I don’t get to read books very often. I don’t say this with that sort of smug “I have better and more important things to do” attitude that I so often hear. It’s more of a “I really need to make more time in my schedule for reading some of the amazing things that are out there, and it bums me that I’ve yet to do that” sort of thing. God Told Me To Hate You: An Evangelical Minister’s Escape from the Clerical Closet caught my eye immediately.
God Told Me To Hate You is the story of former missionary turned reverend turned gay rights activist Tom Muzzio. It’s an engaging story that takes the reader from his journeys through the army, missionary work, and eventually life as a gay rights activist. It’s an extremely easy read. What I mean by it being an easy read is that it’s written in a very conversational style that flows very easily and is very quick to digest.
Muzzio’s look at religion is quite a cynical one, and I don’t necessarily blame him, given the experiences he’s had.
One of the most interesting things in the book (to me anyways) was that fact that Muzzio grew up in a largely non-religious household in the 50’s. He describes himself as having “no knowledge of Christianity,” which is surprising to me. This is probably my bias as a 32 year old in 2016 writing this. I just envision every kid growing up in this black and white TV show where everyone says their prayers before bed and everyone goes to church on Sunday. This is not to say Muzzio’s upbringing was liberal.
As the book is a memoir, its largely a collection of personal stories that formed his thoughts, ideas, and experiences throughout his life. Muzzio is a fantastic storyteller. As said above, the entire book is written in a conversational tone that I could at times very easily imagine was someone standing in front of me, telling me the stories of “the good ole days.”
The story is largely one of a life half lived in secret. Muzzio says he knew rather early on that he was gay, but throughout his time in the military and his evangelical ministry, he played the part (as many did and many still do) of the good Christian straight guy. He even married a woman at one point who was his partner in missionary work.
There is a fair amount of cynicism in his re-telling of many of these stories, and it’s hard to blame him for feeling the way he does. He describes himself as “a real dope for falling for it (religion)” and tends to paint with very broad strokes about the intelligence and the motivations of those still involved in churches and missionary work.
Muzzio describes himself as a person who was genuinely interested in the salvation of the people he preached to. Part of his disillusionment started when he figured out that many, if not most, doing the work he did were actually just money hungry charlatans. I get the impression that he believes MOST people who do the work are that way.
I’m generally uncomfortable with broad painting of an entire group’s motivations. And most certainly, I don’t like to make assumptions or generalizations about their intelligence or their capacity for rational judgment. At one point in the book, he says that he believes the average pew-sitter is brain dead. That’s not a statement I’m at all comfortable with, but I understand why he feels the way he does.
Something I very much appreciate about the book is that he has an outsider’s view of Christianity. He goes rather in depth talking about how the sort of crusading evangelical Christianity practiced in the US is a rarity in the rest of the world. He does a fantastic job of pointing out several areas in which the modern church had utterly failed to live up to their own doctrine, and the takedown is delicious.
Muzzio’s story is one that may be familiar to anyone who’s been forced to hide who they are when it comes to their sexuality or their religious identity. If you’ve ever had to live a double life for fear of your friends, family, and community finding out who you are or what you believe, you will see some of yourself in this story.
All in all, God Told Me To Hate you is a fun, quick, engaging, and informative read. I would recommend it to anyone who’s interested in a deeper, more insightful view of modern Christianity, international missionary work, and the underground life of someone forced to live in the closet.