Torn | Notes & Review

Posted on November 27, 2014


Justin LeeTorn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate. Jericho Books, (259 pages)


Website: Information and reviews at: Gay Christian Network (GCN), Huffington Post, Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), Rachel Held Evans, NPR, Christianity Today, Patheos (Gagnon article), Justin’s response, and Patheos (Gagnon response).

Chapter 1: Battle of the Century

The church’s “antihomosexual” reputation isn’t just a reputation for opposing gay sex or gay marriage; it’s a reputation for hostility to gay people. (3)

I could tell you what I think, but when it comes to this debate, opinions are a dime a dozen. | Instead, I’d like to share with you what I’ve experienced and how it radically altered my approach to an issue I thought I knew everything about. (11)

Chapter 2: God Boy

[via: The next several chapters was a journey through Lee’s “story.”]

Chapter 3: The Struggle

Chapter 4: The Truth Comes Out

…like Adam and Eve in the Garden, I felt naked and ashamed. (45)

Here are some things I often hear parents say, and why they don’t work:

  • “DON’T TELL ANYONE.” As well intentioned as this advice is, it places a terrible burden on the child. Keeping a secret this big carries with it a tremendous amount of shame and guilt, especially for kids from Christian families. Gay kids are already at increased risk for depression and suicide, and adding to their feelings of isolation by asking them not to talk about what they’re going through only makes matters worse. … the best way to cultivate healthy and responsible attitudes is by encouraging open communication — with parents, peers, and Christian leaders. A healthy level of openness can enable a child to develop his or her own identity and make wise choices rather than living under a burden of secret shame and guilt. (47)
  • “YOU’RE NOT LIKE THOSE PEOPLE.” When parents tell their kids that they must not be gay because they’r not like the negative images in the parents’ heads, it doesn’t change their kids’ understanding of themselves as gay. Instead, it convinces the kids that their parents now associate those negative images with them, and that the only way they can avoid that association is to pretend not to feel what they feel. (48)
  • “HOW COULD YOU HURT US LIKE THIS?” If you are the parent of a gay child, it’s important to remember that your child was likely struggling with these issues for a very long time before you became aware of it. He or she did not choose to be gay and was probably very worried about disappointing or upsetting you. When gay children don’t ell their parents what they are going through, it is often because they are hoping to figure things out on their own and avoid hurting their parents. When they do make the decision to tell them, it is a sign of trust and a desire for honesty and a closer relationship. … The most important thing parents can do is to listen to their children and seek to understand their experiences so far. … Resist the temptation to make it about you. (59)
  • “WHAT DID WE DO WRONG?” Having a gay child doesn’t necessarily mean parents did anything “wrong.” Instead of blaming themselves, parents should focus on showing their child all the love they can and keeping their relationship strong as the family works together through the moral and theological questions they face. (49-50)
  • “THIS IS THE DEVIL’S WAY OF TRYING TO STOP YOU FROM DOING WHAT GOD WANTS.” In the bible, the obstacles that seem the most daunting often turn out to be things God uses for an unexpected purpose. … Likewise, the crucifixion of Jesus must have felt to his followers like the worst possible act of the devil, yet Christians today celebrate it as the most powerful evidence of God’s love. I encourage Christian parents not to jump to any conclusions about how God will use a situation like this in their child’s life. Denying it won’t make it go away, but if we respond as Christians, with open hearts to what God will do, we can be surprised at what happens. (50)

Chapter 5: Why Are People Gay?

FIRST, LET’S DEFINE WHAT WE MEAN BY “GAY.” I am using the word “gay” the way it is usually used in our culture: to refer to people’s attractions, not necessarily to their behaviors. (52)

THEORY 1: PEOPLE CHOOSE TO BE GAY. …this isn’t the case. (53) None of us can choose to whom we feel attracted. (54)

THEORY 2: PEOPLE ARE SEDUCED OR TRICKED INTO IDENTIFYING AS GAY. …the majority of gay people weren’t [sexually abused]. (55)

