Sam Allberry has written an incredibly important and helpful resource about homosexuality for those within and outside the church. He writes with unique credibility as a believer who struggles with same-sex attraction. In Is God anti-gay?, Allberry explains how compelling community and the clear message of the gospel drew him to faith in Christ.
“God’s message for gay people is the same as his message for everyone. Repent and believe. It is the same invitation to find fullness of life in God, the same offer of forgiveness and deep, wonderful, life-changing love.” (10)
Allberry’s goal is to help Christians navigate through a world that is consistently at odds with the teaching of the Bible and the church regarding homosexuality. He answers important and tough questions while offering biblical and wise counsel about marriage, singleness, sexuality, and same-sex attraction. He breaks down the book into five major chapters that deal with different issues related to homosexuality—1) Homosexuality and God’s design, 2) Homosexuality and the Bible, 3) Homosexuality and the Christian, 4) Homosexuality and the church, and 5) Homosexuality and the world. In each chapter, Allberry also poses important questions related to homosexuality.
A list of specific questions he addresses include:
- Surely a same-sex partnership is OK if it’s committed and faithful?
- But Jesus never mentions homosexuality, so how can it be wrong?
- Aren’t we just picking and choosing which Old Testament laws apply?
- Is it sinful to experience same-sex attraction?
- Can’t Christians just agree to differ on this?
- Isn’t the Christian view of sexuality dangerous and harmful?
- Should Christians attend gay weddings?
- What should I do if a Christian comes out to me?
Allberry’s biblical and careful response to these eight questions is more than worth the price of the book. I’ve not shared his specific answers so that you might be encouraged to go pick up a copy for yourself.
An Important Distinction
Allberry begins with an important distinction. He explains the difference between the terms same-sex attraction and gay. Terms like gay, lesbian, or bisexual normally indicate that a person’s “sexual preference is one of the fundamental ways in which they see themselves.” (10) He prefers the terminology of “same-sex attraction” as it recognizes the sexual attractions he experiences without fundamentally shaping his identity. He states, “They are part of what I feel but are not who I am in a fundamental sense. I am far more than my sexuality.” (11)
Starting Point: Genesis and Jesus on Sex and Marriage
Allberry starts by looking at homosexuality in light of God’s design for sex and marriage in Genesis and the teaching of Jesus. Genesis 1-2 lay the necessary groundwork for understanding God’s design for sex and marriage. From the beginning, God has given sex as a good gift to be enjoyed within marriage. As Allberry states: God is for sex and sex is for marriage. Within this context, sex serves two overarching purposes: reproduction (Gen. 1:28) and unity (Gen. 2:24). Underneath this understanding of sex and marriage is the truth that humanity is gendered. God did not merely make us humans, but he made us male and female.
Not only is this made clear in Genesis, Jesus also points back to its fundamental importance (Matt. 19:3-6). Allberry argues, “Yes, gender is something we humans interpret and lend cultural expression to, but it is not something that we invent or fully define. It is how God created us.” (19) Furthermore, it is how God designed marriage. Having made humanity male and female, Jesus says, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife…” (Matt. 19:5). Allberry concludes, “Marriage is based on gender. Marriage would not exist without the sexual differences between men and women.” (20)
Purposes for Marriage
Allberry points to three purposes for marriage seen throughout the Bible. First. marriage is meant to reflect something of God’s nature. The unity and diversity within the Trinity is reflected in the union between a husband and a wife in marriage. As in the Godhead, oneness is not sameness. Allberry explains, “The issue is not the feelings of commitment that two people may have for one another, but rather, the kind of union God gives to a man and woman when they become physically one. It is this complementarity that is fundamental to marriage.” (21) Second, marriage is meant to be part of the means by which humans fulfill the cultural mandate to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28). The union of man and woman in marriage brings with it the possibility of new life. However, Allberry wisely notes, “Procreation is not the sole purpose of marriage, but it is clear that procreation is intended to be rooted in marriage.” (22) Third, marriage is meant to reflect the grace that God shows his people in Christ (Eph. 5:31-32). Marriage points to the relationship between Jesus and his church. This is the ultimate reality which all people—married or single—can enjoy now and for all eternity.
