19 year-old Jared Eamons is the ideal pastor’s son, until he reluctantly admits to his parents that he is attracted to men. Jared is torn between his feelings and his religious beliefs; he hesitantly agrees to attend a gay conversion therapy program. In the program, Jared is met with aggression, hypocrisy, and tactics to shame and pressure same-sex attracted people into becoming straight. He is told both “nobody’s judging” and “God will not love you the way you are.” He is encouraged to “fake it till you make it” by living out masculine stereotypes as if that will eventually change his sexual attraction. Jared becomes increasingly angry as the conversion program is revealed to be a thin veneer of love and acceptance hiding lies, hypocrisy, and hate. Strongly implied is that the tactics of the conversion therapy are the natural result of holding Christian beliefs. In the end, Jared rejects Christianity and finds a life in which he feels happy and fulfilled when he embraces his sexual identity. Jared’s mother resolves the conflict between her faith and her son’s sexuality by accepting her son’s sexual identity and putting faith in the back seat. His father struggles to reconcile his religious convictions with his son’s sexual identity, unwilling to lose either his faith or his son but unsure of how to unify the two.
Big Stories and Little Stories
Boy Erased pits two stories against each other: the Christian story and Jared’s story. The Christian story is a big story (metanarrative), one that claims to tell the story of God and humankind’s ultimate purpose from the beginning of time to the end. Jared’s story is a little story, the story of one person’s experiences and struggles. When the big story of Christianity and the little story of a person’s life come into conflict, that must be resolved somehow. The easier way to resolve the conflict is to reject one story and embrace the other.
Boy Erased suggests that there are two possible ways to deal with conflict between religion and sexual identity: reject the religious convictions (as Jared and his mother do) or reject the person whose sexual identity is contrary to those convictions (as Jared’s father seems to do). Neither of these solutions is adequate. But seeing the issue as a decision only between two options is a false dilemma. Christians are called to speak truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). To reject the big story is to reject Truth. To reject the little story is to reject love. Rather than choosing either the big story or the little story, choosing either truth or love, Christians are called to hold the two stories in tension and make sense of both without compromising either.
Uniting the Big Story and the Little Story
Boy Erased never directly asks the question, “what is most fundamental about people?” but it does answer that question. It says that sexuality is a fundamental part of what makes a person who they are but religious convictions are not. In an emotional scene, Jared says to his father: “I’m gay and I’m your son…I’m not going to change, so I’m sorry, you’re going to have to be the one to change.” The implication is clear: your faith is not fundamental to who you are, but your sexuality is fundamental to who you are.
Jared saw Christianity as hypocritical and hateful. The Christians he knew believed that someone with same-sex attraction had to change their sexual attraction in order to be loved by God. Neither of these perspectives is right, but both have some basis in truth. Some people professing Christ do act in hypocritical and hateful ways. The Bible affirms that homosexual actions are sinful. Christians should not live in hypocrisy and hate and God does not demand that people need to be heterosexual before he loves them. The big story of Christianity presented in Boy Erased makes sense on its own, and the little story of Jared makes sense on its own. But when they come into contact with one another, they are irreconcilable because both are flawed. Rather than choosing one over the other, when taken together the two can correct the other’s mistakes. Although Boy Erased suggests that the tension between sexual identity and religion can only be resolved by rejecting one or the other, a third option exists: to hold truth and love together.
Understanding the metanarrative of Christianity correctly in light of our own or others’ little stories is no simple task. It is all too easy to let go of the big story and Truth, as happens when we let go of core doctrines or when we redefine sin. Certainly, there are times when people let go of Truth in an attempt to love someone and help them avoid pain, but because they let go of Truth they are not able to truly love that person. However, it is also easy to let go of love, ignoring the hurt and questions in people’s little stories. Despite this difficulty, Christians must live in the tension between truth and love, in the space where the big story and the little stories meet. It may seem safer to cling close to doctrine and ignore when Christian convictions cause pain for people like Jared. After all, no little story could ever be as important as the big story. However, there is nothing safe about clinging to doctrine at the expense of also loving someone—if we cling to the Christian metanarrative and ignore the little stories, we will be “only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1).
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