The Love We Dare Not Ignore
Next time you're with a group of evangelical Christians, try this exercise in free association: What comes to mind when you hear the word "gay"? Whose faces do you imagine? The lesbian couple who live next door, who have been burned by the church and have been dropping hints that they're not too fond of Christians? The barely-clad, gyrating figures in the local Pride Parade? The political activists you watch on the nightly news? The radio show host who said those nasty things about conservatives?
Whatever pictures the label "gay" evokes, you probably don't immediately envision the face of an evangelical churchgoer. Justin Lee, a self-described "gay Christian" and author of the disarmingly vulnerable Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate (Jericho Books), is out to change your perceptions.
Known as "God Boy" in high school, Lee was the kid who wouldn't shut up about Jesus. He came from good evangelical stock: Raised Southern Baptist, in a picture-perfect family, he was outspoken and winsome in a leadership role in his church's youth group. Yet while he was defending his church's traditional position on gay partnerships ("love the sinner, hate the sin," he once repeated to a skeptical fellow student, only to regret it afterwards), Lee was harboring a secret. "Years earlier," he writes, "when I had first hit puberty and all my male friends were starting to 'notice' girls, I was having the opposite experience: I was starting to 'notice' other guys."
At first he tried chalking this experience up to a phase many young men his age went through. He dated girls, focused on his schoolwork, and stayed busy with church activities. But his attraction to other guys didn't diminish or recede. In a particularly poignant passage of his book, Lee recalls holding hands with his girlfriend at a Michael W. Smith and Jars of Clay concert when, in an unbidden moment, he found himself staring at a guy. "I only saw him for an instant," Lee says, "but I couldn't help noticing his attractive features, and suddenly I found my thoughts and emotions rushing toward him. I wanted to know everything about him …. I wanted to meet him, to talk to him, to get to know him, to spend time with him."
Eventually, Lee admitted to himself—and then, later, to his pastor, his parents (whom his book describes as notably mature, compassionate, and sensitive), and a small cadre of trusted friends—that what he was experiencing wasn't just a phase, or a glitch caused by faulty parenting, or an overcharged sex drive. It was something far more quotidian—but also, by the same token, far more central and identity-shaping—than any of those things. Where his friends wanted to spend time with women and (eventually) fall in love, Lee wanted to know and love a man.
Here to Stay
As Lee began telling his story to others, he started to meet more people like him: kids who had grown up in Christian homes, remained Christian believers, and yet found themselves with persistent, apparently unchangeable, same-sex attractions. What was God's will for these new friends? Should they try to rid themselves of their homosexuality? (Lee eventually decided "no." A good chunk of his book is spent discussing his experiences of duplicity and false hope in and among "ex-gay" ministries.) Over a long period of prayer and frank conversation with his fellow believers, Lee came to think that he and other gay Christians should be able to express their feelings for a member of the same sex.