Yesterday I posted a list of three books that I’ve recently read that have been most helpful in framing a Biblical response to the issue of same-sex attraction. . . a topic that’s led to much debate of late in the culture and the church. I’m a firm believer in working hard to frame God-honoring and biblically-faithful answers/approaches to these complex issues that, to be honest, we in the church have simplified, ignored, and not dealt with very well over the years.
Today, as promised, I want to mention five books that I think are worth your time. Each one has been written in the first-person by an individual who has had to come to terms with their own bent towards same-sex attraction. In fairness, I’ve worked to read widely. . . not just going to those books that end up in a place that leaves me feeling comfortable. Each of these books is about struggle. Each is written well with deep, deep passion. Each book has forced me to look more deeply at myself in an effort to come to terms with my own sin (sexual and otherwise), and to reevaluate my own approach (riddled with failure) to those who deal with same-sex attraction. If I was to put this list together in a week, I’d be sure to include a book that I just started reading yesterday, Jeff Chu’s Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America. But since I’m only a couple of chapters in, that will have to wait until later.
Regarding the books on my list. . . I’ve sensed two distinct approaches among those writers I’m mentioning today. Some have decided to deal with their same-sex attraction by filtering and then submitting their experiences to the authority of God’s Word. Others, while professing a high view of Scripture, have clearly approached their struggle from the perspective of filtering Scripture through their experiences, and then interpreting Scripture in a manner that justifies and approves their experiences. I’m fully aware that many of you who will read this will take issue with what I’ve just said. Yes, I know that we all read Scripture through the lens of our own experiences and cultural biases. But ultimately, we need to recognize this fact and then endeavor. . . no matter how difficult and constricting we might think that endeavor might be. . . to submit our conform our future experiences and lifestyle to the authority of God’s Word. I’m afraid that this will be a point of great tension in our struggles with each other, with differing exegetical methods and hermeneutics leading us to different conclusions.
That said, here’s today’s list. . .
Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality was the first book that I read over a year ago. Hill teaches New Testament at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry. With a high view of Scripture and a desire to be faithful and obedient to his Lord, Hill studies the scriptures and came to the conclusion that he is called to a life of celibacy as he struggles to remain faithful to Christ in midst of his sexual brokenness. This book is exemplary in the sense that Hill offers all readers a framework for self-examination, and the submission of one’s sinful will to God’s plan for our lives, no matter what the sin is that grips us. Hill is doing the church a huge favor by exploring the role of “spiritual friendship” as an alternative to political activism and reparative therapies. His new website, spiritualfriendship.org, offers believers a new approach to homosexuality.
I followed up Wes Hill’s Washed and Waiting by reading Justin Lee’s Torn:Rescuing the Gospel from The Gay-vs.-Christians Debate. Like Hill, Justin Lee has wrestled to figure out how to come to terms with his same-sex attraction as a follower of Jesus Christ. Lee’s book is emotionally gripping, something that I picked up on right away. Rather than starting with the scriptures, Lee shares his own struggle. In fact, even though I’m a reader who has strong opinions on where a story like Lee’s should end up in terms of his conclusions, I found it tempting to root for Lee. While reading, I realized that Lee’s book will play well with younger readers who desire the church to be more affirming. Lee comes to the conclusion (through what I believe are some very sketchy exegetical and hermeneutical gymnastics) that the Scriptures allow for him to be in a monogamous, same-sex union. Lee’s interpretation (more accurately “reinterpretation” that flies in the face of historical orthodoxy) of the classical biblical passages on homosexuality is one that I’ve seen repeated over and over by writers who seek to justify same-sex monogamy. In my opinion, Torn is a very dangerous book in that its emotional tone is gripping, a fact which could easily lead readers to jettison the balance we need between truth and grace, leading to a forsaking of truth in favor of grace. To learn more about Justin Lee and his approach, you can check out the organization he founded, the Gay Christian Network.
Perhaps the most gripping, refreshing, and amazing of all the books is Rosaria Champagne Butterfield’s The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: One English Professor’s Journey Into Christian Faith. I blogged on this book over a year ago. Butterfield was a women’s studies prof at Syracuse and a radical lesbian who was doing research on the religious right. Through a series of amazing circumstances that could have only been ordained by God, Butterfield was befriended by a pastor and his wife who simply engaged her in conversation, showed her hospitality, and became her friend. After a couple of years, Butterfield was converted and left her lesbian lifestyle. God changed her to the core and she is now a pastor’s wife and mother. Butterfield reminds us that we all have “that sin” in our lives that will grip us and that we must give up if we are to truly follow Christ. Simply stated. . . an amazing book. You can watch a compelling interview with Butterfield here.
A book that I stumbled upon but have rarely heard mentioned is Melinda Selmys’ Sexual Authenticity: An Intimate Reflection on Homosexuality and Catholicism. Selmys is a bright young Catholic woman who writes with passion in an in-your-face manner. Her life has been raw and her writing while very good, is raw as well. This book does not hold back and it is very good. Selmys has endeavored to integrate her faith into her sexuality, a task each of us should struggle and endeavor to accomplish. She knows the world is broken and she knows that we must seek shalom. Her story is compelling. Her conclusions clear. Consider this line about her quest to discover “real” sex: ” The depth of meaning expressed through conjugal love between a man and woman simply is not possible in any other scenario. The mouth is not the body’s ‘holy of holies’ – it is the organ by which you consume and digest things. The anus is the organ by which you excrete waste. On purely symbolic, archetypal grounds, oral and anal sex are a mess – and the beauty of these acts, considered objectively, is quite elusive.”
Finally, the last book I read and finished a couple of weeks ago is Matthew Vines’ recent God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. This book is probably one of the most discouraging books I’ve read in recent years. I say this not because of Vines’ conclusions, but the route and methodology he employs to get there. Vines is a young man from an evangelical background who, it seems, set out on a mission to convince his parents and his church that being gay is ok. In the end, Vines would stand with Justin Lee, believing that a committed, monogamous same-sex relationship can be ordained and blessed by God. Like Lee, Vines tackles the long-held understanding of the classical homosexuality passages in the Bible. Vines concludes that “Christians who affirm the full authority of Scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationships.” While there are no doubt several aspects of Vines book that trouble me (hermeneutical, exegetical, etc.), it was the book’s beginning that really left me scratching my head. The first chapter, “A Tree and It’s Fruit,” dangerously makes Jesus’s words in Matthew 7:15-20 a kind of standard for judging truth. In other words, Vines justifies an affirming posture as a posture that bears good fruit. But can we be nice and seemingly fruitful while also in error? And, can we speak the truth while being less than kind, generous, and fruitful? I would say “yes” to both. What Vines does is emphasize grace at the expense of truth, when there needs to be a tension-filled balance between the two.
As I stated yesterday, I believe we need to read widely. We need to dialogue both with those with whom we would agree, and with those who come to different conclusions.
Have I missed any other books here?
In the last installment of this blog series, I’ll look at some books that I believe can help correct and set the course the church must take in response to the same-sex issue.