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Monday, April 4, 2016

"Dwelling in the Land" (Jeanette Howard)

TITLE: Dwelling in the Land: Bringing Same-Sex Attraction Under the Lordship of Christ
AUTHOR: Jeanette Howard
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2015, (288 pages).

Gay marriage may have been legalized throughout the United States. It may have become the norm in many parts of Western society and others. It may also have been accepted in various religions and churches. Yet, it remains a contentious issue in many churches. Some churches insist on therapy for homosexuals, believing that spiritual healing is needed for such conditions. Others insist on re-interpreting biblical texts to make it more acceptable for same-sex orientations. Still, there are those who do not want to make a stand on such a divisive issue. They can choose celibacy or total abstinence from sex. They can also choose to avoid talking about the topic altogether. Almost all Church denominations have become split over this matter. What about those who believe that the biblical does not support homosexuality and yet experience some form of same-sex attraction (SSA)? This book is about one who openly admits her homosexual tendencies and yet believes that the Bible does not support homosexual acts. It is about the honest struggles personally and biblically. With regard to SSA, the strategy is not elimination but re-orientation. This book is the story of one who has gone through that and is sharing her experience, her knowledge, and also her pain.

Jeanette Howard is currently a director at Bethany Life Ministries based in the UK. Her story of how she left her homosexuality behind is described in her earlier book, Out of Egypt. Continuing her journey, this book is about her story of letting her identity not be defined by her sexuality but by her attachment to Christ. Her subtitle is a straight giveaway of the basic point in this book: "Bringing same-sex attraction under the Lordship of Christ." It is important to begin by recognizing her own statement of belief right at the beginning so that readers will not second guess Howard's position. As a professed lesbian, she believes that the Fall has done harm to the original purpose of biblical sexuality. Affirming Genesis 2:24, she aims to show that any sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage is unbiblical. Above all, she believes that it is not only possible but crucial for all to bring all things, including one's sexuality under the lordship of Jesus Christ. She arranges her fifteen chapters into five sections. The summary headings are mine.
  1. History and Background of the Homosexual Debate
  2. Comparing and Contrasting Biblical Teaching and Cultural Adaptations/Expectations
  3. Submission and Thanksgiving as Crucial Disciplines toward Christ's Lordship
  4. How Obedience Stems from Relationship with God
  5. Perseverance Toward the Promise of God
She gives readers a brief overview of the homosexuality issue, about life after her involvement with Exodus International (an organization that tries to heal SSA), the three-tier distinction of homosexuality, and the generational differences with regard to their perspectives of SSA. There are the "confrontational" kind of churches that adopt a hardline them-vs-us mentality that insist on a black and white distinction. There are also the "compromised" group of churches that accept homosexual marriages and ordinations outright. Most churches however belong to the "confused" category, either choosing silence or vague statements. For Christians with SSA, Howard sees four different responses: 1) Unabashedly embrace and practice; 2) Embrace without condoning SSA; 3) Ex-gay; 4) Christlikeness as main goal. With this fourth option as her goal, the author declares that her book is more about discipleship to Christ than anything else.

Section Two of the book deals with the challenge of disagreeing with SSA but not condemning. It is recognizing that we are not "prisoners" of our own sexual orientations or choices with regard to our sexual relations. Instead, we are "prisoners of hope" called to see ourselves in the way that God sees us. It is about the refusal to be defined by our sexuality but by our relationship with God. Abide in Christ, not our sexual orientations. Bring all of our expectations under Christ. Decide to always choose Christ above all. Recognize our greatest need is for Christ.

Section Three describes the testimonies of Paul and Sonia on their journey of shifting focus from self to God. Phil is married while Sonia is single. Phil learns that God's concern is more than his sexual orientation. God asks for his self-denial of everything, that he may gain Christ. Likewise, Sonia experiences romantic intimacies with another girl in her teenage years. She finds much joy and trust in a community of faith even as she grapples with SSA. The two key strategies for surrendering to Christ's lordship is submission and thanksgiving. In submission, we recognize that our tendencies do not define us. In thanksgiving, we let our vertical relationship with God have the final say over all other emotions.

Section Four is about seeing the bigger picture of us being the people of God called to God. We are bearers of the good news. We can learn of Mary from Bethany of total abandonment to Christ. We read of the story of Kara about transgendered orientation. Being straight was not the goal. Being Christlike is the goal. Very often, when people talk about matters of sexuality, there are plenty of distractions from the main purpose of our time on earth. Pornography, riches, anxiety, worldly pleasures, and even social media can distract us from pursuing and longing after God. We must maintain our orientation of bringing our identity under Christ; our positions with Christ; and our belongings for Christ.

Section Five helps us maintain this spiritual direction via perseverance and steadfast faith in God. It is refusing to let sin and temptation wear us down. It is about intentional avoidance of self-seeking pleasures. It is constantly abiding in Christ and be determined to follow Christ whatever it takes. We may have been scarred previously but our focus and priority must remain on Christ. Howard shares the story of Amy Carmichael whose steely determination enables her to accomplish mighty acts of compassion for God. For once we arrive at the land of promise, we will find perfect peace.

So What?

This book covers a lot of difficult ground. Written by one who openly admits her SSA, she understands both the predicament of what it means to live as an SSA in an environment of open hostility. Yet, through her struggles inside and her relationships outside, she describes an approach that is unpopular but possible. Let me share three thoughts.

First, it takes one to write one. Howard has openly declared her own sexual tendencies. Honestly written, one can tell that it has not been an easy journey for her. Sometimes I wonder if a person without SSA can write a book like this. It is possible but not as credible. That is why this book is special. In fact, writing this book could even mean Howard getting ostracised by people who totally embrace SSA. Others may say that this book does not go far enough, either way.  This brings us to the second point, which is this: We cannot please everyone. No matter what Howard writes, sexuality is a deeply held identity by many people. The moment one calls himself or herself a member of the LGBTQ, it is like locking in one's choice after the "Is that your final answer" question. This book is not the final say in terms of matters on sexual orientation. To be fair, Howard has not committed herself to having the last word. Yet, as the author has pointed out, as long as we are distracted by the things of this world, including our self-seeking pleasures, we will not find solace in Christ. Whatever Howard has said, there will surely be push backs. I would advise detractors from being too quick to judge the author. Consider her call to discipleship and that not as some kind of deflection from reality, but an obedience to God's authority. For the more we give in to our sense of sexual priority, the less we are sensitive to the importance of God's spiritual priorities.

Third, we all have a choice. Our choices make us. Are we going to surrender to our sense of sexuality first? Or are we going to subject all of our emotions and sexualities to be under the lordship of Christ? This is a repeated mantra throughout this book. Page after page, even as the author shares about the stories of various individuals, and herself, she has not wavered from bringing us back to the authority of Scripture and of Christ. This alone makes this book more about discipleship than some treatise on same-sex orientations. I appreciate Howard's level of research, of honesty, and of commitment to the Church and the cause of Christ. Just like Howard, we can all choose. We do not need to be in some particular difficult sexual orientation in order to make a choice. Every single one of us has a choice that must be subjected to Christ's lordship. It can be a difficult heterosexual marriage. It can be some legalized form of same-sex marriage. It can even be singles with LGBTQ or heterosexual tendencies. Whatever the type of orientations, we can all choose Christ above all. The more we let this become the guiding rod of life, the better we will be in dwelling in this difficult terrain of life.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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