Tag Archives: justin lee

Musings on “Torn”: On LGBT people telling their stories.

[Content Note:  Subtle homophobia and derailing tactics.]

I want to continue to comment on Justin Lee’s suggestions on moving forward in the “Gays and Christianity” discussion that he lays out in his book, “Torn:  Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays v.s Christians Debate.”  A little over a week ago, I looked at Justin’s call for Christians to show more grace, especially in the face of disagreement.  I thought that suggestion was spot on and that people needed to simply understand just what showing grace might look like when dealing with LGBT people (not to mention subtle ways Christians can be ungraceful).  I find the suggestion I want to cover this week more problematic.

We must educate Christians.

The short answer to this is “No.”  The slightly longer answer — and the answer that might cause some readers to stop reading an dismiss everything else to say — is “Fuck that shit!”  My purpose for existing is not to educate other people about the issues that are near and dear to my heart.  To put it bluntly, if they want to understand the issues that are near and dear to my hear — and if they care about me, they want to do exactly that — they need to educate themselves.  Full stop.

Truth be told, there are dozens of resources out there for people to learn about LGBT issues, the things that LGBT people struggle with — both collectively and individually — that these Christians in need of education already have access to.  There are hundreds of LGBT bloggers (in fact, Fred Clarke has created a still-growing list of LGBT bloggers who blog from a Christian perspective, and the count on that list is up over 100 alone.)  Collectively, those bloggers share personal stories, commentary on political issues that affect LGBT people, cover the latest acts of both ex-gay ministries and anti-gay organizations and how they are harming the LGBT community, and dozens of other topics.  All any Christian needs to do to become educated on these matters is open their favorite web browser and submit a few choice words and phrases to their favorite search engine.  They will learn all kinds of things.

And yet, Christians aren’t doing this.  This suggests to me that they don’t want to be (further) educated on these subjects.  So I see no point in wasting a lot of time and energy into doing something for people that those people don’t want — or at least aren’t willing to put any effort into themselves.

Or perhaps some Christians really do want to be educated, but on their terms.  Sparky talked about this phenomenon quite succinctly in his post, “Is There a Duty to Educate?“:

When you ask us to educate you and get mad
when we say no, you are not lost and alone in the wilderness, hopelessly
ignorant without any help you find your way out. You are already wallowing
in all the information you need – you just can’t be bother
to take the effort to read it when you can make one of us spoon feed

If Christians want to be educated — and they should — then they need to quit expecting LBGT people to show up at their churches, behave in a certain way, and act as if it’s some great honor to be invited to come talk to the nice Christian folks.  They can instead come to those places that we LGBT people find some measure of safety and therefore are already sharing our stories there.  They can reach out to us with a humble and honest desire to listen to our stories.

And while they’re at it, they can listen to what we actually say rather than listening just long enough to reconstruct our stories to fit their preferred narrative.  (For more thoughts on that phenomenon, see all Shakesville posts labeled “Validity Prism.”)  Then can fight the impulse to stop listening or “lighten the mood” when the education (or story telling process) causes them discomfort.

So a big portion of my problem with Justin’s advice is not that I don’t think LGBT people should be telling our stories[1] or engaging with Christians.  For the most part, I take issue with the apparent implication that we haven’t already been doing this.  We have.  The Christians who still need to be “educated” simply aren’t listening, either due to lack of desire on their part or an insistence that we do everything on their terms.

[1]  Though I will note that this is a decision that every LGBT person has to make for themselves and I think many LGBT people have valid reasons not to do this.  Sharing one’s story requires a great deal of vulnerability and often has the effect of painting a bright red target on oneself for those who want to take shots, attack, and denigrate.  Expecting any particular LGBT person to do that is pretty demanding, so I do take issue with Justin phrasing this suggestion as an unqualified “must.”

