Born Again This Way: Coming Out, Coming to Faith, and What Comes NextWritten by Rachel Gilson Reviewed By Emily J. Maurits
Same-sex attraction is frequently viewed as a contentious, difficult, or, at the very least, sensitive topic. It may truthfully be all of these, but in a time when Christians often feel they need to choose between poking homosexuality with a four-foot pole or embracing it with inclusive zeal, Rachel Gilson has performed a marvelous feat. She has succeeded in writing an understated yet elucidating book on same-sex attraction. Born Again This Way never shies away from presenting scriptural truths or engaging with honest objections, but it remains beautifully light in touch. A mix of theology and memoir, this is a book that can be gifted and devoured without the need for copious disclaimers or a theological degree.
The structure of the book is one of its driving strengths. Part narrative, part scriptural exegesis and reflection, the book never loses momentum. Readers walk with Rachel through her coming to Christ and her struggle with the existence and enticements of her same-sex attraction, take a rest-break to examine Scripture and drink in her reflections, and then cut back to the journey. It’s a style which less proficient writers would find all too easy to derail with verbose personal anecdotes or essay-like theological proofs—but Rachel resists the temptation to do either.
While this is a book which will be helpful in a special way to Christians who experience same-sex attraction and to their church communities, it is primarily a book about the all-encompassing goodness of Jesus, the shape of Christian discipleship and service, and the courage it takes to allow our heavenly Father to direct our steps through all of life and love. Gilson notes that Scripture is clear that “the desire for same-gender sexual contact … is a desire for something sinful” (p. 46). But she also notes that everyone desires sinful things: all Christians experience temptation, and all are called to fight against it. While she is honest about the pleasure and comfort she found in pursuing same-sex relationships, Gilson is just as adamant that she is in no way the loser for choosing to deny herself and follow the way of the cross. None of us are, even when our desires are for good things. She writes,
When we say Jesus is better than these things [sex, romance], we’re not trying to shrink them but to magnify him. If we tried to pretend that these good gifts were actually bad, we wouldn’t even believe ourselves.… But the fact was that what Jesus offered me was simply better. (p. 62, emphasis original)
It is this underpinning of gladness that transforms what could have been a literary dirge of self-sacrifice into a rich conversation. It also prevents disintegration into an “us vs. them” rhetoric. All Christians are called to follow Christ, and Gilson proposes that same-sex attracted believers in fact have a unique opportunity to “witness powerfully to the beauty of Jesus over romance,” attest that God’s Word is good, even when it contradicts deep and powerful emotions, and “prophetically call the church to honor God and neighbor” (p. 60). They do this by refusing again and again to accept a lesser gospel in the daily tumult of living, even when that lesser gospel is politically correct or feels personally satisfying. Thus, there are distinct and important roles for both same-sex attracted and opposite-sex attracted believers in the body of Christ—and opportunities for all members to grow in holiness and contribute to the holiness of others.
As Gilson’s meditations transfer what is often a painfully lonely experience—same-sex attraction—into the arena of Christian community, she wanders into so-called dangerous territory. Who hasn’t been scarred or scared by the responses of other believers when it comes to the complexities of sexual attraction? Again, Gilson steps lightly. Her story is one of almost envious ease: she became a Christian at university, was nurtured by a passionate and compassionate university Bible study, and married a Christian man for whom she came to feel profound respect and affection, despite her persisting same-sex attraction. This seemingly idyllic tale of grace (if there were negative reactions within the Christian community to her sexuality, these are not dwelt upon) might easily be the biggest barrier for potential readers. Nevertheless, Gilson seeks to mitigate this possibility by consistent reminders that hers is one story among thousands, by sharing the different stories of four friends, and by frankly acknowledging both her unique blessings and difficulties.
This proof of eyes wide-open allows readers to accept and grapple with her insights. One such insight is the following: “The culture of unbiblical promises about marriage was created corporately, and together we need to attend to those who are harmed by them” (p. 94). In light of this, she calls Christians to resist offering marriage as the solution to same-sex attraction or seeing it as a reward for obedience; to redeem male-female friendships by refusing to see sexuality everywhere; and to strive for relationships where hard questions can be aired and addressed.
Gilson, although marrying at a young age, has helpful advice for singleness and celibacy—situations that can come with a profound sense of disadvantage in Christian communities which are so often geared towards the married and the propagating. Her reminder that even singles have One Person on their side who sees and knows them no matter what, is both an encouragement and a guardrail against the very real fears of loneliness, insignificance, and ultimate obscurity. Gilson counsels singles:
Find out what most stirs your heart for Jesus and invest there.… No matter what, take the normal means of grace dead seriously; pursue prayer, Scripture, and acts of mercy as you do air, water, and food. You will need a thick, durable relationship with Jesus. (p. 107)
This way of life is an answer to the agonizing grief of not having one person who is for you in every season. It is also, as Gilson intuits in conversation with a celibate pastor, a gracious conclusion to what would otherwise be a devouring, never-ending quest to find one friend to be all things for you.
Born Again This Way offers much biblical wisdom, gentle guidance, pastoral insight, and personal experience to the subject of same-sex attraction. While some readers might wish for deeper exegesis or even the inclusion of bullet-point takeaways or step-by-step outlines, the uniqueness of this book is that it is less a theological how-to on a difficult topic, and more an extended conversation with a fellow believer on the Way. (Indeed, for me, the only detraction from the reading experience were the bold quotes which at times broke up the flow of the prose.) The beauty of Gilson’s writing is that she is able to offer a biblical worldview, meet and understand (not just counter) objections, all the while holding onto the reality of diverse experience. Everyone’s journey is and looks different, Rachel insists—and this is exactly what allows us to learn and grow from her courageously shared story. At the same time, some things don’t change, and as she holds out the Word of God with clarity, honesty, and warmth, one is reminded that we are all pilgrims on the road, dependent together on our all-sufficient Savior. If the communities and friendships Rachel encountered on her journey seem to spit in the face of bitter experience, they certainly serve as a reminder of the transforming power of the Spirit and the deep connections and joys that await us in heaven.
Emily J. Maurits
Emily J. Maurits
Sydney Missionary & Bible College
Croydon, New South Wales, Australia
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