If you were scripting an evangelical novel about redemption from a gay lifestyle, it would read a lot like the son-mother story told in Out of a Far Country. But this is a true story.
If you were reading this as a novel, you would probably say the plot is too predictable. You know the gay son is going to plummet to the worst of the “gay lifestyle,” affirming all the stereotypes of alienation, promiscuity, and HIV. You know his parents are going to reject him, and he’ll find solace among those who share and affirm “who he is.” You know they will all be converted at some point and the son will renounce his gay identity, modeling and teaching others about biblical and responsible sexuality. You know he’s going to get married and have children. All of that is in this book, except for the marriage and children. And it’s real.
True stories like this need to be told. I’m glad this one was published. If I have a concern, it’s that for every story of redemption through prayer and patience, there are a thousand without a happy ending. The story shouldn’t be used to suggest that every parent who prays and waits will see transformation – i.e., that if nothing happens the parent must not have done their spiritual part.
Jesus’ story of the lost son in Luke 15 is the biblical background for the Yuans’ story. The point of Jesus’ story wasn’t primarily a son’s redemption; it was first a story to teach the Father’s love and second a story to correct the hypocrisy of the self-righteous. But, like Out of a Far Country, Jesus’ story holds out the promise that what is will not necessarily always be.
What I love most about this story is how Angela Yuan’s conversion gives her more grace toward her wayward son on every level. As the chapters share mother’s and son’s journeys antiphonally, we watch Christopher descend into the depths of unbridled sensuality to the level that dehumanizes sex, gay or straight. He shows how an alternate community only affirms an alternate identity for all the wrong reasons.
His mother rejects him, but not because she’s a fundamentalist Christian. She rejects him for cultural (Chinese) reasons. She’s not a believer, and therefore has no basis for hope. She uses harsh words and motherly threats to try to change him.
The story of this book is that there are two lost characters (three, if you include the Dad). Mom as well as son is in need of redemption. Angela Luan comes to Christ, grows as she studies the Scripture with her Bible Study Fellowship group, and is herself transformed. It is that heart of love that then enables her to love her son, pray for him, and wait for him to come home “out of a far country.” Usually when I find myself frustrated by a wanderer I know, the heart that needs to be changed first is mine.
I like the fact that the book closes with reflection/discussion questions, but it does seem to me that the questions are a bit laborious for most small groups, I would love to study the book with a group, but I’d probably edit the questions to make them a little more succinct, open-ended, and biblically focused.