Vintage Saints and Sinners by Karen Wright Marsh, Free for CAPC Members
In Vintage Saints and Sinners, Karen Wright Marsh manages to emphasize the vast goodness of spiritual giants while also humanizing them.
Few topics at the intersection of church and culture are as contested today as sexual ethics, and particularly issues surrounding gay and lesbian sexuality. Recent figures from Pew reveal that more than one-third (36%) of American adults in the Evangelical Protestant tradition say homosexuality should be accepted by society, and this figure only goes up for younger cohorts. Roughly half (51%) of Evangelicals in the Millennial generation (born 1981–1996) say homosexuality should be accepted by society. Although being “accepted by society” isn’t the clearest survey wording, it is clear that the ethics of same-sex relationships is a divisive issue not only in our broader society but also even among and between Evangelicals themselves.
Gregory Coles is a welcome voice to this pressing and sensitive topic. In his new book, Single, Gay, Christian, Coles tells his own story of living as a Christian who experiences same-sex attraction. And yet, courageously going against our national imperatives to “be true to yourself” and “do what feels right,” he chooses to live a life of singleness and celibacy out of radical, costly obedience to the triune God he loves and worships.Coles’s short autobiography is wonderfully written, refreshingly honest, and deeply personal.
Coles recounts discovering upon the onset of puberty his attraction exclusively to other guys, his pleas to God to make him straight, and his calculating attempts in high school and college to have crushes on girls—even while the only people who “made my head turn and left me feeling weak in the knees” were young men. He explains how, after college, he wrestled with the biblical text and hermeneutics to see if there was any way he could affirm the moral goodness of monogamous same-sex relationships and still take the Bible seriously. He couldn’t. He tells of realizing, ultimately, that he has been called to deny himself and follow Christ by embracing singleness and celibacy rather than embracing a new, revisionist version of Christianity. In light of this calling, he reflects on “the ninja pain” of loneliness and the quest to be truly known by others.
From beginning to end, a theme woven throughout is Coles’s long, difficult journey to finally understanding his own worth, and to seeing himself as far more than just “a divine typo”—a mistake. He writes: “My gay orientation was broken, yes. But so was every orientation, every human being, every facet of creation. The question wasn’t whether I was broken but whether I was willing to let my own unique brokenness tell a story of redemption” (55). And viewing his sexuality in an eternal perspective, he explains:
The calling of gay celibacy is a calling to longing. It’s an admission that our deepest sexual desires can wait for another world, for another life, for another kind of fulfillment. But a life of longing isn’t a life without happiness. On the contrary, it’s a life rich with detail, alive with wonder and beauty. It’s when I am happiest that I long most. And someday, when I look into the face of my Savior, I will taste the fulfillment of an intimacy a thousand times sweeter than any pale earthly imitation. (98)
The book is already receiving careful reads and thoughtful reviews online from other Christians, including this one at The Gospel Coalition, this one at Christianity Today, and this one from Dr. Denny Burk.
Coles’s short autobiography is a wonderfully written, refreshingly honest, deeply personal reflection on a timely and contested issue in our culture and in American Christianity. It is a testimony to the traditional, beautiful, orthodox Christian view of human sexuality—namely, that sexual intimacy is properly reserved only for a man and a woman in marriage—and what that reality entails for Christian faithfulness for persons with same-sex desires. Whether you experience same-sex attraction yourself, or are looking for something helpful to give a friend or family member who does, or are simply intrigued to hear Gregory Coles’s story, don’t miss this book.
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