Embracing the Exile: Healing Journeys of Gay Christians

Title: Embracing the Exile: Healing Journeys of Gay Christians
Author: John E. Fortunato
Publisher: HarperCollins
Year: 1982
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John Fortunato is a gay Christian and psychotherapist. As a gay Christian, he is very aware of how desolate the exile is for gay people of faith. Many people, both gay and straight, believe the very words gay and Christian are mutually exclusive. There is a tendency for Christians to feel a person must give up being gay to be Christian, and for gay people to feel a person must give up Christianity to be gay. Christians often view gay sexuality as unhealthy, while gay people may tend to feel Christianity is spiritually unhealthy and abusive. Fortunato describes how he sees his two identities. “Gay and Christian. Cornerstones of who I am. And, though it hasn’t always been so, I’ve come to believe that both are good.”

Because of life experiences, many gay people are faced with difficult existential and philosophical questions. They may need to answer very tough “why” questions, because of the painful experiences they have faced. Gay men and lesbians may struggle to understand why there is so much pain in life, and why they personally have gone through so many traumatic life events. Fortunato believes finding answers to these difficult questions is more in the spiritual than the traditional psychotherapeutic realm.

Finding ways to cope with the exile is important for gay people, especially for those who have a Christian spiritual heritage. Gay men and lesbians, over 25 years after Embracing the Exile was written, are not very welcome in many Christian circles. Among conservative Christians, all gay people, including those living celibate life styles, face condemnation, rejection, and excommunication. Moderate Christian groups may allow gays and lesbians to be members, and hold positions, as long as they are celibate. Liberal denominations tend to be more accepting of openly gay and lesbian members holding positions of leadership. Even in liberal Christian circles, gay and lesbian leaders might be asked not to talk about homosexuality.

Initially, Fortunato resolved the conflict between Christianity and homosexuality by rejecting Christianity. He called himself an “adamant, disdainful, obnoxious atheist.” He describes a time when he raged at God. In time, Fortunato reclaimed his Christian identity. John Fortunato felt called by God to share the gifts he was given to love those who rejected him. To Fortunato, gay Christians are called to use their spiritual gifts to love the church, to love those who reject gays and lesbians. Those people who accept the call to “love them” even in the face of rejection are embracing the exile. When gays and lesbians embrace the exile, they find more healing.

Fortunato is challenging. He challenges gays and lesbians to love those who hate them, and that is no easy task. Accepting the major theme of book may be difficult for many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-identified individuals to accept.

This book is an excellent resource for pastors, spiritual leaders, and for counsellors who work with gay, lesbian, and bisexual clients. Embracing the Exile can help counsellors and psychotherapists better discover the intersections between spirituality and therapy when they are working with queer clients.

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