How Can the Church Support Christians with Same-Sex Attraction?
Greg Koukl Interviews Sam Allberry, Author of Is God Anti-Gay?
Greg Koukl: The author we have on this hour we’ve had on before. His name is Sam Allberry and he has written the helpful book Is God Anti-Gay. Sam, I’m so glad to have you back on board today. Thanks for joining us from England.
Sam Allberry: It’s a pleasure to be with you.
Greg Koukl: Your book is excellent. I hope there’s a lot of folks that purchased it as a result of our conversation in the past. It’s meant to deal generally with the question that’s posed with the title and other questions about homosexuality, the Bible and same sex attractions. We think it’s a really nice kind of a handbook. It’s a smaller size thing that’s a ready reference. That was our conversation last time around. There have been so many things that have been happening just in this broader area, not just with regards to the issue of homosexuality and gender, but with Christians and congregations who want to support Christians who are struggling with same sex attraction but don’t know how to deal with that in the context of their church because their church is not equipped, qualified, or doesn’t have the temperament or theology or whatever to be able to address this.
I wanted to bring you back on board because of your particular circumstances are somewhat unique on this issue and see what you have to say about the pastoral concerns of congregations addressing this in a compassionate and biblical way. I think to bring our listeners up to speed, can you tell us your own story? Briefly describe your situation just so they know where you’re coming from in our subsequent discussion.
Sam Allberry: Absolutely, yeah. I became a Christian around the age of 18. Just really a few months before I came to Christ I had begun to say to myself, “I’m gay.” I was realizing that I was having sexual and romantic feelings for other men and wasn’t having the same kinds of feelings for women. At the same time as I was just recognizing that, I actually came to hear the good news of Jesus. I came to faith in Him. From the beginning of my Christian life, I’ve had to sort of think through this issue personally. Those sexual and romantic feelings, that’s a form of sexual temptation I’ve continued to experience as a Christian and obviously as a Christian form of experience I’ve sought to resist that temptation and to seek the Lord’s strength. It’s an issue I’ve had to think through as a pastor because it comes up so much, but I’ve had to think it through as a disciple because it has been a very relevant and personal issue in my own life.
Greg Koukl: How long has that been now since you had this realization and became a Christian?
Sam Allberry: Just over 20 years.
Greg Koukl: We all know we have our failings and that kind of thing, but you’ve been walking with the Lord faithfully in the midst of also experiencing and continuing to experience same sex attractions?
Sam Allberry: That’s right. Obviously in those 20 years the world has changed as well. It’s not just that I’ve had to wrestle with that issue myself, but I’ve had to wrestle with it in the context of society’s own thinking about it changing dramatically also.
Greg Koukl: How exactly did you, in a certain sense, come out regarding this issue in the church environment that you found yourself in? Did you keep it secret for a while, or how did that work?
Sam Allberry: Yes, I kept the whole issue very, very secret for many years. I felt that as a Christian I wasn’t supposed to have these feelings, again 20 years ago it was a very different world and it was a very different Christian world, as well. These were not issues I was hearing being talked about much in churches, so I assumed there was something deeply and profoundly wrong with me that wasn’t deeply and profoundly wrong with other believers. I felt very ashamed of the issue, very reluctant to let anybody else know that. As I continued to sort of bat along in the Christian life it just got to the point where I realized I couldn’t handle this issue on my own. I needed other believers to know about it, pray for me, encourage me. I began to share with close Christian friends. I had no real intention at that point of going further than that. I had no intention of being a sort of public person on this issue.As far as I was concerned, it was personal, it was private, it wasn’t anyone else’s business.
As the years went on, and particularly as society changed and many within the evangelical Christian world were also beginning to shift in their theology, I saw an increasing need for some of us to speak to this issue from the inside of it.
Greg Koukl: Yeah, I agree with your point, by the way, that these are private things that don’t necessarily need to be shared with the larger public, though I think as you’ve found, being candid about your struggle with other Christian brothers was part of discipleship and growing, and helped you immensely, I presume. Was it difficult at first when you began to approach this issue?
