In the culture wars, Evangelicals have a tendency to want to split the parties involved in debates about sexuality into two neatly divided camps: the pro-gay hedonists and the anti-gay culture warriors. Nate Collins confronts the debate in complicated ways in his book All But Invisible, for he fits neither of those descriptions.
To really understand the thrust of this book, and what it’s trying to do, you first have to understand something about the author. Nate Collins, who is married (to a woman) with children, identifies as a gay man, but affirms a conservative sex ethic. In conservative church Christianese, we might say that Collins is living a life faithful to God, but he experiences same-sex attractions. Because he comes from a world that is so rarely talked about – being gay but holding to a traditionally Christian view of sex – Collins’s goal is not to persuade the broader culture, but to help brethren in conservative churches learn how to make life more livable for these brothers and sisters that experience same-sex attraction.
I should note that Collins questions the use of that phrase, as he questions a great many things about the ways conservative Christians think and talk about sexuality. Among other things, he contends that orientation should be viewed as orientation to beauty (rather than simply a particular type of sex drive), that maybe gay people would benefit from having platonic roommates that share their orientation, and that the “ex-gay” movement has done a great deal of harm in the church. His challenges to Christians in conservative culture, while never unorthodox, frequently fly in the face of church culture. Much of the book is spent trying to help brethren understand an experience that they have no context for, but there are challenges aplenty, as well.
Perhaps the most helpful and intriguing aspect of the book is the unique place that Collins sits as a man who identifies as gay while holding to standard evangelical positions on sex. Many conservatives will likely conclude he grants too much ground to the LGBT activist, engaging with topics like feminist theory, historical abuse of gay people, and studies on orientation, while also criticizing certain cultural trends of the church. Yet, if a mainstream LGBT activist were to read this book, they would likely see him granting far too much ground to the conservative Christian, as he criticizes Western culture’s concession to a Freudian model of sex where desire is the center of all experience, and upholds many conservative theological positions. To be frank, Collins has an extremely difficult balance to keep, but does so to the best of his ability with grace and authenticity.
As someone who largely identifies with evangelicalism, I found this an incredibly challenging book, but in very positive ways. I don’t agree with all of the author’s conclusions. At times, I think he places too much blame at the feet of cultural conservatives. I have a lot of concerns about the idea of a Christian identifying as gay in the first place, and fear it may give a precursor to legimitacy to same-gender sexual activity.
However, and this is a very important point, even when I disagree with him, I find Collins worth listening to. Even his critiques that are hardest to swallow are expounded with as much grace as he can spare, and he works from the same framework as other evangelicals – a desire to reflect Christ in our own lives, and encourage others around us to do the same. He just so happens to think that this group of people is being neglected in some pretty serious ways, a claim that I think has a lot of credence, even if we might differ on how the church ought to approach that problem.
If nothing else, the book is worth the entire read if only for this takeaway, that our culture’s obsession with romantic love is doing real harm to single people in the church. This is not only true for same-sex-attracted people, but it is especially true for them. Many of these people may never be in a position to wisely enter into a heterosexual marriage, leaving them feeling like they’re living unfulfilled lives as junior rank Christians. In Collins’s words:
The hypersexualized character of western culture predisposes us to regard romance and sexuality as the pinnacle of human relationships.
He’s right, and this is squarely in conflict with the high view Paul has of singleness, in which he wishes more people were single like him, so they could serve God with fewer distractions. But instead, the church frequently views single people as incomplete. This was recently illustrated by Christian satire site The Babylon Bee, in an article titled “Woman In Singles Ministry Gets Married, Promoted To Real Christian.”
Despite my disagreements with some of the author’s points, and perhaps because of them, I recommend reading the book. There are aspects of the gay experience I simply cannot know without someone who has been there telling me, and reading this book has given me a perspective that will help me be more of a blessing to my own friends who are to varying degrees in situations similar to the author’s. That alone makes it worth the time in my book.
**I received this book from the publisher for free in exchange for a review on this site.**
Logan Judy is a Christian blogger and science fiction author with a Batman complex. At A Clear Lens, he focuses on worldview analysis and pop culture, as well as co-hosting the A Clear Lens Podcast. In addition to his work on the ACL website and podcast, he is also the founder of Cross Culture, the host of the Cross Culture Podcast, and the author of three novels. He tweets @loganrjudy about writing, apologetics, entertainment, parenting, and Batman.