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Why I liked Justin Lee's Torn
Earlier this year, Circle of Hope as a people, engaged in a lot of theology and discussion surrounding marriage and sexuality. For me, it was a stimulating time for learning and dialogue. We held a large group dialogue, starting off this year’s Doing Theology series around marriage. The pastors came up with a well-thought-out piece of theology surrounding our theology of marriage. It is a statement that our cell leaders can generally use to help lead others.
Over the course of those months, I read many books on the subject. Andrew Marin’s Love Is An Orientation, Jenell Williams Paris’ The End of Sexual Identity, Jeff Chu’s Does Jesus Really Love Me?, and, lastly, Justin Lee’s Torn.
They’ve been refreshing for me. They are deep reads written by earnest people trying to reconcile with one of the most dividing issues of the church today. I want to learn as much as I can about sexuality and marriage and I want to follow God as loyal as I can.
When I first started reading Torn, I honestly did not know what to expect. I knew Justin Lee was the founder of the Gay Christian Network but little else. The memoir-style of the book really lent itself to the subject. Rather than speak theoretically about it, I appreciated Justin’s story. The more he explained his experience, the harder it was for me to put the book down.
Justin’s book chronicles his life as a conservative Christian, who comes out, gets abused by the ex-gay camp (people who believe you can be “re-oriented”), and finally emerges as an advocate for Christians who also are same-sex attracted. The GCN does good work in building bridges and helping people meet Jesus.
Jenell Paris does the good work on unpacking why “gay” isn’t a term that is sufficiently description of something as nuanced as sexual attraction, orientation, and identity. Justin basically uses the term because people understand what it means, although he acknowledges how complicated its use can be.
Justin talks a little bit about the science of sexuality, but tells his readers it is rather inconclusive. I personally don’t care much about the science of sexuality because who you are now and how you feel now matters more to me than rationalistically determining how you got there. Although, I do think there is work to be done in spiritual and psychological discovery, so finding out one’s personal story is important. Scientifically determining it for everyone? That seems like a pipe dream.
It is a shame that we live in a world that demands such answers. Science isn’t a fool-proof mechanism we have for discovery. That level of rationalism should give way to some mystery.
It is precisely this mentality that causes people to hurt themselves over reading the Bible and trying to find objective answers to their moral dilemmas. Justin toils through the Bible to try and find the answer that God has for someone like him—gay and committed to celibacy. I know many people who have the same struggle and I appreciate his story. It is damaging and daunting to try to figure out exactly what a word means in Greek and how it applies to us today in the 21st Century.
Eventually, Lee tells the story of just going with his God-given instinct and creating a safe Network for people to explore and express God’s love. He does this for both so-called conservative and liberal camps. It seems to me like the Gay Christian Network is doing good work, and the conclusions that they have reached are not so different than the work we’ve done in Circle of Hope. I was kindly affirmed while reading it.
Lee is never judgmental, or resolute. He’s humble and gentle. Listening first, honestly and earnestly telling his story, while also asserting himself against evil. It is a hard balance, but he seems to have done it well.
The book is powerful because it shows how ugly the church can be, how judgmental, damaging, and difficult Christians can be. But it shows how hopeful, gracious, and welcoming the church can be. For people who have same-sex attraction, I want to include them in the church and part of our Body. It is the best place for anyone.