I was asked to write a review of Justin Lee’s book, Torn, for a Canadian Christian newspaper.
This particular paper is one that I used to read at my Pake and Beppe’s place (Friesian for grandparents) when I was growing up. It particularly, but not solely, caters to people of Dutch and Reformed background. It’s a paper that demonstrates the intellectual legacy of a group of Christian immigrants who built churches, Christian schools, and other social institutions such as a labour union, an office to pursue matters of social justice, and social service agencies for the disabled, unwed moms, those struggling with addictions etc.
The folks who read this paper will come from a variety of perspectives. Sometimes you find progressive thought in surprising places. Sometimes you encounter a stronger conservatism than you might have expected. But these are people who have a deep and strong faith. People who want to honour Christ and build his Kingdom. And with that in mind, and a strict word count, I offered this review of Justin’s book. And, since you can’t access it without a subscription …. here it is:
Many things have changed since the onslaught of the culture wars over homosexuality. Culture around us has become much more gay-positive. People coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is much more common. And more people have positive relationships with gay people than ever before. But this does not mean that the culture war is over in our churches. In a world of social media, it isn’t difficult to encounter harsh words targeted towards one group or the other. The tensions, both inside and outside of the church, on the subject of gay marriage continue to make navigating this complex terrain challenging and often confusing.
Even where churches have clear doctrinal positions, many Christians feel uncertainty or confusion about what they should think about gay marriage. Other Christians quietly disagree with their church’s position. Some Christians worry about where the church might be headed on this matter. And others may feel impatient and frustrated by positions they deem to be disconnected and irrelevant to our current context.
In the midst of this reality are the lives of gay Christians. They are often torn between their loyalty to their faith and the churches they grew up in and their honest acceptance of the reality of their same-sex orientation. Justin Lee is such a young man. Justin grew up in the Southern Baptist denomination and was in every way a committed Christian on track to enter full-time ministry. His journey of self-discovery regarding his sexuality turned his world upside down. But it did not ship-wreck his faith.
In his publishing debut, “Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs. Christians Debate”, Lee shares a story that challenges assumptions and typical ministry interventions. Justin is representative of today’s gay Christian. Strong faith. Determined to be part of the church. Maintaining Christian values around sexual purity. Strong self-awareness. Resisting pressure to submit to potentially harmful change programs. In-depth study of the scriptures. Open to a committed same-sex relationship.
And there is the rub for many Christians. Justin’s commitment to his faith is undeniable. His conclusions from his engagement with scripture concerning a future relationship ….. well that may be a whole other matter.
If you’re looking for a book that will decisively argue a scriptural case for gay marriage – this isn’t the book. No doubt those who want to pick apart his experiences to critique his conclusions will have ample ammunition. Justin’s journey is not that of a scholar. He is the Christian who sits next to you in the pew – who happens to be gay. His story is personal and compelling – and one that the church cannot afford to ignore.
So if you’re looking for a book that will help you enter the life of a gay Christian who may be very similar to you – this is a great book. Justin’s story challenges people in the church to reflect on the lived reality of a committed Christian, seeking God’s will for his life as a gay person. Justin’s story invites us into the tension that he experienced as he struggled to integrate his faith with the awareness that he would go through life as a gay person.
In addition to his personal story, Justin did enter ministry and became the founding director of the Gay Christian Network. This online community welcomes gay Christians regardless of whether they believe God’s word calls them to celibacy or they are open to marry a partner of the same-sex. Justin has been at the forefront of cultivating a community where such differences are secondary to their primary commitment to Jesus Christ. After a decade of engaging with thousands of gay Christians, Justin has some very practical steps for the church to take to be more hospitable to gay people – regardless of where you land on the gay marriage question.
The reality is that this culture war is not going away. Justin’s book can serve as a personal invitation to transcend the debate and enter the relational reality of our gay Christian sisters and brothers. This invitation will mean taking some risks and navigating tension and disagreement. But this is the place where the church should be.