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Guest Host: Tom Gjelten
As the push for marriage equality makes strides across the U.S., Christian congregations reacted in different ways. In a new book, a gay Christian journalist tells of his yearlong pilgrimage exploring the intersection of faith and homosexuality. Traveling to 28 states, journalist Jeff Chu tries to understand a religion that preaches love for all but in his view sometimes practices intolerance. And he reveals his own personal journey to find community and acceptance.
- Jeff Chu journalist and editor at Fast Company magazine.
Slideshow: Westboro Baptist Church
Photos of Westboro Baptist Church members in Topeka, Kansas, and New York City taken during author Jeff Chu’s visit in summer 2011. All photos credit Dana Halferty.
Read An Excerpt
From the book “Does Jesus Really Love Me?” by Jeff Chu. Copyright © 2013 by Jeff Chu. Reprinted courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
MR. TOM GJELTENThanks for joining us. I'm Tom Gjelten sitting in today for Diane Rehm. Journalist Jeff Chu bridges different worlds. He's an Asian-American, gay Christian who grew up as a strict Southern Baptist. For the last year, Chu traveled across the country exploring the intersection of faith and homosexuality.
MR. TOM GJELTENHe tells us about his journey in his new book "Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America," and author Jeff Chu joins me here in the studio.
MR. TOM GJELTENWe'll be taking your calls throughout the hour. 1-800-433-8850 is our number. I'm sure some of you can relate to Jeff's story and I hope you will join our conversation. You can also send us an email email@example.com. You can send us a tweet @drshow or you can join us via Facebook or Twitter. Jeff Chu, welcome to the program.
MR. JEFF CHUI'm glad to be here.
GJELTENThanks for coming in. So tell us a little bit about your very interesting background, your upbringing. What was it like? Well, you were a Southern Baptist, are a Southern Baptist, but you didn't -- you grew up in California.
CHUI grew up in California and Florida. My family is deeply Baptist. I would say we are Baptists in our veins. My grandfather was a preacher. Two of my uncles are preachers. My family is full of deacons and Sunday school teachers and church organists. We feel Baptist all the time.
GJELTENDo you still feel Baptist all the time?
CHUI would say I believe in Jesus and I think there's a danger in denominational labels. It comes with a lot of baggage now. The word evangelical has a lot of baggage in America today so I try to shy away from some of those labels because I don't want people to assume things about me that might not be true.
GJELTENWell, what was it like in California and in Florida in this sort of Southern Baptist context to realize you were a gay man?
CHUI think you can pull it out of the religious context a little bit. Many gay men and women will know my experience of feeling that I had a big secret. I was deeply afraid of what would happen if people found out about that secret. The words gay, homosexual, I didn't have those when I was younger and I think that's common to a lot of people's journeys.
CHUWhen you're growing up, you just know you're different from other people and it takes you a long time sometimes to figure out how to articulate that.
GJELTENAnd tell us about how your faith affected your sense of self and identity? In other words, what did your faith -- how did your faith sort of complicate what was surely already a kind of a difficult sort of coming-to-grips with your identity?
CHUWhen I was growing up, church was not just a part of my Sunday and sometimes my Wednesday. I went to a Christian school for junior high and high school. We had chapel every Friday. We had bible class every semester. That was a regular part of the routine.
CHUAnd when it is a regular part of your routine and you have these feelings that are known to be contrary to what's being taught, you wonder things like, am I going to hell? Is this going to be something that's irredeemable? Is this something that's going to cost me my family or the respect of my peers or something bigger than that, like my salvation? And that's scary.
GJELTENWere you ever told that? What were you taught about homosexuality? Were you ever taught that homosexuals go to hell or that this is some kind of cardinal sin?
CHUIt was on a long list of sins and I think officially many Christians would say that there isn't a hierarchy of sins, but in practice, there is. When I was in high school, I had a bible teacher who came out or was actually forced out. He was let go from his job when I was in the 9th grade and we had a chapel where we were all told that Mr. Byers had been in a homosexual affair.
CHUAnd I think that's the first time that it became concrete for me that there would be consequences if anybody ever found out about my secret. He was forced out of the school. He left our church and for a long time, I never knew what happened to him. And with that kind of unanswered question, it left my mind to wander and you know what the imagination can do.
GJELTENAnd he was a very popular teacher?
