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Dan Savage, sex advice expert, speaker, and founder of the “It Gets Better” Project, wrote a review in the New York Times of Jeff Chu’s new book, “Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America”.
First let me say two things about Dan Savage: (1) I really like and respect him, despite his overtly anti-Christian and anti-religion tirades; and (2) I understand why he is so angry and bitter. It is part of his story and sadly, part of his experience with church and Christianity.
Overall, Dan gives the book a positive review and thinks you should read the book. I agree.
But he is also pretty critical of Chu… and at times even hostile.
But what strikes me most about Savage’s critiques is that he doesn’t get at all what Jeff’s journey or book are about. He also characterizes the book as much more negative and hostile towards evangelical Christianity than the book is.
What I really appreciate about the book is that Jeff allows for complexity and tension and shades of grey. Savage paints with only black and white (as do many of his critics on the other side). Much of the point — the takeaway — from Jeff’s book is that this isn’t about Christians vs. Gays, as if this is two separate and distinct groups of people pitted against each other. This is about the struggle of those who are born gay and choose (or called) to be Christians. The story of non-Christian gays who have been hurt by the church is a compelling and important one… but for another book. This book is about those of us who are gay and Christian and how we — and our churches — wrestle to integrate these two realities.
Savage’s critique is actually Chu’s triumph. Savage simply doesn’t get Chu… or the book… or those of us who are both gay and take following Jesus seriously.
I am reading through Jeff Chu’s book for a second time. First time was a quick read, now reading it slower. In many ways, it is challenging me. Making me think. Wishing that I had more people to discuss it with. Here are a few random thoughts… I am sure more to come later.
One of the things I really appreciate about Jeff’s approach is that he doesn’t “clean up” people’s stories… he allows the tensions to hang, questions to be unanswered and complexities to simmer. There is no easy answer, sermonic “big idea” conclusion or neat moralism at the end.
Real life is way too complicated for that… and this book is about real life.
And while it is was a bit weird to read the chapter about me, the truth his that I saw myself in other people’s stories on almost every page — and often better articulated than I could ever have said.
For me, I am hearing two great tragedies in these pages: (1) there is the tragedy of how LGBT folks have been marginalized, abused, excluded and deeply wounded by the church and other Christians; and (2) how much the church (universal) is being hurt and wounded by the division being created by this issue. In many respects, not only the church shooting its wounded, but shooting itself in the foot at the same time.
I have two great passions after my deep and abiding love of God as revealed in the trinity (okay, if you count food and cooking, three… but that is a whole other story)… first, I am madly in love with His Bride, the church. I truly believe that the church is the hope of the world and that the cause of the church is worth giving my life for; and second, I am passionate about reaching the lost, lonely, least and last with the good news that God is for them, with them and in them through Christ, the Holy Spirit and the Church. In other words, my passion is for the church and its mission.
And that is why Jeff’s book is so convicting and also makes me sad.
As a church universal, we are failing to love the lost, least, lonely and last. We are building barriers instead of tearing down walls. We have allowed our own theological systems and to become more important than our God-ordained mission. We, too often, have allowed an idolatry of tradition and institution to trump a love for people and community. We, too often, have worshiped the word, instead of the WORD — that is, we worship the created instead of the CREATOR, the spoken instead of THE SPEAKER. We have become the pharisees in so many ways, and it is destroying God’s mission and wounding His heart.
As a result, not only have many fled the church, even more will never darken its doorways. Broadly, the church is thought of as irrelevant and meek by those who don’t go — if they even think about the church at all. And, we have divided the Body of Christ over this issue. Too many have said that how one interprets a few passages in terms of Christian and sexual ethics, this is the true litmus test of faithfulness. And each side demonizes the other. The one accuses they other of being faithless heretics (at best) or false prophets (at worst); and the favor is returned with accusations of hatred and bigotry. And while there are examples of both at the extremes, it is simply not a true picture of most of the people on either side of the issue.
Here is my prediction and conviction…
We are in the middle of a tidal shift in the life of the church. Homosexuality is but one small symbol of that shift. In fifty years, if not less, the church will be united on this issue: gays will marry, will raise their families in the church, will serve in all kinds of roles including leadership, will be ordained, and will bring their time-talent-treasure to the church. And this will happen in both liberal and conservative churches. In other words, it will be non issue — and the church (universal) will not only survive, but will thrive! I believe this is particularly true in the North America and Europe, where I believe there will renewal and revival in the coming decades. I honestly believe that the best days of the church are before her, not behind her.
But there will be more pain along the way. And it will take brave prophets and leaders and a few too many martyrs to get there. But she — we — will get there.
And so Jeff’s book — and his conclusions — both make me sad, but also hopeful. I think more hopeful than Jeff is. I just wish we could fast forward 30 years… and I pray that I get to see it my life time, and that maybe God would use me in a small way to bring forth His vision for His church and His kingdom and His creation.
If you are reading the book as well, I would love to hear your thoughts… and even if you aren’t, chime in anyway.
My copy of Jeff Chu’s new book arrived yesterday and I just had a chance to read the chapter that tells my story. I have to tell you, it is a bit weird to read your story in a book like that.
Jeff did a great job telling the story. It is accurate, and he demonstrates a lot of insight in how he tells the story.
Reading it was hard. Much of it covers a part of my life that I am not proud of. It really looks at one of the lowest times in my life. This is no hero story. Not by a long shot.
But it is my story. It is a real story.
I am also glad that my chapter is in the book. I lived for 17 years with a very big lie. Hiding was a soul-killing experience. So much so that I ended up in a total train wreck. I survived… and today I would say I have thrived — relationally, spiritually, and just about every way that you could. But 17 years is a long time to live with a lie. That is why I have embraced a discipline of transparency.
This chapter is a very open, raw, real look inside a very private window. Having it out there makes me feel vulnerable. It means I can’t side-step what happened or try and spin it away.
And that is a good thing.
A lot has changed in the two years since Jeff interviewed me. And a lot has changed over the past four years as well.
I will blog more about how things have changed and where I am at today over the next few weeks — but for now, I hope you read the (whole) book… and let me know what you think.