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Literature in a Hurry: Books and Current Events

MORRIS -- You may not know this about me, but I read. A lot. And while I don’t really plan what I’m reading to match up with current events, sometimes serendipity plays a role to put the perfect book in my hands at just the right time.

That is the experience I had this week, when I happened to be finishing a book called “Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America” by Jeff Chu on the same day the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on two cases related to same-sex marriage.

In the book, Chu, a journalist who grew up in California and now lives in New York, sets out on a year-long pilgrimage to ask questions about how so many people who call themselves followers of Christ can start from the same origin story and end up at radically different endpoints when it comes to issues of God, the church and homosexuality.

During his journey – which is as much a personal process of coming to understand his own faith as an exercise in investigation – Chu interviews hundreds of people and, in the book, gives many of them enormous space to share their thoughts about being Christian in the United States today.

On issues that can be as fundamental as a disagreement of religion and human rights, it’s far too easy to assume that people who disagree just haven’t thought about it enough. What I loved about Chu’s book is that he never makes that mistake. He approaches every person he interviews with compassion and only critiques their argument when he sees inconsistencies or questions of logic.

He even, to my deep surprise, manages to tease out some of the logic of the members of Westboro Baptist Church, a small group known for their inflammatory messages and over-the-top picketing in publicity-making places. Chu doesn’t let their rhetoric or behavior off the hook by any stretch, but he manages to approach them openly enough to at least see where they are coming from (even if most people disagree with their message and methods).

I’m writing about this book at length because I think it’s an important and necessary read. No matter what the Supreme Court decides, the issue of same-sex marriage isn’t going away. After a fierce, emotional debate over an amendment to define marriage last fall, our own Legislature will likely take up the issue sometime this session, bringing the same issues that filled this editorial page into the open again.

Reading this book reminded me that no matter what our own perspective is, it’s important to approach those with a different perspective with openness, generosity and curiosity. It’s really, really hard to do that, especially on questions that get at the core of who we are and what we believe. But it matters, a great deal, that we try anyway.