Sam Allberry: I was certainly very nervous telling those first few friends initially, and needn’t have been because they were not remotely phased by the issue. They were wanting to help me. They were concerned for me, but they didn’t freak out or treat me any differently to how they had done before. It didn’t define how they saw me, and that helped me not to let the issue define how I saw myself.
Greg Koukl: You know, this is such an important point here. I don’t know how long ago it was that you told this smaller group of Christian friends, but I think had you done this early on when you were 18 or 19, you would’ve gotten possibly a different reception. During an event this summer, I had someone come to me in private, and confessed this struggle they were having, as well. I know it was real important for me, or I think for the circumstance, to not show the least bit of discomfort.
I had very little discomfort in this conversation, but the important thing was for me to communicate to someone who I had every reason to believe was a brother in Christ that sense of community as a brother in the Body struggling with my own temptations that are different. I think providing that atmosphere was a tremendous help for him, even though we began to talk about things that he can do in a positive way to deal with it. That’s part of the reason that we’re talking about this today.
Sam Allberry: Having been on the other side of that conversation, that would’ve been a hugely encouraging way for you to have responded to him.
Greg Koukl: This is important that you’re saying anybody else who is a heterosexual brother or sister in Christ, especially in the pastor role, if somebody comes to them and begins to talk about this, how precisely would you say they respond?
Sam Allberry: I think the most important thing to do is to thank someone for being honest and open, and trusting you with something that is that personal. They may have been quite apprehensive about sharing, so just to acknowledge that. I think it’s important to find out where they’re at and how they’re doing with the issue. It can be useful just to ask a few more follow up questions, “How long have you been struggling with this and what has it been like? How are you finding things?” That will help you to get a sense of how mature their Christian thinking is about the issue, how much it’s debilitating or not, and therefore what they will most need by way of Christian encouragement.
Some people immediately need accountability help and that kind of thing. Others, it might not be so much accountability, they just need someone who understands for the long term. It might be loneliness is their big issue more than sexual temptation. It can vary from person to person certainly.
Greg Koukl: One of the first questions that I asked in this conversation is I wanted to know what that person’s thought life and sexual activity had been like. Are you just feeling these attractions? Are you acting them out in any way with another person or are you acting them out in your mental life? I’ve been told by Alan Shlemon, one of our speakers here at STR, that if you have unwanted same-sex desires but you end up giving in mentally or are in actual participation with somebody, it has a way of making things a lot more difficult. Would you agree with that?
Sam Allberry: Oh, absolutely, yes. That’s the case with any sin; the more we feed it the stronger it gets. If we’re not fighting it in the mind, we’re actually giving it more and more power, more and more control over us.
Greg Koukl: Right, yeah. This applies to other areas of life, as well. I mean just heterosexual pornography and the like. I think that if there is something that is in the darkness lurking there, that if you bring it into the light, it takes a lot of the teeth out of it. If people might be struggling with temptation that they feel they just can’t master, it helps to bring it out of the darkness into the light with another believer. I found in my own life, when there are things like that and I’ve brought them into the light, that means I bring another brother into the circumstance and I express what is going on and what I’m doing, there’s an immediate accountability that is just built into that confession. I notice that when I bring that out of the darkness and into the light, it takes a whole lot of the energy out of the temptation and makes it much easier for me to deal with it.
Sam Allberry: Absolutely. I think that the Devil loves secrecy. Certainly for myself, and I’ve seen this as a pastor, we’re not designed to cope with issues like this on our own. We need each other. It’s so important to have other people we can talk things through with.
Greg Koukl: I just wonder how people view this, though. Now you’re a public figure. You’ve written a book on this issue. You have not just become candid with Christian friends about your own particular temptations. You’ve also become public about them because you’ve written a book, and you’ve become public as a pastor. Some people would think that there’s a contradiction of terms here between a person who is a pastor who has same-sex attractions. There are lots of pastors that are gay, but they affirm theology that distorts the Bible’s teaching on this. You are a pastor who believes what the Bible clearly teaches about this and continues to struggle with same-sex attraction. It isn’t like it’s a thing of the past. You’re still a pastor. Does that seem odd to some people?
