There are many issues that face the modern church that cause much division between sincere followers of Jesus as they try to work out a biblical position. Few can cause as much pain and confusion as the issue of homosexuality. The recent legislative change in the UK (and many other western democracies) approving of same sex marriages only adds to the challenge.
Sam Allberry is uniquely positioned to help us in this matter, combining his role as a church pastor with his own journey as a man who experiences ‘same sex attraction’. Sam candidly describes how he came to terms with experiencing homosexual feelings as a teenager and now as an ordained minister. He writes: ‘When someone says they’re gay, or for that matter, lesbian or bisexual, they normally mean that, as well as being attracted to someone of the same gender, their sexual preference is one of the fundamental ways in which they see themselves. And it’s for this reason that I tend to avoid using the term. It sounds clunky to describe myself as “someone who experiences same-sex attraction”. But describing myself like this is a way for me to recognise that the kind of sexual attractions I experience are not fundamental to my identity. They are part of what I feel but are not who I am in a fundamental sense. I am far more than my sexuality.’
Sam reminds us that Jesus Christ said that everyone who follows him is called to “deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). He explains that understood properly this truth means the challenge of following Jesus demands our absolute obedience regardless of our sexuality: ‘Ever since I have been open about my own experiences of homosexuality, a number of Christians have said something like this: “the gospel must be harder for you than it is for me”, as though I have more to give up than they do. But the fact is that the gospel demands everything of all of us. If someone thinks the gospel has somehow slotted into their life quite easily, without causing major adjustments to their lifestyle or aspirations, it is likely that they have not really started following Jesus at all.’
Sam commences his exposition in chapter 1 by examining the biblical foundations of marriage as God’s baseline plan for sexuality. He argues that marriage is meant to reflect something of God’s nature, so that the unity between a married man and a woman is a reflection of the unity of the three persons of the Trinity. He then argues that a key purpose of marriage is to provide a secure environment for procreation of children. Thirdly he argues that biblical marriage reflects the grace of Christ in uniting Him with his people. It is this union of Christ and the church which leads us to understand that a marriage is intended to be the union of dissimilar people – a man and a woman, rather than two men or two women.
In chapter 2 Sam explores what the bible has to say about homosexuality. He emphasises that there are only a handful of passages that directly mention homosexuality, so it is not the main priority of biblical revelation and therefore needs to be understood in the light of bigger themes of scripture. However, he demonstrates that the teaching of Old and New Testament is unequivocally that homosexual acts of any kind, in common with many other sins, are an abomination to God. In chapter 3 Sam shows us how, like every other sin, homosexual acts can be forgiven. He also shows how those who have truly repented will have the desire to stop sinning. Sam acknowledges that while some people who repent and follow Jesus are no longer attracted to people of the same sex that is not true for everyone. Indeed his own testimony is that he still experiences this temptation, yet his desire not to sin is stronger, so he is able to choose not to give in to it.
In chapters 4 and 5 Sam provides helpful pastoral guidance on how we should respond to people with same-sex attraction within the church and within the wider community. In both cases we may need to acknowledge that our own personal history has been judgemental and even homophobic. However, having repented of such attitudes, he shows us how we can offer genuine compassion and support to people who face this particular temptation just as we would for people facing any other temptation and help them find complete fulfilment in Christ. In his conclusion he writes: This is, ultimately, the promise of the gospel. …. 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.
To conclude, this book provides a succinct, challenging, yet accurate interpretation of the Bible’s teaching on this subject. It is written with compassion and provides hope for those who, in Jesus words, ‘have ears to hear.’ His conclusions run counter to the PC agenda of western society and so will no doubt offend many. Nevertheless I believe the honesty and personal vulnerability which he has demonstrated in this short, readable book serves the church well and provides a clarion call to those who seek to faithfully follow Jesus.