In his book Torn: Rescuing the Gospel From the Gays v. Christians Debate, Justin Lee tells his own story of growing up in the church and being raised by two loving Christian parents. In school, he was labeled “God boy,” which he gladly accepted. But Justin’s secret was that he felt attraction for other guys. The book chronicles his struggle with his Christian identity and his same-sex attractions.
I benefited from reading Justin’s story because it revealed many of the hurtful things the church (myself included) does and says towards those with same-sex attraction. Here are some of my takeaways from the book…
1. If homosexuality is a biological trait (which Lee states is not proven) or even an orientation that cannot be chosen, then the church ought to be careful how they speak to gays. They cannot just tell them to go to counseling and become heterosexual. The goal of our spiritual life is to become more like Christ (2Cor3:18). The goal is holiness, not heterosexuality. We have said a lot of things out of ignorance. So let’s be informed!
2. It is difficult if not impossible to completely change someone’s attractions. Lee backs up this claim with research and anecdotes, and it makes for a convincing argument.
He uses Exodus International as an example of an organization that does not actually deliver what they promise (a change in orientation). One side note: Exodus International has since shut down its ministry and has issued some apologies.
3. Being “gay” does not automatically mean you are having sex. It is referring to same-sex attraction. We are sometimes too quick to assume that if someone is gay that they are acting on their attractions, which may or may not be the case. Making those assumptions can be very judgmental.
4. The church has not done a good job dealing with this issue. Lee has stories of Christians showing him pornography (to awaken heterosexual attractions), church sponsored secret support groups for men (which felt like a group of the ashamed), and “experts” who stated that all gays had bad childhoods (which Lee clearly did not). The church is trying to deal with this issue, but I wonder if we have really listened to the other side in order to understand their story. We might not agree on everything, but we would certainly become more compassionate (hopefully). So what will the church do to help gay Christians live a life pleasing to their Savior?
As I read the book, I was waiting for it. You know what I’m talking about: the big question. What will Lee do with the Scriptures? He is so genuine and winsome throughout the book that I could not wait to see how he dealt with the Bible. And here it is…it’s a train wreck! I do not write that with smug satisfaction. I am reading the book and rooting for Justin all the way. But he deals with Scripture in a very deceptive and exegetically troubling way. I cannot provide an exhaustive review, but let’s take Romans 1:26-27 as an example.
NIV Romans 1:26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.
Lee proposes (and it’s not novel) that Romans 1:26-27 is referring to pagan worship practices that included homosexual prostitution in the temples of Roman gods. And so he concludes that this passage does not apply to same-sex monogamous relationships. At this point, you ought to read Romans 1 for yourself. Here are some of the problems with that proposition.
1. The context of Romans 1 is God’s revelation of Himself in the Genesis creation account. It is not limited to 1st century Rome. And with the creation account, we have God’s intentions for marriage, which Lee only briefly touches on. He notes that man should not be alone, so gays are justified in taking a romantic companion on life’s journey instead of being lonely. He does not deal with “a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” His reluctance to deal with the primary text for God’s purpose in marriage and sexuality is very telling of the problems with his interpretation of Scripture.
2. If you are going to limit the sins of Romans 1 to pagan idolaters, then you also have to limit the list of sins at the end of the chapter 1, of which there are many! Homosexual acts are sin because they go against God’s creative purposes and command, not because they are connected to cult prostitution. They are a result of self-worship, which is a case of worshipping the creation instead of the Creator. The Bible is clear and consistent on this topic.
3. There were many kinds of homosexual acts that were known to the Apostle Paul. Lee would like us to believe that Paul was only thinking of homosexual prostitution and never considered the possibility of monogamous relationships. But we have historical records of many kinds of homosexual acts and relationships going on in ancient Rome. We have evidence of gay marriages happening at the time. Not only that, but Plato wrote about longer-term relationships of the same-sex.
There are a number of other examples of Lee’s poor exegesis like trying to use Paul’s command to not pass judgment on disputable matters in Romans 14 to say that we should not judge the actions of gay Christians. But if you read the whole passage, it is clear that it would be better not to put a stumbling block in the way of someone. If this passage did apply, it would mean not engaging in homosexual acts for the sake of the weaker brother. But it does not apply, because Paul is not arguing that we should be silent on moral issues, of which sexuality is clearly one of those.
But exegesis aside, what is the way forward on this divisive issue? Lee says gay Christians have two choices. They can have a monogamous romantic relationship or they can be celibate. He would like the church to dialogue further on these options. I interpret that to mean we should talk until we become tolerant of same sex unions. I do not see that as helpful at all when the Bible has a clear and authoritative word for the church that we must either accept or reject. The answer the Bible gives is heterosexual marriage (Genesis 2:24) or celibacy (1 Corinthians 7:32).
Lee would also like the church to be more loving and compassionate. This is a huge theme throughout his book. And here I can agree wholeheartedly. We need to figure out how to be the church with gay Christians in our midst while holding to the truth of Scripture. If anything, I came away from this book with insight into how difficult it must be to desire to follow Christ and yet have same sex attraction. Imagine for a moment that you were in Lee’s shoes. Would celibacy be an easy option for you? For many of us, the answer is that it would be very difficult and lonely. We would need healthy, loving relationships in the church. And that’s a good start.