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Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America Hardcover – March 26, 2013
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Lifelong Evangelical Christian Chu well knows the answer to the familiar song. It’s, “Yes, Jesus loves me!” But as a gay man, he’s wanted reassurance—really loves me? He took to the road to see how and why other Evangelicals answer the question, specifically when it comes to being gay. As his warmly plain-speaking report of his travels discloses, he found vast reluctance to say that Jesus doesn’t love gays, assurance from many churchmen and gay believers that he does, and cordiality even among those who scream, “God hates fags!”—yes, he visited Topeka’s infamous Westboro Baptist Church. He also encountered past and present members of ex-gay ministries, straight couples who support gay marriage, intentional gay celibates, the founder of the social medium gaychristian.net, leaders of gay-welcoming Evangelical churches and of Metropolitan Community Church (the so-called—by others—gay Evangelical denomination), parents and friends of gays, and faithful young gays who remind him of himself. Though sometimes skeptical of his informants, Chu presents every one of them positively, which makes his book outstandingly personable and appealing. --Ray Olson
“Chu has written a fascinating, thoughtful, and important book. He captures the fractures and conflict at a moment when the issue of what to do with L.G.B.T. people is tearing Christian denominations apart. Does Jesus Really Love Me? deserves to be widely read.” (Dan Savage, New York Times Book Review (cover))
“Jeff’s own story makes me hopeful. It’s one of grace.” (Frank Bruni, New York Times)
“An essential survey description of homosexuality in U.S. churches today that should be read by church members and leaders, and people who care about how U.S. Christians engage with sexual minorities and related issues.” (Christianity Today)
“Poignant, at times painful, and spiced with wry humor, this is a must-read for LGBT people on their own spiritual journeys or anyone interested in reconciling religion with sexuality.” (Library Journal (starred review))
“The stories [Chu] relates are intriguing. . . . Revealing.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“Outstandingly personable and appealing.” (Booklist)
“Compassionate, engaging. . . . Resisting easy answers, Chu deftly portrays the lived experiences of Christians-mostly gay, though not all. . . . Overall, the book brings complexity and humanity to a discourse often lacking in both.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
“In telling these stories--chief among them his own--Jeff has done an extraordinary thing, showing us all to the God who is big enough and loving enough and true enough to meet all of us exactly where we’re at. This book is moving, inspiring, and much needed.” (Rob Bell, author of What We Talk About When We Talk About God and Love Wins)
“Finally an examination of Christianity and homosexuality that refuses to demonize either side. A smart and deeply personal exploration of one of the great public questions of our time.” (Stephen Prothero, author of The American Bible)
“Jeff Chu has written a masterpiece about sexuality and spirituality in America. In this unforgettable blend of reportage and memoir, he doesn’t demonize, ridicule, or pander to an ideology. Instead, he explores—and inspires. This is the smartest, and most humane, book about Christianity and homosexuality that I’ve ever read.” (Benoit Denizet-Lewis, author of America Anonymous and American Voyeur)
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In essence, ‘Does Jesus Really Love Me?’ is best read as a ‘road book’ in which the author is on an interior pilgrimage trying to reconcile his own sexuality with the Christian Faith. This complements an exterior pilgrimage in which he seeks out those engaged in the same struggle. As a ‘road book’ it succeeds very well and justifies its five star rating. What it does not claim to be is a work of theology. Indeed, Chu has the honesty to admit on p.7 “I’m no theologian.” As will be seen later in this review some of the subsequent contents of that book do support that statement. Consequently, any attempt to read his ‘Does Jesus Really Love Me?’ as a work of theology is to miss its central purpose. It does not claim to be a work of theology.
Certainly Chu’s work made a fascinating read – so gripping in fact that I read the last part of whilst walking across some Pennine Moorland with my wife and two of her friends who seemed glad that my ‘anti-social book’ kept me out of mischief and left them free to ‘natter’ among themselves. Viewed purely as a work of journalism, it’s apparent that this book possesses many merits. The author had Louis Theroux ability draw people out whilst remaining discreetly in the background. He also managed to get a people from a variety of backgrounds to talk about themselves and their sexuality. These ranged from ‘big names’ like Ted Haggard and Bishop Mary Glasspool through to obscure figures like Gideon Eads. A few of those he interviewed like Fred Phelps were utterly repellent whilst others like the mixed orientation couple The Buechners, were highly endearing. (I found their testimony to be especially heart warming.) However, some like the tormented celibate Kevin Olson came across as being rather sad – although in the end he did appear to be on the way to fulfilling his dream of working in China. As an outsider ‘Does Jesus Really Love Me?’ main use was the insight it gave on America’s fractious culture wars and the extent to which ‘the Same Sex Issue’ had divided churches and families alike. This was highlighted by Chu’s account of ‘First United Lutheran Church.’ It reinforced my impression that this was a mess to keep out of. However, as a source for future historians exploring this conflict Chu’s book will have much to offer.
The one part that provoked a feeling of anger, was the account given by Gideon Eads (on pp.312-321) of an utterly disastrous counselling session with a party who clearly had no calling at all to engage with the LGBT sector. The party concerned came across as rude, arrogant, prejudiced and lacking any degree of empathy. Listening skills were conspicuous by their absence. Indeed, he reminded me of the character in poem ‘The Wonderful Counsellor’ and like that character he had no interest in people as people. He had no ability to treat LGBT’s as human beings. Even basic courtesy and common sense was lacking. From this episode, it’s clear that no one should begin to tackle the LGBT issue unless they have a clear and unmistakeable call to do so and even if such a call does emerge it should be subject to the most rigorous form of scrutiny. The disastrous counselling session involving Gideon Eads shows the harm that can be inflicted when this is not the case.
