Interview by Matthew Claridge–
Ready or not, cultural acceptance of homosexuality is here. What challenges does this new situation pose for the church? How should the individual Christian respond when confronted on this issue? The worst part of it is, it seems the homosexual community always holds the moral high ground and Christians come across sounding like bigots. Is there any way forward? We can thank men such as Sam Allberry for providing sane and courteous responses that employ the power of the gospel rather than worldly wisdom to the cultural challenge of our age. I corresponded with Allberry concerning his new book: Is God Anti-Gay? And Other Questions about Homosexuality, the Bible and same-sex attraction.
For a Christian who experiences SSA, how to describe yourself is an important issue to think through carefully. I’m aware other Christians have come to slightly different conclusions on this. But at the heart of my decision is the observation that the word “gay” (at least where I come from) tends to be more about identity than feelings. Someone says they are gay, and tends to mean that this is who they are; it is not just about what kind of sexual attraction they experience, but who they see themselves to be. While I experience SSA, it is not who I am – it doesn’t even come close to being my identity. “Same-sex attraction”, though somewhat clunky as an expression, manages to express what’s going on without saying more than I want it to say.
My fear if I described myself as “gay” is that it could imply I’ve bought into Western culture’s idea that you are your sexuality. One of the opportunities we have as Christians in such a sexually super-charged context is to show that we have a far more compelling way of thinking about human identity. I think it could be one of the big apologetic upsides of the current debates about homosexuality.
I find it interesting that you also start your book with the gospel which you heard and believed. What is the reason you start a book on homosexuality with an account of the gospel?
There are two reasons for this, one practical and the other theological. From a practical point of view, I was aware that a book like this might attract some attention from a wide range of people. I wanted to make sure that if anyone only got as far as the introduction, then at least they would have read something of the gospel.
From a theological point of view, it was also important for me to articulate a summary of the gospel at the start of the book because what I believe about sex and sexuality is properly understood in relation to the gospel. The death and resurrection of Jesus together form the epicentre of our faith; everything else radiates out from there. A Christian understanding of sexuality makes clearest sense when placed in the wider context of the goodness and authority of Jesus. I believe what I believe about homosexuality because I believe what I believe about Jesus.
In a side-bar in your book you ask the question, “surely a homosexual relationship is ok if it is committed and faithful?” could you provide the gist of your answer since I think this is a particularly popular question raised in reaction to the Christian’s stance on homosexuality?
Yes, this is probably the question that is put to me the most when I speak on this issue, both by Christians and by non-Christians. There are two things to recognise.
The Bible nowhere allows for the view that faithfulness justifies a relationship that is otherwise forbidden. When Paul encounters an illicit relationship in the church in Corinth (between a man and his father’s wife – most likely his stepmother, 1 Cor. 5:1ff.), he does not stop to check whether or not it is committed and stable before rebuking the church for tolerating it. Faithfulness is not a trump card that somehow makes any relationship morally good.
Displaying some virtuous qualities while committing a sin does not make the sin less sinful. A group of armed robbers holding up a bank might each display consideration and loyalty to one another, but that would in no way lessen the sinfulness of what they are doing. Being an impeccable team-player doesn’t make robbery morally good any more than great commitment makes homosexual sex morally good.
A view among many to explain the phenomenon of homosexual attraction is “genetics.” In other words, it can’t be wrong if someone is born that way. What is the proper biblical response to this?
Our response is that even if something can be demonstrated to have been present from birth, it is not on that basis justifiable. We need to be able to understand and carefully explain the biblical doctrine of original sin. It is profoundly relevant to issues like this.
In Adam, we are all born out of sync with God. Many of the desires and traits with which we are born reflect that. In other words, what feels natural and right to us may be profoundly unnatural and immoral in God’s eyes. Being born with a particular propensity does not make it right or healthy. We are all born in Adam with a warped nature, and all of us show that in a whole host of ways from our very earliest days. It explains why Jesus said we need to be born again.
You advise folks who are struggling with persistent feelings of SSA to seriously consider the calling of singleness. How can we as Christians convey this option in a world where sexual identity is so defining?
We can do a couple of things. As a Christian community we need to model the truth that sexual gratification does not make someone whole. Marrieds and singles can each testify to this. Sex is a good gift (within marriage) but it is not ultimate. Jesus was the most complete and fully human person who ever lived, and yet he was sexually abstinent his whole life. I suspect our response to the issue of homosexuality has not always been strong in evangelical churches partly because we have bought into so much of what our culture says about sexual companionship being key to human fulfilment. We have idolised marriage and demeaned singleness, and we need to get these two gifts back into biblical proportion.
We need to be clear on the Bible’s teaching on singleness as a gift, with its own particular opportunities and advantages. And we need to foster a culture in our churches that helps to honour singleness and support single people. A significant part of that is recovering the biblical art of friendship.
How can the church help people struggling with SSA?
A good starting point is to cultivate a church culture where it is OK to talk personally about issues like this. If homosexuality is only spoken of in the context of what is going on in wider society as a whole, it will be increasingly difficult for some church members to feel able to share that this is an issue for them. We need to give one another permission to share about the things we find hardest in the Christian life. But if a Christian has shared a struggle in this area, we must make sure it is not the lens through which we see them. It will not be the only issue they battle with, and may not be the most pressing.
Secondly, we need to be faithful to the Bible’s calling on churches being family to one another. Paul repeatedly speaks of churches being the “household of God” and uses familial language to describe the relationships we are to have with one another (see esp. 1 Tim. 5:1-2). Churches should be places of true community and belonging. This is a huge witness to a world in which society is increasingly atomised, and shows that singleness need not mean unremitting loneliness. Every church has the potential to be the best place in the world for people struggling with SSA!
Matthew Claridge is married to Cassandra and has three children, Alec , Nora, and Grace. He is an editor for Credo Magazine and is Senior Pastor of Mt. Idaho Baptist Church in Grangeville, ID. He has earned degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.