Friday, December 7, 2012

Believing in Love by Marie Sexton


I never planned to write a book about religion. I’m a tried and true atheist myself, and so writing a book about somebody reclaiming their faith was never on my to-do list, but for better or worse, my muse had other plans.

When I started Between Sinners and Saints, I knew Levi’s family was religious, and I knew he had several siblings. Beyond that, I didn’t have anything particular in mind, but somehow, he kept straying toward Mormonism. I resisted for a while, but I finally accepted the fact that the book was going to be about faith. In fact, Sarah at Dear Author called it a m/m inspirational. I scratched my head over that for a while, wondering how an atheist could have written an inspirational. I’m still not sure about the label, especially given the amount of sex, but however you categorize it, religion is undeniably a major theme in the book. 

Religion in gay romance isn’t anything new, but I think it’s often dealt with in a very superficial manner. Nearly every religious character in m/m is some kind of raving homophobe, but really, how many religious folks do you know who fit that mold? As I wrote Saints, I kept thinking about my own family, many of whom are devout Mormons. These people are warm and loving. They’re happy and forgiving. They value family above all else. They also happen to believe that “homosexual acts” are sins. Does that make them homophobes? By some definitions, yes. But here’s what I know: if I took one of my gay friends to their home, they would welcome him in. They’d be as kind to him as they are to everybody else. They wouldn’t lecture. They wouldn’t even bring it up, because as far as they’re concerned, all humans are sinners, but the sin lies between the sinner and God. It is not for others to judge. After all, I’m as much a sinner in their eyes as any gay man. I drink, I (occasionally) smoke, I swear, I lived with my husband for several years before we got married. And let’s not forget the fact that I don’t actually believe in God and haven’t been to church in twenty years. Yet not once has my family judged me for it. As far as they’re concerned, my personal life is my business, and God’s business, and nobody else’s. 

Of course, I’m not their child, and that’s where the true conflict lies. As parents, we want to protect our children. We want them to live by our own moral code. So while my relatives may turn a blind eye to the sins of their niece, they might not be so quick to ignore those same sins in their own children, but it’s not because they hate their children. On the contrary, it’s because they love them.

THIS is what I wanted to write about. People who are truly Christian, who believe not in judging, but in loving, and yet who can’t come to terms with their son’s homosexuality. In doing so, I also ended up writing about a man who has turned his back on religion not because he no longer believes in God, but because it’s the best way he knows to strike back at his parents. 

Now, before this turns into some kind of Mormon debate, let me set the record straight. Are there Mormons out there who are hateful, homophobic people? I’m sure there are, but in my experience, they are not the norm. Yes, I know the Mormon church had a great deal to do with Proposition 8, but judging all Mormons on that alone is like judging all Catholics based on the actions of a few perverted priests, or like judging all Baptists based on the actions of that hate-spewing redneck from Kansas who pickets funerals. Christians, like any other group, are a varied lot. Casting them all as clich├ęd hatemongers doesn’t do justice to anybody. 

It’s definitely true that some people don’t like the way I dealt with religion in my book. A lot of readers would prefer having religion vilified. A lot of readers would rather see those with faith somehow knocked down and put in their place, but for me, that wasn’t what the book was about and in the end, I’m glad I handled it the way I did. Over the last year and a half, I’ve received a great many letters from readers who were raised in conservative, dogmatic religions (often Mormonism, but Catholics aren’t far behind) who have thanked me for treating religion fairly, and for recognizing that not all those who call themselves Christian fit the same mold. They’ve thanked me for recognizing that it’s possible to be both gay and devoutly Christian. 

And for that alone, I call the book a success.

Levi Binder is a Miami bartender who cares about only two things: sex and surfing.  Ostracized by his Mormon family for his homosexuality, Levi is determined to live his life his own way, but everything changes when he meets massage therapist Jaime Marshall.

Jaime is used to being alone.  Haunted by the horrors of his past, his only friend is his faithful dog, Dolly.  He has no idea how to handle somebody as gorgeous and vibrant as Levi.

Complete opposites on the surface, Levi and Jaime both long for something they can only find together.  Through love and the therapeutic power of touch, they’ll find a way to heal each other, and they’ll learn to live as sinners in a family of saints.



Marie Sexton lives in Colorado. She’s a fan of just about anything that involves muscular young men piling on top of each other. In particular, she loves the Denver Broncos and enjoys going to the games with her husband. Her imaginary friends often tag along. Marie has one daughter, two cats, and one dog, all of whom seem bent on destroying what remains of her sanity. She loves them anyway.

20 comments:

  1. I was a committed Baptist for decades. The hypocrisy of the leadership on both of the churches I attended was what finally pushed me out the door. I agree with you that treating all Catholics or Mormons or Baptists or (your religion here) is not fair to the majority of the members of those faiths who are loving and kind and hate the sin but love the sinner.
    However, in my experience, leadership in all major US faiths paints all homosexuality with the same brush. For the most part, it may be preached to hate the sin, love the sinner in theory. But when many "religious" people put this into practice, it turns out to be more like hate the sin and the sinner with equal ferocity.
    I have found much of that hatred directed towards me as I do my own research into gay culture. I read, get to know gay men and form my own opinions. My step-brother is gay. I want to know him better. I hat that he is so lonely. A friend of my son's who was 13 and openly gay hanged himself to escape the cruelty he faced every day from his classmates and his own BROTHERS. His family was a "Christian" family. How were his brothers so hateful if they were being taught that "God is Love" and to hate the sin but love the sinner?
    As I become more open in my support of gay rights, my family and previous church family have made it clear that they don't support my "new" views.
    Between Sinners and Saints was the first book I read about a gay man and his struggle with his family's faith. It was well-written, exceptionally well researched and packed an emotional punch. You treated faith very fairly and I believe that portrayal was a beautiful expression of how it should be. I just wish my personal experience were the same.
    Shit, now I need to go read the book again! I loved it so much that posting about it makes me want to revisit it.
    Thanks for an honest and thought-provoking post.

