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Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America

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Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America is part memoir and part investigative analysis that explores the explosive and confusing intersection of faith, politics, and sexuality in Christian America. The quest to find an answer is at the heart of Does Jesus Really Love Me?—a personal journey of belief, an investigation, and a portr Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America is part memoir and part investigative analysis that explores the explosive and confusing intersection of faith, politics, and sexuality in Christian America. The quest to find an answer is at the heart of Does Jesus Really Love Me?—a personal journey of belief, an investigation, and a portrait of a faith and a nation at odds by award-winning reporter Jeff Chu. From Brooklyn to Nashville to California, from Westboro Baptist Church and their “God Hates Fags” protest signs, to the pioneering Episcopalian bishop Mary Glasspool—who proclaims a message of liberation and divine love, Chu captures spiritual snapshots of Christian America at a remarkable moment, when tensions between both sides in the culture wars have rarely been higher. Funny and heartbreaking, perplexing and wise, Does Jesus Really Love Me? is an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual pilgrimage that reveals a nation in crisis.


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Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America is part memoir and part investigative analysis that explores the explosive and confusing intersection of faith, politics, and sexuality in Christian America. The quest to find an answer is at the heart of Does Jesus Really Love Me?—a personal journey of belief, an investigation, and a portr Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America is part memoir and part investigative analysis that explores the explosive and confusing intersection of faith, politics, and sexuality in Christian America. The quest to find an answer is at the heart of Does Jesus Really Love Me?—a personal journey of belief, an investigation, and a portrait of a faith and a nation at odds by award-winning reporter Jeff Chu. From Brooklyn to Nashville to California, from Westboro Baptist Church and their “God Hates Fags” protest signs, to the pioneering Episcopalian bishop Mary Glasspool—who proclaims a message of liberation and divine love, Chu captures spiritual snapshots of Christian America at a remarkable moment, when tensions between both sides in the culture wars have rarely been higher. Funny and heartbreaking, perplexing and wise, Does Jesus Really Love Me? is an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual pilgrimage that reveals a nation in crisis.

30 review for Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kelly Hager

    This was such an incredibly powerful book, one that I think everyone should read. It's definitely aimed more at the specific "Gay Christian" niche, but I think that Christians who want to understand how it can feel to try and reconcile your sexuality and your faith would do well to read this book, too. I wasn't interviewed for this book but so many of the stories resonated with me. I don't think people understand how hurtful they can be, and I have nothing but respect for Jeff Chu, because he tal This was such an incredibly powerful book, one that I think everyone should read. It's definitely aimed more at the specific "Gay Christian" niche, but I think that Christians who want to understand how it can feel to try and reconcile your sexuality and your faith would do well to read this book, too. I wasn't interviewed for this book but so many of the stories resonated with me. I don't think people understand how hurtful they can be, and I have nothing but respect for Jeff Chu, because he talked to some hateful people and extended them so much grace...I'm not sure how kind I would be in talking to Fred Phelps, but Jeff Chu is a freaking saint. One thing that broke my heart about this book is how many gay people feel completely shunned by their respective churches and by Christianity. And I completely understand. I haven't felt at home in many churches I've been to, and I think that many people could say the same. I don't know how Jesus feels about my sex life but I do think that if He has a problem with it, He'll get around to letting me know. I do believe, however, that the world would be a better place if people would let Jesus do the judging and maybe work on fixing their own lives before trying to fix mine. (Yes, I realize that I can get quite judge-y myself and I am working on that.) This book made me cry several times and also made me think and question my own stances on things. It's an amazing book and I hope to be more like Jeff Chu. And I hope to remember that Jesus died for everyone, not just the people I like or agree with. And hopefully that'll make me be nicer to Fred Phelps, should we ever meet. Highly, highly recommended.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jake

    When author Jeff Chu finished speaking about his new book, I raised my hand and made the following request: "I'm curious to hear you describe your relationship with the Bible." This tends to be the first question I want to ask anyone who identifies as both homosexual and Christian. Perhaps, in terms of a person's walk with God, it is not the most important issue. Still, as a former Mormon Christian and a devout agnostic, it's the most pressing question in my mind. My decision to commit to an agn When author Jeff Chu finished speaking about his new book, I raised my hand and made the following request: "I'm curious to hear you describe your relationship with the Bible." This tends to be the first question I want to ask anyone who identifies as both homosexual and Christian. Perhaps, in terms of a person's walk with God, it is not the most important issue. Still, as a former Mormon Christian and a devout agnostic, it's the most pressing question in my mind. My decision to commit to an agnostic lifestyle was directly precipitated a few years ago when I sought to re-read the Bible. Mr. Chu responded to my request with a wonderfully thoughtful answer, reflecting the keen observations and nuanced analysis readers will find in his book, Does Jesus Really Love Me? Jeff said he has a great respect for the Bible. (So do I.) He said he loved the poetry of the King James Version. (Preach it!) Then he spoke of the difficulties of conveying meaning, especially filtered through translation. (Hallelujah, Brother!) He astutely described how even with contemporary writing people often miss the point, sometimes willfully misreading text. (Amen!) However, as Jeff wrapped up his response to me, I gathered that he is less willing than I am to take a clear stand on the Bible's various injunctions regarding sexual morality. (For the record, I am wholeheartedly in favor of legalizing gay marriage.) Yet, Jeff never came around to saying what I believe--that whole sections of the Bible are horrifically archaic by any reasonable interpretation, and in consequence it is irresponsible to patronize politically active organizations that persist in marketing the anthology as inerrant. Shucks! I was hoping he had the same opinion I do. Nevertheless, I bought Jeff's book and had him sign it. "Dear Jake, God Bless You!" reads his personalized autograph on the title page. Thank you, Jeff. Does Jesus Really Love Me has a great deal of depth with regard to unpacking the larger issues and comparing the various factions Jeff encountered on his "pilgrimage". This is a work of non-fiction, but there is a story arc built in around two people: 1) the author; and 2) a closeted homosexual in Nevada called Gideon. Over the course of the book, I came to see organized Christianity as the well-intentioned antagonist. The tension plays out between individuals and the collective. Most of the time the focus is on relationships, not theology. The longer I live as an agnostic, the harder time I have sympathizing with people of faith, especially people who persist in practicing religions that oppose their lifestyle. I sometimes forget that many homosexuals are motivated by a genuine Christian spirituality. They have felt the burning in the bosom; they have heard the “still small voice” after praying about Jesus. This book gives them a greater voice. Yet, Does Jesus Really Love Me is not a one-sided analysis. The stories and heartfelt perspectives of fundamentalist Christians are also examined. There are several fascinating passages rendered as oral histories, where the interviewee speaks at length and uninterrupted. These include a passage of reflection by disgraced pastor Ted Haggard. This diversity of perspectives should ensure that any reader, me a prime example, will find himself alternately validated and challenged in his current opinions. Jeff's book does have one key limitation--a point on which it opts for exclusivity instead of inclusiveness. He limits his pilgrimage to Protestantism. The question of if Protestantism is the sole synonym for authentic Christianity is one I won't debate here. Through personal study and frequent debates during my Mormon mission, I came to appreciate the theological distinctions whereby Protestants often claim they alone are authentic Christians. However, this denominational focus does mean that people coming from other versions of Christianity will find their traditions neglected by Jeff's tome. That is arguably a minor criticism though. There are so many gems of humanity in Does Jesus Really Love Me? The insights are keen and affecting. Take this one from Episcopal bishop Mary Glasspool, after realizing her sexual status had become a newspaper headline: "I feel like only one aspect of the complexity of the person I am is being singled out." In a world with an Internet, where we repeatedly post our beliefs in an attempt to drown out dissent, Jeff's book has the potential to be an antidote. You cannot read it fairly without setting aside your assumptions and giving your full attention to people with different perspectives. For that reason in particular, I highly recommend reading Does Jesus Really Love Me?

