Dan Savage, Jeff Chu, and Why the Christian Church Is No Place for the LGBT Community

This weekend’s edition of the New York Times Book Review has a piece by Dan Savage, talking about Jeff Chu‘s new book Does Jesus Really Love Me?

In the book, Chu, a gay Christian, writes about how he and others like him are working to reconcile their sexuality with their faith — and how it doesn’t always work out. Along the way, he offers a “sympathetic portrait” of the Westboro Baptist Church, visits a gay-welcoming church, and profiles a man who is gay but refuses to have a boyfriend because he believes doing so would keep him out of heaven. (How’s that for depressing?)

While it’s a valiant endeavor to cover the church’s spectrum of views of homosexuality from the inside, Savage really gets irate at the way Chu often lets certain Christians off the hook:

Chu goes easy on Exodus International, the largest “ex-gay” ministry in the country, despite the harm the group does to vulnerable gays and lesbians, particularly gay children. He gives an approving nod to the sneakily homophobic Marin Foundation, an evangelical group that shows up at gay pride parades holding signs that say, “We’re sorry!” and offering hugs to paradegoers who have been harmed by religion. But Andrew Marin, the group’s founder and public face, has urged his followers to target Christian teenagers struggling with “same-sex attraction” because they’re easier to talk out of being gay. Marin has refused to say that gay sex isn’t a sin, and he seems to believe that gay people can change their sexual orientation. The more you learn about the Marin Foundation, the more it looks like Westboro Baptist in the drag of false contrition: God hates you — now with hugs! Chu blasts [Metropolitan Community Church], but Marin gets a pass.

Harsh words for Marin, someone whose foundation tries to “bridge the gap” between the LGBT and Christian worlds but, if true, they’re well-deserved. I’ve criticized him myself in the past for refusing to take sides on the simplest of moral questions, but it’s part of their strategy: Don’t answer the big questions. They refuse to answer things like whether homosexuality is a sin (it’s not… not anymore than heterosexuality is, anyway) and whether people are born gay (it’s not a choice, that’s for sure).

The problem with that strategy is that it suggests both sides have valid arguments. They don’t. Furthermore, one side is fighting for equality and civil rights while the other side is trying to take them away or stop them from ever becoming a reality. There are not two acceptable stances on these issues, and millions of young people are rightly leaving the church because they know that truth better than their pastors do.

(As for Savage’s other criticisms, I reached out to Andrew Marin for a response. He said he’ll be responding on his site today and I’ll update this post when that happens.)

***Update***: Marin has responded to the claims and you can click the links to read his response and my rebuttal.

Anyway, back to Chu’s book. The ultimate problem with it is that it suggests Christians are still welcome in the church, if only church leaders would accept them back. But the most prominent churches, in their current iterations, are never going to be at the forefront of the civil rights movement. Certainly not the evangelical churches that are so popular. They’ll be halfheartedly-tolerant at best. They’ve been lagging behind the rest of us for so long that they’ll be lucky if they can even see us down the road over the next decade.

Chu says that churches are pushing gay people out because of the way they act. That’s not really what’s going on, though, as Savage explains:

My father was a Catholic deacon, my mother was a lay minister and I thought about becoming a priest. I was in church every Sunday for the first 15 years of my life. Now I spend my Sundays on my bike, on my snowboard or on my husband. I haven’t spent my post-Catholic decades in a sulk, wishing the church would come around on the issue of homosexuality so that I could start attending Mass again. I didn’t abandon my faith. I saw through it. The conflict between my faith and my sexuality set that process in motion, but the conclusions I reached at the end of that process — there are no gods, religion is man-made, faith can be a force for good or evil — improved my life. I’m grateful that my sexuality prompted me to think critically about faith. Pushed out? No. I walked out.

Preach it, Brother Dan.

It’s not just gay people who have those experiences, either. A lot of people are leaving their churches because of what they’ve heard their pastors say.

When it comes to LGBT issues, they’re wrong.

When it comes to women’s rights, they’re wrong.

When it comes to science, they’re wrong.

When it comes to politics, they’re wrong.

When it comes to characterizing non-Christians, they’re wrong.

When it comes to sex, they’re wrong.

Eventually, the entire façade comes crashing down, bringing with it all those other Biblical stories, and you’re left wondering why you ever believed any of it in the first place.

We’re all better off outside the church, but that goes double for LGBT people. The solution, while admirable, isn’t to fix the church. The solution is to convince the good people who are still in it to get the hell out of there because it’s just not worth saving.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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