THEORY 3: PEOPLE ARE GAY BECAUSE OF THEIR PARENTS. If distant fathers and overbearing mothers made people gay, there should be far more gay people in American society than there are. Meanwhile, I should have been the straightest guy in the world. (61) [via: Here, Lee cites the works of Irving Bieber, Sigmud Freud, Elizabeth Moberly, and Joseph Nicolosi]

THEORY 4: PEOPLE ARE GAY BECAUSE OF THEIR BIOLOGY. Just because an attraction or drive is biological doesn’t mean it’s okay to act on, so whether behavior is sinful or not doesn’t tell us anything about whether the related attraction has biological roots. … “Is it a sin?” and “does it have biological roots?” are two completely separate questions. (62)

PHYSICAL BRAIN DIFFERENCES. Several studies have shown that certain structures in gay people’s brains more closely resemble the corresponding structures in the average brains of the opposite sex than the corresponding structures int he average brains of the same sex. … This may be due to differing hormone levels in the womb. | Our brains continue to change while we’re alive, so it’s possible these differences could be the result of being gay rather than the cause, but most scientists think that’s unlikely. Many researchers now believe that these different brain structures help explain why some people are attracted to the same sex instead to the opposite sex–their brains may truly be different from birth. (63)



STUDIES ON ANIMALS. Rats, rams, and other animals are not humans, but experiments have conclusively proven that at least some animals’ “sexual orientation” can be determined by hormones during their fetal development. (65)

THE OLDER BROTHER EFFECT. …gay men, on the average, have more older brothers than straight men. … This strongly suggests that something biological is involved. (65)

Based on these and other studies, many scientists now believe that sexual orientation is related to the hormone levels a baby experiences during its development in the womb. According to the theory, these hormones help distinguish boys’ brains from girls’ brains, but if the hormone levels are different from the usual amount at a certain time in fetal development, parts of the baby’s brain (including parts responsible for sexuality) develop closer to what is typical for the other gender. (65-66)

At this point, the evidence makes it look very likely that biology has something to do with sexual orientation, but scientists are still learning, and nothing is set in stone. It’s not only that we don’t know what causes people to be gay; we don’t know what causes people to be straight, either! … For now, we can only make educated guesses and realize that there’s still a lot we don’t know. (67)

CONCLUSION: WE DON’T KNOW! …the question of orientation origin has become a battleground for gays and Christians on all sides of the issue. In actuality, these arguments are built on nothing. Gay sex could still be sinful even if same-sex attractions are inborn; we humans are born with all kinds of sinful temptations. Likewise, civil rights shouldn’t depend on whether something is biological; fair is fair either way. | I believe our goal should be truth, not ideology, and that we must have the humility to admit that we still don’t have all the answers. (68-69)

In the future, we may have definitive evidence to tell us what causes differences in sexual orientation. For now, the important thing is to keep an open mind and listen compassionately to people’s stories. (69)

Chapter 6: Justin in Exgayland

So when I first heard the testimonies of people who said they “used to be gay” but weren’t anymore, I interpreted that to mean that they used to be attracted to the same sex, and now they weren’t. I thought that “ex-gays” were people who used to be gay but now were straight–attracted to the opposite sex. | That turned out not to be true. (79)

In ex-gay circles, I learned, the word “gay” didn’t mean “attracted to the same sex.” At ex-gay conferences, I often ran into ex-gay leaders who publicly testified that they were “no longer gay” even while privately confessing that they still had same-sex attractions. (80)

Instead of using “gay” to mean “attracted to the same sex,” they redefined it to refer to sexual behaviors they were no longer engaging in or a loosely defined cultural “identity” they didn’t accept. … Even the ex-gays who sometimes slipped up and gave in to their temptations through occasional sexual trysts still considered themselves “not gay” because they didn’t “identify that way.” (80)

…by giving public testimony that they weren’t “gay” anymore, they were leading millions of Christians to believe that they had become straight, when that wasn’t true. And those misleading testimonies were getting a lot of attention on Christian radio, in Christian magazines, and in church around the world. (81)

For all the ex-gay talk of this journey toward becoming straight, no one ever seemed to actually get there. (82)

Christians really are a compassionate bunch, even though the cultural reputation we have right now doesn’t reflect that. Because so many Christians–especially evangelical Christians like me– believed that gay relationships were sinful, they also wanted to believe that there was some way that gay people could become straight so that they could legitimately enjoy all the benefits of romance and marriage. … Unfortunately, sometimes that desire for hope got in the way of being completely honest. (82)

RED FLAGS. If they were being completely honest, ex-gay organizations would put “results not typical” at the bottom of their published testimonies as well. Like the diet ads, those testimonies often don’t tell the whole story, and even if they did, they don’t represent what happens to most people who go through these ministries. If Christians were truly aware of what does happen, they’d never recommend these ministries again.