“The teaching of Genesis, reinforced and expanded by Jesus in his own ministry, is that sex is a good gift that God has given exclusively for marriage, and that in order for marriage to fulfill the purposes for which God instituted it, marriage must be between one man and one woman.” (23)
Homosexuality and the Bible
What Does the Bible Say About Homosexuality?
Allberry wisely notes, “Christians who want to explain the Christian faith to gay friends need to know that what the Bible says about homosexuality is not the only thing they need to explain, and it is probably not the first thing, or even the main thing, they need to focus on.” (26)
Yet, we cannot be confused about the Bible’s teaching concerning homosexuality. Allberry provides an overview of the five key biblical texts on the issue (Gen. 19:4-5; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:18-32; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:9-10). In each of these texts, he deals with the issues many raise to dismiss the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality. He concludes, “The consistent teaching of the Bible is clear: God forbids homosexual activity. Given what the Bible says about God’s purpose of sex and marriage, this should not surprise us.” (38)
In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Allberry shows that apart from repentance and faith in Christ, those who practice homosexuality will be excluded from the kingdom of God. He draws two conclusions regarding homosexuality from this passage:
- Homosexual sin is serious – If a person persists in active, unrepentant homosexual sin until their death, they will be excluded from the kingdom of God. Paul does not want anyone to be deceived on this point as there likely were some downplaying the seriousness of this sin. However, homosexual sin is not alone in this regard. It is as serious as those who persist in unrepentant greed, pride, drunkenness, theft, and adultery.
- Homosexual sin is not inescapable – “such were some of you” tells us that no one is beyond the power of the gospel and that no amount of homosexual sin is beyond escape. What may describe us now need to describe us forever. What once defined us does not have to continue to define us. In Christ, we can be made new.
Homosexuality and the Christian
But What About the Christian Who Experiences Same-Sex Attraction?
Allberry wisely notes, “Being Christian makes us no less likely to fall ill, face tragedy, or experience insecurity. All of us experience fallen sexual desires, whether those desires are heterosexual or homosexual by nature. It is not un-Christian to experience same-sex attraction any more than it is un-Christian to get sick. What marks us out as Christian is not that we never experience such things, but how we respond to them when we do.” (43)
So what should a Christian do if they are experience same-sex attraction?
Allberry’s counsel is worth mentioning at length here:
Draw near to the Lord. Homosexual feelings do not disqualify a person from God’s presence. They demonstrate your need for Him. Talk to God about the feelings of confusion and distress you may be experiencing. He is in control and able to give wisdom when we need it. Talk to God about your temptations. Jesus taught us to pray to the Father that we might be delivered from our temptations. He knows what it is like to be tempted as we are, yet He never sinned. Talk to God about your sin. When you sin, you are called to confess it and turn from it.
- Think about it in the right way
These feelings do not disqualify you. If you think about them rightly, they reveal your need for God’s grace not your inability to experience it. They also do not define you. In Christ, you are made new. While temptations may remain, you have a new identity and new power to turn from our sin.
- Seek the support of others
This will likely be hard, especially when the church has been silent or negative towards homosexuality in the past. However, God calls us to bear one another’s burdens. The truth is all Christians are weak and need the support of others. We are called to experience this within the community of the church.
Can God change our sexual desires?