CHUHe was a great teacher. I thought he was a terrific teacher. He was one of the youngest teachers so I felt like he could relate to a lot of us in a way that other teachers couldn't.
GJELTENSo you felt a need to reconcile these two aspects of your identity, your identity as a gay man and your identity as a Christian, and it seems like this has been a long struggle for you to reconcile those two sides of yourself.
CHUWell, it didn't happen that this journey came about until I was in my early 30s so if you go from 14 to 30-something, that's a long time.
GJELTENAnd in your early 30s, you decided finally you needed to really investigate this. Well, tell us how this journey -- tell us about your journey, your pilgrimage, as you call it? How did it come about?
CHUIt all started with a friend of mine, Beth Adams, who told me that I should write a book and I think sometimes journalists feel like they're not real writers until they've written a book. But being a generalist, I used to work at Time magazine where you have to write about everything from pop music to religion in the span of a couple of weeks.
CHUI wasn't sure what I knew about, but I did have this personal struggle and I had the opportunity to turn that into a year-long journey around the country where I just explored so many different angles of this issue and was able to sit down with such a variety of people and ask them what do they believe.
CHUWhy do some people believe that I'm going to hell and others believe that I'm just fine as I am?
GJELTENAnd it's interesting because you're asking these questions Jeff, as you write, with the curiosity of a journalist, but also the searching spirit of a simple pilgrim. I mean, you know, many of us journalists, when we go talking to people, we don't have an emotional stake in what the, you know, the answers that we're seeking and yet you not only have that curiosity, but you really had a personal need to understand.
CHUI think it complicates things sometimes to have that personal element, but it also gave me a certain drive. It's exhausting to talk about this stuff and to think about this stuff all the time, as anyone who has gone through a soul-searching experience can tell you.
CHUIt's not just about homosexuality. Anytime you are taking a building block of your life and re-examining it closely, that is a tortuous process.
GJELTENCan I ask you about your decision to come out of the closet, as it were? Did that coincide with any sort of realization about your Christian faith? Did it have anything to do with your thinking about your faith?
CHUI went through a process of re-examining all the aspects of my life and I do want to say that coming out is not a moment, it's a process. It's a very deliberative process in my case and it happens and unfolds over time. And it definitely had to do with my faith.
CHUOne of the key tenets of Christianity is one of the Ten Commandments, thou shalt not lie. And when you spend so many years breaking that commandment, the guilt can be overwhelming and I came to a point where I felt like I needed to stop breaking that commandment, even if it meant admitting to what some people think is a sin.
GJELTENNow when you were -- before that moment, before that process began, did you find yourself becoming alienated from your church because of its -- or what you believed to be its stance toward homosexuality? Did this become a church that you were less and less interested in identifying with? And what happened, you know, as a result of you then sort of making that statement, making that pronouncement?
CHUFor a time, I think my struggle with my sexuality actually pulled me closer to church. We are raised to kind of compile a certain image, to behave a certain way and you try harder and harder to do that for a time until it becomes untenable to maintain the façade.
CHUI think many Christians are very good at Sunday facades, at maintaining the image. But there was a breaking point for me where I would sit in the pews and listen to the pastor, but not really be listening because I would be in my own world questioning and praying and it became overwhelming.
CHUAnd there was a price when I finally started telling people. There are friends who are no longer friends and there have been very difficult times with my family and there have been struggles of my own, seasons when I haven't felt capable of sitting in a church and times when I feel alienated from what I grew up with.
GJELTENLet's talk about your family for a moment because you have now married your partner. Correct?
GJELTENAnd did your parents come to your wedding? How did they view your wedding?
CHUI want to be very careful about this because my parents love me deeply. They did not come to the wedding and I know that some people will view that as a very harsh and judgmental thing for them to do, but I have to remind myself that their worldview did not allow them to be there.
CHUThey are worried about my salvation. That, for me, is a sign of their love. They couldn't be there because they're worried that I'm making the wrong choices. I disagree with that, but I know they love me.
GJELTENDo you try to have a theological argument, discussion with them? Do you try to convince them that, in fact, you know your salvation is not in question?
CHUSo let me frame this in the context of the Supreme Court arguments that are coming out next week around gay marriage. These are not arguments that are going to be won through oral arguments or Amicus Briefs. These are not debates that we're going to answer that way. I think the best way for me to share with them what I believe is just by maintaining a relationship, by them seeing that my relationship with my husband is normal and functional and loving and all the things that their own marriage is.
