Chapter 5 of Before You Lose Your Faith is absolutely heartbreaking. I’m warning you of that now, because I still got my heart broken even though I had a hunch about what it was going to concern. But I’m still going to discuss it. Something in Rachel Gilson’s childhood led her straight to the worst, cruelest, most evil and inhuman flavor of Christianity in the entire shit-tastic Christian rainbow. Through sheer necessity, she’s figured out a way to reframe her tribe’s infamous bigotry-for-Jesus. But it doesn’t have to fool anybody else, and I don’t think it even fools her at times.
(Bigotry-for-Jesus is the Jesus-flavored anti-LGBT bigotry that many Christians push so hard as Jesus’ command to humanity. What’s so ironic about today’s post is that we learned years ago that the Bible’s apparent prohibition of same-sex relationships stems from Christian bigots’ crucial and dealbreaking misinterpretation of one clobber verse.)
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Meet Rachel Gilson, the writer of Chapter 5 of Before You Lose Your Faith
According to her bio in the book, Rachel Gilson works for Cru, which used to be known as Campus Crusade for Christ. She’s pursuing a PhD in public theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, which is one of the six branded seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). In addition, she’s written a book about how she reframed evangelicals’ bigotry-for-Jesus.
Overall, this bio marks her as one of the formally accomplished contributors to the book. Even I’d heard of her book, which a lot of evangelical leaders seemed to like at the time.
It’s beyond obvious, why The Gospel Coalition (TGC), the hard-right evangelicals behind Before You Lose Your Faith, wanted her on board. They’re keenly aware that the tribe’s bigotry-for-Jesus disgusts a great many young adults. So they got a 30-something lesbian to write a chapter about how bigotry-for-Jesus is totally not bigotry at all.
In Chapter 5, we’ll learn how she figured out a way to deny herself relationships for the rest of her life without dissolving into loneliness and anger. Hopefully.
This is also the beginning of Section II of Before You Lose Your Faith
Incidentally, this is the first chapter in the second section. The previous chapters represent its first section, “Deconstruct Deconstruction.” Those chapters sought to put limits on doubt and how far TGC is willing to graciously allow deconstruction to go. They also tried hard to dictate how deconstruction must end in order to be considered valid by them.
Why hucksters expect anyone to care what they think is anyone’s guess. If I don’t want to take a sausage sample from the guy at Costco, I don’t care if he thinks I’m dumb for not taking it. He’s not the Thrice-Crowned Sausage King of the Pacific Northwest, whose commands must be obeyed by all.
Likewise, these TGC folks aren’t the Kings of Christianity. They’re more like the Vegan Bacon guy from Parks and Rec.
They are salespeople who are shilling a very particular greasy and repulsive take on their religion. Nobody who is deconstructing should care at all what the custodians of the nastiest flavor of Christianity think about their process. If any deconstructing Christians cared about that, then TGC could just tell them to shut up and stop thinking about it, and that’d be all they’d have to say. Not that this book isn’t a longform helping of because shut up, that’s why.
Now, though, we’re into its second section. They titled it “Deconstruct the Issues.” LGBT rights, dignity, and inclusion are clearly one of the “issues” they see hindering young adults from joining evangelical churches in droves. They’re not wrong, either. Every survey on the topic that I’ve ever seen has indicated that yes, this is a big issue.
Oh, and let me give credit where it’s due. At least TGC didn’t ask a straight, middle-aged, married dude to write this chapter. By now, that is exactly what I’ve come to expect from evangelicals.
A heartbreaking conversion story in Before You Lose Your Faith
Not long after I began reading this chapter, I began to murmur to myself: “Oh no, honey. Oh no. Baby, no.” I couldn’t help it. Rachel Gilson’s testimony is not a message of hope and deliverance. It’s a story about how dishonest Christians are, how piss-poor stories spun prettily can fool even the smartest person, and how an unprepared child gets completely gut-punched by predatory evangelism tactics.
Rachel Gilson shares Act 1 of her conversion story (p.46):
On my 18th birthday, I was a committed atheist with a girlfriend, getting ready to head off to Yale College. I was so excited to enter into the real world, away from my small town where I had never felt truly at home. My family had never attended church, even though that was the norm where I grew up. Most of my understanding of Christianity—of Jesus—was like an inflated cartoon balloon, stupid bright lines with only air inside. A distraction for children, not to mention dangerous.
