A Review of Melissa Fisher’s “The Way of Hope”
Walking the Straight Line
Same-sex marriage is undoubtedly the hot-button issue in the evangelical church right now. You know that issue and that of same-sex relationships are contentious when other Christians start telling you you’re going to Hell (which I don’t really believe in, thanks) for a review you’ve published about a book on the very issue of homosexuality. Into the fray comes a new book called The Way of Hope that, in its subtitle, suggests that there’s a new, fresh perspective on gay people in the church.
This is going to be the hardest review I’ve ever written.
So the new, fresh perspective is that homosexuality is a sin and gay people would be wise to change their sexuality. Yes, that’s right. The “fresh perspective on sexual identity, same-sex marriage and the church,” per the subtitle, is the same old story we’re used to hearing. The Way of Hope was written by Melissa Fisher, a woman who was in a same-sex marriage but now identifies as being straight. The first half of the book is a memoir, while the second half is about the need for finding Jesus (remember, she’s an evangelical) and joining the church for community and so on. This half is more of a polemic.
However, before diving into the meat and potatoes of the title, there are a few things about Fisher’s life you need to know before rushing off to make any judgments. First of all, she appears to have been raped as a young girl by family friends, and then was molested when she was 20 by a man who is still close to her family. She repressed the molestation for six years. In college, a woman made advances on Fisher that she initially was against. But owing to an addiction to pornography (which isn’t discussed in depth in the book), Fisher caved. She would eventually identify as a lesbian and she was married to a woman for some time, before cheating on her.
Fisher’s parents also got divorced when she was young. She also saw her mother kissing a man who was not her father well before the divorce. She acknowledges at the start of the book that she often wished she were a boy, and dressed as such for some time. There’s probably more, but you get the gist. Fisher had a young life filled with enough trauma and identity confusion to make someone question their sanity, let alone sexuality. These days, Fisher identifies as being straight. This book seems to be of the argument that her homosexuality was wrong, she shouldn’t have been attracted to other women, and that homosexuals need to honour the image that God created for them by being attracted to the opposite sex.
Never does Fisher come across as being condescending towards homosexuals and the gay lifestyle. What makes this book so hard to judge, though, is that its message is so deeply personal and buoyed by life circumstances, seemingly, that one cannot use it as a measure to judge others by. It’s no secret that I’m pro-homosexuality, and personally call as friends two people who are bisexual but are married together in an opposite-sex marriage and a man who was married to a woman and had kids, but eventually came out as gay. You probably see where I’m going with this. You can’t say that what is true of X is true of Y. Just because one person writes a book about their experiences, someone with a different set of experiences may reach a very different conclusion on how to live their lives. They certainly shouldn’t be judged. Is that what Jesus would do? Not judge people, generally? (I’m basing that on the “lowlifes” that he hung out with after all.)
I suppose that I thought I was getting a pretty progressive book about sexual identity and such, when this isn’t it at all. It conforms to the tried and true beliefs of the conservative church, though it does seem that Fisher is a member of a somewhat progressive church that encourages people to “come as you are.” In any event, if you really want to be convinced that homosexuality is bad, then this is the book for you. If you want to be convinced, as I am, that God and Jesus have bigger things to worry about than what two people who are in a consensual, loving relationship do, then look elsewhere.
I can’t say that I was terribly offended by the book, though, at some points, I could feel my heart sink in my chest. Fisher seems to think that the church is the place for a “conversion” of sorts can happen, and while she doesn’t get into conversion therapy, stats will probably bear out the fact that conversion therapy doesn’t really work. If someone is born gay, they’re gay. Anything else would be living a lie. So I want to be gentle and loving myself, and cautiously point out that the author has been abused by both men and women at some points in her life. So her perspective is coloured by that abuse. It’s not my place to judge things that were out of her control. (I did like the fact, though, that, at one point, Fisher expresses sympathy for her molester and argues that there’s a place in the church for people such as him to get healing.)
I suppose if I have any misgivings about The Way of Hope is that this book will be used by some to say that converting from a gay or lesbian lifestyle to a straight one is doable and morally correct in the eyes of God. I worry about that. I worry about the purpose of this book. I think that if Fisher had stuck to a more memoir approach, this danger might have been mitigated. Maybe. But she, alas, does slip from time to time to making judgments about the gay and lesbian lifestyle as being sinful. That actually hurts people who are who they are.
In all honesty, I don’t know what to think about The Way of Hope. I applaud the author’s honesty and candidness and she has a right to tell her story. If she feels more comfortable dating and marrying men rather than women, based on her experiences, all the power to her, then. I’m not going to take anything away or judge her for telling what she feels is her own personal truth. However, to then transpose that personal story and make it applicable to everyone else feels wrong. It just isn’t the right thing to do. I’m thus torn on this book. I simply don’t know what to make of it. However, if you’re looking for progressiveness, as the book’s subtitle suggests, this isn’t it. How about we leave it at that, and call it a day, shall we? I told you this was going to be hard.
Melissa Fisher’s The Way of Hope: A Fresh Perspective on Sexual Identity, Same-Sex Marriage, and the Church was published by Baker Books on July 4, 2017.
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