GJELTENHow long ago did you get married?
CHUI got married in September.
GJELTENJust in September, so perhaps as the time goes by, they will become more accepting of your union, if not endorsing it from an ideological or philosophical point of view.
CHUMaybe they will, maybe they won't. I have to reconcile myself to the fact that they might not and that has to be okay.
GJELTENJeff Chu is a journalist and a former fellow at the Harvard Divinity School. He's written for Time magazine and the Wall Street Journal and he has a new book out. The title is "Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America." We're going to be taking phone calls later this hour. Our number, again, is 1-800-433-8850. Please join us when we come back. We're going to be taking a short break right now. Stay tuned.
GJELTENAnd we're back. I'm Tom Gjelten, sitting in for Diane Rehm today. And my guest is Jeff Chu. He's the author of a new book, "Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America." And you can join our conversation. I'm sure that many of you relate to the issues and struggles that Jeff describes so eloquently in this book.
GJELTENThere are a lot of listeners out there, Jeff, who consider themselves devout Christians, and the issues that you are raising are serious issues that they clearly have thought about themselves. Dwight writes: Isn't this too complicated? It doesn't quite make sense. I'm sure that consensual sexual contact is appropriate, he writes. But when one accepts Jesus Christ as your personal savior, you must abide by biblical standards and doctrine.
GJELTENAll sexual contact that is not predisposed by that standard. Wouldn't it be best just to be secular and not be part of an organized religion? Have you heard that before?
CHUI've heard that a lot of times before. I don't think it's fair to ask people to choose between their spirituality and their sexuality. I feel personally a great desire to know God and to fit my life into a broader framework. I know that's not true for everyone, and I respect that. But for me, this is part of who I am. My faith is as much a part of me as my sexuality is.
GJELTENYou know, as you mentioned before, we have a big debate going on in this country right now about gay marriage. And I noticed a quote the other day from a very senior Republican politician who says, referring to his party's stance on gay marriage: We support traditional marriage, the way our creator defines it. Did you, as a gay Christian, need to think about what your creator, our creator, defined marriage to be?
GJELTENIs this a question whether the creator define marriage in a traditional way or not? Was that an issue you had to answer in your in your own head?
CHUOh, certainly. There have been times where I've questioned whether I should be in a relationship. For my husband's sake, I would like to make clear I don't question that right now. But, yes, I've thought about the theological issues. Traditional marriage is an interesting term because if you look in the Bible, in the Old Testament, there are all kinds of traditional marriages. So it’s a complicated question.
CHUWhen it comes to interpretation of the Bible, sometimes people say you should just follow what the Bible says. But we have to be honest that every person, no matter where they are on the theological spectrum is engaging in an active interpretation. It's kind of like the Supreme Court justices when they're looking at the Constitution. There are originalists, there are strict constructionists.
CHUThere are people who see the Bible as living, breathing documents. We are all picking and choosing. We are all emphasizing certain verses over others, every single one of us. And sometimes we're not candid enough about that.
GJELTENOf course in the Catholic church, the Roman Catholic Church, priests and nuns take a vow of celibacy. And I thought one of the most interesting chapters in your book is this where you addressed this issue of maybe as a Christian with the, you know, the orientation that you have, maybe celibacy should have been an option that you considered. And you seem to write with respect of other gay Christians who have chosen the path of celibacy.
CHUI went to St. Paul, MN and I met a remarkable man named Kevin Olsen, who is in his 50s and has spent the last three decades celibate. He is homosexual but he has chosen a life of celibacy because he believes that's what his God requires. And the loneliness of his life was a testimony to me of his love for the God he believes in. There's something really powerful in that even if it's not the choice that I would make for my own life.
GJELTENLet me write what you wrote -- let me read what you wrote about Kevin. You say: The choice to set aside his perceived physical wants in favor of his perceived spiritual needs, the choice to sacrifice his earthly happiness for the eternal joy that he is convinced has been promised to him by his God. To him, celibacy hasn't been an act of fencing himself off, rather it has been one of opening up, of embracing the sanctuary that he believes his lord provides.
