Sunday, May 4, 2014

Review of "Torn" by Justin Lee

I am very much a latecomer to reviewing this book. Others have done so and perhaps more eloquently than I have done. However, this is a book worthy to read and worthy to review.

This book is very much semi-autobiographical. It is a testimony of one young man's struggle to find himself and still remain in the faith he grew up in, the faith in which he continues to maintain.

Probably one of the reasons that this book is so engaging is the fact that it is personal. Justin Lee tells his own story, his struggles, and his thought processes. Telling your own story draws the reader in more powerfully sometimes than telling the testimony of someone else.

What do you do when you suddenly realize that you are attracted to the same sex, but your Church says that this is a sin? He explored and tried everything. What is perhaps interesting is the fact that Justin never had a same-sex encounter when he discovered he was gay. He talked to his pastor, who got him involved in their church's double secret Homosexuals Anonymous group. This was a sad affair of men trying to help each other out, trying to even find a semblance of heterosexual attraction. That didn't work.

He then went to several ex-gay ministries. He calls them "ex-gay" because they in no way even try create a sense of heterosexual attraction for their clients. They are simply trying to get rid of the unwanted same-sex attractions. These organizations seem to say that it's the upbringing of a broken home and a distant father that leads to same-sex orientation. However, Justin had a loving father and a good home upbringing. Nothing was further from the truth. At one of these conferences, he even met a gentleman (and father of someone who was in the LGBT Community) who said that he came from a broken home with an absent father. For all intents and purposes, he should be gay, but he was straight. So where was the logic in that argument?

What saved Justin, though, was the fact that he found community. He found other LGBT Christians who longed for community, especially as Christians, which they weren't finding in the Church. Thus the Gay Christian Network was born.

Probably one of the most poignant moments in the book is where Justin Lee describes his realization that he is gay with the struggles of Job. It is not his own struggles that matter, but the response of his community of faith. Thirty-nine chapters in Job deal with the theologically false statements of Jobs' friends. I had always concentrated on Job's plight and the response from God. Basically, Job states, "I'm innocent! Why are you punishing me?" and God's response is, "I'm God. Who are you to question me?" However, the majority of the book deals with the negative response of the friends and how Job must be wrong, not even once entertaining the idea that there was another answer.

We in the Church who have tossed out our LGBT siblings are Job's three friends.

How can I say this? How can I with enormous confidence say this? On page 238, Justin's probably harshest critique of the Church is as follows:  "Because most churches currently teach that gay sex is contrary to God's will, we'd expect that at least those churches would support their gay members in living a celibate life. In practice, unfortunately, that is usually not the case."

My own denomination, The Salvation Army, accepts that same-sex orientation is not a sin, but that same-sex marriages are outside of God's will. (This Position Statement is one that I personally reject.) I know from personal experience that there is absolutely no support for LGBT members to lead a celibate life. There have been no workshops at Congresses (denominational gatherings), no special groups established for young adults/teens at our Youth Councils, no special classes at our Training Colleges for ministering to the LGBT community. When I was at our Training College, we had a gay speaker come to us from Exodus International, but we all know what happened to that organization. They stopped their "reparative" therapies and then disbanded.

I should, however, give one caveat that there are those at our College for Officer Training who have been involved in the Marin Foundation and have done ministry during Chicago's Gay Pride Parade. I applaud that. Other than this aforementioned ministry done at our Training College, there is no official ministry to our own members who self-identify as being a part of the LGBT community.

We may say that LGBT people are called to live a celibate life. We do nothing to support them in this on a denominational level. There may be some officers here and there who have taken it upon themselves to help at an individual level, but these people are unknown to me. I can only speak on what happens at a denominational level. In this we are hypocrites.

In our group, the Progressive Salvationist, we have a dialogue relating to how we can best be a support for those in the LGBT community, especially those in our denomination. This has been a wonderful community of mutual support.

There is a ray of hope:  Dialogue. Real dialogue. This is what Justin Lee recommends. Sitting down and actively listening. This is an art form that most have forgotten, especially in the age of Social Media when all we do is react to posts instead of acknowledging and listening. (I am guilty as the next person in this.) Listening involves waiting for someone to finish, acknowledging what he/she said, and then talking when they are ready.

Conversation. Dialogue. This is what can heal the Church so that we aren't Torn anymore.

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