Also creating a sense of unease was the interview with Bishop Mary Glasspool who seemed willing to pontificate about love while occupying a senior position in an organization whose leader’s endless legal campaign against traditionalist dissenters gives me the impression of someone aspiring to be the Madam Whiplash of Traditionalists. (Their yelps of pain have been heard in England.) On offer appears to be a highly conditional love which says ‘we love you so long as you don’t question our authority or depart from our party line.’ Hmmm! One should always be wary when Senior Prelates make a point of saying how much they love people. Their embrace can all too easily be that of a Boa Constrictor.
Chu’s considerable skills as a journalist and thought provoking narrator are partly offset by what appears to be a rather flabby theology. As was mentioned earlier Chu is not a theologian but even so one would have expected him to have had a better grasp of what the Christian Faith was about. It was in this area that he almost had me pulling what remained of my hair out in exasperation. On pp.146-7, he cited the Existential Theologian Soren Kierkegaard while appearing to be in a muddle about the nature of faith – unwisely equating it with absurdity rather than reason To quote his own words on p. 147 “Faith is not about reason – in fact reason obstructs faith, and it’s not until we set aside the former that the latte’s possibility becomes clear.” No, no, no, this is not the case! Faith is never more dangerous than when it’s separated from reason. This is a point that the American LGBT should have learnt from their unhappy experiences of Christian Fundamentalism. It was surprising that Chu shared a view of faith that has inflicted so much hurt on people sharing his same-sex orientation. During the mid-1990s I myself saw this form of faith lead to people laughing like lunatics in an asylum, double up as if they were having a fit, roar like animals and have a spurious word of knowledge that mocked some studies I was doing on Christ’s atonement. (This was the movement the anti-Gay activist Michael Brown endorsed at Pensecola.) Even in its milder forms it can entice practitioners into following the kind of “hippie-dippie mumbo jumbo” Chu described on pp.257-258. It’s a good job that Chu’s book was not being assessed on the basis of its theology because the score would have been minus 5. He didn’t see that committing yourself to Jesus through an act of faith is the most sane and rational step anyone can take regardless of their sexual orientation.
However toward the end he does partly redeem himself by making (on pp. 295-7) some perceptively critical comments concerning the Metro-Community Church which appeared to offer a soup of syncretism (mixed religious beliefs and practices). Things improve still further in his conclusion when he offers some highly perceptive comments about church unity, the cowardice among pastors, the linguistic breakdown in churches and the reason why “the word Christian has taken on such negative connotations in our society” (p.344). Especially insightful was the comment made (on p.346) about the Hinduization of Christianity. Here he agrees with fundamentalist commentators who often make the same point. Truly, “we have taken a God of many names and hand-selected our favourite few.” I couldn’t have put it better myself. All these comments confirm that Chu had been actively learning from the encounters he had with people. He didn’t just accept things at face value.
Chu’s observation that pastors were more sheep then shepherd, (p.343) especially resonated. Across the United Kingdom I’d seen them fall like ninepins before a ludicrous deception, that even in common sense terms, was obviously wrong and highly damaging. They became the fawning courtiers of evil. Hence, nowadays when I came across a decent pastor my attitude is one of considerable surprise. My initial reaction is usually one of mistrust. I usually assume them to be the carriers of bubonic plague unless proven otherwise.
It’s on p.346 that Chu tries to answer the question “does Jesus love me?” On a positive note it’s clear that he’s grown beyond the immature security blanket view of God that he’d hitherto indulged in. He rightly discerned that love was something to be shared and that to grow in love it’s necessary to shed many “illusions and dreams and wishful thoughts,” (p.347) All very well and good, but what he still needs to see more clearly how our love is a result of what Jesus did for us at Calvary. It was there that our Lord hacked through the many barriers created by the world, the flesh and the devil and it was there that he gave us the freedom to begin to love others as he loved us. However such blessings need to be received through faith. They don’t come automatically. It really is a case of applying Paul’s words in Romans 10:9. Over this question one has the impression that Chu’s thinking is going in the right direction but is in need of more development. In particular, he needs to sort out what he means by the word ‘faith.’
I began this review as an outsider to the American Christian Scene and despite learning many things I still remain one. I appreciated its liveliness and willingness to grapple with very difficult issues. However, there were aspects that caused me to raise my eyebrows in disbelief. As a Northern Englishman and member of the ‘no sex please, we’re British’ generation I found the high voltage emotionalism and willingness to disclose the intimate personal details rather strange. On occasion, I was tempted to exclaim, ‘why make such a blooming fuss?’ When I came across the sillier aspects of American Faith, I couldn’t help thinking, ‘what a load of cobblers’ (as we say in my part of the world). The effect of Chu’s work was to make me feel more European not less. However it would provide an invaluable guide for those wishing to visit the American Christian scene either electronically or in person. I was also left hoping the author will provide his readers with more to ‘chu’ on in the future.
provides a highly useful survey of what involved people are doing to find
a God-pleasing response to God, one they love. There is clarity.
For those wondering what churches are doing in the same involvement above,
likewise, there is a useful survey, too. Also, there is clarity.
The author uses trace, but significant, highlights of contemplative writers such as
Nouwen. The author repeatedly describes his effort to "please God," and, doing so,
copies a key writing in Merton's Prayer, a prayer about a life on the pilgrimage with
God, in a trusting faith, in what is an ordinary life, unique for one wishing to please God.
The author makes the case for decent, same-sex Christian life, as the traditional biblical
verses are put into context, not out of traditional context commonly used to make blame.
No doubt, this book joins the literature used by closeted, help groups for parents shocked
by the coming out of same-sex children. Better to read and be helped than to "chase
children through the woods while firing bullets at the children." Lord have mercy.