February 18, 2014

Is God Anti-Gay?

I picked up this little book (and three others in the series—reviews to follow) on my recent trip to the States. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect given the evangelical church’s ‘pass the hand grenade’ approach to dealing with this topic. But what a great little book it is. Allberry reminds us from the off that, “God’s message for gay people is the same as for everyone else: repent and believe”. (p.10). Simple and straightforward, I knew we were going to get along inside a dozen pages.

The book is full of all sorts of educational material for pastors, like me, who deal with these issues regularly. For instance, his explanation of the terms “same sex attraction and gay” was very helpful indeed. Being gay, I discovered, is tied up in far more than sexuality. According to Allberry, it comes with a whole cultural identity too. The author prefers to think of his temptations as SSA because he recognises that as a person he is far more than his sexuality. He refers us to Christ’s call to deny self in Mark 8:34, which he thinks is about saying ‘no’ to the deepest sense of who we are rather than merely changing our behaviour. This is so helpful in a Christian culture when faith is often so much about what we believe rather the denial of all of our appetites in our pursuit of Christ.

The great strength of this book is that he doesn’t see himself, or his particular temptation, as special. He doesn’t view his struggles with sexual lust as particularly more difficult than heterosexual friends. He reminds us: “The fact is that the gospel demand everything of all of us.” (p.12) God is not anti-gay, but he is anti-selfish, whatever that looks like in our lives.

He then reminds us that God created sex and marriage (the only true context for that gift to take place). It reflects something of the nature of God in both his unity and diversity. It is also the way in which we fulfil the command to multiply and fill the earth. Finally, marriage reflects grace in Christ that God shows to his people (Eph. 5:22–33).

So, what does the Bible have to teach us about homosexuality? Not that much as it happens. But what it does say, it does so clearly. He cites Genesis 19, Leviticus 18 and 20, and Romans 1:18–32. We learn that homosexuality is unnatural, an abomination and a sign of God’s judgement. In other words, Scripture teaches us that God hands people over to their sinful inclinations in all their forms (not just homosexuality). He mentions 1 Cor. 6:9–10, when it is made clear that all unrepentant sinners will be excluded from the kingdom of God.

Homosexual sin is serious, and Allberry does not pussyfoot around the issue. It is not unique, and is grouped with other sexual and non-sexual sinful behaviour. But, there is hope for those who turn to Christ, as Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 6:11. We read this again in 1 Timothy 1:8–10. This part of the book is clear and sensitive and ends with words of hope for those struggling with SSA.

Helpful question boxes litter the book throughout. These are just so helpful and deal with all sorts of questions around the issue. What about this for a topic? Surely same sex relationships are okay if both are committed and faithful? Jesus never mentions homosexuality so how can it be wrong? Both skilfully answered through the use of Scripture (1 Cor. 15; Mark 7).

Chapter 3 offers practical help to those Christians suffering SSA. Pray, think rightly, and seek support is the counsel offered. The challenge to the local church here is to develop a community that encourages sharing and accountability and to be a place where people feel they could share without condemnation.

Can God change our sexual desires? Yes. In the next life. But this life may contain ongoing struggles. God does make us new when we come to him but fullness of salvation is yet to come. For those who don’t marry, chastity is a godly pursuit. He, again, sensitively handles the issue of singleness which has such a bad press in evangelical circles.

Page 54 offers some great insight for pastors and counsellors alike. SSA people suffer from loneliness, isolation, and sexual temptation. How does Romans 8:28 work out in all of this? Even Paul had his thorn in the flesh. So, a ‘win’ must be to draw closer to Christ through the painful challenges of life. We must trust that God can bring good even out of the difficulties of SSA.

Just when you think the book couldn’t get better, it does. He answers the challenge that those who oppose SSA often just pick and choose which OT verses to apply. He looks at a couple of verses from Leviticus and Deuteronomy (p.59). Great advice here on how to handle the issue in the local church. We must start all conversations with the gospel and not with sexuality.

Simply the clearest, kindest, and most helpful book I have ever read on this topic. Buy it. Give it away. Make sure you get as many people as possible to read it. Get it on your ‘must read’ list. Today.

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