Choosing Us – Brian and Gail Song Bantum

Choosing Us: Marriage and Mutual Flourishing in a World of Difference by Gail Song Bantum, Brian Bantum
Published by Brazos Press on March 1, 2022
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life, Marriage
Buy on Amazon

For years, people have asked Gail Song Bantum and Brian Bantum to reveal the secret to their marriage as a multiracial Christian couple, each with a high-profile ministry calling. This book reveals the lessons, mistakes, and principles that have helped the Bantums navigate race, family history, and gender dynamics in their twenty-plus years of marriage, while inspiring readers to pursue mutual flourishing in their marriages and relationships.

Marriage is about more than constant bliss or unending sacrifice, say the Bantums. It's about exploring your own story, seeing the other for who they are (even as they change), and being flexible in discovering how those differences and stories come alive in new ways when joined together. It's the discovery of life in the gaps and the mysteries that emerge when we live in mutuality, believing that fullness is possible for each.

Choosing Us reflects the realities and demands of modern marriage and respects the callings and ambitions of both partners. It shows that marriage is about choosing the other's flourishing on a daily basis, amid differences and even systemic obstacles, to build a relationship that thrives and reflects the kingdom of God.

You’ve not read a marriage book like this one. Choosing Us is less marriage manual and more marriage memoir. It’s the story of Gail Song Bantum and Brian Bantum, the challenges they’ve faced, the lessons they’ve learned, and how they’ve navigated their relationship toward mutual flourishing. But it’s also more than memoir. Gail and Brian build off of their professional lives to bring depth to their advice so that it goes beyond “Well, it worked for us.”

Gail is Asian-American and the lead pastor of Quest Church in Seattle. She’s a well-known speaker in the area of justice, leadership, and mentorship. Brian is a Black theology professor at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary whose academic work is on the intersection of identity, race, and gender. The end result is that there are few couples qualified to a write a book like Choosing Us quite like the Bantums.

The very first chapter is a hard hitter, dealing with the certainty of change. People aren’t static and one major relationship issue is assuming that they always will be. Brian and Gail talk about how, as teenagers, they each had a plan for their lives and that plan was not compatible with the others’. They talk through how those plans changed and adapted to fit the other and how their love as changed and adapted as they themselves have changed over the years. Above all, what I got from this chapter was the primacy of love and the necessity of clear communication.

The middle part of the book deals with race and gender. Coming from two different minority backgrounds, Gail and Brian had a lot of work to do to understand the other person’s cultural background—and their own. Gail writes about feeling between identities, never quite feeling American (read: white) enough or Korean enough. Brian, too, struggled with ethnic identity. In any relationship, but an interracial one specifically, self-reflection on racial identity and cross-cultural friendships is a crucial communicative piece of the puzzle. This chapter alone makes the book a must-read for interracial couples.

The chapters on gender are also compelling. Choosing Us isn’t the type of marriage book that tells men to work hard and women to stay at home. It’s about an us, it’s about mutual submission and love. These chapters are the heart of the book and show how marriage is like a dance and each person adapts to the movements of the other and move along with the music together.

Each chapter of Choosing Us ends with a series of discussion questions. I would love to see these developed further, even though they are satisfying on their own—maybe even into a small group video series. It invites reflection and makes people see their own relationships and lives. There were times that I wish the Bantums would have gone just a bit deeper. At a rather svelte 147 pages, maybe ten or fifteen more pages would have satisfied me.

Overall, though, I love that the book asks you to learn through the Bantum’s example. Choosing Us is their story, a story about how amid everything in life, their first choice was always the other. And that’s the beautiful thing. Whatever happens, wherever we go, whatever changes, we’ll always choose the other. Choosing Us is a unique addition to the marriage book genre, breathing stale life into what often comes across as very generic and clinical advice. This is Bantum family story: it’s specific, but generalizable; it’s relatable, accessible, and, most of all, livable. Their example of marriage is one we to which we should all strive.