Sam Allberry: I think it does. It often does seem odd. I think one of the things that makes it seem less odd is to remember that this is a form of temptation that I’m seeking to be godly in how I respond to it and live the right way every moment of every day. It is the case that every single pastor in every single church will struggle with forms of temptation. Most will struggle with some form of sexual temptation because we all do. It’s not the presence of temptation that’s the issue, it’s how the person responds to it.
Greg Koukl: I completely agree with that. We read about that in James 1. One has said that there are three things that motivate every individual to do something wrong, and that is sex, money, or power. I think for men, our sexual natures are such that sex is just simply a stronger motivation, a stronger factor in living our lives than it is for women. I think this is part of the problem with male homosexuality, there’s a certain sense, it seems to me, that women and marriage have a way of domesticating men’s sexual passion. Women turn us into civilized people. When you have two men that are sexually connected, you don’t have that kind of restraint. I think this is one of the things that leads to so many other problems that homosexual men face with health and other issues, because of this powerful element that men have in our lives that seems to be more of an issue for men than it is for women. Does that make sense to you?
Sam Allberry: Yes, I think it’s one of the areas where there is some difference in general between men and women. I think it was Billy Crystal once said women need a reason to have sex, men just need a place. There’s something about that that for a lot of women, it can be much more of a relational emotionally invested.
Greg Koukl: Right. I laugh because it is a funny quip. Just as an aside, I don’t think that there’s a Billy Crystal movie that I’ve ever seen that did not have some profound insight that was being played out or characterized in it. I don’t think there’s been a Billy Crystal movie for quite a while, but the old ones always were about something significant even though they had that lighter edge to them. That’s a great observation.
Sam Allberry: Absolutely.
Greg Koukl: I want to go back to something that you said a little earlier when you were talking about your own struggle. You said you were having feelings that you werent supposed to have. I wasn’t supposed to have these feelings, is the way you put it, and I was ashamed of that. Now, I actually see these as two different kinds of things. The understanding that you’re not supposed to have it and then the shame that’s associated with it. I’m just wondering if you could comment on this. I’m sure that you would probably still agree with the first thing, these aren’t feelings that you should have because these are sinful kinds of attractions, just like we do have sinful impulses in a whole bunch of areas that are just evidence of our fallenness. There’s a moral quality to them.
I realize that if I have a temptation, I don’t feel ashamed of it because I understand that, in a certain sense, that’s a part of my makeup as a sinner. There is a sense, I think, that we can all be properly ashamed of any sinful desire we have. I’m not trying to diminish that point, but it does seem to me that there is an added degree of shame that is associated with same-sex attraction that is not associated with other sexual sins.
Sam Allberry: I think that’s true. There are probably both good and bad reasons for that. I think one of the reasons that people with same sex attractions feel particular shame is because we recognize these are sexual feelings, these are forms of sexual desire that we know there is no godly way to express. When you are experiencing heterosexual lust, of course it’s something that needs to be resisted. It’s another form of temptation, but it’s a form of attraction that there is a context in which sexual attraction to someone of the opposite sex is a good thing and can be blessed by God and a means of serving Him even, within marriage. Whereas, obviously with homosexual feelings we can be very conscious that actually there’s no right place to put these feelings. I think that is one of the particular reasons why we feel shame. It’s not just, I’m attracted to someone I shouldn’t be attracted to, but I’m experiencing a kind of attraction that actually I wasn’t designed for.
