Greg Johnson, Still Time to Care: What we can learn from the church’s failed attempt to cure homosexuality (Zondervan, 2021)
Every so often a book comes along which helps you make sense of something confusing and damaging and does that in such an engaging way that you want everyone to read it so that the confusion and damage end for all. Greg Johnson’s Still Time to Care is such a book.
In its pages, Johnson tells the painful and shameful story of the American church’s attempt to change people’s sexual orientation from gay to straight. He’s done his research well: showing how this became the main focus of much Christian ministry amongst same-sex attracted believers from the 1970s through to the 2010s. He lists the key figures, the ministries they founded, the testimonies they gave, the resources they produced, and the impact this had on churches and individuals worldwide. He carefully chronicles their much-vaunted methods (including infamous ‘conversion therapies’), the meteoric falls, and lack of change that proved they were unable to deliver on their promises.
But Johnson doesn’t just tell the sorry tale: he helpfully makes sense of all the factors – both inside and outside the church – that resulted in what he calls ‘The Paradigm of Cure’ becoming the dominant pastoral response to gay Christians for forty years. If you’ve ever wondered why this happened – or find yourself helping to pick up the pieces today – then this is the book for you. The theological post-mortem he carries out is especially insightful as he exposes two embarrassing missteps for evangelicals in particular: ‘Failure 1: An Underdeveloped Theology of Sin’ and ‘Failure 2: An Overrealized Eschatology’.
Johnson then goes on to show how all the above failures have provided rich soil in which for revisionist takes on Christian sexual ethics to grow. But he is robust in his push-back on all the attempts to explain away the biblical prohibitions on same-sex sexual activity and keen to demonstrate how churches with a healthy gospel culture are good places for non-straight believers to be.
I’m in danger of beginning to make this book sound like a polemic of two halves: with the first attacking the ‘ex-gay’ movement and the second ‘liberal’ Christians. That is never the tenor of the book: Johnson’s real empathy and wry humour give it a warm, pastoral feel throughout and there were, for me, a number of laugh out loud moments. I appreciated how often he weaves his own story into what he writes. Johnson is himself a gay Christian, and much of what he describes he saw and experienced first-hand.
What I appreciated most is how Johnson bookends the above with God’s better story for people like him (and me).
What I appreciated most is how Johnson bookends the above with God’s better story for people like him (and me). He starts by exploring the beautiful pastoral responses of C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, John Stott, and Billy Graham to gay people they were friends with or sought to help in their ministries. He doesn’t present these men as perfect but shows how they demonstrated a much more biblical (and so healthy) ‘Paradigm of Care’ towards same-sex attracted Christians. When we have so much to repent of in our past it is helpful to also know who we can be rightly proud of – what rich seams there are to be mined as we seek to move forward.
Johnson ends the book by hoping for a better future. He is not naïve as he seeks to do this. He shows how the contemporary church is still struggling to break free from the mistakes of the last forty years or so. But he does give a sense that things have begun to change for the better and shares excellent advice on how churches today can seek to positively change their cultures.
Expect this book to upset and inspire you in equal measure. It helped me make sense of the hurt that the church has caused countless people in recent decades but also gave me real hope that our future could be different: that there is still time to care.