In early August I began to notice a great deal of buzz regarding a popular restaurant chain for chicken sandwiches. Being vegetarian myself, I would not ordinarily care much for the debate; but this conflict had nothing to do with chicken at all. Apparently, the CEO of the restaurant chain had publicly announced his religious views on homosexuality, indicating that he believes in so-called traditional family values, as outlined in the Bible, and that he intended to continue managing his business by those same values.
The gay community and allies across the country were in uproar; and I was among their number.
Around the same time, there was some controversy regarding discrimination against gay Boy Scouts; a month or two prior, a vote against the legalization of gay marriage had gone through in North Carolina; President Obama then publicly showed support for the prospect of gay marriage - the first US president ever to do so.
The issues of gay marriage and discrimination were suddenly very prominent in my consciousness and something became very clear to me - there was a cultural war being fought all around me, between gays and Christians (I'm tempted to qualify Christians with nominal here, but let's go ahead and assume that many of the people on the Christian side are legit Jesus-following people. I know enough of them myself to confirm that they exist and that they are also wrestling with this issue and with their interpretations of the Christian scriptures).
Now I'm not gay myself, but I certainly feel a strong sense of solidarity with the gay community; and though I am Christian, I often find myself at odds with fellow Christians who denounce homosexuality as an abomination and appear to use their faith as a pretext for hate and discrimination.
As I worked through the aforementioned events myself, it was clear enough to me - we Christians need not worry so much about what others do with their personal, relational, and sexual lives. Rather, the scriptures instruct us not to judge others and instead to love them. Even our enemies! I wondered, if there's a war between gays and Christians, why aren't we Christians beating our swords into plowshares?
But perhaps I was over-simplifying matters. After all, shouldn't I also be concerned for the spiritual well-being of my gay friends? If homosexuality really is a sin, shouldn't I try to steer them toward righteousness? And if indeed there's a cultural war between gays and Christians, shouldn't I finally determine which side I'm on, lest I be helplessly caught in the crossfire?
Then, a miracle!
Many of the answers to these questions were delivered directly to my doorstep, couched in an advance proof of a new book by gay Christian author Justin Lee - TORN: Rescuing the Gospel From the Gays-vs-Christians Debate.
Before even diving into the book, I was hopeful. It was clearly written by an author who is even more conflicted by this cultural war than I am - a man who actually is gay and devoutly Christian. And if the title should hold up, his primary objective is not to take a side in the debate - neither to defend his sexual identity/lifestyle nor the stalwart moral position of the Christian Church; rather, his objective is simply to rescue the gospel. Now this was something I could get behind!
The book begins with what I regard as Lee's reasons for penning it. In the first chapter he writes,
"The church pews are filled with Christians wrestling with these questions... These issues are varied and complex. Underlying all of them, however, is the essential question of how we Christians, having traditionally condemned homosexuality, should respond to a world that is increasingly accepting of it."
As the book proceeds, it reads as a memoirs. Lee reveals his struggles from high school, through college, and up to the present day to reconcile these two significant aspects of his identity. He loves God, the church, and the Bible on one hand, but finds himself inexplicably attracted to men (and not women) on the other; and to make matters worse, he's constantly poised between two sides in a heated cultural war.
As he walks us through his story, we are constantly challenged to ask ourselves, What is such a person to do?
Mixed into Lee's narrative, we are also treated to chapters covering the scientific perspectives on homosexuality, the failure and farce of so-called exgay ministries, and finally exegesis on every verse in the Bible that mentions homosexuality and/or homosexual behavior.
Lee then concludes the book, fittingly, with a way forward - seven things he recommends for conscientious Christians to do in order to rescue the gospel from this battle.
Without a doubt, the (seemingly) chance arrival of TORN was a huge blessing for me. I had so many questions answered and so many inklings confirmed. From the first page, I was filled all the more with love and compassion for the gay community, including my own friends; and I couldn't help but think of person after person to recommend the book to - Christians striving to understand homosexuality better, gay friends trying to reconcile their faith with their sexual attractions, and anyone else trying to learn what it means to express Christian love in a post-Christian world.
The book is most compelling to me because Lee amplifies the subject matter - it is no longer merely an issue; it's a person. It's a group of people. And they are among those whom Christians say Jesus loves.
Lee reminds us that if we, the church, are to be the body of Christ, we have to learn to love gay people as Jesus does. Perhaps, then, we ought to get started on those plowshares!
I discovered this video yesterday, of a pastor giving a speech regarding a law to curb discrimination against gays in Springfield, MO.
Most (if not all) of the speakers and pastors that take the microphone before and after him are staunchly against the ordinance. We have a lot of work to do :/