Last Thursday, Jeff Chu, author of the new book, “Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America,” appeared on the Diane Rehm Show. It was the kind of interview that made me talk back to the radio and that spurned discussions with other people in the car.
I could relate to much of what Chu said. No, this isn’t a coming out announcement. (According to Chu, “coming out is not a moment, it’s a process,” anyway.) I’ve been heterosexual for as long as I can remember—some might say I was born that way—but I could relate to much of what Chu said because his pilgrimage encompasses more than homosexuality. This isn’t meant at all to diminish Chu’s experience, but simply to share what resonated with me and what I think should resonate with just about any Christian who’s ever belonged to a congregation or parish.
In the account Chu relayed on the show, I heard a tension between theology and lived experience, belief and practice, loving rebuke and judgment, “Sunday façades” and secret lives, my Jesus and everyone else’s, whatever I mean when I say, “love,” and whatever you mean by that.
As a heterosexual woman for whom marriage is a fairly new desire but for whom sex is an old one, I’ve lived some of Chu’s experience and wondered some of the things he’s wondered. “[A]m I going to hell? Is this going to be something that’s irredeemable? Is this something that’s going to cost me my family or the respect of my peers or something bigger than that, like my salvation?” Do I have to choose between sexuality and spirituality?
I’ve learned in recent years, months and days that for most people the conflict doesn’t exist. Most (80% last count) unmarried heterosexual church folks are having sex with other (presumably) unmarried people, and every time I see Facebook statuses full of scriptures and praise for God’s goodness from men and women who share their single sex lives just as freely, I feel stupid for attempting to write an entire book on my own experience with the conflict. Maybe the 80% understand something about judgment, forgiveness and the nature of God that the rest of us don’t. Maybe the reverse is true.
At least for heterosexuals, marriage poses an end to any conflict. Not true for gays in the church. And sadly, that’s where my similarities to Chu’s story end. But since I found common ground, I’m hoping more Christians will be inspired to look for it and that when it comes to some of the most divisive issues in American churches and politics today, they’ll employ a skill Chu noted is sorely lacking in the world today: empathy.