Sam Allberry is an author and pastor in the UK. He experiences same-sex attraction, but, because of his love for Jesus, he holds to a biblical definition of marriage and is committed to remaining celibate. Below, he answers some of the key questions being asked today about how Christians can respond to the issue of homosexuality and the church.
1. In light of the 2015 Supreme Court decision for all 50 states in the U.S. to allow same-sex marriages, how should the church in North America respond?
The church must respond with both truth and love. Truth, because we have been given an understanding of marriage in the Scriptures that is clear and non-negotiable. Jesus taught that marriage is predicated on sexual difference and that the only godly alternative is celibacy (Matthew 19:4-6, 10-12). We are not at liberty to depart from this blueprint as Christians. The state now has a different definition of marriage, but we must not abandon our own. In our own thinking and teaching we must preserve the teachings that Jesus and His apostles have given us. Marriage – as biblically defined – is an image of Christ’s relationship to the church (Ephesians 5:31-32). The coming together of the man and woman pictures and anticipates the uniting of heaven and earth (Revelation 21:2). The marriage with which the Bible begins is a trailer for the one with which it ends. Earthly marriage has built into it something of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to abandon the Bible’s understanding of marriage is to abandon the gospel.
We must also respond with love. Even as we articulate the truth of marriage we must take great care to do so with the right demeanor. A counter-cultural message will not be compelling without a counter-cultural tone. We must not be condescending or resentful in the face of the cultural shift going on around us. We must extend the very same patient grace that God has extended to us. When Jesus saw the lostness of the crowds around Him, it moved Him to compassion, not hectoring.
So a good test for our churches as we respond to these times is not just, “Are we sticking to our guns on this issue?” but, “Are we remaining faithful to God’s revelation and making our church the sort of places LGBTQ+ friends and neighbors would feel safe coming to?” I suspect we have a lot of work to do on the latter.
2. Many people have said that Jesus never directly addressed homosexuality in the Bible. Is this true? What did Jesus teach about this topic?
Jesus never mentioned the word “homosexuality” but it would be a mistake to conclude from this that His teaching had no bearing on this issue. Jesus upheld and amplified the pattern for human sexuality outlined in Genesis 1-2. Marriage is between a man and a woman. Sexual activity outside this context, in whatever form, is sin (Mark 7:21, where “sexual immorality” translates the Greek word porneia, a catch-all term for all sexual behavior outside of marriage). So Jesus spoke against pre-marital, extra-marital, and all non-marital sex, which clearly includes homosexuality. He didn’t mention homosexuality by name, but in these teachings certainly included it. Jesus was not neutral on this.
3. I have some gay friends who have invited me to their wedding. Should I go? What should I tell them?
Christians follow one who was “the friend of sinners.” I always think it a good sign when Christians say they have received such an invitation; it is a sign they are being the sort of friends to gay people that all of us are meant to be.
As we think about whether or not to accept an invitation like this, we must take care to preserve two very important things. Firstly, the integrity of our Christian witness. Unqualified attendance can easily be seen as approval. Some of us may feel that we have been clear enough on our views of marriage to these particular friends that we can attend without risking any miscommunication or confusion by doing so. But many of us may not be at that point, and it may be best for us to politely decline the invitation. For myself, I do not in good conscience think I could attend a same-sex marriage.
But the other thing we need to preserve is the integrity of our friendship. We need to be aware that turning down an invitation like this could create feelings of deep rejection. So I think we need to find ways of expressing ourselves that make us the vulnerable ones. We need to talk about how much the friendship means to us. I think it good to make sure, even as we may be having to decline an invitation, that we are inviting them to continue to be part of our life. So perhaps make an invitation to the couple yourself to meet together soon after the wedding/honeymoon to catch up. That sort of thing will communicate that we really are committed to them.
4. How should I respond if a Christian friend comes to me saying he/she is struggling with same-sex attraction?
Respond with great thoughtfulness. It is likely that this was not an easy thing to share with you, so do thank them for doing so. They have entrusted to you something very personal, and possibly very painful too. Before trying to offer counsel, do make a point of listening carefully to how they are. If they are comfortable, ask them about their same-sex attraction and how it has been for them. That will help you gradually get a sense of where they’re at on the issue. Ask them how you can be a friend and support to them. Don’t presume to know this already. Even among Christians, experiences of same-sex attraction vary enormously. What one person may need might look very different to what another might need. Some may not be clear that the Bible prohibits homosexual behavior, and so it will be important to gently open the Scriptures with them and point them to God’s call that we be holy. Others might be crystal clear on what the Bible says and happy to follow its teaching, yet struggle with loneliness, and so it will be important to provide community and support. Others may struggle with sexual temptation, and need someone to encourage them and hold them to account.
5. Secular groups have often stated that Christians are bigots who abuse and humiliate gay adolescents, sometimes leading to suicidal despair. What would you say to this accusation?
We must acknowledge that there certainly have been some who have acted or spoken abusively to gay people, and done so in the name of Christ. We must repudiate such behavior as being utterly un-Christian. We must also acknowledge that many gay adolescents have found themselves in situations of overwhelming despair and depression, and our hearts must go out to them. But is the Christian message on sexuality itself to blame for this? No. We need to be very clear on this. It is not the church that is telling people today that a life without sexual fulfillment is not worth living. That is the message of our culture, not of our savior. Jesus himself came with a message to liberate us from such thinking. We have good news to share on this – very good news. Human fullness is not dependent on sexual fulfillment. There is an appetite within all of us that goes far deeper than our sexual desires, and it can be fully met in Christ Himself. Fullness of life is found in Him and nowhere else.
Is God Anti-Gay?
by Sam Allberry
The polarizing debate about homosexuality has consumed our modern culture, not only in the secular space but within the church itself. Denominations are splitting over the issue, and concerned Christians are struggling to articulate their position on the issue with clarity.
Sam Allberry, a pastor from England, simplifies the issue with profound clarity in Is God Anti-Gay? A must-read for any Christian desiring to be “in the world and not of the world,” this book ably defends the standard of God’s Word with insight, compassion, and grace.