  3. 5 out of 5

    Brandy

    *I received a copy of this book via Goodreads giveaways! - Thank you!* This is an incredible book. Growing up in rural central Pennsylvania, I didn't have much exposure to alternative lifestyles...or any liberalism, really. However, I managed to somehow become a liberal anyway (don't tell my family!). Even though I had previously thought about the morality of homosexuality (and decided that really, who are we to even begin to claim to know what God's got going on) I didn't look too deeply into it *I received a copy of this book via Goodreads giveaways! - Thank you!* This is an incredible book. Growing up in rural central Pennsylvania, I didn't have much exposure to alternative lifestyles...or any liberalism, really. However, I managed to somehow become a liberal anyway (don't tell my family!). Even though I had previously thought about the morality of homosexuality (and decided that really, who are we to even begin to claim to know what God's got going on) I didn't look too deeply into it. I only know a handful of people who identify themselves as gay, and I have never been witness to any discrimination other than the marriage fight - so the argument didn't seem to concern me. After reading Chu's book, however, I'm forced to reconsider this stance. The argument concerns every person who considers themselves a Christian. And this book is a good place to start the soul-searching. A word on the writing itself: I loved it. I was prepared for a dry, scholarly approach to Scripture. No. No no no no no! Chu engages with lively, thoughtful people and tells their stories in such a way as to impress upon us the gravity of their experience, yet make them relatable. And if you are concerned that my rogue liberal opinion might be too much for you - Chu went to Westboro Baptist Church for one of the chapters, and showed them as real people, actually discussed their seemingly batshit crazy viewpoints. It is just absolutely fascinating. Read this. Read this now. READ IT!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mark Hiser

