A year ago, I had a brief email correspondence with author Scott Terry about evangelicals and homosexuality. The following is a review and response to his book, Cowboys Armageddon, and the Truth: How a Gay Child Was Saved from Religion
Note: Parts of this post are rewritten, with permission, from my personal correspondence with the author. In that section, I refer to him by his first name.
How I came to read the book
My initial contact with Terry was regarding an art piece that he created that quoted various hateful and homophobic statements about LGBT people. I had emailed him to correct a misquote, but our conversation quickly moved to the broader issue of evangelicals and homosexuality and his own experience with religious people. He was incredibly gracious to me and I personally benefited from our interaction.
In the process of our conversation, Terry invited me to read two of his blog pieces on the Huffington post. His articles gave me some insight into how he framed the issues surrounding homosexuality and gay marriage and how he felt and had formed those feelings toward “fundamentalist” Christians (which, in his use, included me). His article, “Gay Man Seeks Straight Wife,” really struck a chord with me. Not only did Terry do a good job making his point in a humorous way, he shared his personal experience with evangelicals. What impacted me most in this article was his reaction to a “Born-Again” Christian at one of his book signings. This person stood in line just to tell him that she would pray for him but she didn’t buy his book. Terry remarks,
“I suppose she didn’t buy my book because she wasn’t interested in understanding who I am or where I come from. I think her only interest is in being committed to misunderstanding people like me. Many of you religious people are like that.”
Ouch! Have I been guilty of that? Well, I certainly didn’t want to be. So, before I emailed him again, I downloaded the kindle edition and over the next two weeks read his book.
A Short Review
In the book, Terry gives an account of his life as a child in an abusive, religious home. He also describes how he came to discover and embrace a gay identity. The book is an intensely personal account of his experience and I gained from reading his story. Although his abusers were Jehovah’s Witness and not evangelical (a meaningless distinction in Terry’s view, we are just different versions of fundamentalist Christians), there is much for evangelicals to hear.
Let me first begin by saying that Terry is a great writer. His story is compelling, his style is engaging, and he really brings the reader into his experience. Many of the scenes are intense. A few places near the end were admittedly more explicit than I am comfortable with. Overall, though, Terry helps you to understand both his experiences and the impact they had on him. One feature I especially liked was use of italics throughout the book to speak in his “child” voice and perspective. I thought that feature added much to the impact of the story itself.
I felt personally connected to Terry as I read. On every page, there was so much I wanted to say to him in response to his experience. I also kept wanting to skip to the ending chapter, “The Point of All This,” but I refrained and instead allowed the story to unfold. His telling was emotionally gripping. As I read, I felt with him and for him. Throughout the first two-thirds of the book, I wanted desperately to rescue him from his abusers. I was angry at many places. My eyes teared up at parts. I rejoiced when, in his story, he finally escaped his situation. Though his account ended with him “escaping” religion and now embracing his life as a gay man, I was nevertheless moved by his story. I especially appreciated his reflection in the closing chapter of the “point of all this” (no spoilers, you’ll have to read the book).
His account is compelling. The way Terry writes, I was personally drawn into his world. I finished the book feeling like I now knew him, but of course I didn’t. I only knew his story and only that part of it he had shared in the book. I was sure, though, that if we met I would like him and that if we lived in proximity he would be the kind of person I would want to count among my friends.
My reflection and shared thoughts
As I allowed the impact of the book to sink in, I reflected on how Scott’s story intersected with my own and how the gospel speaks into the stories of LGBT people. The following are a few of my thoughts as I shared them with the author.
The first is the reminder that behind every issue and every label are real people with personal stories. Our discussions about any of the issues of the day, including homosexuality or gay marriage, cannot be separated from the very real feelings, needs and experiences of the people involved. If I was to address Scott, I must do so as person to person and not treat him as a category with generalizations and stereotypes. Further, I must do so with respect toward him as a person of intrinsic worth and value as one created in the image of God. I can neither dismiss his experience or point of view out of hand but seek first to understand then be understood. Scott’s story is worth telling and being heard and I am the better for hearing it.
Second, I felt the need to say to him, “I’m sorry.” I apologized to him as a representative of the church as a whole, and included my own participation in many of the things he experienced from Christians in the past. I was sorry for how we had treated him as a label and not a person. I was sorry that we evangelicals have tended to treat gay persons as untouchables and outcasts rather than showing genuine love toward them. I was sorry for our own brand of homophobia that has no interest in understanding or listening but oversimplifies the issues and speaks without compassion or empathy. I was sorry that we have failed to communicate the message that God loves Scott, that He died for him, that He desires a relationship with him, and that He accepts all who will come to him in faith. I was sorry that in our efforts to call all sinners to repentance that we have failed to show love. I was sorry that we have sometimes used the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin” as an excuse for our mistreatment of LGBT persons rather than a humble desire to offer the hope of the gospel to persons for whom we genuinely care and love. I was sorry that we have somehow communicated a message of hate rather than the gospel of God’s grace and love – that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). I was sorry that we have emphasized that the “wages of sin is death” without offering the hope that “the gift of God is eternal life” (Rom 6:23). I was sorry that we have not reached out to the gay community or to gay persons in genuine friendship. I was sorry that in my desire to share the message of God’s hope, I’ve often come across as self-righteous and condescending.
I also shared with him that I cannot join with the progressives and affirm gay sex as legitimate and pleasing to God. Indeed, I do believe that homosexual sex violates God’s creative purposes and, like all forms of sin, is a rejection of God and his ways. But I understand that that message itself is offensive enough on its own. Every person (gay or straight) is separated from God because of sin. All must turn to God in faith that he died for that sin and rose again to give us new life. People take offense to that message (even if it is the ultimate expression of God’s love for us). I pray God and LGBT people will forgive us evangelicals for the times we have shown a lack of humility in sharing the gospel message. That Christians do in fact have the truth is not something that we should be prideful, haughty, condescending, or self-righteous about – for we too need God’s grace and ought to offer that same grace humbly to others.
In the end, I was touched to the core by Scott’s story and am sorry for the suffering he faced at the hands of religious people – the very ones who should have loved him the most. While the book has ended, however, Scott’s story has not. Perhaps, Scott will someday return to a belief in God. I pray that he does. I do believe that the Christian gospel is truth – not the kind of truth that says I’m right and you’re wrong, but the kind that says God is real and He is there and he offers Himself in a very real way. I hope Scott will come to know that truth and the person who is truth. I hope too that I will learn to share gospel in a way that communicates the love of Christ to LGBT people, including Scott, so that they too might “be reconciled to God.”
In the end, I am happy to have made the connection with Scott. I have benefited from our correspondence and from his writings. The invitation for him to turn to Christ is open and genuine. But, even if he never does, I am grateful to have been introduced to him and hear his story.