Editor’s note: I am always after Adam Palmer to write for us, as he has insights I seldom hear from any other. Unfortunately, AP is a freelance writer who is in great demand, so I don’t often get him to write for free for us. A few days ago he approached me to ask if he could review a book he thought was worth reading. I agreed. (This was before Jason Collins came out as a gay player in the NBA.) Read Adam’s quick review of Jeff Chu’s book, and then decide if it is something you will want to invest time in reading yourself. JD
I first came across Jeff Chu’s marvelous oddity through an infrequent perusal of Salon.com, where they posted an excerpt of the author’s visit to the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. After reading a setup that explained that Chu was both gay and a devout Christian, I began to expect some sort of Dan Savage-style shock-jockery, some explosive reality-TV shouting match between our hero Chu and the easy villain of Fred Phelps.
Nevertheless, I was intrigued and, as the book unfolded, I began to be drawn in by Chu’s literate, immediate, and honest style. There’s nary a raised voice to be found. Instead, Chu keeps the tone respectful and reflective (though he does allow himself the occasional wry, droll observation), which allows the reader to focus on the task at hand: can someone be both gay and a Christian?
Tangentially a memoir, Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America spends most of its word count in conversation with people from across the United States, many of them of same-sex orientation, many of those who often spent a lifetime growing up in the evangelical church. And then they came out and were told, “We don’t have a place for you here.”
Growing up an evangelical but accepting his sexuality in adulthood, Chu can correctly pronounce the shibboleths to gain insider access to both church leaders and LGBT activists. It allows him to write like an insider but think like an outsider, bringing his journalistic ethos (in his other life, he is a writer for Fast Company) and a bloodhound’s nose for truth to conversations about faith, homosexuality, and the convergence of the two.
Peppered throughout, more liberally toward the end, are Chu’s own observations on what he’s uncovered about faith in general and Christianity in particular. For example, there’s this passage, the ending of a two-paragraph rumination on Chu’s favorite part of the “full armor of God,” the “shield of faith.”
There’s something appealing in the notion of carrying this picture of who you are into war. Then when, God willing, you come home, it comes too, changed, as you are, by the dings and scars of the journey and the battle. Your faith can’t emerge unscathed or untouched—not if you’ve really fought.
The more I read, the more fascinated I became not with just the picture that developed of the evangelical church’s treatment of homosexuals, but with the way we’re treating the non-Christian world in general. More and more of us are walking around with un-dinged, unscarred shields. Or perhaps we’re using them in the wrong battle. If nothing else, Does Jesus Really Love Me? is an indictment on many American churches’ insistence on joining the front lines of the culture war.
The oft-repeated mantra evangelicals love to give regarding homosexuality is “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” But as Does Jesus Really Love Me? shows, while we don’t yet really know what the loving part looks like, we have the hating part down pat.