Jeff Chu, Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America (New York: Harper, 2013), 353pp.
Jeff Chu's great-grandfather was a missionary in China. His grandfather and two uncles were Baptist preachers. Chu himself went to a Christian high school, which was where he first knew he was gay, and where one of his teachers who was discovered to be gay was thrown under the bus. The children's song Jesus Loves Me characterized his life. But Chu is now thirty-five, and it's hard to be the gay Christian son of Chinese immigrants. He has a church that he calls home, but attends irregularly. His mother still "cries herself to sleep." So, he's full of questions about the relationship between sex and his soul. Can he sing that childhood song and believe it?
To answer his questions, Chu spent a year crisscrossing the country listening to just about anyone who would talk to him. He visited 28 churches from numerous denominations and interviewed 300 people. Everyone gets to have their say in his book. That includes the bigots from Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, leaders and participants in Exodus International, Ted Haggard, black gays, gay Christians who have chosen celibacy, gay people who live in monogamous heterosexual marriages, those who live closeted double lives, denominational executives, those with a robust faith and those who have lost all faith.
"My goal," he writes in his introduction, "was to understand why those who call themselves followers of Christ start from the same point but end up in such radically different places on the issue of God, the church, and homosexuality." Two things becomes clear in his book. First, it's very misleading to generalize. Whether you're gay or straight, Christian or not, some people are respectful and others are rude, some are gracious and others are angry, some are well-informed and some speak out of ignorance, some can see shades of gray and others see only black and white. Second, when you listen to all these conversations, "it's almost as if people are speaking entirely different languages. And it's almost as if people are preaching totally different faiths."
Chu concludes each section of the book with his own perspective. He's mighty hard on "cowardly clergy" for not speaking up. He's very critical of the "hypersexualized" ethos of the Metropolitan Community Church. He admits, too, that you can interpret these many stories "any way you like." But I was glad I read his book. Trying hard to listen to another person's story is always a good thing to do. A very critical review of Chu's book in the New York Times, written by a gay atheist, nonetheless conceded that he "has written a fascinating, thoughtful and important book."