Christianity and Sexual Orientation:
Two Books, Two Audiences
Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians
by Candace Chellow-Hodge
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008. Paperback, 172 pages.
Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community
by Andrew Marin (with a Foreword by Brian McLaren)
Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books, InterVarsity Press, 2009. Paperback, 204 pages.
Reviewed by Lisa Page
In Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, Candace Chellew-Hodge shares her own story of transformation. She was at one time a seminary student looking for biblical “weapons” in order to defend herself as a lesbian, but she became a person of “bulletproof faith” who no longer needs to fight. Instead, she has come to rely on her knowledge and experience of her Creator to feel secure in God’s love.
This book is a hold-in-your-hands expansion of the equipping and nurturing that Chellew-Hodge has been offering the gay and lesbian Christian community for well over 15 years as the assistant pastor at Garden of Grace United Church of Christ in Columbia, South Carolina. She is also the founder and editor of Whosoever.org, and author of a blog posted at ReligiousDispatches.org.
As a Christian lesbian, I remember being struck by two things the first time I read this book in November 2008. The first is the novel idea that our experiences of the Holy Spirit, as gay and lesbian people, are no less valid than the experiences of straight followers of Christ. Such an idea is mind-blowing to those of us who have been taught not to trust our experience of God’s Spirit because it contradicts church tradition and fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible. But as Chellew-Hodge reminds us, God does new things just as God did when Peter was instructed to break Old testament law and eat things that had been deemed unclean. God spoke to Peter and said, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” (Acts 11:9b).
The second thing that struck me in my first reading was simply the way that, at the beginning of the book, Chellew-Hodge laid out how it feels to be a gay or lesbian Christian—the things we experience, both challenging and rewarding, that are unique to being a sexual minority in the church. I felt as though someone had stepped inside of me and told my own story! Seeing it in print was affirming and made me feel that much less alone.
I see Bulletproof Faith as having three main components: (a) reframing the spiritual-survival issue from a place of defense to a place of confidence; (b) giving us skills for choosing our battles wisely and handling them with gentleness and reverence; and (c) guiding us through spiritual practices that prepare us for the emotional challenge of difficult conversations.
Chellew-Hodge begins Bulletproof Faith by offering a whole new way of considering the conversation around homosexuality and Christianity. She proposes that “there is only one side” to the issue and that side proclaims the inclusion and acceptance of GLBT Christians, that our lives and the desires of our hearts are not sin in the eyes of God, and that we need not change or live a life of celibacy to be acceptable to the church. This position is 180 degrees from the average message heard by GLBT Christians. Instead of a message of reproach, we’re offered a chance to live with confidence in our understanding of God and God’s purpose for our lives.
Chellew-Hodge doesn’t use Bulletproof Faith to explain the scriptures typically cited to condemn us, though she provides an ample list of resources at the back of the book for our proof-texting needs. But instead of getting into a battle of proof-texting, she encourages us to take a more wholistic approach to our understanding of God, based on John Wesley’s “four legged stool” model which relies not only on Scripture but also on tradition, reason, and a heavy dose of experience. We are encouraged to trust in our own understanding of the Holy Spirit’s guidance in our lives and to not let others accuse us of trying to justify our sexuality.
Many times, she says, the best response to an accuser is simply to walk away.
But there are times when conversation is necessary, and Chellew-Hodge equips us to respond in ways that affirm our identity as gay, lesbian or transgendered Christians and to assert our place in the body of Christ. She teaches us how to do this, while acknowledging our accuser’s own identity as a beloved child of God, and helps us to consider the hurt they must have suffered or the fear they must be experiencing that has caused them to lash out at us.
She emphasizes that if we prepare adequately and are confident in our experience of God and God’s love for each of us, then we never need defend ourselves. Instead we can be representatives of God’s enduring love for all people by having “gentle and reverent” conversations with those who would condemn us.
In times like these, when our pastors deny us church membership, when our families reject true relationship with us, and when the loudest, most prominent voices in the church tell us we can’t be both gay and followers of Christ, we can often feel very alone. Bulletproof Faith reminds me that we are not alone, and one day we all will be reconciled to the church, to society, to our families. And justice will reign.
Only upon re-reading Bulletproof Faith for this review did I come to see what I believe is Chellew-Hodge’s real message. It’s the same thing my mother taught me when I was young and the girl down the street bullied me. “Kill them with kindness” she’d say.
By being the unlikely emissaries of Christ’s love, we who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender can not only diffuse an angry accuser but serve to be God incarnate in the life of another broken and seeking soul who would condemn us. It’s only through sacrificial love and an openness to sharing our story that the hearts and minds of those who don’t yet understand us will begin to change.
Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community
You may have heard about Andrew Marin recently. He made headlines by leading a group of Christians to the Chicago Pride celebration in order to apologize to the GLBT community for the way they’ve been treated by the church. They wore t-shirts that said “I’m Sorry” and held up signs saying “I’m sorry for how the church has hurt you.” They were warmly received. There is a widely published photo of a young gay man wearing only his underpants who had jumped from a float to hug Marin.
