Magazine article The Christian Century

Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America

Magazine article The Christian Century

Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America

Article excerpt

Does Jesus Really Love He? A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America

By Jeff Chu

HarperCollins, 368 pp., $26.99

Religious book publishers have brought out scores of titles about homosexuality in recent years, but Jeff Chu's book is in a class of its own. A gay Christian with a compelling personal story, Chu also happens to be a superb journalist who listens closely to whoever is sitting across from him. "When I first came out, I couldn't find a book with stories across a theological and experiential spectrum," he says. So he spent a year traveling the country and talking with dozens of people with a wide range of perspectives. Along the way, his project became a spiritual pilgrimage.

Chu deserves the broadest possible audience, not just because of his subject but because he shows how to charitably engage believers who hold very different views. This is a good strategy, of course, for it models the kind of understanding he wants in return. It also makes for lively reading. We sit on the edge of our seat as he meets with Richard Land, top lobbyist for the Southern Baptist Convention, "large, imposing, not a little loud, not a lot subtle, unapologetically political," who accuses homosexuals of causing the "full-blown paganization" of America. Another firebrand southern pastor tells Chu why homosexuality is "the biggest threat to our civilization!" (Apparently they had no idea he is gay.)

Likewise, Chu finds drama in a range of people coming to terms with their sexuality whose experiences differ from his. He visits with three gay men who have fallen from belief, and another who has left pastoral ministry to become a sous-chef. A middle-aged man in Minnesota tells him why he has chosen to remain celibate. A woman in Seattle claims to have been "healed" of lesbian desires: "Some people will believe this, and some people won't," she says. "That's okay. This is my story."

Chu is willing to accept that many different experiences are at some level authentic. When a gay man and a straight woman awkwardly insist that they are determined to make their marriage work, Chu charitably notes:

   It's difficult for me, as a gay man, to
   hear my sexuality described as a
   wound, as an imperfection. Yet I
   understand that this is how Jake sees
   it--how he must see it, given his
   worldview.... It's tempting to say,
   "Wow, he's repressed." And yet hear
   the long version, sit with them, listen
   to their struggle, understand the
   incredible work they've done to
   unpack and analyze and process and
   reevaluate, and things look different.

In the light of these conversations, Chu does some serious soul-searching and reexamines his own hard-won beliefs, as indicated by the book's questioning title.

Chu's own story by itself would have made for a strong, though lesser, book. Raised in a strict Baptist household, the grandson of a pastor, he attended a Christian high school where the fate of an outed teacher let him know what lay in store if he revealed his own feelings. His parents still have not accepted his sexuality. Songs from childhood resonate with him--"Jesus Loves Me," of course--but it has been hard for him to find a church where he feels both accepted and fulfilled, for he is an evangelical at heart, restless amid liberal platitudes. Metropolitan Community Churches, he feels, are more preoccupied with sexual identity than with God. At Highlands Church in Denver, he finds a more diverse, God-centered family of faith. …

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