Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians
By Candace Chellew-Hodge
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008
Review by Carl McColman
There’s a book called UnChristian, by David Kinnaman & Gabe Lyons, which provides an eye-opening look at how young people who are non-Christian perceive Christianity. The single most common descriptor that the outsiders used to describe their perception of Christianity was that it is anti-homosexual. Not just that most Christians think homosexuality is wrong, but that “Christians are bigoted and show disdain for gays and lesbians… Christians are fixated on curing homosexuals and on leveraging political solutions against them.”
With this in mind, I am writing this review of Bulletproof Faith as a heterosexually-married Christian, and I am speaking to the majority of Christians who do not identify as gay (for those gay and lesbian Christians who happen to read this review, I trust you do not need my encouragement to buy and read this book). I think every Christian needs to read this book. I say this because I believe most “straight” Christians have no idea how much suffering their gay and lesbian friends and relatives experience as they try to make their way in a faith that all too often is explicitly hostile to their very being.
I don’t want to bog down this review with arguments about human sexuality and Christian ethics. If you want to know more about what I think about this contentious issue, start by reading William Countryman’s wise book on Christian sexual ethics, Dirt, Greed & Sex. For now, let’s just say I’m not worried if my readers are conservative or liberal when it comes to sexual ethics. No matter where you stand, you still need to read this book. Progressive readers will appreciate its positive contribution: it’s a work of compassionate pastoral guidance regarding the many complex issue surrounding the question of how straight and gay or lesbian Christians can relate to each other in a way that is not defined by conflict or fear. Meanwhile, those who are not progressive still need to read this book, because it provides an honest look at of how the cumulative effect of Christian hostility toward homosexuality really is harmful toward gays and lesbians (both inside and outside the church).
Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” For gay and lesbian Christians, it’s a double whammy: not only do they find the hostility of so many straight Christians to be relentless, but they continually get challenged by non-Christian gays and lesbians, who basically say “Why do you stay in a culture that hates you so much?” In our society it is never easy to be gay, but it’s a lot easier for gay and lesbian persons to reject Christianity. That gay and lesbian Christians like Candace Chellew-Hodges remain faithful to God even in the face of a culture that is often so unwelcoming speaks loudly of the depth and conviction of their faith. Those of us who find it much easier to be Christian have a lot to learn from them.
What I particularly love about Bulletproof Faith is Chellew-Hodge’s rock-solid commitment to the heart of Christian ethics: from “love your enemies” to “master your anger,” she combines common sense, a commitment to psychological well-being, and a theology deeply grounded in the unconditional grace of God, to encourage her readers to place their trust in God’s love rather than in humanity’s brokenness. She tells her journey of dealing with hate-filled emails from Christians who reject gays and lesbians: once upon a time such messages filled her with anger and fear, but by growing toward spiritual maturity, she reached the point where her emotional response to such hatred is one of sadness and grief. Compassion, even toward those who hate us, is the sign of true spiritual maturity, and this is the beautiful heart of this book’s message. To the extent that Bulletproof Faith is about growing more fully and deeply in the power of God’s love and grace, it’s message is for all Christians.