Musings on “Torn”: Christians showing grace

As I mentioned in my previous entry, I want to spend some time examining Justin’s advice for moving forward and away from the “culture war”[1] that he offers in chapter fifteen.  After all, most of the rest of the book consists of him telling his story or explaining his own take on Christian theology in regards to homosexuality and same sex relationships.  The former deserves no response beyond careful reading and the encouragement of others to also read it.  The latter holds little interest to me, as I don’t consider my life to be bound by Christian theology.

But finding a way forward to living peaceful lives with the many Christians that share my workplace, my shopping centers, and the rest of the world with me, that’s something I can get on board with and discuss.  So in this post, I want to consider Justin’s first suggestion:

Christians must show more grace, especially in the midst of disagreement.

In this section, Justin focuses on how Christians approach gay people.  He reminds us of his own exchange with a high school friend that he shared in the second chapter.   He focuses on the fact that his answer boiled down — as Sean pointed out — to the old adage that just about every gay person has heard:  love the sinner, but hate the sin.

In this part of chapter fifteen, Justin reflects on his own experience of people who loved him, but hated his “sin:”[2]

Yes, I know I’m a sinner, as we all are, but something about the phrase feels condescending and dehumanizing, as if I’m now the “sinner” rather than the person’s friend or neighbor, and “loving” me has become the new project they’ve taken on out of obligation to God rather than a genuine interest in my well-being.  For this, it seems I am supposed to feel grateful, as if this were a great imposition on someone who could easily have passed me by and left me in my sinful state.

In addition to the dehumanization of being turned into a “love project,” I’d also note that a lot of Christians who “love sinners but hate sin” have what I would consider some strange ideas of what it means to love other people they consider “sinners.”  You will often hear many Christians talk about “love” in these situations about needing to “lovingly correct the other person,” which often leads to constant streams of preaching about the sinfulness they hate so much.  Not only does this mean once again telling gay people the same things we’ve heard dozens of times before — a reality I noted elsewhere — this kind of preaching about the sinfulness prevents such Christians from getting to ways in which they relate to and show love in more recognizable — and dare I say more traditional — ways.

Love is not an abstract comment.  It’s something that is tangible and can only exist in a real relationship.  And I’d argue that Christians don’t need to just show grace, but need to learn to love in relationship better.  They need to start getting to know LGBT people and knowing what their individuals troubles, concerns, and needs are.  To make an allusion to a popular myth, they need to find out who is actually naked, who is actually starving, who is actually in prison, and act accordingly when dealing with each of those people.  Some needs are somewhat universal among all LGBT people, but can even manifest in different ways among individuals.  Others are more specific to individuals or subgroups within the larger community.  The only way Christians — both as individuals[3] and collectively — can respond to these needs is to become familiar with them first-hand and on an up-close, personal level.

Christians also need to be prepared that meeting LGBT people’s needs may cause them discomfort.  After all, part of loving someone means loving all of them and living with all of them.  That’s the problem with the “hate the sin” part.  Christians who want to “love the sinner while hating the sin” want to conditionally accept some parts of the “sinner” while ignoring the rest.  This does not make for a healthy or desirable relationship.

Over the years, I’ve had a few Christian friends who believe that same sex relationships were wrong.  They loved me — or at least tried their hardest.  We’d get together and talk.  We’d discuss our work, our families, theology (mostly when I was still a Christian), and just about every thing else in our lives.  Then on occasion, I’d fall into a false sense that I really could talk about anything and I’d talk about my love life (or my attempts to find love).

Suddenly, the conversation screeched to the halt at an awkward silence.  The other person would say something rather non-committal, then change the subject.  Just like that, I was reminded that there were just some aspects of my life that were “off limits” for conversation because they were things the other person would rather not think or wrestle with.  If I wanted that friendship to continue, I had to be willing to hide that part of my life — one that I considered (and still consider) extremely important to me.

Needless to say, those friendships faded away over time.  Christians would do will to remember that “love” offered with conditions or limits is not felt as love by those so limited.  That’s a hard truth, but experience teaches me that neither grace nor love are easy.