You can probably spot the huge glaring problems here, just as I did. She grew up in a town dominated by Christians. What kind? We don’t know, but her parents didn’t prepare her at all for dealing with them.
Worse, growing up in a small town and then going to a huge Ivy League college could do a number on anyone. But Gilson was a kid who’d never grappled much with the reasons why religion is bullshit. She became easy prey for Christians.
This is why ex-atheist conversion testimonies aren’t persuasive at all
As soon as she got to Yale, she fell into a deep pit of pain. She and the girlfriend broke up. Her classmates seemed much smarter and accomplished than she was. I can only imagine how much she hurt. And then, “a certain lecture” made her think Christianity could solve her problems. We aren’t told what the lecture involved, who gave it, or anything else—only that she stole a copy of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. (Ooh la la! How transgressive!) Reading it converted her.
She converted. After reading Mere Christianity.
That vapid piece of pure blubbering dreck.
Words fail me.
This book is nothing but nonstop logical fallacies. Here’s one chapter of it. One of the subtitles there is “Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe.” Yes. Instead of offering evidence for Christians’ claims, Lewis claims that “right and wrong” only exist because his god made them. Therefore, everyone must convert to Christianity.
But before he can make claims about such a link, he needs to demonstrate that his god is actually real. Without that support, “right and wrong” could easily exist because of any gods’ existence, or even when no gods exist at all.
Indeed, we’ve got a lot of interesting new research cropping up lately about how “right and wrong” evolved naturally in humans. Even animals show love and compassion to each other, for goodness’ sake, and even toward different animals.
Sidebar: C.S. Lewis has no support for his claims, so he goes for broke on logical fallacies and emotional manipulation
We discussed one of Lewis’ other books, The Great Divorce, last year. It’s about Heaven and Hell, and the people who inhabit both realms, and how someone can get from Hell to Heaven after death. Overall, we found Lewis’ worldbuilding horrifying and fallacious. His Heaven-dwelling characters seemed downright cruel and sociopathic. By contrast, his Hellbound characters tended to be perfectly reasonable.
Lewis offered readers his conceptualization of Hell as a never-ending city full of fascinating people, this magical realm that granted residents the ability to literally wish anything they wanted into existence, and as a place where residents could find people they’d known in life and reconnect with them. Then, Lewis told us that everyone there is completely miserable.
Well, except for the people who clearly were madly in love with each other. At least one couple wasn’t unhappy at all in Hell. However, Lewis demands that we pity them for that immense love. It’s kept them in Hell!
So yes, this book’s monstrous. Lewis tried to make love into something pitiful so he could sell Heaven as the real goal.
Mere Christianity suffers from many of the same flaws as The Great Divorce. Steve Shives did a great longform video review of it some years back:
As bad as Mere Christianity is, though, it sure fooled Rachel Gilson as a teenager at Yale.
Having shared this awful, manipulative book as a pivotal component of her testimony, Gilson’s heartbreak continues in Before You Lose Your Faith.
Reframing bigotry-for-Jesus in Before You Lose Your Faith
For years now, evangelicals have tried to reframe their regressive, oppressive demands. With reframing, someone tries to make a serious negative sound like a serious positive. Back when I was Pentecostal, that’s what many of my tribemates and leaders did with systemic sexism:
- Women aren’t being oppressed by that wackadoodle dress code and never getting any kind of real leadership. Nor do their tribe’s Victorian family rules oppress women.
- No, women are actually benefiting from all that so-called oppression!
- They get to handle all the housework just the way they like. Men are so ickie and clueless about housework. This way, everyone plays to their strengths!
- Similarly, women get to avoid all the heavy lifting of leadership. It’s not like leadership is fun; just look at all the arguments married couples have!
- Leadership is tiring, painful, and stressful work. So men have graciously agreed to do all of it! Jesus ordered it, but he was just thinking of what’s best for everyone!
- Ladies, you can thank your menfolk in the bedroom later tonight.
- Did we mention that’s also a command from Jesus?
Of course, no women in Pentecostalism were fooled by any of this wordplay.
Reframing doesn’t look like reality at all
When the men in my church talked like that, we women subtly rolled our eyes and glanced away. We knew that the men had put themselves in charge. They’d just found Bible verses that they thought could be shoehorned into supporting their demands.
Still, they had Bible verses. So we felt we had to obey, even though we could plainly perceive that our tribe’s division of labor keenly favored men—at our complete expense.
