Book review – ‘Unconditional’ by Justin Lee

'Unconditional' by Justin Lee published by Hodder & Stoughton

‘Unconditional’ by Justin Lee published by Hodder & Stoughton

Justin Lee is founder of the Gay Christian Network ( http://www.gaychristian.net/ ) and a beacon for the gay Christian community.  Based in the USA, he also travels widely and spoke in the UK at the Courage retreat in 2011 (see ‘What a great weekend’ for a review on our blog).

Now he has published his first book, entitled Torn in the USA and Unconditional in Europe, where it became available recently.

In the book Justin charts his journey from fighting with his same-sex attraction (including a foray into so-called ex-gay ministry) to accepting his orientation and to working towards greater reconciliation between gay and Christian communities – hence the subtitle “Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate”.

As an Evangelical from a Southern Baptist Church, he knows the ‘Evangelical Heart’ as well as he knows the ‘Gay Heart’ and the book navigates those two sides very skilfully and humorously – it’s hard to put down once you get going.

He also manages to address both sides in a loving and caring way. Justin draws largely on his personal story of engaging with the bible on the issue of homosexuality and of engaging with the scientific arguments (nature/nurture) as well as on his first encounters with other gay people. There are some laugh-out-loud moments as he plays with the stereotypes bandied about on both sides – he finds himself not wanting to be gay in the Christian community and is careful about ‘coming out as Christian’ in the gay community!

He also draws on the vast amount of stories people have shared with him in personal and virtual encounters and on how his speaking engagements as director of GCN have been perceived. This is therefore no theoretical treatise but a book that is full of personal accounts of real people who have suffered the pain of trying to reconcile their sexuality with their faith and vice versa.

In the concluding chapter he talks about the seven things he believes should be the focus for the way forward:

1.  Christians must show more grace, especially in the midst of disagreement

2.  We must educate Christians

3.  We must move away from an “ex-gay” approach

4.  Celibacy must be a viable option

5.  We must shatter the myth that the Bible is anti-gay

6.  Openly gay Christians must find their place throughout the church

7.  We must learn how to effectively dialogue.

These reflect his experiences of Christians and LGBT people alike – Christians often have a misinformed understanding of homosexuality which leads to a lack of grace when they engage with others. It also means that, without any informed understanding, advocating the ex-gay approach of healing gay people from their same-sex attraction can lead to more pain and sorrow (e.g. mixed-orientation marriages).

At the same time, celibacy is not seen as a credible alternative in gay circles, but should be more accepted beyond a church environment. To create real reconciliation and effective dialogue, the bible needs to be read hermeneutically and exegesis must be carefully context-sensitive, to show that it is not anti-gay. A more open reading of the bible should also lead to more openness to welcome openly gay Christians in churches as they can offer insights on both perspectives (yes, you can be both!) and build bridges.

For accepting and affirming Evangelicals alike this book is a welcome addition to the growing number of resources encouraging greater dialogue between the two communities.   It is well-known that the ‘gay issue’ is the biggest stumbling block for the church to share the good news of the gospel and this book is a wonderful attempt to “rescue the gospel” from this damaging debate.

Torn Publisher: Jericho Books (November, 2012).

Unconditional Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (January, 2013)

Website for the book: http://www.tornbook.com/

Justin Lee’s blog: http://gcnjustin.tumblr.com/

 

Blog post by Dr Sigrun M. Wagner, co-chair, Accepting Evangelicals

 

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