Colin Cook,Homosexuals Anonymous (Quest Learning Center)

Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper, Exodus International

John Paulk, Exodus International

George Rekers, Focus on the Family

Chapter 7: That the Man Should Be Alone

Not only is sex a significant part of the human experience and something few of us would want to go without; it also represents something much deeper: love. (97)

Dear God, I don’t want to be celibate. I don’t want to be alone. I want to fall in love with someone and spend my life with that person. But even more than that, I want to serve You. And if Your will is for me to be celibate my entire life, I will do it. Please show me what You want for my life, and help me to do Your will, whatever it is. (105)

Chapter 8: South Park Christians

Job’s friends make the mistake of putting their own theology ahead of the testimony of their friend. … Instead of telling Job what God would or wouldn’t allow to happen, they ought to simply take his word for what he’s experiencing and offer him comfort and support, not lectures. (114)

Bit by bit, I was learning a painful lesson. In this Christian-v.s-Gays culture, Christians weren’t such great people to be around if you were gay. They might lecture you, talk down to you, or quote the Bible at you, but they weren’t very likely to make you feel loved. Quite the opposite. (115)

Chapter 9: The Poisoned Yeast

Misinformation is a powerful force. (126)

A little bit of misinformation, like yeast or poison, can work its way through the entire church, contaminating an important force for good in the world and turning it into something doing damage. With the church contaminated by misinformation, people feel that they have two choices: either accept the church and the misinformation along with it, or reject the whole thing. | The third option? Fight the misinformation. (134)

Chapter 10: Faith Assassins

…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. (136)

Throughout history, one of the most compelling arguments for the truth of Christianity has always been the evidence of changed lives. … Sadly, that’s no longer what we’re known for. In a world where Christians are known as the biggest jerks, the “changed lives” argument no longer holds any sway. As science continues to explain previously unexplainable natural phenomena, our behavior is taking away one of the strongest reasons people have to believe. (140)

Jesus’ way was never the way of aggression or the culture war, but sometimes we forget that, and the swords come out. We think we’re defending the gospel. We don’t realize we’re actually attacking it. (141)

A RECIPE FOR KILLING THE CHURCH. Our failure to live out the gospel doesn’t only affect Christianity’s reputation outside the church; the poisonous yeast is killing the church from within as well. (141)

You can’t have one without the other. God’s Truth is all about God’s Love for us and the Love we ought to have for one another. We are being untrue to that Truth if we treat people unlovingly. And we are missing out on the full extent of that Love if we try to divorce it from Ultimate Truth. | We Christians must work to repair this schism in the church. If the church is to survive much longer in our culture, it must teach and model the Christianity of Jesus–a faith that combines Truth and Love in the person of Jesus Christ, revealed to us int he Bible and lived out int he everyday lives of his followers. (147)

Chapter 11: The Other Side

The one big thing the gays and the Christians had in common was that they both believed in a Gays-vs.-Christians cultural dynamic. (156)

And so, in this microcosm of society, as the Christians judged the gays and the gays shunned the Christians, the misunderstanding and resentment fed into itself, giving all the more reason for people to feel a need to pick a side. | I felt compelled to break the cycle. If I could help build a bridge between these two groups on a college campus, maybe I could do it in the real world too. (158)

My depression wasn’t about a chemical imbalance. It wasn’t even really about my loneliness. Without realizing it, I had internalized the culture war, and it was tearing me apart inside. (166)

Chapter 12: Back to the Bible

[re: Sodom] …how was it possible that the entire city could have been gay? (170)

