Saturday, December 1, 2012

"Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate" (a book review)

Image source.

I recently read Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate, by Justin Lee, and I totally recommend it- particularly for straight Christians coming from a conservative background. Like me. :)

Lee is, and has always been, a strong Christian, so he was very confused when, as a teenager, he realized he's gay. He spends most of the book telling his story, and seriously, any Christian with an opinion on "the gay issue" should be required to read personal stories like this. (I cried at the part where he comes out to his parents.) He tells about how certain he was that God would change him and make him straight. He tells about his experiences in ex-gay programs (spoiler: it didn't work). He tells about being judged, condemned, and misunderstood by other Christians.

What struck me as I read this was the Christ-like compassion that is evident throughout the entire telling of his story. Lee did not write this book to condemn the people who hurt him. Instead, he gives everyone the benefit of the doubt- assuming that it's simply ignorance and misunderstanding that led well-meaning people to judge/condemn him.

To those who told him that surely being gay is a choice, and he just needs to repent and God will forgive him- well, it was what they had been taught, how could they have known how much their words would hurt? To the Christians who recommend ex-gay programs to their gay friends- well, they really are trying to help, but they just don't understand that it doesn't work. To the ex-gay advocates who claim their orientation has changed, but also reluctantly admit that they still experience same-sex attraction- well, they really do believe they're on a journey to being straight, and they just want to offer hope. Lee doesn't point the finger at anyone; he does not consider anyone an enemy. Instead, he believes everyone just needs to be willing to listen and love people more (you know, like Jesus said). His Christ-like love as he tells his story is more than I'd be capable of.

Lee also discusses what the bible says about homosexuality. He examines each of the specific passages used in this "debate", and tells how they left him unsatisfied. Each time the bible specifically mentions homosexuality, it's in the context of rape/lust/promiscuity- but what about loving, monogamous relationships? So... does that mean God is okay with gay marriage? But what about this Greek word translated "homosexual offenders" or "male prostitutes" or "effeminate" (depending on which version of the bible you're looking at)? You can't just dismiss that...

I love how much devotion and respect Lee has for the bible. How he prayed for God to help him find the truth, and no matter what, he would be obedient to God. If it meant God would make him straight, if it meant he had to be celibate for his whole life, if it meant he should pursue a same-sex marriage. Committed to Jesus above anything else, and unwilling to pretend that the bible says something it doesn't. He's not going to agree with some pathetic argument that "well surely God just wants me to be happy" and he's not going to force the bible to tell him what he wants to hear.

But as he continued to study the bible- the whole bible, not just the "clobber passages"- he was astonished to find Romans 13:8-10, "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, 'do not commit adultery,' 'do not murder,' 'do not steal,' 'do not covet,' and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law."

In other words, every commandment God gives Christians is based in the commands to love God and love others. If gay marriage is inherently sinful, then there must be a reason for that- it must be because some aspect of it is inherently unloving. And this is a big part of how he came to the conclusion that God blesses loving, committed, monogamous same-sex relationships.

BUT other Christians (a majority?) disagree, and Lee is okay with that. His goal is not to change everyone's mind and make them think what he thinks. Instead, he calls on all Christians to be truly loving and accepting toward the LGBT community- to listen to their stories, to show compassion, to love the way Jesus loved, to not judge. Because more than anything else, we need to be about Jesus and the gospel.

And last of all, I wonder this: If someone like Justin Lee, who spent so much time and energy praying and studying the bible and seeking God's will for his life, who refused to abandon his faith, because he truly knows Jesus- if even he had trouble feeling comfortable among other Christians, then what is happening to the rest of the gay population?

Lee writes the following excerpt, about his desire for Christian community and decision to attend a meeting of a Christian group at college, even though he was afraid of being judged and rejected:
"I managed to (mostly) calm my nerves enough to make it to their orientation meeting. I did my best to watch myself to make sure I didn't seem too gay; I was starting to realize that some people could tell by things like vocal inflection or careless mannerisms, and that had me paranoid. With my most masculine mannerisms, and my most masculine voice, I introduced myself to some of the many new faces around me."

If this is happening, if a brother in Christ is afraid and feels he needs to hide part of who he is in order to be accepted, if he's nervous and the only appeal is that he already knows Jesus and desires to meet other people with the same passion- then what is happening to the rest of the gay community? Surely a large percentage of them would never even consider going to a church.

Christians, this is not okay. Christians, we need to change. Christians, we need to proclaim love and mercy and grace, instead of judgment and hate.

And the approach that Lee takes in his book- his devotion to Jesus, his compassion toward people, his loyalty to Scripture- is a good place to start.


  1. "Compassion" was exactly the word that most struck me about the tone of this book. Glad you liked it as much as I did!

  2. Exactly. The tone is definitely NOT like "all these people are mistreating me, you should feel sorry for me"- instead he has compassion toward everyone involved (from parents of gay kids, to Christians who advocate ex-gay programs, to gay people who want nothing to do with Christianity). And the purpose of the book is to educate and set people on the right track toward a solution- not to blame anyone.

  3. I'm so glad to hear that as someone coming from an evangelical background, you found this book to have sound arguments. I think that is something that's really unique about Justin: he cares so deeply about what the Bible says. I hope that the fact that he's coming from a Biblical perspective and shows such compassion and patience to his opponents (at least from everything I've seen) will make those who don't agree with his position nonetheless unable to dismiss his book.

  4. Definitely. I was surprised to find an emphasis that "the bible is not anti-gay." I feel a little awkward claiming that, because so many people are arguing for "a biblical definition of marriage" which everybody is supposed to automatically understand as "one man and one woman" even though the bible has a lot of polygamy and other stuff.

    But he's definitely RIGHT- the bible is NOT anti-gay. And even for Christians who don't agree with Justin's conclusion that God supports gay marriage- they should STILL see that the bible doesn't support judging people for their desires they have no control over, it doesn't treat homosexuality as THE WORST SIN EVER, and it affirms people who have chosen a lifestyle of celibacy.