News from AllianceQ: October 2013

Book Reviews: Torn by Justin Lee and The God Box by Alex Sanchez

Two excellent resources, one for teens, one for adults, bringing to life the faith struggles of LGBT persons seeking to reconcile their desire to be faithful Christians with their sexual orientation.

(Reviewed by Mark Johnston, Executive Director of GLAD’s Open & Affirming Ministry Program.)

When I chose to review these two books for this month’s edition of Crossbeams, I didn’t at first think about how similar they are. Torn, by Justin Lee, tells the story of his faith journey, coming to understand his sexuality and navigating the challenges to his faith. The God Box, by Alex Sanchez, is a fictionalized account of a high school student navigating the same journey.

Both volumes tell a compelling story of a faith journey.

The author of Torn, Justin Lee, founder and Executive Director of the Gay Christian Network, whom I am proud to call friend through our association with the Welcoming Church Program Leaders, was raised in and still holds an evangelical faith. Torn tells of his experience with the ex-gay movement, of his struggle with the biblical witness, and by presenting that struggle clearly, he gives us a clear understanding of how even a conservative Christian can understand that the Bible teaches us that Christ came to bring grace, not legalistic condemnation.

Lee goes on to describe ways he has found to keep dialog open between those who disagree and names several challenges for the welcoming church movement: we must show grace, we are called to educate our fellow Christians and shatter the myth that the Bible is anti-gay, we must learn to dialog effectively, and most of all, we must remember that first we are called to love our neighbors.

Torn is very readable, and while Lee comes from a viewpoint that is more conservative than most Disciples, he honors the Biblical witness in a way that I can admire and Disciples can learn from. I highly recommend this book to anyone struggling with understanding how the Bible speaks to LGBT inclusion and anyone who seeks a better understanding of what it means to grow up as a gay person in a conservative church.

The God Box by Alex Sanchez tells the fictional story of Paul and Manuel, two high school students in a small Texas town. Paul, trying to hide his Mexican heritage by avoiding his birth name Pablo, as well as his budding gay sexuality, is actively involved in an Pentecostal church. Manuel, the new kid in town from the big city is openly gay from the start, and slowly challenges Paul to re-examine his faith. The author uses this set up to tell a warm – and many LGBT people would tell you a real and believable – account of what it’s like to grow up gay in a small conservative town. The story also outlines the characters’ struggles with family and Bible, providing solid insights into the Biblical witness along the way.

I highly recommend The God Box as a book that could be used in a high school youth group to deepen an understanding of the experience of LGBT young people and to educate youth on the Bible and sexuality. It would be a great book to leave around the youth room or to use in a book study with the high school group, perhaps even college age group. I have to admit that I very much enjoyed reading it myself, and I would recommend it to adults who seek a better understanding of the world that many of our youth live in.

But don’t take my word for it. Let me tell you how this book made its first impression on me. Several years ago at a General Assembly, a shy 15 year old came by the GLAD booth and talked with me about how difficult it was being a ‘liberal kid’ in a conservative school. I gave him a copy of this book, and the next day he came back to the GLAD booth to tell me he had already read it and given it to a friend who was also half way through it. I have heard from many teenagers since how much they enjoy reading this book. So – young person approved – what could be a better recommendation than that?