Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America chronicles Jeff Chu’s year-long investigation into the attitudes and practices of American Christians, gay and straight, toward the relationship between homosexuality and faith.
The book is a fascinating read, though it will be troubling for those who are uncomfortable with the notion that not all Christians think alike.
Chu frames the book as a quest to answer the haunting question “Does Jesus really love me in spite of the fact that I am gay?”
Differently stated, the question a great number of Christians are asking (both gay and straight, incidentally) is “How can I reconcile two deeply rooted yet conflicting aspects of my being—my sexuality and my faith in Christ?”
Seventeen chapters recall Chu’s interactions with Christians from a spectrum of theological perspectives, sexual orientations (more on that later), and attitudes toward homosexuality. He groups these into four sections representing broadly framed responses: Doubting, Struggling, Reconciling, and Hoping.
Chu is a talented writer, and the book in humorous, poignant, and compelling. The writing is mostly balanced, though Chu does seem to prod the non-gay-affirming interviewees a bit more than the gay-approving folk. Yet he appears as a moderate who genuinely believes in the value of dialogue.
Diversity in the Church
The great reveal in this book is the incredibly broad range of attitudes toward homosexuality existing in the Church. At the popular level (blogosphere and network news) there are only two alternatives here: one must be either a gay bashing, Bible-thumping, hater or an apostate, gay-loving compromiser.
That’s a false choice, as Chu’s interviewees illustrate. For example, not all people with a same-sex attraction consider themselves gay or approve of gay sex. Not all people who affirm same-sex relationships have abandoned biblical hermeneutics. Not all gay people agree on what causes same-sex attraction. Not all Christians agree on what being “gay” means.
Much of what we hear about homosexuality and faith comes via pollsters who gather quantitative data—i.e., survey results. But asking yes-or-no questions about a subject this complex simply does not produce an accurate picture. Chu’s qualitative analysis gives a much fuller image of the diversity in the Church.
I found this aspect of the book enlightening and a bit encouraging. More Christians are interested in maintaining civility in the church, fostering mutual respect, and finding some solution to this dilemma (even if it is agreeing to disagree) than we might have guessed.
The Choice between Sexuality and Faith
The book does a nice job of illustrating the central dilemma Christians face regarding homosexuality: whether it is (A) an element of human identity and therefore should be affirmed or (B) a manifestation of human brokenness and therefore must be overcome.
For individuals with a same-sex attraction, this presents an even more urgent question: Must I abandon my faith to accept my sexuality, or deny my sexuality to retain my faith, or is there a way to reconcile the two?
Consensus on that question is unlikely to come anytime soon, and Chu encountered individuals and churches who had taken each of the three options.
That brings me to the real takeaway from this book—its implications for pastoral theology.
To me, the most valuable story in the book came from Pete Wilson, pastor at Cross Point, a megachurch in the Nashville area. Wilson relates the dilemma presented by a lesbian couple who asked to have their child dedicated in a public ritual. Cross Point maintains that God intends sexual intimacy only within a marriage between a man and a woman, but a significant number of gays attend the church.
If Wilson (and the Cross Point staff, which decided the question together) agreed to dedicate the child, some might believe they had changed their position on homosexual behavior. If they declined, it might say to the couple, “No, Jesus doesn’t love you after all.”
As a pastor, I’ve face similar questions involving heterosexual couples. Would I perform a dedication for a couple who were cohabitating? Would I perform one for a couple who had recently divorced and both parents wanted to take part in the ceremony, though one continued an adulterous relationship? Would I perform a dedication for an unmarried teen mom? Would I perform one for a couple who seldom attended church and one parent made no profession of faith?
The answer was yes in each case, and for the same reason that Wilson and his staff chose to perform the dedication at Cross Point. “Who are we to turn that child away from the church?”
How does a person with a homosexual attraction authentically live out his or her faith in Christ? What is the appropriate pastoral response to a gay person who strives for celibacy? Or to one who enters a heterosexual marriage? Or who has taken a gay partner?
To say, “There is no response because gay people can’t possibly be Christians” is not a viable answer. Pastors must come to grips with homosexuality in the church just as we have had to deal pastorally with divorce, remarriage, and cohabitation.
As a pastor, I hope keep these three plates spinning in my life and congregation: (1) an affirmation of God’s intention for human sexuality as affirmed by my church: occurring only in marriage between one man and one woman, (2) the need to disciple all people within my reach, regardless of their sexual history, and (3) the humility and faith to rely on the Holy Spirit to convict others—and me—of truth.