[1]  I also want to note that in my experience only one “side” refers to it as the “culture war.”  To LGBT[4] people, it’s not a “culture war” so much as a struggle to be treated with the same basic human dignity and allowed to enjoy the same legal protections that heterosexual, cisgender people already enjoy without even having to think about it, let alone worry or struggle.  So I’d say that the way forward would go much greater if Christians would drop the phrase “culture war” and similar rhetoric altogether.

[2]  I don’t accept the idea that same sex relationships are inherently sinful, so I’m choosing to use quotes around the term.  Then again, I don’t buy into the whole theology of “sin” anyway, so there you have it.

[3]  As an aside, I think that an essential key to moving forward is for Christians to stop thinking in terms of “The Church” on an institutional level.  Institutions don’t have relationships.  People do.  It’s why Justin’s point says “Christians need to show grace” rather than “The Church needs to show grace.”  Until Christianity as a whole lays aside the power structures — those structures most vested in seeing things in term of a “culture war,” I suspect the way forward will be treacherous and possibly downright impassable.

[4]  I’m a bit divided on being inclusive in “LGBT people” in this blog post/series or just coming right out in saying “gay people.”  Truth be told, much of the book, while applicable to trans people, focuses on sexual orientation (and gay male sexuality at that) rather than trans issues.  This leaves me torn between wanting to acknowledge other sexual minorities and fearing that by including them in a rather nominal way, I’m belittling their importance and the importance of issues that affect trans people far more harshly than they do me.  Quite frankly, trans people get that kind of treatment enough and I’m still working out ways to do a better job of not contributing to it.

Musings on “Torn”: About these “good people” who keep hurting gay people…

[Content Note:  Discussion of subtle homophobia.]

While reading Justin Lee’s book, “Torn:  Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs. Christians Debate,” I began to notice a pattern in the book.  Justin would often describe an unpleasant and even hurtful experience he or another person had with a fellow Christians, then note that the Christian acting hurtfully was really a good person.

I think I get what he’s trying to say here.  I get that he’s trying to make it clear that he didn’t consider any of these people horrible monsters that deserved to be vilified.  I also get that, as he was writing a book that was trying to find common ground and build bridges, it makes sense to affirm and focus on the humanity of those who have done and said hurtful things.

decent-human-cookie.jpgAnd yet, I find it hard to think of someone who has just dismissed what another person has said about their personal experiences as being very “good” in that moment.  I find it hard to think of someone who has just said something — even out of ignorance or misinformation — that deeply wounds and alienates another person as “good,” either.  Certain people may not be Horrible Monsters?, but can we at least acknowledge that there’s a huge spectrum between those two points?

I’m reminded of a recent comment Fannie made on her blog when she was writing about people who denounce and wish to distance themselves the Westboro Baptist Church:

Many bigoted[1] opinions and actions are far more subtle, insidious, and
micro-aggressiony than the rhetoric and actions of either of these
groups. These groups are widely recognized among reasonable people as
being hate groups, extreme, and very problematic. And, for that reason,
opinions and actions that are more subtle than WBC or KKK-style bigotry,
when called out as harmful, are often more readily dismissed and
trivialized (often by those who denounce the WBC) and are therefore more

While I appreciate Justin’s desire not to demonize those Christians who have done and said hurtful things, I do think that calling such people “good” helps keep those more subtle microaggressions[2] invisible.  Enabling people to continue to think of themselves as “doing good enough” — which is what I feel the “good people” tends to do — as long as they meet a very low bar of not actively disowning LGBT children, picketing funerals, shouting condemnations at those attending pride events, and so on is something I find troubling.

On a related note, Justin often suggests that many of these Christians say, do, and believe in the things they do often due to misinformation they’ve been given by certain other Christian leaders.  I also find this problematic.  While I certainly agree that many Christians have been misinformed by wrong-headed and even deceitful Christian mouthpieces, I think there comes a point that every individual needs to take responsibility for what information they accept as factual and solid.

