Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Torn About “Torn” 2 - Three Things that Disturbed Me Most

It’s been over a month since my last post on Torn by Justin Lee. Life seems to keep interfering with my ability to interact publicly with this important book.

But now that the official editing phase for Resisting Gossip has been completed, I want to try to turn my attention back to Torn and share some of my concerns about its message. Originally, I had envisioned a multi-week series laying out my disagreements one at a time. But now I think it would best to simply share the thoughts I consider the most important all at once.  (Who knows when I would get back to finish a longer series?)

As I’ve said before, I really wanted to like Torn because it came highly recommended to me and because its subtitle promised to rescue the gospel–some had said that it was the “game changer” that we all need. There were things that I appreciated about the book.

But in the end, I was disappointed with Torn and, more than that, disturbed by it. I wrote a note to myself inside the front cover to remind me of my final evaluation of the book. It said, “Dangerous and destructive. A Trojan horse. I think I heard Satan’s voice.”

I know those are strong words, but they are what I thought and felt after I’d read Torn.

Let me share with you the three major areas that disturbed me most:

#1. Torn Offers No Hope for Change.

The most disheartening word in the book is not “gay” but “orientation.”

Justin Lee has come to the conclusion that “gay” is the way someone simply is, they are “oriented that way” and there is almost no chance of someone who is gay becoming “straight” (see pgs. 234-237). This conclusion comes from Justin’s own story. It resonates with his experience of repeatedly trying to change and failing. And it fits with the stories many other people have told him.

Justin is agnostic about the origin of this orientation though he guesses that biology plays a significant role (pgs. 68-69). But the fact of orientation is something of which he is certain and the whole book rests upon it.  A key chapter is titled “Why are people gay?”  And while wrestling with that question, the question itself assumes that “gay” is something you ARE.

The word “orientation” tells a powerful, controlling story. A story of identity. A story that is fixed.  This story of orientation has captured the minds and hearts of this generation, but I’m not at all sure that it’s a true story.

What is sexual attraction, exactly?  Is sexual attraction something that is fixed and permanent? Or is it fluid and changeable?  I don’t believe that this question has yet been definitively answered.

Even if homosexuality has, as some evidence begins to point towards, a strong biological component, that still doesn’t mean that “gay is something you just are.”  Perhaps it would be better to say, “Same sex attraction is something you have” as in “I have attractions to people of my own gender” or “I have homosexual desires.”

And maybe that’s all that Justin means by his words “gay orientation,” but that’s not the story that I hear when I read his book. When I read Torn, I hear that there is no hope for someone in this situation to change.

But the whole point of this series of blog posts was to offer hope to Christians who have felt trapped in homosexuality and to share some stories of people who have experienced personal transformation. [People like Jackie, Christopher, Allan, Sam, Vaughn, Tim, Christy, and Rosaria.]

I am still convinced that 1 Corinthians 6 teaches that Christ-followers can overcome the sin of homosexuality (1 Cor 6:9-11).  That may not mean that they now have consistent opposite-sex attraction or even that they no longer have any same-sex attraction, but it would mean that they could escape from homosexual lust and actions.

I understand that not everyone wants hope for change in this way. Many will resonate with Justin’s word “orientation” and his conclusion that change is not possible. They believe that they are or can be happy in their present condition. But I find it fatalistic and depressing.

#2. Torn Tells Only Half of the Biblical Story.

The most disturbing chapter in Torn was called “Back to the Bible.”

In this chapter, Lee tells the story of re-reading with new eyes what he considered to be the most important passages in the Bible on homosexuality.

He retells the stories: of Sodom in Genesis 19 and Ezekiel 16, of the prohibition of a man lying with a man in Leviticus, of exchanging the natural for the unnatural in Romans 1, and of the identity of the arsenokoitai in 1 Corinthians 6. In each case, he offers an alternative interpretation that cast doubts on the traditional interpretation. In at least some of those cases, his alternatives might be reasonable.

Justin’s conclusion is that nothing is conclusive.

Here’s the problem: Lee seems even-handed. I believe that he’s trying to be even-handed!  But he’s left out some of the most important biblical data in understanding God’s design for human sexuality.

He’s left out what Jesus said.

When asked a tricky question about divorce, Jesus answered by referencing Genesis 1 & 2:

“‘Haven't you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate’” (Matthew 19:4-6).

That is our Lord Jesus’ sexual ethic, and it’s not up for debate.