    The church and its treatment of those who are wrestling with their sexuality are central to the decline of belief for [many] gay people. Journalist Jeff Chu was born into a deeply religious family that included a grandfather who was a Southern Baptist minister, an uncle who is still one, and others who were Sunday School teachers, church pianists, and deacons. He attended a religious high school, graduated with honors from Princeton, and went on to be a seminarian at Princeton Theological Sem The church and its treatment of those who are wrestling with their sexuality are central to the decline of belief for [many] gay people. Journalist Jeff Chu was born into a deeply religious family that included a grandfather who was a Southern Baptist minister, an uncle who is still one, and others who were Sunday School teachers, church pianists, and deacons. He attended a religious high school, graduated with honors from Princeton, and went on to be a seminarian at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is currently a candidate for ministerial ordination in the Reformed Church in America. And he is gay. With his background, Chu unsurprisingly wonders, “does Jesus really love me, and what would it feel like to believe he does?” It is with that question in mind that Chu set off on a pilgrimage. He writes that “my plan was to crisscross America as well as the spectrum of American Christianity. My goal was to understand why those who call themselves followers of Christ start from the same point—a god-man who lived two thousand years ago and left behind a church with his name on it—but end up in such radically different places on the issue of God, the church, and homosexuality. I would take this trip with the curiosity of a journalist and the searching spirit of a simple pilgrim.” Chu explains that he flew more than 20,000 miles and drove 5,000 more, visited twenty-eight states, and met with more than three hundred people representing over a dozen Christian denominations. The book includes the stories of many of those people including a music star who continued to sing Christian music after coming out as lesbian, disgraced pastor Ted Haggard, the passionately anti-gay Fred Phelps of the Westboro Church, some members and leaders of the ex-gay movement, and many others. As I read the book, I reflected on my own coming out as a gay man who was raised in a deeply fundamentalist non-denominational church. Not only was I afraid about how others might react, but I was more terrified about how God would react. For a long time, I tried living in denial of my identity by burying myself in school and work but eventually reached the point when I had to confront the truth about my sexuality. Daily, for more than a year, my tears and prayers flowed in equal measure. Finally, I knew I must live my life with honesty and integrity despite the consequences. From that point I refused to ever hide again the fact that I am gay. But churchgoing is different than faith, and churchgoing to prove something to someone else is different than churchgoing to feed your soul. Still, like Chu, I occasionally must reconcile my sexual orientation with a religious tradition that often harms me. I have experienced and heard more than enough hatred, exclusivity, and fear from too many persons who say they proclaim the Word of God. But I have also known Christians who see a God big enough to love us all. It was not until I was in my forties and had joined another church in another denomination that I heard a pastor tell me from the pulpit that Jesus loves me, a gay man. I burst into tears. Before that Sunday, every minister and pastor I had known had proclaimed that people like me are an abomination to God and will burn in hell for eternity. For much of my life, I believed these ministers and lived my life in terror and self-hatred. Though I had left the fundamentalist evangelical faith tradition of my early years, I still occasionally could not, and cannot, escape the turmoil of my past. The institutional church has caused me much pain. Over this pilgrimage year, I learned how important it is to distinguish between the church and the God that it purports to represent. Too many of us have witnessed an institution that denies LGBTQ+ persons a place in the Family of God. That exclusion has shaped how many of us come to see God. For me, because I deeply feel that my being gay is not a choice, I must question why a loving God would create people like me only to toss us into the fires of hell. Consequently, I have lost my surety that there is a literal heaven and hell and have developed a powerful sense that humanity is far too diverse for there to be only one way to God. But maybe that is OK. Maybe living in this present life in a manner that helps free people to live into their own fullness is what we are called to do. Maybe, as Elder Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri has written it is more important that I think today about "…clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, giving voice to the silenced and oppressed, speaking truth to power, and protecting and empowering the vulnerable.” Maybe it is more important to participate in the Church and “Let our collective voice cry out in the wilderness—and everywhere—with exhortations and good news. And, as the message is heard, more and more people will join us in building the kin-dom of God, making it truly a home for all." So, today I can agree with one person interviewed for Chu’s book who said of his own spiritual growth and loss of trust in religious institutions that “I’m grateful now that I am gay. I’d never have said that when I was in high school. But now I see that it helped sensitize me to abuses and injustice. It has prevented me from simply walking through life with the privilege of never being a target for someone’s fear or hatred.” Chu’s book forces readers to see LGBTQ+ people as more than an issue needing debate, and it forces them to see persons on the other side as human beings. I know in my own anger and pain that I too often find it easy to simply reduce some people to a word like bigot. The Gods that Americans describe are as different from one another as the Mona Lisa and Lisa Simpson—just about the only thing that links them together is some ineffable aura of mystery… A vast and mysterious yet intimate and personal God has been reduced into something small and manageable and comprehensible. Whereas the Scripture says that we were created in God’s image, we have remade him in ours. In the end, Chu concludes that the United States is “a country that deeply wants to love but is conflicted on how to do so.” Though he offers no answers to the ongoing conflict he encourages us to respectfully share our stories and empathetically listen as we ask if a person can remain, simultaneously, a Christian and self-affirming LGBTQ person, and if the Christian faith tradition can encompass a God who loves all persons. Tough questions, but ones worth asking. Can we walk together when we can’t even agree on what “love” means? Can we be gracious in the face of great disagreement? Whom will we choose not just to tolerate but also to accept, to welcome, and to affirm? These are questions that both conservatives and liberals must ask, remembering that, on both sides, we still suffer shortages of generosity. Everywhere, we need more grace.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jon Gill

    There are, for better or worse, many ways to approach being gay in Christian America. I appreciated reading Justin Lee's "Torn" 5 years ago, which helped me see that there is room for loving discussion and disagreement on how sexuality interacts with religion. Other books I've read seem either to make a case against accepting gays (from biblical expository to ex-gay testimonies), or to make a case for accepting them (again, through different biblical interpretation, or through their own stories There are, for better or worse, many ways to approach being gay in Christian America. I appreciated reading Justin Lee's "Torn" 5 years ago, which helped me see that there is room for loving discussion and disagreement on how sexuality interacts with religion. Other books I've read seem either to make a case against accepting gays (from biblical expository to ex-gay testimonies), or to make a case for accepting them (again, through different biblical interpretation, or through their own stories of personal acceptance). Far more stories, sadly, involve Christians who have essentially been pushed out of their faith entirely because of their sexual orientation, or even worse, endured spiritual abuse at the hands of their families and faith communities. Jeff Chu's book is different, and the stories from this pilgrimage make this book a vital read in this ongoing issue critical to the soul of the American church. Chu's journey takes him across the regions and across the ideologies of the many-faceted American church, from the gay-bashing and profane Westboro Baptist church, through the various mainline and evangelical sections, most of whom attempt some way to reconcile the mandate to love everyone with whatever biblical or theological position they feel is correct, into the more affirming denominations, and even to the wildest hippie-commune pan-religious interfaith communities. Regardless of where you yourself begin on this issue, or whose church style yours most resembles, you'll find your community and theology represented. Of course the author brings his own reactions to these (both of the above extremes are treated as extremes), and often his reaction represents a surprise - surprise that well-meaning kindness can accompany even the most stringent theological positions; surprise that some people can find peace in celibate or "ex-gay" lifestyle choices; surprise that churches may even differ from their denominational positions, which only sometimes results in their discipline or expulsion. Plenty of things are unsurprising, of course, such as finding strict positions in the most conservative areas, or finding difficulties surrounding various people's coming-out stories. What Chu does best in all of this is listen. In my own life (as a straight white male who grew up relatively conservative and is now relatively liberal), I've also found the best place to start is always to listen. The thing that I gained most from this book, in listening to each person's (or church's) story, is that gay people live all across the spectrum of the American church. No matter what position your local church takes, there are likely to be (a) gay people in your church wondering what they should do with their faith and their feelings, and (b) gay people nearby, possibly just hanging on to their faith, who are wondering if your faith community will value them. While we probably won't all get on the same page theologically (at least for a long time), we should be aware of how our current positions and practices come across to those in our midst and in our neighborhoods. What does the church of Christ hope to be? One thing I'm far more comfortable with after reading this book is the idea of a friend or family member coming out to me. I was never quite sure what the best thing to do or say would be - how to not only reconcile my own faith with my friend or family member, but also to try to give them what they need from me, and not add to the pain or risk they take by confiding in me. I hope that I can create a safe place for those in my community in the future, where I have so far fallen short. Unlike many of the other books on the topic, this doesn't make a single case for or against a particular church practice or theological position. Doubtless Chu has his own opinion, but this book is about the many people who live, love, question, struggle, leave, stay, or return to the American church. Whether you've given it a lot of thought or not, whether you're gay or straight (or not sure yet), this book adds incredible value. It shows that we are NOT one church - as much as we'd like to be - and what that means for the real people who find themselves - affirmed or not - in our midst. There is room to struggle, room to debate, room to discuss, and always room to love. And there's a whole lot of room to do all of these better than we are.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sally Hanan