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    1. I definitely think it's true that (no matter which religion you're talking about) church leadership is often the last to evolve. The leadership bodies are generally dinosaurs. Some members accept the decrees of leadership blindly, but a great many don't. I talked about that a bit in Saints, that even though church leadership likes to think they're calling the shots, in most cases the changes will happen from the bottom up. Real change starts with people "in the trenches", so to speak.

      Thanks for the comment, and I'm glad you enjoyed the book! :-)

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  2. I'm definitely adding this book to my wish list. I'm an atheist, but have no problems reading as others deal with their own faiths and being gay. Thank you Ms. Sexton!

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  3. I'm afraid I haven't read your book, but I was intrigued by your essay because I'm also an atheist who wrote a gay romance with a devoutly Christian main character. It suited him and, I think, made parts of the story more poignant. I can't say how my readers will take it, but for me at least, even though I don't believe in God, it was easy to comprehend the pain of someone who does and who feels forsaken.

    Anyway, I should read your book. :) But I enjoyed reading about someone else who had a similar writing experience to mine. Thank you.

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    1. This is definitely a book that seems to be hit or miss, depending on the reader. Good luck with yours, and thanks for the comment! :-)

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  4. That sounds like a fascinating story, Marie!

    I absolutely agree that it is not only interesting but also necessary to explore religion in m/m romance beyond the blanket stereotype of all religious people being homophobes. That's the reason the characters in my trilogy are both active members of their respective congregations (Derrick is Christian and Gavin is Jewish. It took Gavin a while to decide he was Jewish, but even before that he went to church.)

    There ARE churches/synagogues out there that are not intolerant. The United Church of Christ has advocated publicly for same-sex marriage and the synagogue Gavin goes to in headcanon is a real congregation in Detroit whose Rabbi is a gay man in a committed relationship and whose mission statement says "committed to welcoming all who desire to find a home with us: including intermarried couples, gays and lesbians, Jews-by-choice, Jews-by-birth, families, and singles."

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    1. Always nice to hear about the congregations who actually practice love and open-mindedness! :-)

      Thanks!

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  5. I remember reading that book and loving the family interaction and growth surrounding their faith and loving their son. Wonderful story, IMO. =)

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  6. Thank you for this post. I was just reading yet another book in which the Evil Christians were responsible for the main character's angst and shame, and I was disappointed to see people of my faith yet again portrayed as a bunch of intolerant, bigoted homophobes. As you said, those aren't the Christians I know from my real life. Of course I know that there are certainly plenty of Christians in the world who fit that description; my husband's grandma is one of the worst I've ever met. But I'm not that kind of Christian. My husband's not. My family aren't. My friends aren't. And we're all devout Christians who believe the Bible is the word of God. We just think those idiots you mention who get all of the press are reading it wrong. I want to see more stories filled with the Christians I know: the people of the church where I sometimes sing, none of whom bat an eye at the lesbian couple that sits proudly together in the front row every week holding hands--and voted one of them to church council recently; or my friend's congregation that showed up in droves for the wedding of one of their member's sons to another man; the faculty of the Christian college where I went to school that fought tooth and nail to make sure a proposal to put a DADT type of policy in place didn't pass and to ensure that they retained their rights to advocate for LGBT issues; the Christian high school where I teach with a handful of openly gay students, none of whom are villified by the other students; the other school where I teach that has a chapel day set aside every year to show support for LGBT students. These are real Christians, too. I appreciate every book that makes it clear that a person doesn't have to be gay or a Christian; s/he can be both, and there are plenty of us who think that's just fine.

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    1. I agree with you 100%. Yes, there are plenty of bigoted, horrible, narrow-minded "Christians" out there, but there are plenty more who are truly good, kind, loving people. Thanks so much for your comment. :-)

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  7. I read Between Sinners and Saints when it came out. And I loved it. I was raised in the LDS church and some of my family is still active. I remember when I first read it that you did a good job with balance.

    I'm glad that you followed your muse, because the book really was amazing.

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    1. Thanks Tiffany! I'm really glad you enjoyed the book! :-)

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  8. What a wonderful thoughtful post! I was raised RC & while I believe in a higher power, I don't like people forcing their own interpretation of the Bible, or any other Holy book, on others. Let's face it, many people have done a lot of evil things in the name of their religion (terrorists, people who kick their LGBT kids to the curb, etc.) I like to believe that religions should function on love & acceptance not judgment, guilt & punishment. I've read so many of your books, I can't believe I missed this one. Can't wait to read it.

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    1. Thanks Mary! I hope you'll check it out. :-)

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  9. I love 'Between Sinners and Saints'. It's one of my favourite books of any genre. I've reread it in whole or in part many times. Jaime is such a sweet character and the way he really enjoys Levi's family is so touching. Also the way Levi comes to believe that God has brought Jaime to him so he can love and care for him is so wonderful.

    Thank you for writing such a great book. It's one I turn to at two in the morning when I can't sleep. ♡

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    1. Thanks so much, Alder! I'm so glad you like Jaime and Levi's story. :-)

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  10. I heard just within the past week that the LDS now seems to be adopting the Roman Catholic attitude toward homosexuality: acceptance of the orientation (inevitable, really, if one believes God makes no mistakes) but rejection of the orientation put into practice. In other words, you can BE, but you can't DO.

    Baby steps, I keep telling myself, are better than being immobilized by stubborn, hateful prejudice.

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    1. That's actually been the Mormon stance for a while now. I didn't realize that was what the Catholic church taught, though. Interesting.

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