Growing up in the world of theater, with both parents singers but also instrumentalists and music directors, art and performance were a part of life. That world draws the creative, magnetic, charismatic, epic personalities, visions that transcend the mundane. Where the rest of the world wakes up to morning coffee, daily commutes, and work-as-usual, in the world of the arts it is late night jam sessions, rehearsals and dress rehearsals, staging and scenes, the world of the imagination, where nothing is every truly inside a box, but rather a rich tapestry of imagination and possibility spread outside boxes.
In this world, weddings were exciting galas, and divorces simply the not-unexpected liability of too much sameness day in and day out. Liaisons both licit and, more often, illicit were delicious adventures off-stage and when onstage, the enjoyment of double entendre.
Long before the rest of society began to really wrestle with homosexuality and gender fluidity, theater people were taking it all in stride.
That was the sixties and seventies.
By the nineties, LGBTQ+ issues had become hot topics and heated debates. On deck were federal and state law, cases going to the supreme court, fiery philosophical and religious rhetoric either lobbying for rights and right treatment or decrying immorality. And caught in the crossfire were real people, real hearts broken, real souls crushed.
Moving into the twenty-first century has brought changes that people growing up in the sixties would hardly have imagined. Yet these issues are still roiling. Perhaps the stories of real people can help us all continue to process these things with grace and tender mercy.
Out of a Far Country
That’s where I was when I picked up Out of a Far Country: A gay son’s journey to God. A Broken mother’s search for hope, By Christopher Yuan and Angela Yuan. I had seen the title come up a number of times in my newsfeed, but was not minded to read it until the Bible study I was involved in encouraged all its teachers to read his story. Later that same year, we gathered for a retreat to hear Christopher Yuan tell his story, and talk about where he was in his life of faith.
I found myself moved both by his humility and his transparency.
The book begins in the voice of Yuan’s mother, remembering a home-cooked meal eaten around their family dinner table in 1993 during one of her college-aged son’s visits home. Conversation had not gone well, feelings were high, the atmosphere tense. Yuan had revealed his sexual orientation to his parents under strained conditions and had accepted their ultimatum—either homosexuality or home and family. He could not change who he was, so the only choice left was to leave.
As the story progresses, Yuan’s mother finds herself more and more closed off from her beloved child, and in desperation turning to the Lord for help. She describes the prayer closet she created, and the countless hours she spent in that tiny room crying out to God. The interplay of Yuan coming out of the closet while grief and pain were driving his mother into her own prayer closet is not lost on the reader.
Yuan, in turn, recalls his years of self-discovery, experimentation, and descent into the murky world of clubs and drugs. He hit bottom when he was at the height of his career as a district distributor of a variety of illegal drugs, a well-known and well-liked, handsome and successful clubber and dealer.
And so the chapters go, back and forth, the mother’s voice and the son’s voice, as they recall those years of separation, and their separate paths toward God. As both tell their story, there is a golden thread woven through both of their accounts, God’s answer to prayer in unexpected and often painful ways that both would now say they would never want to have changed. Out of that suffering has come precious new life, eternal life.
Intersecting Yuan’s story are the themes of Chinese culture, the ambitions of his parents for him, his own truncated education in the middle of his doctoral program, the gay scene in Chicago, the world of drugs and parties, and life behind bars. Without giving too much of the story away—I hope you read it, I found myself engrossed—Yuan likens his own story to that of the Prodigal Son, and God’s warmth and welcoming to that of the Prodigal’s father. He has a couple of big reveals (that I will not tell you) that make the heart ache, and at the same time has found both grace and goodness in God’s design, in who he is. That should give us all pause. Yuan is as the Lord created him to be, and he has embraced that.
Holy Sexuality, Side A and Side B
Of course, there are also issues of expression. Yuan has made prayerful decisions about how to live out his life as a gay man who loves God and desires to honor God in all he does. This is perhaps the most controversial part of his book as Yuan explains how he now lives and why, and how other of his Christian gay and lesbian friends also live.
I have since learned that across the spectrum of thought among theologians on this topic, the variations really land on two sides.
Side A affirms the sense of identity someone has in their sexuality, whatever that is across the arc of heterosexuality to LGBTQ+. At the same time, because the Bible does not have categories for expressing sexuality outside the parameters of heterosexual marriage, this stance subscribes to celibacy in all other cases. People are welcomed into church leadership who are either celibate or in a heterosexual, monogamous marriage.
Side B both affirms identity and affirms sexual practice, though as one might imagine, there are a variety of ways to affirm even these things. Denominations which have taken a policy of affirmation that includes welcoming into church leadership non-heterosexual, sexually active people have slightly modified the apostle Paul’s recommendation for leadership in 1 Timothy 3. Denominations that subscribe to Side B affirmation recognize monogamous, committed same sex marriages and partnerships in the same spirit as the “one man woman” phrase found in 1 Timothy 3:2.
Study Guide: Prayer, Redemption, and Holy Sexuality
At the end of the book are some guided questions divided into an eight week course for those who would like to read Out of a Far Country in a study group, or prayer group setting.
Whether you or I agree with how Christopher Yuan has made sense of who he is in the Lord, and how he interprets God’s call on his life, the bottom line for us all is to trust that God is loving enough, wise enough, powerful enough, and expansive enough to guide each of us into all truth, to God’s glory, and for our good.
It is that sense of grace and faith in God I have found often missing in these debates and see aplenty in Yuan’s telling of his own story. May God arrest us all when we are quick to speak and slow to listen.