GJELTENNow, for those gay men and women who have made this choice, does it seem to you that they actually believe that acting on their physical needs would be a sin? Are they doing this because they have been convinced that it would be a sin to act that out? Or is it their own way, like a Roman Catholic priest or a Catholic nun, is it their own way to find themselves to get closer to God?
CHUI think it's some of the both. But I think it's more the former. There is a trend among conservative Christians in America to say that the orientation is not the problem, it's the behavior, it's the act of having sex and acting on those desires. So I think that's one thing to keep in mind. The other thing to keep in mind because when people read or hear a story like Kevin's, there can be a rush to judgment sometimes.
CHUThere can be people who say, oh, that's so sad. I think one of the skill shortages that we have in America right now is one of empathy and one of being able to stand in other people's shoes and see where they're coming from. From his perspective, his choices makes sense. From ours, they might not. But we really need to engage in an empathetic way.
GJELTENWell, you seem to regard his story yourself as being somewhat sad. You're right, there's something especially profound about the loneliness of someone who believes that this life will bring no partner to share its burdens and its joys. That you'll attend every wedding knowing that you'll never have one of your own. That the space next to you in bed will always be empty. That's a moving quote.
GJELTENAnd it was clearly a decision that you were able to make or wanted to make or needed to make.
CHUIt was not. And I hope that Kevin will be able to regard my choices as respectfully as I regard his.
GJELTENWell, Jeff, tell us a little bit about this pilgrimage that you went on. You say that you had a set of questions that you brought basically wherever you went. And you went to, what, 28 states? That's really quite a sojourn.
CHUIt was a long trip. I was away a lot. My credit card statement reflects that. But I felt like I needed to go a lot of places because of the diversity of what we believe. And I call it a pilgrimage because it was a journey of spiritual significance. We go on pilgrimage when we are searching for something. And I thought it was the proper contexts for me to think about these issues.
GJELTENYou know, one of the places you visited and I think our listeners will be somewhat surprised by this, you visited the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, KS, which is probably, I think it's fair to say and I doubt they'd even disagree, is probably the most anti-gay congregation in the United States or certainly right up there. They're well known for believing that God punishes our society for allowing homosexuality.
GJELTENAnd yet you chose you wanted to visit that congregation. Why did you want to go there and what did you learn there?
CHUWestboro has been disproportionately present in our media -- in our newspapers, on TV -- for a church that has 40 members and maybe 80 or 90 people in the pews on a Sunday morning. But they won a Supreme Court case that let them protest at military funerals. They have their God hates fags signs outside Lady Gaga concerts. You see them everywhere. My struggle was that when I read the articles about them, I didn't really understand why they believe what they believe.
CHUAnd so I wanted to go and hear for myself. They were remarkably welcoming. I think it is right, in one sense, to say that they're anti-gay. And I'm glad you didn't say homophobic because they're not afraid of gay people. And there's a distinction that we need to make there. But they would say that they are actually the most loving church in America. And I know that's really hard for a lot of people to hear.
CHUBut their argument would be, if we know that you all are going to hell, how loving would it be if we didn't tell you that? So they say, they're calling people like me to repentance.
GJELTENAnd you write that your grandfather, who was, as you said before, a Baptist minister, some of the things that he taught actually helped you in your conversations with the people at Westboro Baptist Church.
CHULet me be clear that my grandfather was a very different kind of preacher than Fred Phelps is. I love...
GJELTENFred Phelps is the preacher at Westboro.
CHUThat's right. Fred Phelps started this church and he remains its pastor. My grandfather was a very devout and loving man. And I have great respect for the years of ministry that he had, both in Asia and in the U.S. And being reared in a Bible-based environment enabled me to have a conversation with Fred Phelps that wouldn't otherwise had been possible. Fred Phelps expected me to walk in and just give him the usual, quote/unquote, "liberal media elite spiel."
CHUAnd I was able to engage with him about the Bible. And he left saying maybe we can have a little bit of a friendship, although I'm not sure he knew I was gay.
GJELTENJeff, we have so many listeners that want to get in on this conversation. And I want to go to them now. First of all, Ray is on the line from Woodbridge, VA. Good morning, Ray, thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."
RAYThanks for taking my call. I am 70 and I first was aware of my same-sex attraction at seven and disclosed it to my parents when I was 16. And my immediate family, my sisters. I have lived with this every day since then and I also am a Christian.
GJELTENAnd, Ray, how have you lived with this?
