I am a Christian, a heterosexual, and I take the Bible seriously.
My initial response to being asked to review Being Gay, being Christian: you can be both was a sense of sadness that in the second decade of the twenty-first century some people who profess the Christian faith still don't acknowledge that one can be gay and Christian. Nearly a century ago E.M Forster wrote the novel Maurice, in which he explored the nature of love between those of the same gender. Deeply afraid of being imprisoned for his views, he dedicated it to "a happier year" and requested that it not be published until long after his death. The world had to wait until 1971 for someone to decide that the appropriate time had come, that society had moved on sufficiently to allow such provocative ideas to be read and discussed.
And here we are, four decades later in what we deem a period of rapid social change, only to find that some Christians still find same-gender relationships problematic. As I was reading Being Gay, Being Christian, a celebrated woman ex tennis player and now a pastor of a fundamentalist church (and who despite I Corinthians 14:34–35 manages to finesse the issues of biblical inerrancy and the injunction that women remain silent in church) spoke out on behalf of God to condemn the gay and lesbian community as sinful. As I have argued in my book, Religion Under Attack: Getting Theology Right (Polebridge Press, 2012), such views fail to resonate with many alternative Christians ideas of God, especially the God revealed through Jesus, the Christ. In short, "That's not my God!" The alternative Christian view repudiates the antiquated fulminations of Christian fundamentalists, but is often forgotten by those popular media that favour sensationalist sound-bytes. And indeed many church communities are openly 'gay friendly' just as they now welcome those who were once shunned by churches for being divorced and re-married in contravention of Mark 10:9. Furthermore the Reverend Steven Ogden's latest volume, Love Upside Down (O Books, 2011), is but one of a whole shelf of books that affirms the place of LGBTQ people within the body of the Church. Why? Because such a policy enacts the acceptance and love that Jesus preached.
Thus it was with mixed emotions that I sat down to pen this review. Stuart Edser is a Counselling and Health Psychologist who is gay and Christian. He outlines both his own life story and the treatment of gay and lesbians throughout history and today (chapters 1-3). He provides useful biological and psychological information for those who might be ignorant of the difficult and often painful process of 'coming out' (chapters 4-7). In particular, he emphasises the importance of both recognizing and affirming that being gay and being normal are not mutually exclusive (chapter 8).
His story reflects the two different approaches to the Christian Gospel. The first is the one that denies sexual expression to LGBTQ folk: "Love the sinner, not the sin." It is interesting that the 'gay and lesbian issue' actually boils down to a single act: sex between consenting adults of the same gender. Historically, Christianity affirmed celibacy for those of 'uncertain sexuality' and a line was drawn in the sand banning sexual expression by those attracted to others of the same gender. Fundamentalists typically backed this claim with biblical proof-texts-or in the case of the Roman Catholic Church, by Tradition. Edser gives a good riposte to both these viewpoints (Chapters 9-11).
The central thrust of his book comes in the last chapter, where the central argument is concisely reiterated:
I am going to take as truth that being gay or lesbian is neither sick nor sinful. Gay and lesbian people are as much beloved children of God as any heterosexual people. They have every right to approach God, to walk after His (sic)ways, to engage with a spiritual search by way of Christian thought, and to be accepted and valued in the church, free from prejudice, discrimination, abuse and violence.
To this I say a resounding 'Amen.' Furthermore, I would argue that, contrary to the impression often conveyed by the press, a large and increasing number of Christians and Christian churches throughout the world stand ready to affirm that one can definitely be both gay and Christian.
I would urge Christians to read Being Gay, Being Christian: you can be both and to help make this the 'happier year' that E.M. Forster longed for.
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