In Love Is an Orientation, Andrew Marin, founder of the Marin Foundation and loveisanorientation.org, tells the story of how he was once a “Bible banging homophobe,” the result of the evangelical, heterosexist culture in which he was raised. That was, until the summer after his first year of college when all three of his best friends came out to him in three successive months. Suddenly, a group he had vilified and mocked confronted him in the faces of friends that he’d known and loved for years.
He had a change of heart, if not a change of theology, and felt drawn into a story that would lead to a better understanding of gay and lesbian people. He moved into Boystown, a mostly gay part of Chicago, where he surrounded himself with gay and lesbian people and culture.
Love Is An Orientation is written for heterosexual Christians who view homosexuality as a sin and is Marin’s account of what he has learned over the last eight years. It is his challenge to straight Christians everywhere to change the way they approach the gay and lesbian community and to infuse the cross-cultural conversation with love instead of division.
One thing is quite clear, Marin’s heart is in the right place. He is earnest in his quest to reconcile gay and lesbian people to the church, to teach the church how to begin to heal the wounds that have been festering for years, and to end the divisive language and hurtful way of relating to the GLBT community.
Marin offers straight Christians many practical tools for having conversations with GLBT people, including asking open-ended questions and eliminating common but hurtful rhetoric such as “loving the sinner but hating the sin.” He also helps the straight Christian reader to understand why this notion is so hurtful. He says that in the case of gays and lesbians, (sexual) behavior equals identity. “Hating the sin” isn’t interpreted as hating the sexual acts of a gay or lesbian person; instead it is taken as an attack on the person’s very identity. I disagree with his definition of identity, but I affirm the ultimate conclusion—that being gay or lesbian is not simply a behavior but is truly part of one’s identity.
This book frustrated me, however. Much of what he offers as revelatory insight, as well as many of the examples he uses, seem to have the effect of perpetuating stereotypes, not debunking them. He makes statements that felt very false and left me wondering who, exactly, he had spoken to that would give him such ideas.
For instance, on page 37, Marin writes: “Over the years I have had many gay people tell me that if someone were to take away their sexual behavior, they would be taking away all they are as people” (emphasis mine).
Or on page 67, when he gives an account of meeting with a gay pastor:
“Although I know this pastor does not speak for all gay pastors, he interrupted me and flat-out told me that he intentionally disregards entire sections of the Bible because he believes that they are not correct. . . . He then quickly asked me what I thought about that. As I was about to answer the question, he not so subtly crossed his legs, folded his arms and sat back in his chair with a smug look on his face.”
My temptation is to refute these unfounded claims and give counter-examples to his stories. I assume many readers will feel the same way; others won’t know any better. It’s frustrating to have these erroneous misconceptions applied to me, and it would be satisfying if I could refute all of the misconceptions that surround the traditional Christian perspective on gay and lesbian people.
But gay and lesbian people at Chicago Pride didn’t embrace Marin’s genuine act of apology and love because he had made a solid, reasoned case that Christians are loving and worthy of being forgiven. No, they embraced him because he showed up and acted on his love for the GLBT community. If I, as a lesbian Christian, am going to refute the misconceptions of our community, I’ll do it only through action and relationship, not through words and arguments.
Having been part of the conversation surrounding GLBT issues and the church for 10 years now, I was surprised to see the simplicity of Marin’s message. For those who may feel he doesn’t go far enough, it’s good to remember that many folks in the church have yet to form a real relationship with a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender person; and for them, what Marin is presenting is a brand new conversation. For such Christians, not having knowingly had any experience with a member of the GLBT community, Marin’s book will be a challenge. So it is with Marin; because of his genuine desire to help, his candid admissions of his own feelings, and his willingness to listen and learn (including unlearning homophobic attitudes), you have to take the bad with the good.
The two books differ but have something important in common
Although Marin’s book is aimed toward a different audience from that of Candace Chellow-Hodge’s Bulletproof Faith, one part of their respective messages is exactly the same. That message is that God is love; and Christians, regardless of sexual orientation, are called to an orientation of loving, listening, and caring. That includes heeding the message of Proverbs 16:21, “If you speak kindly, you can teach others” (Contemporary English Version, CEV).
Lisa Page is a new member of EEWC-CFT. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Washington, and has worked in the investment and financial services industry since 2003.
In addition, Lisa currently serves as vice president on the board of Project Kesho, a non-profit organization dedicated to removing the barriers to education for the children of East Africa. She also serves on the steering committee of Spilling Hope, which has provided clean, safe water for over 20,000 people in Uganda over the last two years.
Lisa lives in Seattle, Washington, as part of a small intentional community that includes a couple, their three- year-old daughter, Alice the dog, and three chickens.
© 2010 by Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus. Originally published in the Summer (July–September) 2010 year issue of Christian Feminism Today, Volume 34, number 2.