RAYWell, several ways. I mean, there was a period of time when I'm in my 20s and I was acting out. You know, it's such a big subject and we can't really cover all that stuff here. I would say it was a different time than it is today, as you might imagine. The 1950s and the1960s were entirely different culturally in the United States and all. And the kind of behavior before the AIDS epidemic was rampant and horrific and the oppression of same-sex people are terrible.
RAYBut the point I wanted to make about this is that I think there's two aspects. One is an effective aspect. I liked men. I liked persons of my own sex. But to have sexual relations with them, that I think is not acceptable for a Christian. I don't think a Christian, any Christian, can take the scripture and take the traditions of the church and come up with a way in which the Almighty God says, sure, I'd left these acts that two committed men or two committed women do with each other.
RAYThose acts are, to use the words of Cardinal Ratzinger, are intrinsically evil. That's...
GJELTENWell, thank you very much for sharing your experience and your thoughts, Ray. Jeff, this is what you were talking about before, this distinction between orientation and acting on it.
GJELTENAnd I'm sure that there are many men and women out there who believe, like Ray, that the desire is one thing, acting on it is something else.
CHUAnd what I would say is, many people agree with Ray. But the church, which is about our soul and about this big issues in life has not been a place where we can talk about these issues candidly. We have to make the church a place where that can happen, otherwise we're going to be losing a lot of people.
GJELTENJeff Chu is a journalist and former fellow at the Harvard Divinity School. He has written for Time magazine and the Wall Street Journal, and he's the author of a new book, "Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America." I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And I want to go now to Anthony who's on the line from Louisville, KY. Good morning, Anthony.
ANTHONYHi, thanks for having me.
ANTHONYI actually wanted to make two comments. One, I'm a full-time lay minister. I work in the church, but I'm also gay. And I lost my last job when they found out that I was in a relationship. We've been in a relationship for a year and was told that I could resign my job or be fired. And I think it's sad that we reward people who hide and we persecute those who are in stable, loving, monogamous relationships in the church.
ANTHONYYou know, if they would have fired me for some of the behavior that I was acting out on private previously to my relationship, then I could certainly respect that and understand that decision. But I think it's sad that gay people don't, in many cases, don't have a church where they can go and meet one another, you know, within the context of their religious beliefs. You know, for me, my religion and my sex life or my loving life in general were very separate for many, many years.
ANTHONYAnd then the second point, sort of following up from your previous caller, I would love to hear your guest talk about natural law. How the church bases its theology of marriage on Thomas Aquinas and talking about natural law. The one thing that they're refusing to look at is that natural law, it's open to gay marriage because there is room in natural law to look at what's happening in nature consistently.
ANTHONYSo not just what's happening right now, but, you know, 1,500 years ago but what's happening right now. And right now you see same-sex relations in every species in the world.
GJELTENYeah. All right, thank you very much, Anthony. Jeff, tell us about. I'm sure -- you're nodding your head as Anthony was talking there, so you clearly have thought about the same issues that Anthony has been thinking about.
ANTHONYI've thought about them a lot. And this might not be a satisfying answer to Anthony, but I'm not a theologian. As you said earlier, I consider myself a simple pilgrim. There are tons of books out there on either side of the issue, Ptolemaics that will argue pro and anti. And I don't want to take a stand on what I believe natural law says about homosexuality in this forum, partly because I feel like I would rather invite people to have a broader conversation.
GJELTENJeff, Anthony mentioned that it can be hard to find congregation where you feel welcome. You live in Brooklyn, NY, I'm assuming it's easier for you in Brooklyn than it might be for someone living elsewhere.
CHUIt is easier. I go to a wonderful church called Old First Reformed, one of the oldest churches in America. And it's a supportive, delightful, Jesus-loving place. But there are more and more churches all around the country that are open and affirming, to use the typical language. One that was in the news this week is Green Street United Methodist Church in North Carolina, which has taken an interesting position of not performing heterosexual marriage ceremonies until gay marriage ceremonies are allowed.
CHUAnd there's a church in Denver that I write about called Highlands Church, which comes from more of the evangelical tradition but it's also very welcoming to gay people.
GJELTENJeff Chu is the author of "Does Jesus Really Love Me: A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America." We're going to take a break now. When we come back, we're gonna go back to the phones. A lot of people have questions or comments for Jeff. Please stay tuned.
