This story takes place on March 1st, pre-COVID, when you could still go to events if you had the energy.
I had just hosted a double birthday party at home for my boys. I was exhausted and in no state to be sociable. So when my friend texted to ask if I wanted to go to a book launch with her -- she could pick me up in an hour -- I almost reflexively said no.
But then I read more closely -- she was asking me to go to a book launch in Porter Square, for a book written by a friend of hers, an Evangelical Christian writing about same-sex attraction.
I now had so many reasons to say yes:
First, send my husband and kids out for pizza and not have to cook dinner.
Second and following, go with a friend (2) to meet a local (3) Christian (4) author (5) presenting on a controversial topic (6) in the heart of Cambridge (7). Really, I wondered, how did this author manage to get an event at Porter Square Books?
I was intrigued. Except, when my friend picked me up and drove me to the talk, she turned onto a cross street before the shopping center. The event wasn’t going to be held at Porter Square Books after all. It was in Porter Square...but at a church.
“Oh,” I said, slightly disappointed, “that makes more sense.” For me, whose writing either dovetails or fully dives into discussion on faith and religion, I wanted to meet someone who was able to break through community and audience divides.
“Oh my gosh, you thought it was going to be held at the bookstore? Wow, that would have been amazing!”
My friend took my disappointment in stride as we swiftly made our way inside the sanctuary and came face to face with the author herself. My friend made introductions and I offered congratulations before we quickly found seats in a pew where we could listen to the church pastor interview Rachel.
“I can’t believe this isn’t true because it’s inconvenient for my life.”
After combing the scriptures to understand God’s design for human relationships, Rachel wrote her book in order to “help same-sex attracted Christians to thrive in Christ and also to help others understand those who are.” She said she wanted to share what the Bible says on these issues and to share the information within a framework of what God wants for us, his beautiful and positive vision for humanity.
She briefly acknowledged the two prevailing and clashing viewpoints, stating that conservatives might say, “in order to become holy, you have to become heterosexual.” She debunked that myth by reminding everyone that heterosexuals commit sexual sin too. On the other hand, she said, liberals might say, “there’s a strong belief to obey your desires in order to be yourself...when the truth is my desires don’t own me. They don’t care about me. Jesus does both. I will find more authenticity and freedom submitting to him than submitting to my flesh.”
My church friends and I discuss this issue periodically. I don’t have many Christian friends who are also same-sex attracted. I can see how checking out my church would feel alienating to a same-sex attracted person, whether she was in a same sex relationship or not. My church is crawling with (heterosexual) families. And yet, my church friends and I like to think we are accepting. We’d love for our gay friends to check out our church. You don’t have to be straight to attend. You don’t have to be straight to be a member. We want our friends to come to church...and we start to wonder if maybe our church should allow gay marriage. We start to wonder how much we are a product of our local culture. We wonder what the real answers to these questions are.
In the end, Rachel concludes that “it’s never safe to call something holy which God calls sin.” She broadens the discussion when she adds that her agenda “is not to change who they sleep with but to unite them with the one who created them.”
At the end of the night, the audience members were invited to grab a copy of Born Again This Way from the back of the sanctuary. I thought it was a great way for the publisher to promote the book. Several weeks later, when I was offered a free digital version of Maya Lang’s memoir, I realized that this might be a traditional publicity move. In the meantime, though, I had a free book, and I couldn’t wait to crack the cover.
Rachel uses her personal testimony and anecdotes from her life in order to illustrate corresponding messages from scripture. Her goal with the book is to explain God’s purpose for sexuality. Using the example of counterfeiting, she suggests that “people trained in identifying counterfeit money don’t need to know every type of forgery on the market. They need to be flawless experts in the real thing.” (30)
Then she gives it to us, a succinct analysis:
“Whether we’re married or single, through the blessing of sexuality God communicates powerfully about three things: his prizing of diversity, his priority towards new life, and his love for his people.” (31)
But, I argue in my head, surely there can be worse things than the friend of mine who has made a family with her wife. Is IVF sinful too? Does God allow it for the heterosexual couple struggling with infertility but not the same-sex couple? Is infertility a curse? A sign to seek adoption? As I wrote in my post covering Confronting Christianity, I scraped through the one philosophy course I took in college. I’m not great at forming arguments. I’m better at just knowing I disagree, yet not fully understanding my reasons.
