It used to be so simple. Christians hated queer people — quoting their ancient Leviticus rules and driving us out of our communites — and we responded by mocking their silly sky-daddy and sensibly skipping church on Sundays in favour of our new religion, brunch. It was a kind of spiritual apartheid but it worked.
But there were queer people who still loved their faith and Christian people who still understood what it means to be, well, Christian, so affirming institutions like the Metropolitan Community Church were born and efforts were undertaken to heal the divide between the holy and the homo. It’s taken decades but three new books underscore just how profoundly the Christian world has shifted in favour of love these past few years.
In Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women & Queer Christians Are Reclaiming Evangelicalism, journalist Deborah Jian Lee follows a disparate group of young evangelicals who have been working to make their faith more inclusive, notably Will and Tanya, who met at Biola University, an American conservative evangelical college. They supported each other in their respective closets, having both signed the university’s community standards contract forbidding “homosexual behaviour,” until later deciding to form the Biola Queer Underground. Lee documents their struggles and victories as they pushed against the university’s administration and culture, changing hearts and minds.
Will was helped by a website for the Gay Christian Network, founded by Justin Lee, author of the 2012 book Torn: Rescuing the Gospel From the Gays-vs-Christians Debate. Lee’s essays were conservative (no sex before marriage!) but showed Will that being gay and being Christian didn’t have to be mutually exclusive. “It was, like, the most convincing thing that I had ever read as an argument for monogamous same-sex relationships being blessed by God,” he tells Jian Lee in her book.
Like Will, journalist Jeff Chu had been often forced to ask himself, “Does Jesus really love me?” so he decided to set out across the country to find out. That question became the title of his book, subtitled, A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America. Chu wasn’t looking for God — he felt secure in his belief — but for those who’ve successfully blended being queer and Christian. As Chu interviews dozens of others across many states, some stories are inspiring while others are tragic, especially that of Kevin Olson, a celibate gay virgin in Minnesota, who tells Chu:
“Sometimes, I do feel cheated because I haven’t been able to experience certain things in life, but then I remember that it’s not about me. As a believer in Christ, you accept that this isn’t all there is to life. There’s a life to come. That will be a happy time.”
Olson might take great comfort in the new book God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships, which author Matthew Vines dedicates to “all those who have suffered in silence for so long.” A founder of the Reformation Project, a Bible-based, non-profit organization working to reform the Christian church in matters of sexual identity and gender identity, Vines has carried on the work of gay Christian scholars like John Boswell and John Shelby Spong. In a series of chapters, he patiently explains how an actual knowledge of the Bible shows that queer people are not an abomination, that Leviticus rules were more complicated than most think, and that the sin of Sodom was a nasty urge for gang rape, not the love of two men for each other.
It’s an uphill battle against a well-funded, long-entrenched and reason-immune American religious right but queer Christians are becoming less and less of an oxymoron. As Vines concludes, “As more believers are coming to realize, affirming our gay brothers and sisters isn’t simply one possible path Christians can take . . . This kind of love and affirmation — regardless of sexual orientation or gender identiy — is, in fact, a requirement of Christian faithfulness.”