Review of Crisis

crisisI suspect that Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing up Gay in America is a book that few members of its target audience–religious conservatives–will read. Mitchell Gold, the editor, introduces the book by saying that the primary purpose of the book is to overturn “religious prejudice” against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered (GLBT) people. Gold relates a story of listening to a Christian minister who said that people are born gay and should be treated with respect. The minister also said that “gay people can control their behavior by accepting Jesus Christ as their savior and having a personal relationship with God.” Gold then charges that such a message is nothing short of “child abuse.”

Given hyperbole like that, should Christians, especially Christians who take the traditional view on homosexuality, read a book like Crisis? I would offer a qualified “yes.” While there is plenty to beware of in the book, there is also much to be learned. In a Barna Group study of non-Christian young adults, 91 percent of them perceived Christians as “anti-homosexual.” If those young adults are on to anything–if Christians need to learn how to care for homosexuals–then listening to firsthand accounts of how the church has done poorly by the gay community might be a good initial step.

Reading these stories is painful. Irene Monroe recounts how her Christian foster mother frequently threatened to return her to the foster agency whenever she acted too masculine. Mel White relates how he, as a result of a deep self-loathing brought on by constantly hearing that homosexuality is a sickness and sin, wrote a long suicide letter to his parents and almost jumped into the Seine. Jarrod Parker tells how as a teenager he paid for reparative therapy for two years, hoping in vain that he could change his sexual orientation in order to be accepted by his family and church community.

Although heartbreaking, these stories teach us much. We get a sense of what it might be like to grow up thinking of oneself in theological terms such as “abomination” or in schoolyard terms such as “faggot.” I hope more Christians realize that Christianity should not be used as a pretext to look down on or ridicule homosexuals. Although the Scriptures condemn gluttony, no one thinks ridiculing obese children will reduce the number of gluttons. Perhaps Christians should champion school initiatives such as the “Day of Silence” which opposes attitudes of contempt toward GLBT students.

Another theme that emerges is the inadequacy of simplistic answers. “Just date more girls” or “Just be celibate” or “Just go to reparative therapy” or “Just play with dolls more” just doesn’t cut it. In the wake of the sexual revolution, ministers have rethought how the church teaches sexuality. Attempting to get beyond simplistic answers, the church has tried to discuss sexuality more openly and positively and honestly, while still holding onto biblical teachings. It seems to me that this book challenges us to do a similar rethinking in regard to homosexuality. What if were to say something like, “If you have same-sex feelings we would be honored if you would let us know. We promise to respect you and walk with you as family. We will look to the Scriptures for answers and seek the Holy Spirit’s help as we discern together what God might have in mind for you.”

In addition to the stories of growing up gay, the book offers a couple of chapters that argue that homosexuality is not sin. The best of these is a chapter entitled “Homosexuality, the Bible, and Us”by Rev. H. Stephen Shoemaker. Although his treatment of Romans 1 seems inadequate to me, Shoemaker makes the case for affirming same-sex relationships in a concise and graceful way. Hearing solid reasons offered for the affirming stance may encourage some Christians, who hold the traditional view, toward a much needed humility in the conversation about homosexuality.

My greatest hesitation in recommending the book is that editor Mitchell Gold is completely oblivious to his own faith agenda. A professing atheist, he has started an organization called Faith in America, whose mission is “the emancipation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from bigotry disguised as religious truth.” His deepest trust and belief lie in the Enlightenment values of freedom, tolerance, self-expression, and equality expressed in the experiment called America. Gold is essentially trying to evangelize us all into believing that these are the ultimate truths that should trump religious beliefs. The stories contained in the book often serve as testimonies of how the Enlightenment story released the person from the bondage and guilt of the “repressive” religious story. The testimonies are compelling and moving. If we are truly Christian, such testimonies should and will evoke our compassion. I worry, however, that some Christians might not realize how Gold is subtly hawking another gospel. So my recommendation is a qualified one. Let us learn what we can about how to love gays and lesbians, but let’s not convert to the religion of America.

 This review by Tim Otto originally appeared in PRISM magazine