    Jeff Chu has done a really good job with this one. While he seems to have been already pretty settled in his own mind as to what he believes about being both Christian and gay, he interviews enough people with differing views and beliefs to make the book a useful tool in understanding the thought processes of gays with faith. Chu shares his own thought process along the way, and sits down with some people no one would ever desire to sit with, let alone talk to (Westboro baptists, for one). And th Jeff Chu has done a really good job with this one. While he seems to have been already pretty settled in his own mind as to what he believes about being both Christian and gay, he interviews enough people with differing views and beliefs to make the book a useful tool in understanding the thought processes of gays with faith. Chu shares his own thought process along the way, and sits down with some people no one would ever desire to sit with, let alone talk to (Westboro baptists, for one). And this is why I found this book so easy to read. Chu was willing to accept but not embrace everyone's perspective and then ask good questions of himself. In any civil discussion, one would hope that this is what happens--all sides are listened to and considered--and Chu does this with much grace and humility. I'd recommend this book to anyone trying to understand the journey an active or celibate gay might take. While it won't give you solid answers, it will at least give you plenty to think about.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Peacegal

    A journalist takes a look at American Christianity's fraught and wildly varied reactions to the LGBT community, from welcome embrace to ugliness and hatred, and everything in between. I guess this book wasn't really what I was expecting, but in the right hands I am sure it will be a great resource. I went in thinking it would be more of a journalistic interview/character study thing, and it was, but as the author is a believer and churchgoer himself, it was also very involved in that community. A journalist takes a look at American Christianity's fraught and wildly varied reactions to the LGBT community, from welcome embrace to ugliness and hatred, and everything in between. I guess this book wasn't really what I was expecting, but in the right hands I am sure it will be a great resource. I went in thinking it would be more of a journalistic interview/character study thing, and it was, but as the author is a believer and churchgoer himself, it was also very involved in that community. There is a LOT of content about denominations and spiritual practice, and for those of us not involved in communities of faith or faithful practice, it's hard to make sense of a decent amount of the book. I recognize that this is a good and needed book, but I guess I just wasn't the audience. I would recommend this people of the Christian faith who have been upset by their church's, community's, or family's intolerant reactions--and who hope to find a way to still be a part of faithful communities that welcome LGBT people and their allies, families, and friends.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Paula Ackley

    As a fairly new Christian I was interested in discovering with Jeff Chu whether Jesus did love gays. I have believed that God is a loving and forgiving Father. That has not changed. I never realised how gays are treated in the Christian Church. Mr. Chu's journey was long and disturbing at times. If I came away with any insight it's that I am not the one to judge people and God is loving, but some of his Churches are not. As a fairly new Christian I was interested in discovering with Jeff Chu whether Jesus did love gays. I have believed that God is a loving and forgiving Father. That has not changed. I never realised how gays are treated in the Christian Church. Mr. Chu's journey was long and disturbing at times. If I came away with any insight it's that I am not the one to judge people and God is loving, but some of his Churches are not.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    An Atlas of American Protestantism in the Era of "The Gay Debate" The title really does not do this book justice. It gave the impression that this was going to be another maudlin memoir, another journey of self-discovery filled with angst and complaining (however justly or unjustly) about one's parents. It is anything but that. Rather, this is a masterful work of contemporary journalism in which Chu turns over pretty much every stone in the garden surveying the contemporary Protestant world as it An Atlas of American Protestantism in the Era of "The Gay Debate" The title really does not do this book justice. It gave the impression that this was going to be another maudlin memoir, another journey of self-discovery filled with angst and complaining (however justly or unjustly) about one's parents. It is anything but that. Rather, this is a masterful work of contemporary journalism in which Chu turns over pretty much every stone in the garden surveying the contemporary Protestant world as it reflects on the role of gay people in the church and society. If you doubt such thoroughness were possible, consider this: in the same 350-page work, he visits MCC ("gay") churches, talks to gay evangelical peacemaker Justin Lee and lesbian CCM star in demi-exile Jennifer Knapp, sits down with a partnered lesbian bishop and a gay evangelical man committed to celibacy, and even has amicable conversation with Fred Phelps himself. Just the probably unprecedented act of going and speaking with and listening to people on such far-flung points of the rhetorical and theological landscape speaks volumes about the spirit of Chu's work and the enormity of its importance. And this sampling barely hints at the number and diversity of the people interviewed in the book. Chu mostly stays out of the way of his interview subjects and lets them speak for themselves, articulating their widely varying understandings of God, truth, Gospel, and morality. This is a fantastic and lost art of reporting that I greatly appreciate. (One of my few complaints about the book is that when Chu does step in, it often reads as overly snarky in tone, but fortunately such moments are very few.) This wide spread of unfiltered experience and opinion does, however, make the book quite an intellectually and emotionally draining slog if you have any personal stake in this debate and especially, I suspect, if you are like me and have very complicated, conflicted, fluctuating feelings about every aspect of this situation. It's good to remind yourself that on any emotionally charged subject, many human beings are not reliable narrators. Some of the interviewees articulate an understanding of things that is so obviously warped or wishful or wrathful, and it took a lot of battery power for me to sift through it all. It was especially hard for me to read the chapter on First United Lutheran. I understand the pain of the congregants. (The parish was tossed out of the generally centrist Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for hiring a gay pastor in the 90s, and has been invited back now that the ELCA has changed their rules to allow openly gay and partnered pastors.) But the uncomfortable fact emerges as Chu talks with the pastor and staff that this congregation is in schism not just from the ELCA over sexuality issues, but quite possibly from the Christian faith in general. The music director has a collection of symbols from non-Christian faiths tattooed on his arm and says that he is not "currently" a Christian. The music director! The hymnal has been adjusted to avoid referring to Jesus using the masculine pronouns, among many other things, and the brand of "Christianity" articulated in general is something newly created and foreign to the tradition going back through the Reformation to the Church Fathers. Why cling to the label "Lutheran" with an ankh branded on your arm? Why fight with any church body at all if you don't subscribe to confessional Christianity of any sort? The congregation is divided, and has only 25 regular attendees--if it were not in the center of the sexuality controversy, the ELCA might have already rung down the curtain on such a flailing, dying parish. I simply do not understand what they are hanging onto, and why. Similarly, Chu is made uncomfortable by his visits to the MCC, which similarly dabble in paganism and syncretism, and where two men attempt to pick him up through inappropriate in-church manipulation and maneuvering. It's creepy and baffling, and the question that I end up having to ask is, how could such a group ever reform the larger church towards greater acceptance of gay people when it is not even recognizably Christian? He doesn't mention San Fran's Ebenezer Lutheran, which engages is outright pagan goddess rituals, but he does mention the SF-MCC had a paid "minister of Buddhist spirituality." Orthodox, mainstream Christians who are gay or sympathetic to gay inclusion should be very worried about this sort of thing. When people gather under the name of "Christian church" to worship themselves, their obsessions, and their other gods, and when they claim this syncretistic nonsense is the only alternative--as the Lutheran pastor Strouse does--to "Fred Phelps style hatred"--this is some serious deception that will only hurt the cause of inclusion AND the church universal in the worst ways. The most hopeful chapter is the one on GCN, and I really think that the way of Justin Lee is our only way out of this mess, as a people of faith. Learning to dwell together despite difference and live in the tension. Highland Church in Colorado has found a similar way. This is, I truly believe, the only way. It takes a lot of courage from both sides. Accordingly, rather than seeking answers about his own morality or the nature of God, Chu goes out in search of unity, or, perhaps, just the hope of the possibility of unity. Admittedly the hope is currently very thin, and at the end of the book he sounds demoralized and exhausted. As a reader, I, too, was exhausted--if not as personally disappointed or demoralized. Perhaps as an ELCA Lutheran I am simply already numb with fatigue from the ongoing battle over the authority of scripture and the role of non-celibate gay folks in our church body. I often find myself wishing that we could somehow just table this issue--just agree to leave everything as it stands and then not to speak of it again for a few years, and come back to it later when everyone is rested up and not as cranky. I realize that is impossible, but sometimes as I read this book, I wished it were possible more than ever. The problem, as Chu's reporting shows us again and again, is overwhelmingly "a failure to communicate." All too often "Side A" and "Side B" are not even talking about the same things, even if we all use the same words. If you are a fanatic on either side, or a partial fanatic, you might have difficulty with this book because he "goes there" and talks to people you find abhorrent, hears them out (even if he admits it was uncomfortable for him), and treats them like human beings who are grappling with faith in an honest way. He does not dismiss any as a hater or a sinner. If this were a book about some other subject, that might even be an appropriate critique of it, a reason to skip it. But this book is about the church, and since we are called to be "holy, catholic, and apostolic," there has to eventually come a time for listening and sitting quietly in the space between those extremes and recognizing the Imago Dei in one another. Chu turns up the static of dissonance and disagreement to the max only to cut through it with this realization: we are talking past each other, and if we keep doing that, the results are dire and deadly. This would be a challenging book to pick for a church discussion group, but maybe that's exactly what we ought to be doing. (Reviewer received a free copy for honest review via the Amazon Vine program.)

