I read Torn this last week, written by Justin Lee, founder of the Gay Christian Network. Justin has become one of the leading advocates of pro-gay theology. I found it to be challenging in a couple of surprising ways.
First, I enjoyed the majority of the book. That’s simply because most of it is auto-biographical. Justin’s story, like so many others in the church with SSA (same sex attractions), is really heart-breaking to read. He does an excellent job of telling about the impacts of a legalistic church environment in his life. He poignantly writes about the questions he faced, questions thousands of others like him are also asking. The first challenge for me was in recognizing that I am still prone to being judgmental myself, and am often not patient enough to listen to somebody else’s entire story, especially if I think I will probably disagree with some of their perspectives. I’m getting better at this, but have much room for improvement. I am grateful that Torn challenged me in this regard.
In a free country like ours we all have a right to our opinions. I don’t agree with Justin’s pro-gay interpretation of the scriptures. That’s not really what I want to focus on, but if you have any questions about his seemingly logical arguments (on the surface of it) I would point you to two men who have already done an excellent job of addressing this theology. The first is Christopher Yuan’s review here. The second is Matt Chandlers’ talk on homosexuality – specifically in response to Justin Lee’s theological views you may wish to listen to 13 minutes of his talk here. Listen from minutes 12:00 to 25:00.
What Torn really has me thinking about is the “we-they” mindset so prevalent in much of the church today. I believe this “we-they” mindset makes it very difficult for Justin and others like him to live with SSA inside of a church that holds to the classic interpretation of scripture.
I had a “we-they” mindset for decades, so don’t think I am some kind of saint in this regard. But I’m getting better. Two books that helped me drop this mindset were The Tangible Kingdom, by Hugh Halter, and The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning. It appears that Sacrilege, the latest book by Hugh Halter, also deals with this subject, perhaps more directly. I’m just starting to read it; as of now the Kindle version is only $1.99 here.
The “we-they” mindset is silly, because the truth is we are all sinners. Sadly the church in America has plenty of sexual sin going on in our ranks, including affairs leading to divorce, pornographic addictions, and various other things. We are all called to share the Good News with others, just like somebody shared it with us. Sharing the Good News certainly includes anybody who has same sex attractions. But you should see some of the looks I get when I gently suggest the idea of bringing gays or lesbians to our church to visit. I’ve seen looks of sheer terror on the faces of some young moms. I realize this is because of homophobic misunderstandings, and we’re working on a free seminar for churches to help demystify this subject.
Jesus did not freak out when people lived in various sinful ways while He hung out with them, and neither should we. We have no right to judge others, because the scriptures make it clear we are all guilty, deserving of judgment. That’s why it’s Good News!
The “we-they” mindset not only alienates us from the gay and lesbian community, it is also simply laughed at by many of our youth today, even those in church youth groups. In Torn Justin Lee writes, “Today’s young people have gay friends whom they love. If they view the church as an unsafe place for them, a place more focused on politics than on people, we just might be raising the most anti-Christian generation America has ever seen, a generation that believes they have to choose between being loving and being Christian.” (1) Admittedly some of Justin’s writing is a purposeful setup for his arrival at a pro-gay theological position, but it does not deter from the fact that the “we-they” mindset is creating real problems for our churches.
This mindset exists because in the Bible God calls on us to be holy, literally meaning set apart for God. But the scriptures do not encourage us to act holier than thou, in fact quite the opposite! While we sense a clear God-given desire to live holy lives, we don’t earn holy boy scout badges for good behavior because our salvation is always and only based on grace. But in our church world, and especially in American society where hard work is always exalted, we end up creating and rewarding religious behaviors and religious expectations. It can quickly become Pharisaical in nature. I’m sure our judgmental attitudes towards those with SSA are hated by God. Jesus got really, um, pissed off at the religious elitists of the day, but towards everyday sinners like you and me He showed unfailing love and mercy. May God help us to do the same!
My observations of “we-they” attitudes is that churches who are more legalistic and judgmental tend to struggle with this. Churches focused on grace seem more capable of receiving those with SSA into their midst, but those who are not pro-gay theologically still struggle with welcoming people with SSA. The question that kept coming up in my brain as I read Torn was “what would have happened if Justin’s church did not have a “we-they” mindset, and he could have spoken freely about his struggle and gotten loving support and help while he was in his teenage formative years?” Indeed, what’s going on in your church and mine today – are we doing any better? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
(1) Lee, Justin (2012-11-13). Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate (p. 10). FaithWords. Kindle Edition.