Greg Koukl: One of the things you did in the book Is God Anti-Gay?, and I appreciated this immensely, is you kind of approached it initially from a top-down perspective. What I mean is, instead of going after particular sins that needed to be corrected or we need to get a biblical view on, you started with really God’s purpose for sex to begin with. You started with the big picture. I sometimes think that gays in general think that God has got it out for them, that’s why there are prohibitions against their sin. When in fact, it’s not about homosexuality, it’s about God’s plan for sex. Anything that is outside of that plan is going to run into trouble with God, not just homosexuality. Can you talk about that just for a moment?
Sam Allberry: Sure. I think that the principle I try to work under is whenever the Bible gives us a prohibition, the question I want to ask is, what is the positive thing that prohibition protects? Whenever the Bible gives us a negative, there is always a bigger positive that that negative is an expression of. What the Bible says about homosexuality only really makes sense in the light of what the Bible says about marriage, and more than that, what the Bible says marriage means. We see in the Bible that we have a marriage at the beginning with Adam and Eve and we have a marriage at the end with Christ and His Church.
Throughout the Bible, the first marriage is used as a picture of the second marriage. It’s that vision for human marriage being a picture, being a foretaste, of the relationship between Christ and the Church that actually makes sense of why Christians have the definition of marriage that they do and why the Bible has the sexual ethics that it does.
Within that framework, we can see why the Bible says marriage is between a man and a woman, and why the Bible says sex is for such a marriage, and that being the only context in which God has designed sex to be a blessing. Homosexuality—and what the Bible says about homosexuality—is just one outworking of that vision for marriage that we see straight through the whole of the Bible.
Greg Koukl: I think of what Jesus said in Matthew 19, and the way I sum it up is one man with one woman becoming one flesh for one lifetime.
Sam Allberry: Absolutely, yes.
Greg Koukl: When you think of it that way, it covers all the bases. It doesn’t leave just homosexuality on the outside so to speak, but also all the heterosexual sins like adultery and fornication, bestiality, all of the kinds of things that are prohibited in the Scripture are sexual behaviors that are outside of that one man, one woman, one flesh for one lifetime kind of relationship.
Sam Allberry: Absolutely. If I’m willing to give someone a quick thumbnail—this is what the Bible has as its sexual ethic—I will almost always go to Matthew 19 for that reason. It’s not what Paul says about homosexuality, it’s what Jesus says about marriage actually that is the foundation here; and what Paul then goes on to say about homosexuality is an outworking of that. I always want to bring people back to marriage because that’s the context in which everything else the Bible has to say about sex makes sense. It also shows that the Bible’s message is ultimately a positive one, and not lots of little negative ones.
Greg Koukl: The old canard that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, even if you’re speaking with a low Christology—that is, Jesus merely the man as opposed to Jesus the incarnate Son of God who’s responsible for the entire Word—even with a low Christology, it’s not exactly true, is it?
Sam Allberry: It’s not. It’s disingenuous because Jesus talked about sexual sin, and He spoke about sexual sin that would’ve left His original hearers in no doubt that would’ve included homosexual sexual sins when Jesus talks about—in Matthew 15 or Mark 7—about how sexual immorality is something that defiles us and makes us spiritually unclean. It’s very clear that the language He uses there—the Greek word we have in the Gospel is porneia, where we get the word “pornography” from—that was a catch-all term for any sexual activity outside of a man and woman marriage. Jesus didn’t name homosexuality, but He certainly included it in the language that He used talking about sexual sin in general.
Greg Koukl: And would be included under His description of the right kind of relationship in marriage that God designed. He spoke of that in Matthew 19, as well.
Sam Allberry: Absolutely, yeah.
Greg Koukl: This raises a question now that I’ve heard many times. I have my own rejoinder to it, but I’m curious what you would say, and that it’s simply unfair because those, as you pointed out earlier Sam, with same-sex attraction can never have their sexual desires fulfilled. Let’s just say they’re desires are fixed. I don’t think same-sex attraction is always an immutable circumstance, but sometimes it never changes even for a Christian. There’s lot of evidence that for some people at least same sex attraction is not immutable, it can change. This is one of the best kept secrets it seems on this issue, because nobody wants to admit that that can be the case, but certainly there are many examples. There are some individuals who continue for the rest of their life with same-sex attraction, which may be what you will end up struggling with, but there are still some people who change.