Clearly, in some cultures and contexts–whether in ancient times or in modern-day prisons–male-male rape had been used or threatened as a method of violent humiliation and domination. (171)

What ever see in the stories of Sodom and Gibeah is the opposite extreme. These cities are not generous and welcoming to strangers; they are cities full of hate, mistrust, and prejudice toward them. These are cities that say to outsiders: You’re not welcome here! We don’t want your kind here! If people like you set foot in our town, we will do the most violating things to you we can think of, to send a message to anyone else who might dare to come onto our land. It’s the same sentiment that underlies racism, hate between nations, and many other kinds of prejudice. (173)

I wasn’t trying to choose between celibacy and threatening people with gang rape! I was trying to find out if it was okay for me to have a romantic relationship someday, and if so, what it might look like. (174)

EXCHANGING NATURAL FOR UNNATURAL. Did that mean that straight people had become gay when they turned from God? Was being gay a punishment for turning from God? … Did it perhaps mean that they were already gay, but that they were celibate–until they turned from God and He gave them over to homosexual behavior? (180)

But as I read the passage more closely, I realized that in Paul’s view these two behaviors were somehow connected. Twice, in fact, he said that the dishonorable sex was a direct result of the idol worship… (181)

THE SINFUL ARSENOKOITAI. I realized with frustration that neither answer was entirely satisfactory. I could make a convincing argument for either side, but whatever argument I made, how did I know I was right? If I got this wrong, I’d end up either trying to justify sin or unjustly condemning loving relationships that God never intended to condemn. (186-187)

Chapter 13: Whatever Commandment There May Be

I was asking the wrong question. I had been so focused on passages that mentioned homosexuality that I had completely missed the forest for the trees. (193)

As I read and reread Romans 13:8-10, I couldn’t find any way to reconcile that view with what Paul tells us sin is. If every commandment can be summed up in the rule to love one another, then either gay couples were the one exception to this rule, and Paul was wrong–or my church had made a big mistake. (206)

The standards Jesus and Paul applied–the same standards that allowed me to put aside culture-based biblical rules about food or hair length or head coverings–didn’t just allow me to do the same on this issue; they required it. To do otherwise was being inconsistent. | As I considered this, I realized that my view had completely changed. Studying the Bible had convinced me of something I would have thought impossible only months before: that God would bless gay couples. For a lot of gay Christians, coming to that conclusion would have been a happy ending. For me, it was a terrifying proposition. (206)

Studying the Bible had brought me to a conclusion that was different from the one I had learned growing up. And if I was wrong and I spoke out, I could be sinning an leading others into sin. But if I was right and I didn’t speak out, then I was allowing the church to be an active participant in a terrible sin, one that was not only destroying lives and families, but was also turning countless people away from the unconditional love of Christ. (207)

Chapter 14: Lightning Rod

Whether I was right or wrong in my interpretation of Scripture about gay marriage, one thing was clear: We Christians were failing to show grace to the gay community the way Jesus would. (210)

Jesus radiated grace and compassion in such a way that people came to him their his views on things. By contrast, we Christians were so focused on preaching our views on things that we were driving people away, turning them off to church, Jesus, and everything we had to say. If we didn’t fix this soon, the damage to the church’s reputation might be irreversible. (210)

This was the way to change the world: combat the misinformation with personal stories. (214)

Christians will not all agree on this issue anytime soon. But living together in loving Christian community is possible, even in the midst of that challenging disagreement. It’s not easy, and we will all make mistakes. But it’s what God calls us to. | It is, I believe, even more than our doctrine, the thing that most demonstrates our commitment to Christ. (225)

