Despite my affinity for such books as Mel White’s Stranger at the Gate and the much more recent Does Jesus Really Love Me? by Jeff Chu, I have to say that if I were to pick one book to recommend to people regarding the current tension over same-sex marriage and gay relationships in Christianity, it would be Justin Lee’s Torn. Lee skilfully combines his own story of growing up as a deeply committed evangelical kid who struggled to come to terms with the fact that he was gay, with a broad look at the “bigger picture” of how gays and lesbians are treated in churches today. As the subtitle suggests, he seeks to suggest a way forward through one of the most contentious debates of our time, and he speaks with the voice of someone uniquely qualified to understand both sides of the story.
Those who uphold the traditional Christian position on sexuality often dismiss gay Christians as people who ignore clear Biblical teaching in an attempt to justify their own sin. Anyone who thinks that way needs to read Justin Lee’s story and appreciate how very much this devout young Christian man did not want to be gay. Like many others before him he prayed earnestly to be free of attraction to the same sex and explored ministries and programs that promised to deliver him from homosexuality. Not only did he find that neither prayer nor counselling changed his orientation, he also discovered that most of the “ex-gays” he met in these ministries were really very far from “ex.” In other words, he found that for him and for most of the people he encountered, the “solution” most frequently proposed by the church — God will take away these evil desires if you really have faith — simply did not work.
Justin Lee is also unique among the authors I have read on this subject in that he takes the other “approved” option — lifelong celibacy for gay Christians — very seriously. But he is also very serious, and honest, about helping straight Christians see what this means. Not only a life without intimate, loving companionship, but also life without even the hope of such companionship (at least most straight Christian singles who would rather be married can cling to the hope of Mr. or Ms. Right coming along someday, and know that if s/he does, their marriage will be accepted by their church community). He also examines the Biblical passages dealing with homosexuality and looks at them both in the sense of what’s being said in terms of cultural context and the meaning of words, and also how they fit into the larger context of the Bible as a whole.
Lots of readers will not agree with all of Justin Lee’s conclusions but I find it hard to see how any reader could fail to be moved by the experiences he writes about with such moving honesty. Even if you hold very firmly to a traditional Christian view of sexuality, I believe that you will emerge from reading this book with a more thoughtful perspective on the issue and an understanding that the church needs to do far more to show real Christian love to gays and lesbians in the pews.