gays and the Christians had in common was that they both believed in a Gays-vs.-Christians cultural dynamic. They might not all phrase it that way, and some might limit their antipathy to a particular subset of the other group—evangelicals, say, instead of all Christians—but at the end of the day, belief in this dichotomy was so strong on both sides that even those of us who should have known better, the gay Christians, had bought into it.” (p. 156)
This created a false dichotomy that forced many of Justin’s friends into a horrible choice: “Would you be a good person, or ben an honest person? Deny what you believe about God, or deny what you know about yourself? Condemn yourself to a lifetime of faking it, or condemn yourself to an eternity in hell?”
Justin hits the nail on the head with this:
“It wasn’t that there weren’t any gay Christians to begin with. It was that in a Gays-vs.-Christians culture, everyone had to pick a side.” (p. 157)
Feeling torn, Justin fell into a deep depression.
“During the day, I daydreamed about ways to kill myself,” he recalls. “I didn’t really want to die, but I couldn’t see any future in this world where I could possibly be happy. I felt like I was staying alive out of obligation to God, not because I had anything at all to live for.”
Justin finally goes to see a counselor. In therapy, he realized this: “My depression wasn’t about a chemical imbalance. It wasn’t even really about my loneliness. Without realizing it, I had internalized the culture war, and it was tearing me apart inside. I couldn’t deny my faith, I couldn’t deny the truth about myself, and I couldn’t keep living two separate lives.”
His story picks up in the next Chapter 12, which we will discuss next week, along with Justin’s thoughts on what the Bible says about homosexuality.
Questions for Discussion…
1. What sort of misinformation regarding homosexuality have you encountered in the Church?
2. For LGBT folks (and friends & family): What sort of experiences have you had with Christians—good, bad, and ugly? Can you relate to Justin’s experience of “internalizing the culture wars”?
As usual, I’ll keep a close eye on the comment section after this post. I’ll have to close the thread after 24 hours, just because it becomes too much to monitor, especially when I’m travelling. Thanks so much for understanding!