New Memoirs Tackle Complex Relationship Of Gays And Christians

By Benjamin Jenkins

<HEADER Torn: Rescuing The Gospel From The Gays-Vs.-Christians Debate>

Are Christians truly homophobic bigots? Or, are all gays "activists" seeking to undermine the moral fabric of society? Neither is true and yet the church is being destroyed from controversy over the issue, asserts Justin Lee, founder of the Gay Christian Network, in the new book "Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate."

Lee writes, "And while so many of us in the church have been focused on the 'threat' to our culture posed by homosexuality, we've missed the realization that the church in our culture is under attack - not by gays, but by Christians."

Revealing his own path to reconciling Christianity with homosexuality and his leadership role in navigating the politically charged debate, Lee strives to dispel myths about Christians and gays and encourages both groups to engage in more effective dialogue. " ... As more people come out as gay, that leaves more Christians who know them with questions about how to truly be loving in a culture that views Christianity as anti-gay," he writes. "Americans on both sides are becoming increasingly frustrated with the tone of the debate, and many are calling for more loving ways of handling the differences of belief."

From "God Boy" to "heretic" to spokesperson for a potentially new understanding of Scripture regarding homosexuality, Lee outlines the pain and confusion felt by gay people, and by the Christians who love them. "Some say that the growing acceptance of homosexuality is further evidence of our world's fallen nature, and that we Christians must hold fast to God's truth in the face of the winds of change," he writes. "Others say that we Christians have made a terrible mistake in unequivocally condemning homosexuality, and that a more complete understanding of human sexuality and the Bible's cultural context should move us to repent and reevaluate our stance. Either way, if we answer this question incorrectly, will we have committed one of the greatest tragedies in the history of the church?"

Campaigning against the so-called culture war, Lee sets forth seven ideas needed for resolution including grace, education, dissolving the "ex-gay approach", and allowing gays to actively participate in church.

Outlining a searing personal story of being torn between what he believes and who he is, shared by countless other people who are also gay and Christian, Lee hopes that honest dialogue can set a new tone for civil discussion.

About the Author: Justin Lee founded the Gay Christian Network (GCN) in 2001 and currently serves as its Executive Director, overseeing ministry operations around the world, and speaking at conferences, on college campuses and at churches.

<HEADER Faitheist: How An Atheist Found Common Ground With The Religious>

"In a culture that increasingly asks us to check our religious and nonreligious identities at the door - to silence the values and stores we hold most dear - the 'New Atheist' brand of secularism isn't helping," writes Chris Stedman. "Although I believe that many New Atheist critiques of religion are correct and have helped many people find liberation from oppressive beliefs, these critiques have also often neglected to account for the full range of religious expression and have resulted in segregation that has parsed the religious and the secular into opposing camps."

In "Faitheist" Stedman draws on his work organizing interfaith and secular communities, his academic study of religion and his own experiences to argue for the necessity of bridging the growing chasm between atheists and the religious.

As someone who has traveled from being a true believer to a nonbeliever, Stedman is uniquely positioned to bridge the faith divide. He traces his journey from "born again" Christian to openly gay atheist, starting with a description of his loving, irreligious family in Minnesota, then moving through his middle school conversion to Christianity and his high school years when he struggled to reconcile being gay with being Christian.

Mere months after converting to Christianity in middle school, Stedman put words to what he knew all along. "I was asking a lot of questions and in the process I discovered two things almost simultaneously: I was queer and my church would kick me out if they discovered my secret." Stedman shares his months of loneliness and suffering; obsessively reading Bible passages about the sin of homosexuality and spending lunch time alone in a classroom, fasting and praying. When his mother discovers his secret, he recalls his intense shame - and his utter relief when she took him to a Lutheran pastor who assured him his sexual orientation was natural.

Stedman traces his undergraduate years at a Christian college and his experiences since then, eventually joining the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard. He recounts how he went from the heartbreak of "letting go of God" to being a belligerent nonbeliever, then searching for values and meaning in his post-religious life. He shares the role other people played in shaking his thinking, from fellow students who engaged his religious questioning during a trip to El Salvador to the young Muslim woman he meets who empathizes with him over what it is like to be seen as different.

"Even though I had spent my college years studying religious texts," he writes, "I suddenly found myself wanting to learn more about the lives of religious people."

Stedman's quest takes him to Chicago where he interns with the Interfaith Youth Core and becomes "an atheist seminary student" at the University of Chicago. He remembers being physically assaulted by anti-gay bigots and later finding the courage to engage with Christian proselytizers outside a queer bar, each sharing their stories and coming to see one another as human beings, he writes, instead of caricatures of their sexualities or religious identities. These lived experiences and his work organizing interfaith communities, he explains, have profoundly shaped his vision for a society in which atheists and the religious build relationships across the faith divide so they can work collaboratively towards shared values.

About the Author: Chris Stedman is the Assistant Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University, the emeritus managing directory of State of Formation at the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue, and the founder of the first blog dedicated to exploring atheist-interfaith engagement, NonProphet Status. Stedman writes for the Huffington Post, the Washington Post's On Faith blog, and Religion Dispatches. He lives in Boston.

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