  10. 4 out of 5

    Hannah Notess

    Solid reporting, lots of engaging interviews, and I think he really did a nice job with the sometimes-awkward blend of personal writing and reporting. But on a subject like this, no one's really neutral, especially when you have a big personal stake in the inclusion of LGBT people in the church. I really like how he positioned himself and his own experiences as the motivation for the journey to visit various churches and Christians around the country and ask them questions. I think it made the b Solid reporting, lots of engaging interviews, and I think he really did a nice job with the sometimes-awkward blend of personal writing and reporting. But on a subject like this, no one's really neutral, especially when you have a big personal stake in the inclusion of LGBT people in the church. I really like how he positioned himself and his own experiences as the motivation for the journey to visit various churches and Christians around the country and ask them questions. I think it made the book stronger. I think he really does reveal how deep some of these divisions are and, in many cases, how painful. The comments about how many pastors were afraid to talk to him were really interesting and surprising to me. Are pastors really afraid to say what they think about this topic? And if so, why? The people who you'd think would be unpleasant and self-absorbed based on the news came off as unpleasant and self-absorbed--no surprise there. The more interesting conversations, I think, happened in the more out of the way/less famous church communities. All the communities he visited were Protestant (or veering toward Unitarian, I guess) I really wish he would have visited Catholic and Orthodox communities too to broaden the scope a little, just because I would like to know about those communities and experiences. But it's already a long book... so, I think it's OK.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Pam

    I was very interested in the idea of Jeff Chu's pilgrimage across America visiting various churches and hoping to find reconciliation between Christianity and his homosexuality. Unfortunately the reality was that the various churches he visited blurred together and his thoughts did not seem to develop or change with time. The brief biographies of other people he met, who faced similar challenges, seemed much like repeats of his own story. I wondered as I read along that if Chu had injected some I was very interested in the idea of Jeff Chu's pilgrimage across America visiting various churches and hoping to find reconciliation between Christianity and his homosexuality. Unfortunately the reality was that the various churches he visited blurred together and his thoughts did not seem to develop or change with time. The brief biographies of other people he met, who faced similar challenges, seemed much like repeats of his own story. I wondered as I read along that if Chu had injected some humor into his trek perhaps the story would have shined. For me, this story was just too long and not consequential enough.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kristen Lauderdale

    Interesting portrayals of a wide variety of gay Christians, but I think I would have liked it more if it focused more on the churches rather than zeroing in on so many individuals, many of whom weren't particularly distinguishable from each other. But it did have its moments and it's impressive how many conversations he was able to capture with people. Kind of a slog, overall. Interesting portrayals of a wide variety of gay Christians, but I think I would have liked it more if it focused more on the churches rather than zeroing in on so many individuals, many of whom weren't particularly distinguishable from each other. But it did have its moments and it's impressive how many conversations he was able to capture with people. Kind of a slog, overall.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Leigh Kramer