Later, I’d joke that Pentecostals tried to make sexism sound like “the bonus plan.” It’s from a crude joke by Andrew Dice Clay: A woman invites a man to hold her in bed. He, however, wants sex. When she says she just wants to be held, he tells her that he’s giving her “the bonus plan.” It’s much cruder than I’m telling it, and it fits exactly what I experienced in Pentecostalism. I just wanted to Jesus my li’l heart out, but apparently Christians wanted to give me the bonus plan!
That’s what’s going on in Chapter 5 of Before You Lose Your Faith. Rachel Gilson has assembled some reframing arguments that she thinks make bigotry-for-Jesus sound like evangelicalism’s bonus plan. It’s not oppression and exclusion. It’s not consigning LGBT people to a less-than existence. No, no, it’s totally wonderful! The loneliness that LGBT people will experience while following this bonus plan is, likewise, an expression of divine joy and love!
Before You Lose Your Faith doesn’t realize the story being told here
That’s what’s so heartbreaking about this chapter. I refuse to mock Rachel Gilson. It’s not in me. I’m not going to condemn her as stupid or whatever, either. She’s not. Rather, I’m angry for her. She simply got preyed upon by Christians at a moment of extreme vulnerability. She lacked the critical thinking skills needed to understand that their marketing is just that: a bunch of claims and promises that they have no intention of ever supporting with real evidence.
I hope that the administrators of Yale notice this post, if they haven’t already seen the writing Gilson offers here. Online, I notice they offer many resources to help emotionally-struggling students. Of course, I don’t know if they offered these 20 years ago when Gilson experienced such anguish there. At the very least, they understand these days that kids like Gilson can find themselves floundering there, completely out of their depth and unable to cope. She provides a heart-rending picture of how alone she felt, how outclassed, and how very, very sad she was.
Now, she feels she has to obey her new tribe’s dictates. If she doesn’t, she thinks she’s going to go to Hell—and will live an even worse life than she endured during that first year at Yale. As she puts it, “Jesus was my only hope for life.”
That lonely night, hard-right evangelicalism became her magic black feather—like in Dumbo.
Reframing bigotry-for-Jesus as a great, fulfilling life
Because Rachel Gilson is a lesbian, she had to do a lot more work to fit into the tribe’s demands. She also had to wrestle hard with her tribe’s life script for women: marriage, children, and submission to her husband forever.
I’m thankful that she hasn’t let anyone talk her into marrying a man. She knows better than to do that. But that means that the life ahead of her is one utterly devoid of romantic relationships. Forever. She tries hard to argue for the goodness and love inherent in a god who creates humans for those lives of loneliness.
Mostly, she subtly blames LGBT people for being unhappy about never getting to marry and enjoy romantic relationships. See, they just don’t understand things like she does! They don’t understand that marriage is just one metaphor for the relationship of Christians with Jesus! Everyone should be looking forward far more to the real thing that metaphor describes!
She’s also well aware that sexual orientation isn’t a choice and can’t be changed—not even for TRUE CHRISTIANS™. It sure wasn’t a choice for her. She recognizes that it sure isn’t for straight people, either. We love whom we love. But she refuses to judge a god who creates humans to have off-limits orientations. Nor does she offer up any anecdotes of trying to change her orientation, though I’m sure she tried.
I mean, if Jesus is omnimax and has promised in the Gospels to do whatever his followers ask in prayer, it’s really strange that he can’t change something like orientation.
I’d almost rather Gilson suffer from the usual bullshit indoctrination that evangelicals push about homosexuality than to know that most of that indoctrination is false and still have to cobble together this kind of self-reinforcing delusion.
Yet again, Before You Lose Your Faith offers up a vision of church fellowship that doesn’t exist in evangelicalism
Throughout her chapter, Rachel Gilson offers up the same vision of perfect church community that the rest of the book has so many times. As a gay woman, she’s certainly experienced the punishment that evangelical churches can dole out. She describes it only in terms of others’ experiences, and in sparse but moving prose:
Many children who’ve gone through Christian education, who’ve been in our youth groups—or even lived overseas, doing missionary work with their families—have realized that they feel differently than their peers do. But instead of being the safest possible place to understand sexuality, churches have often felt like minefields. One wrong step, one slight giveaway, and it’s over.
Her immediate next paragraph begins, “It doesn’t have to be this way.”
Yes, but it almost always is. And church congregations anxious not to look like bigots will often go to great lengths to obfuscate their nature.