For those people whose attraction never changes, then it’s unfair for them because they can never not only have their sexual desires fulfilled, but they can never hope of having that kind of intimate lifelong partner, the unique kind of partnership that one has in marriage if he is to consider himself a faithful Christian. We know there’s obviously same-sex marriage now in both of our countries. If one is to consider himself a faithful Christian, this is what he’s got to face. That’s the complaint: This is unfair.
Sam Allberry: Yes, I hear that a lot. I’m out and about giving talks on this issue. The most prominent objection at the moment is, How can you possibly tell someone that they have to live their life without sexual fulfillment? I think the first thing I want to say is plenty of heterosexual people also are in that situation. It’s not unique for those with same-sex attraction. You might say, Well, there’s always the possibility even if it’s remote for a heterosexual person, but I know many, many single heterosexual people who have to face decades of celibacy. It’s not just a homosexuality issue. I think the objection is assuming that sex is a right and that a life without sex cannot be full and cannot be complete.
Greg Koukl: Well that wouldn’t be just an assumption, nowadays people would consider that a fact. I mean, this says something about the nature of our culture, I think.
Sam Allberry: It does. It shows very, very clearly that sex and sexual fulfillment have become one of the big idols of our day. When someone says to me about the Christian faith, Yes, yes, yes, yes, but when it comes to the sexual ethics, Absolutely not, no way, I kind of think, Well, why is that the sticking point? With all the other demands Jesus makes on us, it’s very revealing that that has become the issue over which people think, No, no, you cannot reasonably expect a person to live like this.
It’s I think a reflection of the fact that for many people, sex is part of the main thing that gives life meaning and a sense of completion. We know from the Bible that that’s not true. Jesus Himself was celibate. He was the most complete and fully human man who ever lived, and yet He didn’t have sex, so we cannot say sex is intrinsic to human fulfillment. I’d want to push hard against that, that kind of thinking about sex being so central.
Greg Koukl: You know, I have to think about this for a moment because you made a very good point that sex is not intrinsic to human fulfillment. Well, in one sense it’s hard to argue. Jesus didn’t have sex, but He was a complete human being. On the other hand, it just seems to be such a central part of human relationships - two become one. They’re not two anymore, there’s something that is critical about being human that God made human beings gendered so that there are certain functions that human beings cannot perform on their own that are native to being human, reproduction for one of them.
I guess I’m just mulling this over in my mind. On the one hand, I want to agree with you, yes, it’s not critical or essential because Jesus didn’t have it, but it still seems pretty critical to a lot of people. I think for most people, it is a sacrifice that is a difficult burden to bear whatever their sexual attraction. This is where I think we live in a generation of, for lack of a more colorful word, wimps. That is, we can’t bear the thought that we are being told no about something we really want.
Sam Allberry: I think you’re right. I think we’ve forgotten the cost of discipleship generally. I keep coming back to Mark 8:34 when Jesus says, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” That’s radical. It’s costly, whoever we are.
Greg Koukl: Different people have different crosses. You have a different cross to bear than I do. There’s a book out on marriage called Sacred Marriage. I don’t know if you’re familiar with this book, but it’s an excellent book. The subtitle tells the story really - Maybe God designed marriage not to make you happy, but to make you holy. Part of the argument is that for some, their cross is their relationship that allows them to have their sexual desires fulfilled. Their cross is their marriage, and God uses that to conform them to the image of His Son. It just seems like no matter what circumstance we find ourselves in, if we’re faithful Christians there is going to be an ordeal that’s associated with it that God is part of because He’s using those things in our life that are most important to us in our sanctification.
Sam Allberry: Absolutely. The wonderful thing is we can trust Him. Whether He chooses to sanctify us through marriage or whether He chooses to sanctify us through singleness, we know that either way He’s going to do what is right and do what is good.