Yet, as an east-coast resident like me who has been marinating in liberal ideology for over ten years now, by the end of Rachel’s book I was questioning my own conclusions.
Does God really ban same-sex relationships?
Well, no, Rachel says. Same-sex friendship, especially spiritual friendship, is extremely valuable.
But Rachel, we weren’t talking about that. You know what we were talking about.
Right, Rachel says. And yes, she adds, God bans same-sex marriage.
God designed marriage to be between a man and a woman. And interestingly enough, with just a small flicker of interest, Rachel married a man.
At this point in her story, I appreciated Rachel’s discussion of the fact that while sexuality is one part of a relationship, there are far more other parts that demand our attention most of the time. She points out that just because she is same-sex attracted, she doesn’t need to define herself by her sexuality. She could define herself by her religion, for example. Others might define themselves by their day job.
I realized that lately, I define myself as a Canterbridgian. And yet, is that really who I am? What about Christian? What about writer? What about mother? What about friend?
Above all things, Rachel’s book, surprisingly, was more than a voyeristic way for me to get an insider’s perspective on this same-sex marriage question. It was a deep dive into my own struggles -- in marriage, in identity.
“The gospel is about an uncrossable chasm shockingly bridged. We are made in God’s image, yet he is also completely other. Males and females are equally human yet inescapably different from each other. The metaphor’s power is in showing love across a fundamental, primary difference.” (40)
So maybe the question isn’t “should we allow same sex marriage” but “how the heck does heterosexual marriage succeed at all?” Men and women are fundamentally different, and yet, “Marriage has been practiced across cultures and throughout time, which only goes to testify that it points to something greater than itself.” (39)
“Marriage,” Rachel teaches, “is meant to be a powerful tool for communication and fails if it doesn't deliver its message: the gospel. / The designed purpose of marriage is to illustrate metaphorically God’s relationship to his people.” (38)
Rachel’s book is a call to come home. To return to your first love, or to discover Jesus for the first time, or to put him first for the first time. In her epilogue, she reminds the reader of three promises Jesus made:
First, that you have Jesus’s power to empower you for the fight against temptation. Second, he promises us companions who can provide company and accountability. And third, he promises that we have a purpose. For those who are same-sex attracted, Rachel suggests that purpose might look like this:
“Both locally and within our wider Christian culture, believers with same-sex attractions can teach the church about desire, about faithfulness, and about healthy relationships. You can show the church costly obedience that glorifies the Lord. And you can show your community how precious Christ is. You can confound the world with answers and questions it never expected -- one friend or coworker or neighbor at a time. You can share the gospel through the very thing that seems most offensive and bizarre about you -- your refusal to take your desires more seriously than your God. I hope the stories in this book have given you a glimpse of how this can work: that it is both possible and dazzling.” (142)
I love that Rachel uses sexuality to illustrate God’s greater purpose. Sex is a gift. But it’s not the final goal. It’s a chance to anticipate what God has waiting for us in the age to come.
I picked up this book to learn what I didn’t know. And what an eye-opener it was. You have to read it. I wanted to quote every other sentence, so you might as well get a copy for yourself. I still have a lot of questions for God, but I feel more equipped to join the discussion.
You can support Porter Square Books by buying a copy of this book from them, but I doubt they will be promoting this book anytime soon. So please, grab a copy and do that work yourself. Rachel Gilson is not to be missed.
Here you will find a catalog of my writing and reflections.