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 ...