Greg Koukl: Yeah. Sometimes I think when we’re pressed on a hard issue like “This isn’t fair,” that we to try to rescue God from what looks like a bad characteristic of His. We’ll find some way to soften it and get around it. The fact is, and you just made the point, Sam, we put our hands to the plow and we do not look back. There are certain things we do and many things indeed that as followers of Christ we say “no” to even when the culture is screaming yes.
Sam Allberry: That’s right. I’m always comforted knowing that God knows me far better than I know myself. He loves me far more than I even love myself, and He’s more committed to my joy than I am. I trust Him.
Greg Koukl: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him,” is what Job said when his wife told him, Curse God and die. Those are two entirely different approaches to this.
Sam Allberry: Absolutely.
Greg Koukl: You mentioned right at the beginning that you began thinking when you were 18 years old, just around the time that you heard the Gospel and responded to it, that you were gay, which seems to suggest gay as a kind of identity. Is that the way you view it now or do you view it differently than that?
Sam Allberry: I view it very differently than that. I do remember very vividly. I was outside, waiting for a bus to take me home after school. I remember standing by the road and thinking, “I think I’m gay.” At the time that was the only vocabulary available to me to describe what I was beginning to recognize with my particular sexual feelings and romantic feelings and that kind of thing. Since becoming a Christian and learning a lot more about Christian identity and who we are in Christ, I don’t tend to use that language because, certainly for many people today, when you say “I’m gay” you’re often talking about something you regard as being a core identifier. When I describe it, I tend to use the language of same-sex attraction just because it’s descriptive of something that I feel. It’s not trying to say, This is who I am.
Greg Koukl: I like that, actually. We’ve adopted that at Stand to Reason because we’ve confronted the same thing. The culture’s tendency to make being gay an identity changes the whole discussion and it also tends to suggest that experiencing same sex attraction is something that’s immutable. That affects the discussion considerably. We’re not really talking about gay Christians here, we’re talking about disciples of Christ who struggle with same-sex attraction. That has a very different meaning to it.
Sam Allberry: Absolutely. Yes. Our culture has got to the point where your gender can be entirely fluid, but your sexual orientation, to use their language, is something that is utterly fixed.
Greg Koukl: I never made that connection. That is a great observation.
Sam Allberry: If you want to change your gender, that’s absolutely fine, but if you want to change your sexual orientation or your pattern of sexual feelings that’s seen as being deeply harmful and unhealthy.
Greg Koukl: If anything it seems is not fluid it’s one’s sex or gender because every single cell in your body is screaming out one thing and not another. That doesn’t prevent people from saying what sex you were assigned when you were born. When the doctor says it’s a boy or maybe when they have an ultrasound and it’s a girl, that was a gender assignment day the way people look at it now. Your gender is assigned but our sexual attraction, you’re stuck with that. That’s a very interesting observation.
Greg Koukl: Sam, you’re the perfect person to ask this last series of questions. This really is what has been coming up a lot more lately: How churches can meet the needs of Christians like yourself who experience same-sex attraction. What can churches do, or what should they be doing now? I’ll have some more particular questions too, but here’s a general one. What can they be doing now that they’re not doing to help a Christian who is struggling with same-sex attraction?
Sam Allberry: Yes. I think there are a lot of wonderful things that the church can do. The church should be the very best place in the entire world to be someone who experiences same-sex attraction. That should be the best place to be because in the Bible what the church is is not just a group of people with a common hobby or a common interest, but actually in New Testament terms we’ve been bound together in Christ, and therefore we are family. Paul describes the church as the household of God, and therefore we are members of the same household.
One of the most important things a church can do to help on this issue and a great deal of other issues besides is to recover a sense of what it means to be family. Obviously the New Testament refers to fellow believers as brothers and sisters. It uses the category of close family. Paul says to Timothy, “Treat older men as fathers, older women as mothers,” not distant uncles or great aunts, but mothers and fathers. The church should be the place where any believer irrespective of whether they are same-sex attracted or not, or single or not, the church should be the place where they feel, I have a lot of family here. I always come back to Jesus promising in Mark 10 that anyone who leaves behind fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters for the sake of the Gospel will receive a hundredfold in this age. It really is so important for the church to be reflecting that in its own culture.
