The first line of the traditional Sunday school song, "Jesus Loves Me," goes: "Jesus loves me, this I know/for the Bible tells me so."
Writer Jeff Chu wanted to know the answer to a pivotal question inspired it: As a gay Christian, does Jesus love him?
After all, houses of worship remain closed to him, and controversial congregations like the Westboro Baptist Church have no qualms about loudly shouting, "God Hates Fags." So Chu made a pilgrimage around the country to get a better sense of how different Christians feel about gays and lesbians.
His journey is chronicled in the new book, "Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America."
On what the song "Jesus Loves Me" meant to Chu when he was young:
"It was truth. I would sit in my grandparent's living room and every morning when we weren't at school, we would read the Bible and sing hymns together in Chinese and English, and pray. That was my childhood. Back then it was really reassuring, especially when I was younger, and then when I was having these strange feelings that I didn't know how to account for, that's when things got a little more confusing. Then you layer on the questions about sexuality in the context of a conservative Christian home, and it's very very confusing. Questions of whether Jesus really does love me, whether this means I'm going to hell, is this something that I can make go away. I have very mixed feelings now when I hear that song."
On when he knew he was gay:
"I think I knew as I as going through puberty, I had some crushes on classmates, but you don't have the language for it at that age, necessarily. Sometimes I look at kids now growing up with Glee and all these other figures in the media. We didn't have that when I was a kid, so I was left just with the feelings and no way to articulate them."
On his first experience with how gays are viewed in his particular religion:
"This was my 9th grade Bible teacher. He was one of our favorite teachers because I think because he was younger and so we could relate to him more. It turns out that he had a relationship with a man, he was married to a woman at the time and we were all called into chapel one day, and our principal awkwardly got in front of us and said, 'Mr. Byers has had a homosexual affair with another man.' And some of my classmates tittered because of the redundancy. I was just struck dumb with fear though, because someone had named the thing that I hadn't been able to, and I thought, Oh my gosh, if anybody every discovered that I had those same feelings the same thing could happen to me."
On what spurred him to take on this project:
"After I came out, I searched for books that would allow me to sort out the issues for myself, and instead what I found were a lot of polemics. There were conservative books that said, you have to make better choices, because this is wrong, and you can choose to be straight. There were books on the other end of the spectrum that said, it's all OK and here's why. But I felt like I was being shouted at by those books, I never felt like I was being left room to decide for myself. What I really craved was experience. So what I did was I traveled and I asked people for their stories and I went from one end of the spectrum to the other. I went to Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, which clearly believes God hates fags, and I went to the other end of the spectrum which is a denomination which is predominantly gay called the Metropolitan Community Church, and I even went off the church spectrum to talk to atheists and agnostics who grew up in the church to understand why they're no longer there."
On learning about Westboro Baptist Church's stance of gays:
"What Westboro believes is that we're being punished today because we tolerate people like me. We tolerate and enable homosexuals to live freely. They think that that is one of the signs of how far we have fallen as a nation and this is the hardest thing for people to understand...they really believe they are doing the most loving thing possible by warning us all that if we continue down this path that we're going to burn in hell. They said to me, 'What kind of people would we be if we knew you all were going to hell, but we didn't warn you of it? God hates you, but we love you because we're telling you.' If you accept that they have this framework, then you can understand how it's logical to them. It's just that its so foreign to the rest of us and the language that they choose is so incendiary, and so intentionally incendiary, that its just impossible to accept."
On what's being left out of the current marriage equality debate:
"I wish there were more of an understanding, first of all, from the side of people like me, who want DOMA to be overturned and want marriage equality. I think there has to be an understanding of how deeply rooted some of the viewpoints are on the other side. This isn't just a matter of law, it's a matter of faith, and for people like most of my family, whatever the court decides is somewhat irrelevant, because they don't see marriage as a legal arrangement anyway. It's a spiritual and moral one, and we can't have a full discussion without acknowledging that and recognizing that this is what people believe. I don't mean that we cow tow to those beliefs, but we have to acknowledge that they should be a part of the conversation, and I think that's what's been missing."