    Jeff Chu may have been the perfect person to write this book. His story blends well with his journalistic approach as he traveled across the country hearing stories and perspectives about the intersection of faith and homosexuality. Well written and filled with grace.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mark Hiser

    Jeff Chu, a journalist who has written for many prominent newspapers and magazines, was born into a deeply religious family that included a grandfather who was a Baptist minister, an uncle who is still one, and yet others who were Sunday School teachers, church pianists, and deacons. He attended a religious high school, graduated with honors from Princeton, and went on to be a seminarian at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is currently a candidate for ministerial ordination in the Reformed Chu Jeff Chu, a journalist who has written for many prominent newspapers and magazines, was born into a deeply religious family that included a grandfather who was a Baptist minister, an uncle who is still one, and yet others who were Sunday School teachers, church pianists, and deacons. He attended a religious high school, graduated with honors from Princeton, and went on to be a seminarian at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is currently a candidate for ministerial ordination in the Reformed Church in America. And he is gay. So, with his background, he unsurprisingly asks, “does Jesus really love me, and what would it feel like to believe he does?” It is with that question in mind that Chu set off on a pilgrimage. He writes that “my plan was to crisscross America as well as the spectrum of American Christianity. My goal was to understand why those who call themselves followers of Christ start from the same point—a god-man who lived two thousand years ago and left behind a church with his name on it—but end up in such radically different places on the issue of God, the church, and homosexuality. I would take this trip with the curiosity of a journalist and the searching spirit of a simple pilgrim.” Chu explains in the introduction to the book that he flew more than 20,000 miles and drove 5,000 more, visited twenty-eight states, and met with more than three hundred people representing over a dozen Christian denominations. The book tells the stories of many of those people Chu met during his yearlong pilgrimage across the country. Some of these include a music star who continued to sing Christian music after coming out as lesbian, disgraced pastor Ted Haggard, the passionately anti-gay Fred Phelps of the Westboro Church, some members and leaders of the ex-gay movement, and many others. My own coming out was difficult. Not only was I afraid about how others might react, but I was also even more terrified about how God would react. Though I am now comfortable with who I am as a gay man, like Chu, I occasionally find myself having to reconcile my sexual orientation with an institutional Christian religious tradition that often harms me. So, there are days when I wonder why I remain in that tradition. I have seen and heard more than enough bigotry, hatred, exclusivity, and fear from too many persons who say they proclaim the Word of God. But then I have also seen many Christians who purposefully struggle to see a God big enough to love us all. But, more important, I cannot accept that a loving God would be so petty and small to create millions of people like me just to condemn us to hell, just like I cannot accept that a loving God would condemn anyone because they do not follow the Christian faith tradition. Over the course of my life, I have seen that much of the institutional church has seldom believed that LGBTQ+ persons are also Children of God. That position has made it impossible to think about Christianity without also thinking about sexuality. It has shaped how many of us come to see God. Because I am gay in a world not built for me, I have developed a powerful sense that humanity is far too diverse for me to believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven. Because I deeply feel that my being gay is not a choice, and because I believe that God is love, I must question why that loving God would create people like me only to toss us into the fires of hell. Consequently, I lost my surety that there is a heaven and hell. But maybe that is OK. Maybe living in this present life in a manner that helps free people to live into their own fullness is what we are called to do. Even though my sexuality and faith may sometimes seem irreconcilable, that tension shapes the evolution of my own spiritual growth. So, today I can agree with one person interviewed for this book who said of his own spiritual growth and loss of trust in religious institutions that “I’m grateful now that I am gay. I’d never have said that when I was in high school. But now I see that it helped sensitize me to abuses and injustice. It has prevented me from simply walking through life with the privilege of never being a target for someone’s fear or hatred.” Though Chu chose not to put his attention on intellectual or theological arguments, he respectfully and compassionately humanizes the issue that is so urgent and deep that denominations like the United Methodists prepare to split, some parents disinherit their LGBTQ children, and many individuals leave their faith tradition. All this turmoil over the interpretation of six biblical passages: Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:1–11), Levitical laws (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13), two words in two Second Testament vice lists (1 Corinthians 6:9–10; 1 Timothy 1:10), and Paul's letter to the Romans (Romans 1:26–27). Chu’s writing decision also forces readers to see LGBTQ+ people as more than an abstract problem or an issue needing debate. It also forces readers to see persons on the other side as human beings. I know in my own anger and pain that I too often find it easy to simply reduce people on the other “side” of the issue to a word like bigot. Chu’s book also causes readers to think about persons who claim to “love the sinner but hate the sin,” or who urge LGBTQ+ persons to remain celibate and tell them their “non-straight” sexual orientation is God’s “test” for them. Though people like these may try to accept and even love the sexual minorities sitting in the next pew, they still have the nagging belief that LGBTQ+ persons are somehow fundamentally disordered and outside God’s plan for the humanity. In the end, though Chu concludes that the United States is “a country that deeply wants to love but is conflicted on how to do so.” Though Chu offers no answers to the ongoing conflict he encourages us to respectfully share our stories and to empathetically listen, as we ask if a person can remain, simultaneously, a Christian and self-affirming LGBTQ person, and if the Christian faith tradition can encompass a God who loves all persons, even those who are LGBTQ+? Tough questions, but ones worth asking.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Lori Capps