The perfect solution, then, involves all these churches that don’t actually exist
Next, Gilson asks evangelicals to envision churches that support LGBT kids in the most Jesus-y way she can imagine. Even then, honesty compels her to point back to what usually happens instead:
What if we became churches where youth could grow into understanding why God made us sexual beings, and what it means to say yes to his beauty? What if instead of being paralyzed by the thought that someone could discover our temptations, we could find strength in God’s community to build muscles through fear?
We won’t arrive there if we keep up the false story that same-sex attraction is only an experience outside the church. That narrative, along with bullying and worse inside the community of faith, has often made people think that if they continue to feel those desires, they have to leave.
TGC itself loves to paint this rosy picture of the perfect church community that nurtures and supports evangelicals who aren’t toeing the party line. In truth, evangelicals have constructed a firm narrative around marriage and parenthood. The idea of a 1950s-style loving family is all but a subcult for them.
Doubters expose the weaknesses in evangelicals’ stated reasons for belief. Similarly, LGBT people expose the fault lines in the cult of family by revealing that it’s not a universal life script that everyone can and should follow.
Her if-then statements need a lot of work
At her conclusion, my heart broke all over again:
It can be so confusing; what churches have taught can feel backward, hateful, and small. [That’s because it is. — CC] Meanwhile, what the world sells looks full, vibrant, promising. . . But it’s a false dichotomy; there are many different ways to distort sexuality, and they all lead away from life. . .
With the goodness of God’s Word, by the power of God’s Spirit, and in the vitality of God’s people, we can find this better way together and share it with others.
Yes, because she’s definitely latched onto one more way that people “distort sexuality,” and it’s led her completely away from a full life. Her entire last sentence works as a sort of math equation, an if-then:
If we have A, B, and C, then we’ll get D as a result.
Alas for her, “God’s Word” isn’t actually good. She’s simply mistaken a very newfangled quirky take on the Bible for “God’s Word.” Hers feels more authoritative to her because she got sandblasted into accepting literalism/inerrancy as a supreme hermeneutic. Also, this:
Second, there’s actually no such thing as “God’s Spirit.” Can’t be, because there’s no god behind it. No one in any religion has ever supported their claims about their gods. It hasn’t happened once during the many millennia that we’ve believed in gods. In the same way, C.S. Lewis didn’t even bother to offer evidence that his god exists, and Rachel Gilson doesn’t, either. She takes for granted that her god exists, so her job here—as she clearly sees it—is offering a way to reframe her tribe’s sex rules in a way that doesn’t make her god sound like an absolute monster. However, people who are deconstructing are hopefully examining that claim very carefully as well.
And she’s already told us that she knows that most of “God’s people” are bullying bigots.
So her euphoric flight of fancy starts looking like premium-grade copium. A, B, and C don’t exist. So D can’t happen.
The problems of any little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world
In the end, it’s Rachel Gilson’s life to spend. If she wants to forgo love and romantic relationships because she thinks Jesus cares about stuff like that, then that’s her own lookout. Me personally, I think a loving god would put far more of a priority on how she treats people than on the particular gender of who she sexes up.
Her reframing just doesn’t fool me, is all, any more than her reasons for conversion compel me to do the same. I don’t think it’ll fool many other people, either. At least, I hope it won’t. She’s willing to bet her entire life and future happiness on her beliefs being objectively true. And that’d be easy. People do it all the time on weirder beliefs. But she’s not willing to critically examine why she believes in the first place. That’d be way too hard. That’s why so few people do it.
She’s never deconstructed, nor even felt the urge to deconstruct. Just as I did years ago, her fixation on literalism and inerrancy have led her into worse and worse extremes of evangelicalism. I know how that goes. That endless confusion, then deciding that it must be going wrong because I still hadn’t found the most Jesus-y beliefs. Finding new beliefs, testing them against my shitty foundation of literalism and inerrancy, deeming them more Jesus-y. Only to find out that the church community flocking to those beliefs are even more predatory and nasty than the last one.
All she’s doing here is telling young adults that if they’re deconstructing over evangelical bigotry-for-Jesus, then guess what? It’s not really evil or cruel at all! It’s not really bigotry! Oh, it feels exactly like bigotry. It feels evil and cruel. But that’s just her audience’s poor framing. Once they learn to look at bigotry from her exalted point of view, they’ll be fine with it.
A life of loneliness will then be perfectly understandable and doable.
An official summary of all the aforementioned
This fucking book.
Fuckin’ HELL. This fuckin’ book.
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