TORN – an interim report

Derek Ouellette —  March 10, 2013

I just reached the half-way point in Torn: Rescuing the Gays-vs-Christians Debate by Justin Lee. I’ve read a few reviews and talked with a few friends and so I’m pretty confident I know where Justin is going in this book. I’m pretty sure he will be arguing that it is okay to engage in gay sex and have gay unions. But so far in the book he has not gone that route. So far he has mostly defended himself against the onslaught of ill-informed Christians who can’t seem to separate gay activity from gay orientation.

When I discovered last week that Torn is not being actively recommended to evangelical bookstores by its suppliers, I reacted in shock. I believe – at this interim – that Torn is the most important book I’ve read on the subject of homosexuality and the church. I think, if we were to cut the book off at where I am at in it, that every evangelical pastor and church leader ought to read this book. Yes, it’s that important. I also think anybody interested in this discussion – which is to say, everybody who has an opinion about homosexuality and the church – needs to read this book.

In reading Torn I have felt, in many ways, that I was reading about myself. No I’m not gay. I’m straight as an arrow. What I mean is, put aside for a moment that Justin found himself attracted to guys rather than girls to his great dismay, and he is me. I’m talking about the kind of Christian he was in his youth. Passion. On fire. Ultra-conservative. Bible thumper. Other students even nicknamed him “God Boy” (ah-hum, sounds familiar to me!).

So then as I read about how Justin discovered his attraction to men and how he reacted to it and how he tried everything he could to change it and all of the experiences he had and all of the things he was told by others and all of the ways Christians have treated him for something that was completely beyond his control, all I could think is, that could have been me. And it could have been you.

While his own story is very emotive and persuasive, two chapters of a non-biographical nature stand out. In chapter 5 Justin explores the different theories about what makes a person gay. After his analysis he concludes:

“So what’s the answer? Why are some people attracted to the same-sex? The truth is, we don’t know for sure. The biological theories have the most evidence to support them right now, but even they have lots of questions, and at this point, we can’t ‘prove’ anything. We can only make educated guesses… For now, the important thing is to keep an open mind and to listen compassionately to people’s stories.” (p.68-69)

The second chapter that stood out was chapter seven. In it Justin demolishes the myth of the “ex-gay” and shows how those ministries routinely offer false hope and that – so far – it is highly unlikely that a person can change their sexual orientation short of a divine intervention which, apparently, almost never happens when you consider how many conservative evangelicals with same-sex attraction pray and partake in ex-gay ministries with all fervency, pleading with the Lord – as Justin had done for years – to be attracted to women. This chapter really does cut through pat answers and shows how in almost every known case, leaders of ex-gay ministries have remained gay in spite of their claims. That is, they never changed attractions from same-sex orientation to opposite-sex orientation. The examples given in this chapter and the stories they tell are eye-opening to put it mildly.

As I understand it – and as I already said – I think Justin is soon going to make a biblical case for same-sex union. While I’m inclined to reject the suggestion based on half a dozen Bible passages that jumped to mind already, I want to move forward prayerfully. If there is something to what Justin will argue I need to consider its merits (assuming it has merits to consider), and weight it before I decide on it.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • Craig L. Adams

    I think the most valuable thing about this book, is that it can aid Christians with different perspectives and experience to genuinely engage one another. Yes, he states a position on same-sex marriage, but he is also ware that not all people will find that convincing. And, that throws the ball into the Side B court: if same-gender attraction is largely unchangeable, then what counsel are we to give to same-gender attracted Christians? If Justin’s view is not acceptable, then what practical stance do we take — especially in light of the fact that Churches already contain plenty of people who have gone through divorce and remarriage.

    • Derek Ouellette

      I agree with you about the books value. From where I’m at (I’m taking it slow), I still think it is an amazing book that I recommend.

      Since I think I know where he’s going, my real interest is in how he’ll get there and what his approach and attitude will be. Your comment leaves me optimistic.

      But here’s a question for you from a ministers point of view. (This question assumes that you believe gay-sex is wrong. If you don’t assume that then the question doesn’t apply and can be disregarded.)

      Knowing that Justin Lee makes a case for the permissibility of gay-sex for believers, and given your conviction that gay-sex is wrong for believers (assuming that’s your view), would you still recommend this book to a young gay Christian who at the moment believes gay-sex is sin? Would you do that knowing that Justin’s book would probably give this young gay Christian “permission” to do what you feel as a minister is wrong?

      • Craig L. Adams

        I would but I would also recommend Wesley Hill’s book Washed and Waiting.