Chapter 15: The Way Forward

  1. Christians must show more grace, especially in the midst of disagreement.(227)
  2. We must educate Christians. (233)
  3. We must move away from an “ex-gay” approach. (234) The truth is, in spite of the good intentions, promoting ex-gay groups can have some serious negative consequences for both the church and the gay people those Christians are trying to reach. | It’s very clear that ex-gay ministries do not work for the vast majority of people, and form the evidence I’ve seen, I think it’s doubtful that they have changed anyone’s orientation. (235) I’ve lost track of the number of people I’ve seen lose their faith entirely as a result of their experiences in ex-gay groups. These people end up many years later just as gay as they were to begin with, but now with deep emotional scars and a distrust of anything the church says. | In spite of their public claims, ex-gay ministries are often much more effective at taking away faith than at taking away attractions. Churches need to know this before they send people in that direction. (236)
  4. Celibacy must be a viable option. (237)
  5. We must shatter the myth that the Bible is anti-gay. (241) Christians should know that there are different interpretations of these passages in the church and that whatever the correct interpretation may be, it is certainly not necessary to dilute or throw out the Bible in order to have a loving, welcoming approach to gay people. (243)
  6. Openly gay Christians must find their place throughout the church. (243)
  7. We must learn how to effectively dialogue. (248) Grace sees people for what makes them uniquely beautiful to God, not for all the ways they’re flawed or all the ways I disagree with them. That kind of grace is what enables loving bridges to be built over the strongest disagreements. | …for anyone who cares about the future of the church, this can’t be put off. (252)


Lee’s “some” and “others” approach is excellent and thoughtful, framing a respectful and honoring debate, of every side. His exhortation to respectful dialogue is championed in his example, codified in this work, and I commend it to anyone wrestling with this issue.

The vast majority of this book is worthy of serious and thoughtful consideration. I have a few contentions, however.

So how do we know which passages are limited by their cultures and which ones still apply today? If we simply disregard as “cultural” whichever passages we don’t agree with, the Bible becomes essentially useless as a moral guide. It’s only reaffirming our own views, not challenging us on what we may have gotten wrong.

This leaves us with two options. One option is to throw out the Bible as a moral guide altogether, viewing it as simply a collection of flawed human writings and not expecting it to give us any divine perspective. …

The other option is to have a clear, consistent biblical standard for interpreting the text, a principle we can apply to various passages that will help us to determine, fairly and consistently, how to translate them for our culture. (194-195)

There are a few challenges to Lee’s approach here. First, the premise of “limitation” by “culture,” (thusly also presuming “permissive” by “culture) distills the complications with Scripture to an “applicational” view. This is, in my opinion, the very problem that Lee is attempting to address in whole of his book. The Bible ought not to be considered the “how to,” for ethics. Thus, there is no need to relegate it neither morally impotent nor morally consistent. While I do not think Lee is explicitly taking this approach, the verbiage and reasoning are still within it. (For more on this, see Peter Enns, The Bible Tells Me So… | Review & Notes)

On page 199, Lee holds to a very common misconception about the Pharisees as reflected in the Gospels, which falsely equates, rather simply, the Pharisees with “today’s most prominent preachers and Christian leaders.” I do not think this comparison is a) accurate, or b) helpful for his argument. I would suggest that “religious hypocrisy and fundamentalism” of which some Pharisees adhered is concomitant with modern religious leaders.

On page 203, he asks what Jesus could mean by “fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). From a Rabbinical perspective, “fulfill” means to interpret in such a way as to keep the heart of the commandment. This definition would actually bode well for Lee’s arguments regarding interpretation of Biblical passages.

Later on page 203, there is the common Christian view that Old Testament sacrifices, rituals, and rules are “just shadows of the reality in Christ (Colossians 2:17).” Lee is correct in saying this is a common Christian view. My contention is that Jesus’s relationship with Old and New Testament rituals, rules, etc., are paradoxical; that they were not “shadows,” then (and could not have been in order to be meaningful), but they became interpreted as such “after” the fact. The “reinterpreting” of passages in light of current events (e.g. the Resurrection) is the foundation for passages like Colossians 2 and other references to Old Testament “prophecies.” (I recognize that this is quite a lengthy and intricate discussion of which my summary here does not do justice). Again, I would suggest this view would also assist with Lee’s argument.

My last contention is not with the book, but with the reality to which Lee alludes. On page 233 he makes the point that “we must educate Christians.” My lamentation is that many Christians simply choose to stay ignorant. Education often involves a battle, a fight, a wrestling, and a persistence. May more attend the GCN conferences for the sake of minimizing the wounds.

Regardless of these contentions, I highly recommend this book, as this is perhaps the greatest challenge of our current era for the Church.