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For One Gay Christian, a Search for Understanding While Hanging on to Faith

June 21, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Author and journalist Jeff Chu joins Ray Suarez to talk about his personal journey coming to terms with being Christian and gay. In his book, "Does Jesus Really Love Me?", Chu discusses the choices made by gay Christians trying to reconcile their lives, identities and faith.
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RAY SUAREZ: Finally tonight: a personal tale about coming to terms with being Christian and gay. The subject was in the headlines again this week.

The president of Exodus International, the oldest and largest Christian ministry seeking to curb or eliminate same-sex attraction, announced he is shutting down the group. Alan Chambers apologized for Exodus’s past work, saying: “I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts.”

The choices made by gay Christians trying to reconcile their lives and identities to their Christian faith are explored in a new book, “Does Jesus Really Love Me?” by journalist Jeff Chu.

And, Jeff, welcome.

JEFF CHU, Author, “Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America”: Thank you so much.

RAY SUAREZ: So many Christian denominations have had really divisive family fights about the status of gay people. But others have been pretty categorical: It’s a sin, it’s irreconcilable with the Christian religion, and must be judged.

Where does that leave gay evangelicals?

JEFF CHU: I think it leaves a lot of people in a confused place, because we look at a situation where so many people are interpreting a very ancient document and have fundamentally different views about what the Bible says about human sexuality.

Who do you listen to? Most of the voices are well-meaning voices, but the conclusions they come to are so radically different.

RAY SUAREZ: You wrestled with this yourself as a young man coming out and then headed across America to talk to people in all kinds of — who’ve made all kind of conclusions about how to proceed. Did you know what you were going to find out there in the “out-there”?

JEFF CHU: I think it’s always dangerous as a journalist to presume that you know what you’re going to find.

I was surprised at much of what I found. My goal was to uncover stories that hadn’t been told before. And even in some cases where the subjects were familiar, say Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas with “Their God Hates Fags” protests signs, I did uncover things that I didn’t expect to find.

RAY SUAREZ: I came away from some of the stories in your book with sadness, sometimes admiration, and sometimes just head-shaking wonder at the sort of schematics that people make for themselves, the compartments they build for their lives so they can just keep on living.

JEFF CHU: I think faith is such a core thing to so many people that they construct elaborate arrangements to make sure that they can hang on to that.

When you grow up in church and then you’re told because of another part of your identity, you can no longer belong, people do try to find ways in many cases to get back to God, if not to church.

RAY SUAREZ: A lot of people made the choice to leave altogether, rather than finding a church that would love them. That’s kind of a sad conclusion. They threw the whole deal out when they were in a place that wouldn’t welcome them and wouldn’t find them in fellowship.

JEFF CHU: I think, for some people who have ended up on the atheist/agnostic part of the religious spectrum, they feel a sense of triumph. They feel like reason has won out.

That’s not where I have ended up. I have tried to hang onto my faith, because it is very important to me. I think the conclusion that I have that is that we can’t make these decisions for anyone else. We’re not talking about something that’s rational when we’re talking about faith. There is an element of the absurd in it. Kierkegaard talks about that in his writings. Faith is not a rational process.

RAY SUAREZ: But you went out to these people, having already in some way come to terms with who you are, how you want to live your life. Did you have to resist the temptation to judge some of these people who’ve made some very different choices?

A gay man, for instance, who marries a woman and tries to live the straight life, even though he’s fully aware that he’s still gay?

JEFF CHU: There were moments where, internally, I was judging. And at that point, I had to put on my journalist hat and remind myself there is an element of objectivity that I have to maintain here.

I have to tell this story so that when my subject opens the book, they recognize themselves. That was the commitment that I made. At the same time, I have a stake in this game, too. And I think every reader who approaches these stories, whether it’s the story of the gay man who marries a woman, or the story of a man who chooses to be celibate for 30 years, or the story of the congregation that gets kicked out of the Lutheran Church for calling a gay man to the pastorate, and then has to decide whether to rejoin or not when the church comes in its direction, everybody will read these stories in different ways, because we all have our own biases and we all have our own baggage.

And I think that’s OK. We just need to have a more gracious conference about those biases and about that baggage.

RAY SUAREZ: Is the whole thing, the whole story, in motion? Is this just a capturing of a moment in time? Will “The Church,” capital T., capital C., big institutional church, be somewhere different in 10 years, 20 years?

JEFF CHU: I hope so.

I hope that we’re constantly growing and evolving. But you look at American families and how there isn’t one that’s untouched by this issue. The conversations are happening — happening at kitchen tables in a way that they weren’t 10, 20, 30 years ago. The church has to respond in some way to that conversation.

And it will be shaped by that response. People will choose to leave if the church is not candid, if the church doesn’t learn to deal in some constructive way with this issue, or people will stay if it feels like the church is being relevant.

RAY SUAREZ: We’re going to continue our conversation online, taking a closer look at Exodus International.

The book is “Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America.”

Jeff Chu, thanks.

JEFF CHU: Thank you, Ray.