GJELTENWelcome back, I'm Tom Gjelten sitting in for Diane Rehm today with my guest Jeff Chu who's a journalist, a former divinity student and the author of a new book, "Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America." And, Jeff, we have a ton of calls, lots of emails, as well.
GJELTENBarbara writes, "Has your guest looked into the Quaker Church which has welcomed gays and has married many gay couples." Now, earlier, Jeff, we were talking about your decision to remain loyal in a sense to your own denominational upbringing. Have you gone through a period of considering, sort of, other denominations, other approaches, other sects, other churches?
CHUThe church that I'm in right now is actually not a Baptist church.
CHUI've been to Anglican churches when I was a grad student in London. I've been to Presbyterian churches, which is what I went to when I was in high school. So I've seen quite a bit of a theological spectrum. I think sometimes we get bound up in the denominational labels and many of us, and this has nothing to do with the gay issue at all, are a little tired of some of the divisions in the church. It's supposed to be one church and clearly we realize it's not.
GJELTENSpeaking of churches, George writes -- he's writing about the Roman Catholic Church and he says that, "Most profoundly in the Catholic Church it's taught that the purpose of sex is procreation, not loving, not intimacy, not affirmation. So long as Christians take this view of sex they will always reject that sex is not procreation. How sad for Christianity. It misses the part of humanity that is central to much of human mutuality and the endurance of marriage, gay or straight." And this is actually an interesting point that this issue of the Church's view of sex is not controversial only with respect to gays, isn't it?
CHUMuch of this issue is bound up in our cultural difficulties with sex and the way we view gender roles. It's a really complicated can of worms, to use a cliché. To the Catholic Church's emphasis on procreation I would say are they not reading Song of Solomon, which is a book of the Bible that is about sex that doesn't seem to be about making babies. So once again we're picking and choosing. We're choosing what to emphasize when we're talking about one issue.
GJELTENOne more comment. This is from a listener by the name of Carl who is a pastor. And he writes, "Speaking as a pastor I can tell you this. Pastors tend to be far more hospitable toward everyone than their own congregations. Research has reflected a disparity between pastors and congregations." I'm curious if you would agree with that. If you have found that people, men and women have devoted their professional lives, as it were, to the church, are sort of more open minded or more understanding?
CHUI found it to be precisely the opposite. During my journey more pastors turned me down for interviews than anybody else. Lay people were so generous with their stories. And several people said to me I've never been asked to tell my story. Thank you for asking. Pastors, on the other hand, would engage with me initially by email when I said I wanted to talk about some important and difficult issues. And when they found out I wanted to talk about homosexuality even pastors who had preached about it suddenly had no time on their calendars, which I found to be very interesting. If a pastor, as a leader and a shepherd of a flock, is not willing to talk about the most difficult issues in a public way where does that leave us?
GJELTENJeff, I want to hear more about your pilgrimage and some of the people that you met and the places you visited. But we do need to keep our listeners involved in this conversation. John has been waiting for quite a while to make a comment or ask a question. John, you're from Indianapolis, Ind. Thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."
JOHNYes, thank you very much for discussing this topic and I just wanted to, kind of, accolade to what already you've, kind of, commented that true the ultimate purpose of the marriage is to produce new life. And I'm thinking, like, if to take critically and there would be only the gay marriage -- there would be no life, no society would be able to continue survive as it is. So I'm thinking there is some disconnection that, you know, there is no really hatred towards gay people. It just when the gay marriage is trying to be equal to a marriage between one man and one woman will never be the same because it will never be able to start a new life.
JOHNSo I guess it's just kind of like going against the nature. And that's where probably the disconnection is. I have many friends who are -- several friends who are my -- at work and they are the best workers and they are (word?) gay people. So I have no problem with them, but I will never agree that their marriage will be the same as my -- between men and the woman.
GJELTENWell let me ask...
JOHNThank you very much.
GJELTENLet me ask you this question, John. After you and your wife produce children and they grow to adulthood does your marriage no longer have any function or do you and your wife still live for something together? What is your marriage -- what is the function of your marriage after your children are grown and gone?
JOHNSo you support your family, you live together toward each other. And I think -- and probably it's not every place, but I guess there are a lot of places and laws and rules where basically two people of the same sex they can have benefits and so on. Basically they can support each other, but, I guess, calling their living together as a marriage, that's where, all this heated up conversation becomes because it's -- it's just against the nature. It's never going to be the same.