Greg Koukl: Yeah. That verse always mystified me when he said in this age and also in the age to come. What you’ve just suggested, that the family is the extended Body of Christ, which is massive. That’s a good insight that I’ve not had on that passage. Thank you for that.
Sam Allberry: It should mean that whatever kind of relationship someone might’ve left behind in order to follow Christ, it should be the case that anyone who comes to Christ can say that they have had a net increase in intimacy and family just through being part of Christ’s church.
Greg Koukl: Specifically, what can a pastor say from the pulpit to his congregation? Nowadays any church of any size is going to have people in the audience that are likely to be struggling with this, or at least knowing someone who is struggling with same-sex attraction. Let’s just say the pastor is going to speak to the person who loves the Lord, and hates his struggle, but doesn’t know what to do. What is the pastor going to say just to the general assembly?
Sam Allberry: I think it’s important for the pastor to say a number of things. I think it’s so important to say, If this is you and you are struggling with this particular form of temptation, it is very helpful for the pastor to say, You’re not on your own. You’re not the only Christian who is having to face this issue. You’re not on your own in the broader sense of all of us have our own equivalent that we are battling. That can be a huge comfort, I think. A lot of Christians feel as though they are a singularity if they’re struggling with this issue. Actually, that is not the case. We all face different forms of temptation. We all know that kind of battle in our hearts. It’s good for the pastor to say something along those lines.
Greg Koukl: That you’re not alone, basically.
Sam Allberry: Absolutely, yes, and therefore that there are people around you in the Body of Christ who can understand you, who can come alongside you, and who can encourage you. Actually, not necessarily people who are also same-sex attracted, but actually there’d be a lot of other Christians who would really be able to understand and empathize. I think it’s very, very important for any Christian struggling with this particular issue to have at least someone they can talk to about it. You might start with a pastor. You might start with a spiritual mentor, an older believer who you look up to and trust. It just makes the world of difference not to have to struggle with this on your own.
Greg Koukl: Something that a pastor can say is, We have people that would love to talk to you as a brother or a sister.
Sam Allberry: Absolutely, so we have people who can do some of the heavy lifting of really getting under the skin of how this issue affects you and knowing how to help you in that. Then more broadly, going back to my earlier point, we have a whole community of people who would love to treat you as family. It’s one of the big fears for many Christians with same-sex attraction that is the prospect of long term singleness, and therefore the fear of being lonely.
Greg Koukl: I think that the fear is well founded though, because even if you have a pastor who has the spiritual maturity to understand things the way you just described them, you’re not going to always have a local body that shares that point of view. Are there instructions now for the pastor for the Body regarding this issue?
Sam Allberry: I think so, yes. It’s an urgent issue actually for any pastor to be teaching their church how to think biblically about because it’s not an easy issue for a pastor to address from the pulpit in today’s climate with all the ways in which this is so highly charged. I always want to say to a pastor that if you’re not discipling your congregation on how they think about sexuality, you can be very sure that the world is.
We do need to help our congregations understand the biblical sexual ethic and how clear that is, how compelling that is, how beautiful that is. But then also we need to teach the congregation how to handle the fact that every single one of us fall short of that sexual ethic in one way or another, what it means to be sinful and to have disordered sexual desires, and therefore making the church a place that feels very safe for a Christian who is struggling with some form of sexual temptation to say, Actually I do know that I can share that here and that I will be understood, I will be heard, and I will be counseled, and I will be encouraged into godliness and holiness.
Greg Koukl: I wonder if it would be good if a pastor were to address this issue as an issue of pastoring and discipleship of his own congregation that not only is he addressing homosexuality, but he’s also saying the same thing about those of you are struggling with pornography. You’re probably going to get a larger number in any congregation nowadays struggling with pornography.
