Justin Lee was raised in a conservative Southern Baptist home. He had two loving parents, and was deeply committed to his faith. In school, classmates even referred to him as "God Boy" because of his devotion.
But, as he was entering high school, Lee's whole world began to change, as he came face-to-face with feelings that he'd tried for many years to suppress.
"I didn't know I was gay at first, because I was the kid who was preaching against folks accepting themselves as gay," he tells Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered.
Lee formed the Gay Christian Network in 2001 to try and help other gay Christian kids and their families talk to one another, as well as with their respective churches. His new book is called Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays Vs. Christians Debate.
On coming out
"I absolutely believed it was a sinful choice to be gay. But I knew that I was attracted to guys and I kept thinking that was a phase I would grow out of. And as the years went by and I wasn't growing out of this phase, I got to the point that I was just crying myself to sleep, night after night, begging God, 'Please don't let me feel this anymore.' When I turned to the Christians I most respected in my life — my parents and my friends and my pastors — I found that they didn't have a lot of answers for me, other than just don't be gay. And I thought, well, I could not act on my feelings. I could not talk about my feelings. But I can't make myself straight. So that really sent me on this journey trying to figure out how do we address this as a church."
On being 'too gay' or 'too Christian'
"I talk to people still every day who are just living in that constant feeling of being alone, and it's very depressing when you feel like nobody understands you. You feel like you've been caught up in the midst of this culture war between the gay folks on one side and the Christians on the other side. And here you are, a gay Christian, and there's no place for you."
On reconciling with family who disagree with your choices
"I hear from so many folks who are just desperate for a way to sit down and be a family with their family members who don't agree with them on this, or hold their church together ... and I tell folks it's all about continuing to express your love for each other and continuing to share stories."
On his relationship with his parents since coming out
"I love my parents dearly and we have a wonderful relationship. And through the whole process they have been nothing but loving. We've disagreed; sometimes quite strongly. We've had a number of arguments over the years, and ultimately my position has changed on some things, and their positions have changed on some things. What I can say above all else is that I know that they love me and that they're proud of me, and even when we disagree we do that in a way that's loving and respectful of one another."
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