GJELTENWell, Jeff, I'm -- you probably wouldn't argue that a marriage between a man and a woman, a marriage between two men or two women are not exactly identical relationships.
CHUThey're not identical. And I understand where John is coming from. I understand the world view. One thing I would say is that we have to have a little bit more nuance, to take it out of homosexuality and keep it in the heterosexual sphere. Doesn't that definition of marriage totally diminish the relationship between two -- a man and a woman who can't have children? Does that mean their marriage is not valuable and is worthless?
CHUSo we have to be careful when we're making these sweeping pronouncements about what marriage is for.
GJELTENLet's go now to Andrea who's on the line from Vienna, Va. Andrea, thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."
ANDREAHi, thank you so much for having me. My question and comment is about, you know, I've been listening to the show since the beginning. Fascinating discussion, of course, and what I'm hearing from a lot of people and from the conversation is a lot of judgment and a lot of conversation around rules, what you can and can't do. And it's, like, you know, there's -- everyone has their playbook about religion and sex.
ANDREAAnd what I find interesting about that to me it's much simpler than all that. Is, you know, Jesus, and to me, God, is about love and caring for other people. And that, you know, there aren't a lot of rules around that. And whether you're in a loving relationship that's straight or gay it doesn't matter. It's about caring for another human being and having a warm, loving relationship and being an important part of society.
ANDREABut one of the things, too, that Jeff said at the beginning that really struck me was when he was talking about his new marriage to his husband he talked about that with respect to his parents how, sort of, that would prove to them over time, perhaps, perhaps not, but perhaps show them the value and success of that relationship. And I, myself, have been married to a wonderful man for over 20 years. And I wish the same for him, but I just caution that that's, you know, how that relationship's perceived I don't think is a judgment, if you will, on the value or success of it, but that it's a valuable relationship in and of itself. Thank you.
GJELTENThank you very much. Thank you, Andrea.
CHUThank you, Andrea. And to be clear, I'm not married to make a point to my parents primarily. I would also say that Andrea alludes to an important point, though, which is that we define love in such different ways. One of the things that I learned during my journey is that we're all speaking English and we're all using this four-letter word, but we mean very different things when we say love.
CHUFor some conservatives it's a loving thing to rebuke and to tell people that they're wrong because they hope that that will make something right and for other people their talking about a sexual love. And still others they're talking about a love of friendship. So we need to step back and think what do we mean when we're using the word love.
GJELTENLet's go now to Don who's on the line from Rochester, N.Y. And, Don, I know you've been holding a long time. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
DONGood morning. I would -- I hope Anthony from Louisville is still listening because I'm sure in Louisville there are a number of gay positive Christian organizations. There's one group called The Metropolitan Community Church which was founded back in 1966 by a Pentecostal minister from Florida. It is an exclu -- no, not exclusively, but it is primarily a gay organization which takes in many different religious beliefs. I'm sure they have on in Louisville. They have over 200 congregations in the United States alone.
DONAlso, Anthony in Louisville, if you lived in New York State where I live, you would have recourse to being fired even if it's a religious group because while they may not be -- while they may be exempt from the marriage laws they are not exempt from the antidiscrimination laws. And in New York State you cannot fire somebody on the basis of sexual orientation, which leads me to another thing.
DONThe Southern Baptist Convention is headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Well, I just got back from Nashville, Tennessee not too long ago and what I found out there is that the City of Nashville had passed a nondiscrimination ordinance banning discrimination on sexual orientation. The State of Tennessee, which is controlled by Tea Party type republications, passed legislation saying that no municipality within the State of Tennessee can pass such legislation unless it's covered by the federal antidiscrimination laws. Well, there's only one group that isn't covered by federal antidiscrimination laws and that's lesbian and gay people.
DONLike I said, Tennessee is the home of the Southern Baptist Convention. The Southern Baptist Convention had a lot to do with the passing of this ordinance. Also the republicans in the Tennessee state legislature have passed legislation saying that no school district in the State of Tennessee can protect lesbian and gay students who are being bullied. They can protect other students such as African Americans, Asian Americans and so on. They cannot protect gay students in a very specific sense. In a general sense they can speak out against anti bullying, but they cannot -- they cannot protect lesbian and gay students specifically.
