Who knew I had so much in common with a gay man?
That’s what I’ve been thinking these past couple days as I’ve read Justin Lee’s book, Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs. Christian Debate.
I was prompted to read it because he’s a fellow author with Jericho. But I wasn’t more than a few pages in before I realized that he was me and I am him.
In Torn, Justin writes about being a Bible-toting Christian teenager, so devoted to God that his peers nicknamed him God-Boy. Imagine his shock when he wakes up to these two truths: One, that he’s gay. Two, that his very own tightly-held belief system condemns him.
With gripping honesty, Justin tells the story of his bafflement and shame, the weight of his secret, and the terror he felt when he couldn’t find a way to “fix” his problem. As I read, I kept noticing how many of his sentences could be my own by simply inserting “alcoholic” for gay.
Don’t misunderstand. I know that alcoholism and sexual orientation are fundamentally different. I get that. But the burden and stigma that comes with them, especially among Christians, made me resonate with Justin’s story in a way that honestly took my breath away.
For example, he writes: “I’d wake up in the morning feeling sick and disgusted with myself. Something was really wrong with me and I couldn’t tell anyone… Night after night, I cried myself to sleep, begging and pleading with God.”
These three reactions—self-disgust, secrecy, and desperation for a way out—pretty much describe the nightmare of my drinking years.
Like Justin, for a long time I thought the answer was a miracle fix. Whamo! Your faith has healed you! You are no longer an alcoholic!
But God didn’t zap away my addiction. And he didn’t change Justin’s sexual orientation, either. And yet, here’s the cool thing. Both Justin and I did experience a miracle. Instead of “a way out,” God gave us “a way in” to a new kind of community and a greater understanding of God’s grace.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I wanted to be more “real” this year. I said I wanted to be less afraid to tell the truth about where I stood on certain issues.
Silly me, I thought “this year”meant maybe by, I don’t know, November? But here it is, January, and I’m more than ready to tell you that I no longer believe that people choose to be gay. I don’t think gay folks are going to hell. I don’t believe that being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transsexual can separate us from the love of God in Christ any more than alcohol can.
But really, who cares what I believe? What matters is who I love, and how. As God would have it, I happen to love a whole bunch of women who happen to be gay. Women who deserve to be claimed and celebrated for exactly who they are.
And while I’m at it, I might as well say that the church Dave and I belong to is an open and affirming congregation that welcomes everyone to worship and follow Jesus, no matter what their sexual orientation. And we like that.
Back to Justin Lee. If you haven’t read Torn, I highly recommend it. Justin isn’t out to convince you that he’s right. Only that he’s real. Instead of a cold, hard argument, his book incarnates the truth of one ordinary guy who discovered in his darkest hour a greater grace than he’d ever thought possible.
In case you still need a good reason to read Justin’s book, I’ll close with this excerpt from Torn:
“Grace sees people for what makes them uniquely beautiful to God, not for all the ways they’re flawed or all the ways I disagree with them. That kind of grace is what enables loving bridges to be built over the strongest disagreements. All of us have busy lives and a lot of other issues to address. But for anyone who cares about the future of the church, this can’t be put off. …Will we rise to the challenge? Will we represent Jesus well? Or will we be more like modern-day Pharisees?”
P.S. Rachel Held Evans is hosting a 3 week discussion of Torn on her blog. The first week’s post is here.
Check out Justin’s blog and buy his book here.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.