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. As a white, heterosexual woman whose dedication to her writing couldn’t touch his with a ten foot pole, I don’t have much in common with Jeff Chu. However, we do have one similarity, summed up in this quote from the conclusion of the book: “My God isn’t simply the God I believe in but the God I want to believe in and need to believe in...my faith may be too small, my misunderstanding too great, but my God is a big God.” As a pull quote, it sounds a bit clichéd, the sort of dopey takeaway with whic As a white, heterosexual woman whose dedication to her writing couldn’t touch his with a ten foot pole, I don’t have much in common with Jeff Chu. However, we do have one similarity, summed up in this quote from the conclusion of the book: “My God isn’t simply the God I believe in but the God I want to believe in and need to believe in...my faith may be too small, my misunderstanding too great, but my God is a big God.” As a pull quote, it sounds a bit clichéd, the sort of dopey takeaway with which any Christian writer might wrap up their pilgrimage book. But after pages of Chu truly hearing and faithfully recording all manner of gay and straight (ex) pastor, (ex) congregant, (ex) Bible school teacher stories as a gay man raised in the Southern Baptist Church, this proclamation of faith is deeply, deeply meaningful. Chu is not an unattached or distant journalist; he gives his opinion throughout and—unavoidably, as I see it—shows his bias in the way he reports. Nevertheless, I see in this book something I am terrified is becoming near extinct in the present day (boy, does that make this twenty-six year old sound like a geriatric grump): a willingness to see a startlingly complex and controversial issue from various angles with massive amounts of empathy even while acknowledging said bias. When I first started reading, I actually thought this book was much older than it is for this reason. “This wouldn’t fly in 2021,” I told my husband on something like page 50. But here’s the reason I really, really loved this book: I am different, better I think, for having read it. And isn’t that the goal? Isn’t that the reason for sharing stories? This book reminded me that faith is not simply have or don’t have. It reminded me that the love of God is bigger than I often allow it to be—for myself and others. It reminded me that the love of Jesus is “not a luxury. It’s a necessity, especially in a world where so many have been told that the love of Jesus is off-limits to them.” It made me sad and a little nihilistic about the vast divisions with the Church and the seeming impossibility of communicating effectively with people who differ on this topic and others, but it made me hopeful, too. That’s a (forgive this churchy phrase) tension I have to live in, but it’s not one I have to be okay about living in. Here is a final quote from the conclusion: “In some ways, my faith has shrunk, but much of what I lost was imaginary anyway—illusions and dreams and wishful thoughts. From those I feel liberated. I can now try to be a more productive and constructive part of the body of believers that does exist. I now know, more than ever, that my faith is not about buildings. It is not about elder boards. It is not about any of the bureaucratic, extra-biblical bull**** that we sometimes mistake for church.” May God guide those of us in the faith as we try to understand him and his will, and may he grant us love and wisdom to do it alongside one another. We need it.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Phillips

    I read excerpts from this book years ago when I was researching my own book about spirituality. The title brought back the pain of being subjected to the fundamentalist version of Jesus and God. No matter what your opinion about the role of Jesus in history and religion, no one should ever doubt that they matter as a human being. Those of us who are allies to the LGBTQ community and also hold dear the teachings of Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth can have no doubt that all people are important to him and I read excerpts from this book years ago when I was researching my own book about spirituality. The title brought back the pain of being subjected to the fundamentalist version of Jesus and God. No matter what your opinion about the role of Jesus in history and religion, no one should ever doubt that they matter as a human being. Those of us who are allies to the LGBTQ community and also hold dear the teachings of Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth can have no doubt that all people are important to him and deserving of love. God created a range of genders and sexual preferences and ALL are covered under the umbrella of the love of God. The book reveals how harmful church teachings have been to the psyche of gay persons throughout its history. We do little better today, preaching love the sinner and hate the sin. Gay is not sin. Period. Gay should not prevent anyone from being a vital part of a church's outreach, ministry, or any other form of service desired. I was saddened when, at the end of this pilgrimmage, Chu writes: "And if therefore I am one day damned to hell, all I can say is that I have tried my best." It reveals that he is still trapped in the mindset of a vengeful, wrathful God created in the image of man. I had so dearly hoped that he would learn along the way that it is man's judgement he suffers from, not that of God. The Bible is not God; the church is not God. The God I acknowledge and follow is a Being of Light and Love and Fearlessness, to be trusted in relationship. To Mr. Chu--you have never been wrong. You trusted your yearning for God and you trusted your inherent yearning for men. Now, be free to live fully in both aspects.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Don

    Jeff Chu's pilgrimage in search of understanding of the relationship between "the church" and LGBTQ Christians, a quest fraught with heart-rending pain and triumph of the human spirit and even, on a few rare occasions, truly Christ-like relationships of love, respect, and welcome from those whose identity leads many, if not most, Christian fellowships to categorize them as lepers. Most importantly, as a straight, old, white male, Chu's narrative of his journey and the many storied told by those Jeff Chu's pilgrimage in search of understanding of the relationship between "the church" and LGBTQ Christians, a quest fraught with heart-rending pain and triumph of the human spirit and even, on a few rare occasions, truly Christ-like relationships of love, respect, and welcome from those whose identity leads many, if not most, Christian fellowships to categorize them as lepers. Most importantly, as a straight, old, white male, Chu's narrative of his journey and the many storied told by those he met inspired me to take Jesus seriously -- both his words and His actions -- when he demands that his followers show love to all, without reservation or judgment. I am affirmed in my belief that Jesus calls each of us to welcome those who answer the call to "come all you who bear heavy burdens" as fellow sojourners, fully eligible to receive the peace, blessing, and love of Jesus now even as we read He did in the gospels.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Rose Kovacs

    More 4.5 stars, because there's a few sections in the middle where a few of the denominational visits melded together. But overall, so well done. I don't think there's any book like it, because he's not setting out to solely pontificate on all his theories: he observes and reports from so many experiences of Christianity in the US, and sometimes adds how it impacts him, with so much depth. I so admire his posture of commitment to understand and find compassion, even for those who are hateful tow More 4.5 stars, because there's a few sections in the middle where a few of the denominational visits melded together. But overall, so well done. I don't think there's any book like it, because he's not setting out to solely pontificate on all his theories: he observes and reports from so many experiences of Christianity in the US, and sometimes adds how it impacts him, with so much depth. I so admire his posture of commitment to understand and find compassion, even for those who are hateful towards him. The conclusion and epilogue are the best part: don't miss that, if you don't have time for the whole book. (Also, a small note: there's a few times where he describes someone's physical appearance in an *societally accepted norms* unflattering way-- i.e. "stout" or "pimply." This seemed incongruous with the rest of the book's tone and unnecessary to me. Maybe I'm missing typical reporter speak? Hopefully if he does a next edition he'll edit those things out.)