One day, everyone in Christ will be made right–including their sexual desires. However, in this life, there may very well be lasting change in our sexual desires but there is no promise of a complete change in sexual desires. Allberry points to two important realities in the Christian life: 1) When we become Christians we are made new (2 Cor. 5:17) and 2) We have not yet received the fullness of our salvation as God’s people (Rom. 8:23)
Singleness and Same-Sex Attraction
Allberry addresses some of the important and hard questions about those who struggle with same-sex attraction. Previously, Allberry demonstrated from Matthew 19:10-12 that singleness is the only godly alternative to heterosexual marriage. However, he rightly asks, “But is this healthy?” God’s Word is not silent on the value and positive aspects of singleness in Christ. The Bible says singleness is a gift from God (1 Cor. 7:7), which brings certain advantages and opportunities (1 Cor. 7:28, 32-35). Allberry points out the capacity of singles for friendship, flexibility of lifestyle, and freedom to serve in various capacities. Allberry makes an important point we need to remember: “Marriage, for all its blessings, is not intrinsic to being whole and fully realized as a person.” (52) To affirm this point, all one needs to do is look at Jesus Christ, who was never married and yet the most fully human person that ever lived.
Allberry notes a number of struggles Christians with same-sex attraction face, which are very similar to what heterosexual singles face as well. He points out three main temptations: loneliness, isolation, and sexual temptation. Regarding sexual temptation, the challenge is always greater when faced in isolation. This is true regardless of the nature of one’s sexual temptation. Both as Christian families and churches, we have a unique opportunity to meet both heterosexual and homosexual singles where they struggle the most with open arms and open homes.
Homosexuality and the Church
The church hasn’t always been a safe and welcoming place to those struggling with homosexuality or who identify as homosexual. Too be honest, there is more work to do still. However, this does not change the role the church can play in loving and ministering to those in the gay community as well as believers struggling with same-sex attraction.
Are gay people welcome in your church?
Yes. Everyone is welcome. But what happens when a gay couple actually comes? Allberry provides helpful encouragement on this point. Churches should welcome gay couples as they would any guest. He states, “It makes no difference if they are a gay couple, a straight couple, or anybody else. All are sinners, and all need God’s grace.” (66) He points out the tendency of many Christians to start with correcting a gay person’s sexuality. This is an important issue and one that needs to be addressed. However, it is not the central concern. The central concern is the gospel–the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:25-26; 5:8; 1 Cor. 1:18-24; 15:1-3). Working out from the gospel, we can begin to show the implications of what it means to follow Jesus. Allberry states, “[I] want that conversation to take place in the context of the gospel, rather than start with their sexuality and try to get from there to the gospel.” (67)
Ministering to Christians with Same-Sex Attraction
Allberry offers invaluable wisdom to leaders in the church on this issue:
- Make it easy to talk about – We must guard against politicizing the issue as it always personal and often painful for the Christian struggling with same-sex attraction. We must also create a place where we don’t foster an environment in which people refer to homosexaulity in demeaning or hurtful ways. However, the greatest need is fostering an environment in which people openly share their struggles and weaknesses. It must be easy to talk about and at the same time not all that we talk about. In biblical community, we all acknowledge our weaknesses and commit to helping one another grow in Christ.
- Honor singleness – Many fail to do this as a result of negligence or through assumptions we make. For example, we must not assume all singles will get married or that all singles are delaying responsibility by remaining single. We should get to know each person for who they are and where God has them.
- Remember that the church is family – The New Testament regularly reminds us of the familial nature of the church (1 Tim. 3:15; 5:1-2) Allberry states, “The church is to think of itself as an immediate family. Nuclear families within the church need the input and involvement of the wider church family; they are not designed to be self-contained. Those that open up their family life to others find that it is a great two-way blessing.” (70)
- Deal with biblical models of masculinity and femininity, rather than cultural stereotypes – We are often beholden to culture more so than we think. We need to assume all men like sport, hunt, or fix cars. Nor that all women like to craft or “talk about everything.” We must return to biblical models of masculinity and femininity and then engage with those cultural stereotypes.