I’m actually rather disturbed by the idea that some Christians take the “expertise” of Christian leaders — many of whom are straight — as authoritative and never check in with gay people, who are most likely the experts regarding their own lives and experiences of gender and sexuality.  Even when listening to ex-gay Christians, who have at least had some experience with same sex attractions themselves, I would think it important to dig into what they are saying and make sure (1) you understand what they are really saying and (2) that their own experiences are truly universal to all gay people.  The first is often not true due to uncommon language uses (e.g. nuanced meanings of words like “change” and phrases like “freedom from homosexuality”) among ex-gay ministries.  The latter is not true simply because of the diversity of experiences that gay people have.

It seems odd to me that people who belong to a religion that claims to value truth — a religion in which the Apostles themselves praised people for testing for themselves everything the Apostles themselves taught and urged them to do so — would simply accept information so uncritically, as many Christians appear to do when it comes to questions around homosexuality.  So while I can certainly appreciate the misinformation they operate under, I’m inclined to hold them responsible for it, whereas Justin seems more inclined to excuse them for it.

It often seemed to me that Justin — and in fairness to Justin, I have seen this tendency in others and no one should take this as me simply bagging on one guy — is in such a hurry to get Christians to build bridges that he’s willing to prioritize making sure their consciences don’t get ruffled too much over the unhelpful and sometimes hurtful things they have done.  Personally, I don’t think that this is a working strategy, as I think that often, the only way to truly change that is to ruffle some consciences.

[1]  I will ask readers not to get hung up on the word “bigotry” in this quote.  This post is not intended to be a forum on what does and does not qualify as bigotry, nor will I allow commenters to turn it into one.  If the word really bothers this much, I would suggest you mentally substitute the phrase “things that make gay people’s lives more difficult or cause them pain or harm in any way” for the word for the purposes of this discussion.  I believe the point both Fannie and I are making will still be clear.

For those of you who really want to know why I have no desire to get into the “what counts as bigotry game,” I will note that it’s partially because I think it’s too often a game played with a stacked deck.

[2]  I will include specific examples of the kinds of things I’m talking about in future posts as I talk about a number of the items Justin discusses in chapter fifteen, “The Way Forward.”

Musings on Torn. A Kindred Spirit.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’ve been reading Justin Lee’s book, “Torn:  Rescuing the Gospel From the Gays vs. Christians Debate.”  I have a little less than 100 pages (out of the total 259 pages) to read.  While there are some things in Justin’s book that I take issue with — such as his tendency to fall into the trap of focusing on showings how Christianity stands out from all other religions — there is much in the book that I like.

In truth, there’s much in the book that I can identify with.  I can relate to the whole concept of being “God Boy” (though no one called me that and I don’t think I was quite as outspoken as he was) and “having a secret” while growing up.  I resonated greatly when he started talking about his initial reactions when he first started discovering his feelings for other boys.  Justin puts it thus:

At first I had ignored the feelings.  Puberty is a confusing time, after all, so I assumed these attractions to guys were just some sort of weird phase I had to pass through as I matured.  I’d heard Christian authorities such as radio host Dr. James Dobson say that young teenagers sometimes went through a period of sexual confusion, and this seemed to be the proof.

I too remember telling myself that I was just going through a phase when my sexual feelings for other boys first started surfacing.  And yes, I seem to recall various religious experts — most likely including James Dobson — saying things to encourage that kind of thinking.

In some ways, I can also related to his awakening to the realization that he had no sexual interest in girls as a teenager.  Justin writes:

As teenagers, my guy friends had become interested in girls in a different way, and they talked eagerly about their eyes and lips and breasts and legs.  I avoided these conversations, telling myself that the reason I didn’t lust after women was that I was a good Christian boy.  Lust was a sin, so I convinced myself I just didn’t objectify women the way some of my friends did.  That wouldn’t have been Christlike, after all.

I remember a couple of boys in my class that began talking about girls’ anatomy and “humping” them (I’m sure that latter part was all talk) as early as the fourth grade.  And at the time I took my failure to have any interest in such things — like Justin — as simply a matter that “good Christian boys” didn’t think about such things.  (In some ways, I still feel that was true, given just how young we were at that time.)