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kelly Wilson

    What this book is not: an intellectual and logical argument of what the Bible says about homosexuality one way or the other. What this book is: an incredibly honest look at many many people and organizations across America who wrestle through christianity and homosexuality. While no-one can fully leave bias aside, Chu does an amazing job of letting the interviewees speak for themselves, and he give so much grace to people on every side. For me the big takeaway from this book is that the "homosexu What this book is not: an intellectual and logical argument of what the Bible says about homosexuality one way or the other. What this book is: an incredibly honest look at many many people and organizations across America who wrestle through christianity and homosexuality. While no-one can fully leave bias aside, Chu does an amazing job of letting the interviewees speak for themselves, and he give so much grace to people on every side. For me the big takeaway from this book is that the "homosexual community" is not a monolith, and this is about real human beings first and foremost rather than a "issue." And in my opinion that is a desperately needed refocus in the conversation. Highly recommend to anyone (possible trigger warning for LGBTQ+ folks who have experienced church hurt--while the author is never graphic he does interview a wide range of people and opinions, including the Westboro Baptist church and some others with similar views)

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mary Lynn

    When I heard this author interviewed by Jen Hatmaker, on her podcast, I wanted to know him more. He’s probably an excellent journalist because he engages people through compassion and a desire to understand. He’s a humble, lovable, young man on a duel journey to learn himself, and the variety of Christian views of(interactions with) gay people. I thought I had a pretty open mind to listening to people’s stories, but Jeff Chu’s interviews of others made me realize there is still a nasty habit to When I heard this author interviewed by Jen Hatmaker, on her podcast, I wanted to know him more. He’s probably an excellent journalist because he engages people through compassion and a desire to understand. He’s a humble, lovable, young man on a duel journey to learn himself, and the variety of Christian views of(interactions with) gay people. I thought I had a pretty open mind to listening to people’s stories, but Jeff Chu’s interviews of others made me realize there is still a nasty habit to judge in human nature that I must overcome. I must leave more room for grace, and certainly leave more room to love fully, compassionately, and extravagantly, just as Christ would have us do.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Shauna

    My rating was going to be 3-3.5 stars until I read the Afterword. Personally, I probably would have gotten more out of most of this book when I was still attending and struggling with an antigay church/denomination. (I am a straight Christian.) He dedicates the book to "those who have endured," and I'm assuming that to mean those who have endured being gay Christians in unloving and unwelcoming church environments. The grace and tenacity shown by the author and the gay Christians profiled in thi My rating was going to be 3-3.5 stars until I read the Afterword. Personally, I probably would have gotten more out of most of this book when I was still attending and struggling with an antigay church/denomination. (I am a straight Christian.) He dedicates the book to "those who have endured," and I'm assuming that to mean those who have endured being gay Christians in unloving and unwelcoming church environments. The grace and tenacity shown by the author and the gay Christians profiled in this book is divine and inspiring, which bumped my rating up to 4 stars.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Heather Nessler

    What I loved about this book is the humility, grace and honesty that flood each page. It is not a book presenting arguments, instead it presents stories that span a vast spectrum of beliefs and experiences. It is a book that reminds you that what Christians often call “the gay issue” has flesh and blood, there are humans deeply loved by God, for whom these questions are wrestled with for a lifetime. This is a book to increase empathy, listening, and Christ like love.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    Jeff Chu pulls off a remarkable feat: he writes about one of the most controversial and divisive issues in the Church with gentleness and truth. This is some of the best journalism I’ve ever read: curious instead of condemning, thoughtful without resorting to lightweight anecdotes, punchy yet extensive. The stories he tells of people he met pile on top of each other and make some sort of crazy, impossible structure. All I could do was just look up at it and try to figure it out and be okay with Jeff Chu pulls off a remarkable feat: he writes about one of the most controversial and divisive issues in the Church with gentleness and truth. This is some of the best journalism I’ve ever read: curious instead of condemning, thoughtful without resorting to lightweight anecdotes, punchy yet extensive. The stories he tells of people he met pile on top of each other and make some sort of crazy, impossible structure. All I could do was just look up at it and try to figure it out and be okay with my doubt and theological tension and shifting definitions of love and God. This book is important.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Denise

    I became aware of this author, Jeff Chu, through the Evolving Faith podcast. The book describes many personal stories of gay people in America who continue to be shunned or disenfranchised to varying degrees in the Christian church. There are also encouraging examples of churches that get it right.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Allie

    I feel so indebted to Jeff Chu for this book. It is such a tremendous gift. I could not recommend this book more—especially to my fellow Christians. I am broken-hearted over the way the church has treated my LGBTQ friends, and we have a long, long way to go in making amends. I am so glad God ≠ the Church. If you’re reading this—Jesus loves you. No buts.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Malinda Fugate

    The journalistic approach of Does Jesus Really Love Me gives us a glimpse of many lives and their varied circumstances. Chu's research gives us a wealth of perspectives and things to consider. Stepping outside of our own experience allows us to develop deeper empathy and compassion as we contemplate faith, sexuality, and humanity. The journalistic approach of Does Jesus Really Love Me gives us a glimpse of many lives and their varied circumstances. Chu's research gives us a wealth of perspectives and things to consider. Stepping outside of our own experience allows us to develop deeper empathy and compassion as we contemplate faith, sexuality, and humanity.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Dav

    I know the short answer to the question posed in the title is yes, absolutely. I have no doubt. But the problem is the short answer is never enough. This incredibly well-researched and superbly-told story of one man's quest to find some answers is crazy moving and beautiful and heartwrenching all at the same time. Loved it. I know the short answer to the question posed in the title is yes, absolutely. I have no doubt. But the problem is the short answer is never enough. This incredibly well-researched and superbly-told story of one man's quest to find some answers is crazy moving and beautiful and heartwrenching all at the same time. Loved it.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mees

    This book is filled with compelling personal stories. This was written before Obergefell vs Hodges, so the landscape has changed a little, but I think many of the issues and feelings and theologies are still the same.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Nick Jordan

    While I do have some small complaints, wishing this were straight personal narratives or memoir, the narratives with Chu’s light commentary is just very, very good. Highly recommended.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Annie

    Pure journalism. No argument being made. Just an exploration of the queer-Christian experience in America. If you love hearing others' life stories, this is for you. Pure journalism. No argument being made. Just an exploration of the queer-Christian experience in America. If you love hearing others' life stories, this is for you.

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