- Provide good pastoral support – Allberry argues, “Those with SSA need to know that the church is ready to support and help them, and that it has people with a particular heart and insight to be involved in this ministry.” (72) Beyond this more formal ministry, there are friendships that need to be built and accountability put into place.
Homosexuality and the World
Responding to Your Gay Friend
Allberry rightly notes that many assume Christians are anti-gay. Anytime someone opens up about their sexuality, it is a big step. It is perhaps an even bigger step if it is to a Christian. Allberry gives some helpful advice for how a Christian should respond to a friend who just shared that they are gay. Begin by thanking them for sharing. It is a privilege to be entrusted with this information. Assure them that you will not reject them or stop being their friend. It is not wrong to acknowledge that Christianity has a different take on sexuality and that you would love to talk about it sometime. However, the more important response in this moment is to listen. Good listening involves asking good questions. How did they come to realize this? What kind of reactions have they gotten from others? Has it been hard on them? How are they doing now? Being the kind of friend who listens, cares, and provides a safe place to share is vital. As you listen, make not of how you can pray. Regardless of their story, they need Jesus just like everyone else. Pray for God to strengthen your friendship with them and for opportunities to share the hope of the gospel. In the context of a genuine friendship the gospel will gain the best hearing from your gay friend.
Sharing the Gospel with Your Gay Friend
Sharing the gospel begins with genuinely caring for your gay friend and showing them that you care. Allberry states, “We need to love them more than their gay friends do, and we need to love them more than they love their homosexuality.” (81) If our goal is sharing the gospel, we must not make our focus discounting homosexuality. And yet this is not to say we shouldn’t share the Bible’s consistent message about the sinfulness of homosexuality. It is worth quoting Allberry at length here:
“As important as explaining the particular truths of the Bible is explaining the reasons behind why it says them. So we will need to talk about how God cannot bless–and indeed forbids–homosexual activity, but we’ll also want to show why God has a right to say what we should and shouldn’t do with our bodies, and how it is we’ve come to see the goodness of what he says.” (82)
Sharing the gospel will involve sharing the call to repentance, specifically showing what repentance from a gay lifestyle involves. It will involve sharing the call of Jesus to die to ourselves so that we can live a new life in him. Those in Christ are a new creation–the old has gone and behold the new has come! In Christ, the only alternative to heterosexual marriage is chaste singleness.
“Union with Christ forever is what the earthly states of both marriage and singleness actually point to. The purpose of earthly marriage is not to fulfill us, but to point us to the relationship that does. The purpose of of singleness is not to show that we are sufficient, but to point us to the one who is. We will want gay friends to know that allegiance to Christ for a gay person is as costly and glorious as it is for anyone else.” (82-83)
The Witness of the Church to the Gay Community
As our culture becomes more affirming of homosexuality, the church will be challenged to maintain its witness. While we can rest assure that Christ will build his church (Matt. 16:18), we do not want to neglect to maintain an effective witness in our age. Allberry suggests three components to an effective witness: quality of our life together, clarity of our message, and relational credibility. Allberry points to key passages such as John 13:35 and 1 Timothy 3:15 in which to ground the church’s witness.
Furthermore, Jesus’ words in Mark 10:29-30 demonstrate that while the gospel is relationally costly, it is also relationally generous. In essence, Jesus considers the blessings of new family (among other things) within the Christian community as one of the most compelling reasons to make the costly choice of following him.
“It will be the quality of our community life as church, as much as our ability to speak clearly into the public square, that will most visibly show a watching world that the Christian stance on sexuality is the most compelling.” (85)
Whether gay or straight, struggling with same-sex attraction or heterosexual sin, we all need Christ more than anything else. Allberry concludes, “It is Jesus who satisfies our deepest emotional and spiritual needs. He is the prize–for all of us, irrespective of our issues and complexities. Anyone who comes to him will find fullness of life. The invitation is there for everyone. And so precious is this gift that God cannot be truly said to be ‘anti’ anyone to whom this wonderful gift is being offered.” (89)