However, as time went by, I became more keenly aware of just how uninterested I was in girls and just how bizarre this really was.  I remember one night when I was in high school, I lay in my bed and actually tried imagining kissing the female classmate that I was allegedly interested in (in fairness, I did think she was a great person and would have loved to spend more time with her as a friend).  Not only could I not imagine doing so, the thought left me feeling cold and a little bit disturbed.  And that realization left me feeling even more disturbed.
I think that was one of the first times when I really began to wonder what was “wrong” with me.

So in many ways, while there are some things that I don’t agree with Justin on — and there are one or two things I’m still waiting to see how they play out in the rest of the book before I express concerns — there are many ways in which I find myself nodding along as he recounts his experiences.

In many ways, I think that’s a good thing.  One of the central themes of his story seems to be that no one was there who understood, and that’s a theme I can relate to.  I think that’s a theme that many LGBT people — and especially those who grew up within evangelical Christianity — can relate to.  In many ways, Justin’s book is a way of letting those who may now be going through those experiences know that they are not the first and there are those who can relate and understand.

I’m not sure whether Justin’s goal of rescuing the gospel from the “gays vs. Christians” debate will be met, but that sense of offering understanding and camaraderie to those who came after both of us strikes me as something that makes his book priceless.

Exceptionalism, Religion, and Product Marketing

I’ve spent yesterday and today working at my employer’s booth at a trade show.  In the weeks leading up to the show, I was involved in many meetings where we established, reviewed, and refined the key messages we wanted to convey about our products and solutions during the show.  Largely, the conversations were centered around formulating answers to a single question:

What are the features and implications of our products and solutions that make us stand out from our competitors?

Focusing on that question made a lot of sense.  After all, we came to the show specifically to gain increased visibility of our products and solutions.  Highlighting our advantages and benefits over our competitors made good business sense.

What I found more troublesome was when I ran into a similar line of thinking while reading Justin Lee’s book, “Torn,” during my breaks and other down-times at the trade show.  The topic came up most explicitly in chapter ten, “Faith Assassins,” when Justin started talking about more liberal Christians churches that tend to both be pro-gay and take the miraculous and supernatural accounts in the Bible less literally.  Of such churches, Justin offers the following opinion:

Bit by bit, they lose the things that set them apart as Christians.

There are a number of things I could speak to concerning that statement and that section of the book in general.  I could challenge Justin’s underlying assumption that there is a causal relationship between these churches’ choices to be gay affirming and their approach to understanding supernatural events in the Bible, or their approach to the Bible in general.  I could also question Justin’s suggestion that it is the existence of such supernatural events that makes Christianity distinctive from other religions.  Instead, however, I want to focus on the heavy focus on finding ways in which Christianity is distinct from other religions, and why I find this troublesome.

I’ll note that this is not something unique about Justin.  I’ve met many Christians — especially evangelical Christians — who wish to point out how Christianity (or their brand of it) is distinctive from all other religions.  Nor is this a phenomenon that exclusively appears among Christians.  And yet, it is something that seems to me to be quite common and even prevalent among Christians in general and evangelical Christians in particular.

But is it a wise thing to treat one’s religion like it’s a product?  Is it wise to view the process of sharing one’s religion like a marketing effort?  Personally, I don’t think so.  I think it cheapens everything and everyone in the process.  It turns one’s faith into a product rather than a rich source of life, inspiration, and understanding.  (And before anyone suggests that this is what they’re trying to “market,” let me remind them that advertising managers for cosmetics, diet fads, self help books, and many other products would say the same thing.)  It turns other religions and those who would promote them into competitors in the market.  It turns people you’re sharing with into potential customers and consumers.  It continues a model of sharing one’s faith in which the goal seems very much about “making the sale.”

This is not something I personally would want to do with my faith or the process of sharing my faith.  I would rather allow my faith to simply be and share it as it is rather than trying to come up with “eight key features that makes Vanic Witchcraft better than Christianity/Islam/Confucianism.”  And to be honest, anyone who thinks of sharing their faith in that light — even less explicitly — is liable to leave me feeling wary.