Lead Me Not
When readers think of male/male romance, they don’t usually think of inspirational romance. However, issues of orientation and how those intersect with religious belief play an important role in the lives of many same-sex couples I have known. While not without its flaws, Lead Me Not shows issues of Christian religious belief playing out in the lives of same-sex protagonists who have each traveled very difficult roads to get anywhere near a shot at an HEA in life.
It’s pretty obvious at the beginning of the book that preacher Isaac Morris is so far into the closet that, as the saying goes, he can see Narnia. Isaac comes from a church that sounds much like the Westboro Baptist Church one sees in the news. Insular, politically active and virulently opposed to any hint of homosexual activity, Isaac has followed the family way of protesting against gays and loudly urging the world around him to turn from the sin of homosexuality.
A chance encounter at a rally puts Isaac on a path that could change his life. When a protester challenges Isaac’s claim that one can choose to be gay and then choose to walk away and be straight again, he decides to prove it. His sister Ruth, a Christian filmmaker, pairs up with him to create a documentary that will show Isaac willfully entering and then leaving what they term “the gay lifestyle.” The idea is that this will be a powerful testimony to show once and for all that sexual orientation is not an inborn trait. Since Isaac’s own nephew struggles with same-sex attraction, Isaac also sees this as a way to keep his beloved nephew from going down what the entire family sees as a deeply sinful path.
Bringing someone from a background as fundamentalist as Isaac’s into circles where he might meet openly gay people in a setting other than yelling at them on the street would undoubtedly prove challenging for any author, but I will say right off the bat that the documentary setup felt contrived. The discussions among the Morris family as to how the film will be made and just how far into homosexual behavior Isaac will go never felt entirely real. Also, as someone raised in a conservative denomination, I could think of more than a few reasons why it would be hard to believe in Isaac and his family agreeing to some of the things they were deciding to do in the name of the film.
However, once Ruth and Isaac break free of the family compound and head to Seattle to film, the story gets much better. Early on, Isaac finds himself the target of a homophobic attack in an alley behind a gay bar. One of the bartenders, Colton Roberts, rescues Isaac from his attackers. Believing Isaac to be newly out with regard to his orientation, Colton helps him get a job at Capitol OUT, the bar where Colton works and which will soon become Isaac’s new social center. Using his newly announced orientation as a way to get to know Colton better, Isaac basically asks him for help learning how to be gay.
And here Isaac starts to learn something very important. Guess what? Gay people aren’t all alike. This isn’t news to most readers, but you can tell that it takes Isaac a little while to learn that. Colton does take Isaac under his wing and in a relationship that is at first strictly platonic, Colton not only teaches Isaac to work as a bartender, but he befriends him and takes him out places with other friends. Colton comes from a background of abuse and exploitation as a former male prostitute, and when we see him introducing Isaac to the people important in his life, we also get to see how far Colton has come as well as how vulnerable he still is. Importantly to the story, readers get a sense of how important faith has been in Colton’s journey and as Isaac is exposed to Colton’s faith and his church, Isaac himself starts getting his eyes opened to the idea that Christianity just may be larger than his little sect has allowed it to be. Isaac also starts figuring out things about himself that he never contemplated before, including a growing attraction to Colton that seems to be mutual.
The middle of the book is a tad uneven. At times Isaac and Colton’s routine at the bar can feel a little mind-numbing and there’s not always a lot of external action. Since both characters have much growing to do, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing because growing as a character sometimes requires more internal change than plot action. And in this book, sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. I especially enjoyed the scenes where Isaac encounters a gay-friendly church and learns more about their theology, weighing it against the interpretations of Scripture he had always been taught. The religious material is presented thoughtfully, and the author did an especially good job of showing how Isaac comes to realize the effect his previous ministry has had on others. However, with regard to the romance, I did find myself wishing that we could get a little more action and a little less internal monologue from both Isaac and Colton. After all, there are other ways to convey growing attraction to another person besides thinking it inside one’s mind over and over!
Once Isaac and Colton actually start to see one another romantically, their relationship is actually very tender. Given the setup that brought Isaac to Seattle in the first place, most readers won’t be surprised to learn that there is tension ahead. However, I found the ending very sweet. Super cheesy in some places, but still sweet.
Even with the uneven spots and some overly clunky dialogue in places, Lead Me Not worked for me a whole lot more than it didn’t. Though raised in a conservative denomination, I am now a member of a church which has more open attitudes on matters of sexual orientation and which allows for same-sex marriages to be performed, and this book reached my heart in a very special way because the theology at the heart of this book reminded me so much of my own church. There is a lot of variety among the various Christian traditions and I was thrilled to read an inspirational novel that allowed for something other than conservative evangelical Protestant theology. Some important books out there are flawed, but they are still worth reading. Of Lead Me Not, I’d say that it has its weak points, but it’s definitely an important book and I suspect more than a few readers, both gay and straight, will find it inspirational.