My friend Tim Otto wants to talk about orientation.
And he wants to talk about gay people in the church.
But the orientation he wants to address is not sexual orientation. He wants to talk about the need we all have, across the board, to be Oriented to Faith.
Do we need yet another book about homosexuality and Christianity? Don’t we have enough already?
Well, yes, we do actually need this one.
This book is a rare voice in the conversation, advocating for a genuine “third way” beyond the polarized either/or debate in which the church is reflecting (and influencing) the culture. It is a book that pulls no punches in pointing out the shortcomings of liberals and conservatives alike, and that humbly suggests that each side has a piece of the truth, at very least, that the other side must listen to.
But the greatest contribution of the book is the way that, by the end, it holds up the mirror so that we can see how the very existence of “sides” itself is a demonstration of our failure to live up to the calling we have in Christ.
Otto begins his discussion by mapping the experience of being gay in the church onto the New Testament notion of “family”– a notion that does not line up with the primacy placed on biological family in our context.
What becomes clear as this narrative unfolds is this: we have not created the kinds of communities that make it possible for single people to live the kinds of lives that the traditional church has called both single and gay people to embrace.
The church has ignored the radical redefinition of family as those who follow Jesus, and has baptized instead the two-parents plus children financial unit as the basic unit of familial support. This goes for the mainline and progressive church as much as the conservative and traditional church.
Tim’s story is one of discovering a church that would be family for him. It is a story of committing himself to celibacy for the good of that family’s mission. It is a story of a person who isn’t convinced that scripture demands celibacy of gay Christians. It is a story of a man who is willing to make costly steps of discipleship in the belief that his ultimate identity is not “gay Tim,” but “beloved child of God.”
Foundational to Christian identity is that we are family, bound to one another, called to self-giving love. Foundational to American identity is that each of us is autonomous, an individual, and a consumer. Otto makes the graciously pastoral case that the American church has baptized the latter in the name of Jesus–and that this very misappropriation of Christian identity makes it impossible for us to faithfully love our gay brothers and sisters.
Anyone who attends to this book with a receptive spirit is likely to find cause of repentance. Everyone is likely to find cause for encouragement.
When we are confronted with divisive issues, it is very easy to take and read from that stack of books where we will find a mirror that shows us how beautiful and wonderful we are.
This book offers a different way.
Better than most any other treatment of homosexuality in the church that I have seen, it holds up a mirror to who beautiful and wonderful the way of Jesus is, and invites all of us to live into that with greater fidelity to the costly obedience that he demands.
Federal Guidelines stipulate that I have to tell you when I got something for free that I’m reviewing on my blog. I did not get this book for free. I paid my own money for my hard copy. I did, however, get a free pre-publication version that I reviewed and sent back to the author with comments. Also, Tim offers me coffee when I hang out with him and a couple other guys on Wednesday mornings, so you might view that as payment in kind or something.