Sexual expression is made for marriage, and marriage is made for a man and woman (complementary sexual partners created by God as male and female) to leave their parents and then be united into one flesh.

Jesus’ sexual ethic is more than just heterosexuality (or “straightness”) but holy matrimony between a man and a woman.

Jesus wasn't silent on homosexuality [contra funny-man Stephen Colbert]. Jesus was clear on holy sexuality.

The Apostle Paul takes this even further in Ephesians 5 where he also quotes Genesis and connects the ultimate purpose of marriage to pointing towards Christ and the Church.

“‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church’” (Ephesians 5:30-31).

Where does complementarity between the created sexes go if we allow for same-sex sexual relationships? [See this excellent article in the Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood on this very question.]

Justin Lee has a chapter alluding to Genesis 2, “That the Man Should Be Alone” where he does say that God gave Eve to Adam, but he apparently sees nothing programatic about this pattern for the rest of humanity throughout the ages (as I believe both Jesus and Paul do).

So, Lee only tells half of the biblical story, and therefore, doesn’t tell the true story.

Even if Lee’s alternative interpretations of Genesis 19, Leviticus 19, Romans 1, and 1 Corinthians 6 held a lot of water, they would only prove that certain kinds of homosexuality were proscribed, not that homosexuality was holy. I don’t think you can.

And I don’t think most of his exegetical points on those texts are valid, either. See Christopher Yuan’s gracious but truth-telling review of Torn, my old friend Dan Sullivan’s interactions, and Robert Gagnon’s magnum opus The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics for the other, more compelling side of those stories, too.

Lee ends his chapter on the Bible feeling like he can’t choose between the cup in front of him and the cup in front of his opponent, but I’m not even tempted by one of those cups.

Instead, all of his attempts to make a new interpretation seem tempting felt to me like the serpent in Genesis 3 asking Eve “Did God really say” that?

Now, hear me clearly, I’m not saying that Justin Lee is the devil’s advocate. But I do feel like he’s been listening to him without realizing it.

#3. Torn Suggests the Wrong Way Forward.

The best thing about Torn is that it teaches that Christians need to love others.

Justin Lee has seen the church repeatedly fail to love people with same-sex attraction. In fact, he’s seen that professing Christians have hated people with same-sex attraction, vilified them and demonized them. And in the name of hating-the-sin-yet-loving-the-sinner, Christians have also said a lot of goofy things that are misinformed (for example, that all homosexuals simply choose their desires, not just their behaviors).

And Lee is right to sound a clarion call for loving others. As I said before, I appreciate his emphasis on respect. I applaud Lee's call to listen to people with whom we disagree.

However, love does more than just respect and listen. Love also warns and challenges. Love calls people who are running in the wrong direction to turn around (repent) and change.  It is not love to affirm someone’s sin.

Love wants what is best for someone, and God has revealed what is best for us in His design for sexuality. Love will always want God’s best for someone and will not be content stand idly by while they hurt themselves.

In my estimation, Justin Lee does not call for enough love.  The kind of love that he is calling for does not go far enough.

I say that Torn is like a Trojan Horse because it sounds good, like an acceptable compromise, but in my opinion that compromise goes too far and lets enemy troops inside our walls.

It seems to me that Lee is too worried about Christianity’s P.R. problem. He is concerned that the rest of the world will tune out Christianity because of its rigid stance on sexuality.

And I agree that we have too often fallen into the ditch of hate and distancing ourselves from people with same-sex attraction–often because of sinful fear or unloving disgust. And when we have done that–we have marred the name of Christ and hampered our witness.

But the answer is not to career over the road into the ditch of compromise. The answer is to receive the rebuke we deserve, to correct our course, and to stick to the middle of the road–not to capitulate.

I can’t be responsible for what the world thinks of me or of Christianity. The world will often hate Christianity just for being Christianity.  I need to simply be true to Christ, and let the world form its own conclusions.

I think that Lee is wrong about what the way forward should be.

The way forward is to continue to truly love the sinner while hating the sin. Many of us haven’t really tried that yet.  As G.K. Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

While I learned a lot from listening to Justin Lee, and I think I could learn more, I don’t plan to follow him. I think he’s headed in the wrong direction.


I think I have one more post in this series on Torn (and probably the last major post in this ongoing series). While laying out my major concerns above, I haven't really interacted with Justin Lee's notions of using the rubric of self-giving love to break through the impasse between those who condemn homosexual relationships and those who affirm them. This is very important to Lee's argument, so I hope to write something about it in the weeks to come.