This weekend I read James Alexander Langteaux’s Gay Conversations with God. I heard Langteaux interviewed on a podcast and followed the trail to the book.
First, a lesson I am slowly learning in my life is that it is much easier to disagree with an idea than a person who embodies it. As I continue to grow in my understanding of the place of homosexual Christians in the body of Christ, I feel that it is incumbent on me to listen to their stories and to learn to love better than I do.
Second, there was a challenging moment for me in the podcast interview I heard.
In Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul, I did some wrestling with the question of homosexuality. At the end, while coming to a traditional position about male and female as God’s intention for sexual intercourse, I left the door open like this: God can surprise us.
In particular, I pointed to the issue of circumcision in the NT, where a clear commandment, pertaining to participation in the covenant promises of Abraham, was overturned. God told Peter, “I have made this clean.” At least in theory, it might not be the case that the Biblical stricture has the last word.
Langteaux told a story during the podcast, relayed more briefly and somewhat differently in the book, about his own wrestling with God about homosexuality. He demanded of God to let him know whether it was a sin to be gay. As he sat exasperated, he opened his Bible at random. And he turned to Acts 10, Peter’s vision informing him that the old laws of kosher (and, by implication, circumcision) no longer applied.
In the podcast, this story includes an episode of speaking in tongues–the kind of Spiritual experience that Acts and Paul at times appeal to as proof that God has shown up outside the lines.
So I wanted to hear more.
After reading this book, would I recommend it? To some…
I would recommend it to gay people who are struggling with God from the context of their gay identity. Where Langteaux is outstanding is his recurring insistence that “God hates fags” is, itself, the abomination.
The God who sent his son into the world to die does not hate but loves the world. Including his gay image-bearers.
“God loves you. Believe this and go from there.” That’s how I would summarize the pulse, and strength, of the book.
In general, I anticipate that the book will not be well received by any but the most sympathetic of audiences. It is not a book that strives to place homosexual behavior or identity within any sort of traditional Christian framework at all. Of course not, right? It’s about a gay man coming to grips with himself as both gay and beloved of God.
But it is over-the-top in ways that, while probably helpful to those who need the book most from the gay-person-struggling-with-God end of things will no doubt put off most who hold a non-affirming position.
I know that others will experience even more acutely than I did the frustration that the book, as much as it talks about God and sexuality, isn’t problematic because it’s about gay sex so much as it’s problematic because it seems to relish promiscuous sex, youthful lust, and serial partners that typify what’s wrong with all sex in the west.
There is a lot of pain from the church that fills the authorial voice Langteaux has chosen for this book. To capture that pain in a book that still beckons people to find in Jesus the friend of sinners, real sinners, to capture that pain in a book that summons all of us to forgive anything we have against anyone–that is going to be a gift to GLBT folks who need to know that “God is love” is not undone by those of us in the church who aren’t.
As a bible scholar, I was less than happy with the Biblical discussions in the book. But this isn’t an exegetical book, it’s not even attempting a biblical argument for homosexuality. It’s about the experience of finding the God of love.
Regarding the style, the book has a strange quasi-poetic thing going on, with the last words of sentences and clauses rhyming for long stretches. I found this strange and distracting, but I’m sure others will differ on this.
Finally: the title is not descriptive of the contents. This is not a book of conversations with God, but rather the telling of a story with the sense that God is looking on.
I have always believed that a man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument. (34)
That fairly well sums up the book. Several moments of his experience are sufficiently heartbreaking to call forth one of those, “What on earth have we done?!” moments for us in the traditional and institutional church. But many of us will also have the arguments in the back of our minds, and others stirred up by the stories themselves.