Issac Morris followed his father in to ministry. He has a passion for bringing people to Christ but his father's church is particularly focused on calling "Sodomites"out of their sinful lifestyle by confronting them with their sin through loud and aggressive protests. Issac has grown increasingly frustrated with their inability to persuade people to listen to them. When he learns that one of his nephews is struggling with homosexual desires he is convinced that they have to try something new and different. He and his sister Ruth set out to film a documentary, one that will document his choice to become gay and then become straight again in order to convince homosexuals they too can choose to leave the lifestyle. Although his family is hesitant to see him take such a dangerous and risky path, they reluctantly agree to support his endeavor. Ruth and Issac relocate to Seattle and Issac sets out to enter the gay lifestyle.
Coming out to his parents at 14, propelled Colton Roberts into a nightmare. After his family's rejection he spent the majority of his teen years alone on the street, raped, pimped, abused and addicted. He found acceptance and Christ's love in the persons of Pastor Mike and his wife Gail who rescued him from the streets. Faith, therapy, rehab and the love and support of the South Street Community Church have held him together through many struggles. He juggles bartending shifts at CapitolOUT with evenings working with at-risk LGBQT youth at the his church's youth shelter.
Issac and Colton meet when Issac is assaulted by homophobic thugs outside of CapitolOUT. Colton can't help but feel concern for Issac as he is clearly overwhelmed and inexperienced. Sympathetic upon learning that Issac has only recently come out, Colton agrees to help Issac learn to navigate the gay community in Seattle and they slowly build a friendship that eventually blossoms into something more.
Gallagher (who also publishes for Riptide as L.A. Witt), took on quite a challenge with this book. The novel is equal parts a story of self-discovery as it is as romance novel. Issac's journey toward realizing that he is gay and struggling to figure out how he can reconcile it with his faith and call to ministry is tortuous. I thought Gallagher did a great job illustrating how hard and painful it is for Issac to slowly realize that he isn't choosing to be gay for the sake of the documentary but instead for the first time in his life acknowledging his identity. He is under incredible pressure from his family, which makes him extremely conflicted and confused. The way things unfolded in the later half after some fateful/unavoidable confrontations was for the most part believable, especially the lure denial hold for Issac.
The romance was gentle grounded in growing attraction born out of friendship and affection. While they are both certainly attracted from the beginning, Colton's cautiousness leads to take things very slow letting them building trust and intimacy long before they ever even kiss. Issac's deception and betrayal have significant consequences and although I felt Issac should have groveled even more, their HEA developed in the extensive epilogue was perfect.
I couldn't help reading Lead Me Not through the filter of the current conversations and movements in the Evangelical community toward greater acceptance and affirmation of LGBTQ people. While Issac does have many conversations and reads one book (published in the 70s!) on how reconcile his faith and his sexuality I wished Gallagher had Issac engage with more current books and scholarship than he does in Lead Me Not. Books like God and the Gay Christian specifically address some of the issues Issac most struggles with, specifically the bad fruit his anti-gay ministry is bearing (inspiring attacks, the rejection of vulnerable children & suicides) and tackling how the Bible can and has been reinterpreted without it losing its authority.
I really appreciated the attention Gallagher paid to the power of family relationships to affect a person's well-being. Colton struggles with accepting his parents' rejection for years. Issac works to reconnect with family members he has shunned, while wrestling with the family who fear losing him. Although the book asserts you can't choose who you love, it really meant who you fall in love with. Both Colton and Issac's family consistently stopped acting in a loving way toward those they disapprove of. The novel does really illustrates is that while you can't choose who you are attracted to, your identity, are related to, or who you fit with most, you can choose to love them even when you disagree.
Inspirational romances are not generally something I enjoy reading. I struggle to not get stuck on some minor point of theology or get annoyed easily if I think something is being misrepresented but I think overall Lead Me Not succeed in being both a credible inspirational romance and a satisfying love story. I rolled my eyes occasionally but not enough to diminish my enjoyment of the story.
Disclosure: At RWA I had opportunity to meet Sarah Frantz Lyons, Editorial Director of Riptide Publishing who is friend of my friend Elisabeth Lane. During one of our conversations Sarah mentioned being excited about Lead Me Not, because it was something that they had never done at Riptide or to her knowledge anywhere else, a M/M sweet inspirational. I was immediately intrigued because although I am not typically an inspie reader, I am very interested in the intersection of the Faith community and the LGBT community so I knew I had to read it. Check out the #FaithfullyLGBT hashtag on twitter if you want to know more about LGBT people who are working to live out their faith.
I received review copy of Lead Me Not from Riptide via Netgalley.