GJELTENDon, let me -- let me tell you that if you buy Jeff's book you will find that he actually starts his chronicle in Nashville, Tennessee for, I think, perhaps the reason that you're highlighting. That it is a -- or you tell us, Jeff, why you chose to begin your book in Nashville when you're not from Tennessee. You're from Florida and California and yet you chose to begin your book in Nashville.
CHUI grew up Baptist. And that’s the home of the Baptists. And it is also a very interesting city because Nashville is a relatively blue city in a very red state. So a lot of the tensions that crop up all across America are concentrated in Nashville and in Tennessee.
GJELTENAnd who did you speak to in Nashville?
CHUI met with Richard Land who is one of the most visible, vocal leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention. Also another pastor named David Shelley from a similar part of the theological spectrum, quite conservative, not in favor of a lot of the laws that would support gay people.
GJELTENJeff Chu is the author of, "Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America." I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And was that discussion with Richard Land and the pastor there -- I mean was this one of the more political discussions that you had on your pilgrimage?
CHUIt was quite political. I'm not a political creature. I don't enjoy politics. I studied it in college and I feel like I got it out of my system.
CHUBut when I was meeting with Richard Land it was inevitable that politics would come and with David Shelley also. And it all goes back to personal stuff in the end. Richard Land talked about how gay men would whistle at him when he was a young pastor in Louisiana because his church was in the -- on Bourbon Street. He also talked about how homosexuality is "one of the very few sins that I have difficulty understanding." So this is political, but it's also deeply rooted in personal things.
GJELTENLet's go now to Mark who's on the line from Baltimore, Md. Good morning, Mark.
MARKGood morning. Thank you for having me.
MARKI was raised in a very similar situation, a very conservative evangelical church and came out to my parents almost 20 years ago now. And over a long and, at times, painful struggle we are now at a place where they are very accepting and they consider my husband part of the family. But they are still attending a very conservative church and hearing antigay messages at their church, on the radio and one of my biggest struggles has been to reconcile that with the acceptance that we do feel. And I was wondering if you had ever touched on those kinds of discussions with your parents who are probably still hearing similar messages in their church.
CHUI come from a Chinese family that is not particularly conversational. So we don't talk a lot about these kinds of things. I understand the dynamic and I've seen that dynamic in other families as I've been traveling around the country. Maybe someday there will be a time and a place when I can talk to my parents about that kind of thing at an extended point, but right now that's not happening.
GJELTENJeff, I'm curious about something we haven't gotten into this hour and that's how the gay community has related to your pilgrimage. I'm sure that there are some who wonder why you are bothering to spend all this time reconciling things that probably cannot be reconciled. And they may not have much sympathy -- I'm wondering how much sympathy they have for the questions -- the quest that you went on.
CHUOne of the wonderful things about the gay community now, and one of our callers earlier alluded to how times have changed, is how amazingly diverse it is. You have people from all different backgrounds and all different walks of life. For some people I would say typically from the Stonewall Generation my journey was hard for them to take. It was painful for some of them to hear about and read about me going to Westboro Baptist Church.
CHUI have found that for some younger people they have welcomed the conversation. So I'm hoping that society's trending in a direction where we're not afraid to talk about things that are painful because even if you oppose these things you have to know them to oppose them well.
GJELTENHave you answered the questions that you wanted to answer? Have you, in a sense, gotten this sojourn out of your system?
CHUI don't think the journey will ever end for me. I hope it doesn't end because I have so much more to learn. I would say that I have, sort of, answered the title question, does Jesus really love me. I believe that my Jesus loves me, but one of the things that I learned on this trip is that we do not worship the same Jesus. There are a lot of different Jesuses that we worship in America. It is not one Christian church. It is not one Christianity. And that's sad because the way I was brought up it was supposed to be one church, but we've reshaped God in our images.
GJELTENBut that is something that's been going on for a couple thousand years isn't it?
CHUPractically since the day the Church started.
GJELTENExactly. Jeff Chu is a journalist and a former fellow at the Harvard Divinity School. He has written for Time Magazine and the Wall Street Journal. His new book is, as he just said, "Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America." Jeff, thanks so much for coming in and sharing your story with us.
CHUThank you, Tom.
GJELTENI'm Tom Gjelten. I've been sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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