Sam Allberry: I think that’s true. It just helps not to make homosexuality sound like a unique issue.
Greg Koukl: This is where I think the shame issue shifts significantly, because you can have people with homosexual attraction that creates shame, but you have people involved in pornography that creates shame, but you’re going to have people in the church that are sleeping around and they don’t feel bad about it at all.
Sam Allberry: Yeah.
Greg Koukl: That’s just the way it is nowadays unfortunately because people have bought what the culture has said. Anyway, dealing with all of those sins, we teach God’s view about sexuality and we’re here to help you wherever you’re at on this issue, and we mean it. We’re going to be there.
This creates another difficulty. The difficulty has to do with their behaviors and their own commitments to discipleship. Some will say, If you don’t accept my behaviors, then you are not accepting me as a family member. But the church says, We are a family, but there are some guidelines about belonging that are critical. Can you say something about that?
Sam Allberry: Yes. I always want to come back to what does Jesus ask of his followers. When we come to Christ we are coming to Christ as our Savior, and we are coming to Christ as our Lord. We cannot say to Jesus, You can have all of these areas of my life except this one. This one is nonnegotiable, otherwise you’re not really coming to Jesus. Therefore, you can’t say to your fellow believers, You can encourage me in any kind of discipleship, you can encourage me to submit to any one of Jesus’ teaching except this issue. That is not Christian discipleship.
Obeying God in lots and lots of areas and willfully, persistently, intentionally disobeying Him in one area isn’t canceled out by obeying Him in other areas. If someone says to their church family, If you don’t accept this aspect of my behavior, you’re not really accepting me, I think I want to challenge them about what their view of Jesus is. What is Jesus allowed to put His finger on, what is Jesus allowed to take, what is Jesus allowed to change? All we are trying to do as fellow believers is help each other live under what Jesus is saying.
Greg Koukl: I remember when I first became a Christian in 1973, right in the middle of the Jesus Movement, it was a huge change in the culture here in the States. I did not have a biblical sexual ethic as a single person at that time. It took me a couple of years to kind of get that under control. Then I went for like 25 years being obedient as a Christian in terms of sexual celibacy until I got married. There’s a sense in which I can sympathize when somebody says, You mean I can’t have sex? I say, Well I didn’t either. Sometimes there’s this kind of transition where you get your ducks in a row after becoming a Christian. But they’re in the process of learning to follow Jesus. I guess that’s a pastoral kind of thing people need to work out on an individual basis.
What about if a gay couple attends the church? Let’s just say you have a couple that comes in and they say, We’re just visiting here. It’s the first time here at your church and we’re gay. In fact, we’re married. How do you posture as a pastor to a person in that situation?
Sam Allberry: I think if I was in that situation as a pastor I’d be delighted that they have come to church. I’d want them to know that I was delighted they have come to church. I’d want to welcome them in and say, IIt’s great to have you here. We’ve got people of all kinds of backgrounds among us. What we are about is the One who came from Heaven, lived on this earth, died for our sins and rose again to give us new life. That’s what we are about. We would love you to know something of Him. I think if a gay couple comes, I want to start with Jesus. I don’t want to start with homosexuality. To quote something my dear friend Rosaria Butterfield said once as she was giving her testimony. She realized it wasn’t lesbianism she needed to repent of, it was unbelief, and lesbianism was but one symptom of the deeper underlying unbelief.
Greg Koukl: It’s great that you role model for us that you invite people to come in whoever will may come. It’s not homosexuality that’s the issue. If they weren’t gay, they’d be something else. They still would be sinners. The issue isn’t homosexuality per se. The issue is you and God and your rebellion and coming to Him with your bended knee and asking for forgiveness for every sin, whatever they are.
Sam Allberry: Amen to that.
Greg Koukl: What a great note to end on. Sam, thank you so much for being part of our program today. I hope to see you sometime when I’m visiting there in the UK.
Sam Allberry: Come see us. It’s been a pleasure being with you.