We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another. – Jonathan Swift
I’m going to admit that before I started reading this book, I girded my loins, big time. Like, with titanium girding and everything. I was pretty sure after I’d read the blurb that I was going to have a hard time with it, seeing as how I have a philosophical conflict with the whole pray-the-gay-away rhetoric of those who believe that the Bible is the infallible and indisputable word of God. I was also pretty sure I’d have a thing or two to say about it all, things like, “I don’t get it,” and “How can people treat their children that way?” and “What the flim-flam?!” Well, I think I probably said all those things and more, but here’s the beauty of The Battle for Jericho for me: the author handled the entire subject with just enough humor and undeniable charm that I didn’t end the book feeling as though I’d been dragged through a Sunday tent revival on my one-way trip to Hell. To the author, Gene Gant, I offer a hearty AMEN! and a thank you for keeping things real without stepping over that very delicate line that exists for me between what is palatable and what leaves a bitter aftertaste in my very soul. Melodramatic much? Probably.
Anyway, sixteen year old Jericho Jiles has been raised in a small Tennessee town, a town in which church isn’t the exception, it’s the rule, and scripture is the immutable law by which every man, every woman, and every action is judged; a town in which something like homosexuality is not merely intolerable, it’s the sort of thing that’ll make you a target for any variety of justifiable acts perpetrated by the self-appointed moral authority, and sadly, Jericho himself is not immune to the ideas that’ve been ingrained in him from the moment he was old enough to understand the meaning of right and wrong—being gay is a sin against God. No questions, no exceptions, and it’s that belief that made the openly gay Dylan Cussler the perfect target for picketers and protestors, and an act of vandalism gone terribly wrong.
Jericho and his best friend Mac had planned to break into Dylan’s house and cause a little mischief. They never dreamt, however, that Dylan would surprise them by being home at the time. Nor would Jericho have ever believed he was the sort of boy who could leave a man bleeding on the kitchen floor while he ran away in an effort to try and save his own hide. Well, it turns out he was that kind of boy. But it also turns out he was the kind of boy who would swallow his fear, return to the scene of his crime, and apologize to Dylan as well as beg for his forgiveness. And in the process of that confession, Jericho will gain a surprising ally as he learns some difficult truths about making assumptions and judging stereotypes, though possibly the most valuable lesson he learns is to begin thinking and feeling for himself, to question the status quo, to challenge beliefs and reclaim his soul for himself, and to fly in the face of everything he’s ever been taught in order to figure out who he truly is. He also learns to accept that loving someone, even if that someone has never been more than a friend who happens to be a guy, is not a choice. Loving someone and having them love you in return, Jericho discovers, is simply a gift that can’t be questioned but can be considered a blessing even if it contradicts all you’ve ever believed.
The Battle for Jericho is a story about knocking down walls and challenging labels, coming to an understanding that it’s those labels which do nothing more than breed conflict. It’s a story that handles its subject matter in the best possible way: with warmth, honesty, and realism. There’s a happy ending wrapped in a believable package, no great metamorphosis and no easy answers, and the only heart and mind that was changed in the book belonged to Jericho himself, but the beauty of it all was that, in the end, Jericho realized that on the journey to becoming his own man, his is the only heart that matters.