Is God anti-gay? No question is more relevant in our culture. No question raises more rancor and outrage. No question divides churches more quickly. And yet Sam Allberry, associate pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Maidenhead, UK, has managed to handle this loaded question with aplomb, accuracy, and plainness in just 85 pages. And the pages are small. And the print is large.
Before we dive into the review, I want to say I highly recommend this book for pastors, Christians, non-Christians, and any and every person with the ability read.
The Right Beginning.
When some approach this issue, they jump straight to proof texts from Leviticus, Romans, or 1 Corinthians. Not so with Allberry. He begins with his own personal testimony. He is a man who has struggled with Same-Sex Attraction (as he calls it) since high school. Allberry begins with personal testimony, because sin is personal. He explains that in the midst of his shame and guilt, he realized the truth of the Gospel: “God’s message for gay people is the same as his message for everyone: Repent and believe” (10).
Allberry claims he is not gay, because his sexual attractions do not define him. “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). “Is God anti-gay?” Allberry asks. “No. But he is against who all of us are by nature, as those living apart from him and for ourselves” (12).
Gender Is God’s Design.
In chapter 1, Allberry looks to Genesis 1-2 and finds that sex was God’s idea. Humanity was created male and female so that they would fit together as “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Marriage would not exist without gender distinction. Sex was specifically designed for marriage, and all sex outside of marriage–both heterosexual and homosexual–is contrary to God’s design.
The marital union of husband and wife images the Trinity–a unity of diversity, in a way that homosexual sex never can. God intended for Adam and Eve to use this one-flesh union as a means to obey his command to be fruitful and multiply. Ultimately, this foundational relationship is a picture of the union that would occur between Jesus and his Bride, the Church.
So what about Homosexuality?
It’s obvious that the Bible is not about homosexuality, but the places it is mentioned should be taken seriously. Allberry surveys the occurrences of homosexuality in the Scriptures (Gen. 19; Lev. 18, 20; Rom. 1:18-32; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 Tim. 1:8-10), and presents the Bible’s unified message: unrepentant homosexuality will condemn the sinner to hell. He says, “Homosexual conduct leads people to destruction. To teach otherwise (as a number of purportedly Christian leaders sadly do) is tantamount to sending people to hell” (36).
However, every other sin will also consign man to hell. The good news, according to 1 Corinthians 6:11, is that homosexual sin is not a special class of inescapable sin. It is for this very kind of sin that Christ Jesus came to die: “It is possible for someone living a practicing gay lifestyle to be made new by God” (37). [Sidenote: I especially appreciated his perspective on Romans 1, that homosexuality is merely an example of a culture that has been given over to sin, not an individual who is somehow more depraved than others.]
What about the ‘Gay’ Christian?
Allberry states, “What marks us out as Christian is not that we never experience [same-sex attraction or other temptations], but how we respond to them when we do” (43). He expects that many in the church will struggle against same-sex attractions. What should they do?
First, pray. He encourages believers to pray honest prayers about their temptations, confusion, and sin. Second, Christians have to realize that sin does not define the Christian. Our identity is now in Christ. No form of temptation or even giving in to sin disqualifies us from the forgiveness of God (46). Lastly, seek help from other believers.
But can God change our sexual desires? Allberry says, “In one sense the answer to this loaded question is a very unambiguous ‘Yes!'” (48). However, believers are not promised freedom from all temptation in this life. God might change a believer’s sexual desires, but it is not promised in the Bible. He has been made a new creation, but he still awaits the fullness of salvation and the glorification that will come at Christ’s return.
The Bible is clear that sex belongs only within the confines of a marriage between husband and wife. “For as long as someone is unmarried, they must abstain from sexual activity” (51). Allberry encourages healthy singleness. He points out that Paul calls singleness a “gift”. A single Christian is free to spend himself for God’s Kingdom in a way that married men and women cannot.
Christians need to realize that single life can bring loneliness and isolation. Sexual temptation is common to all singles, not just those with SSA. He notes, “a ‘win’ for Christians struggling with SSA is not that the temptations would go away, but that in the heat of them Jesus would be prized more and more” (58).
How Does the Church Handle Homosexuality?
The Church is the one place on earth that the world sees God’s wisdom and power clearly. When a homosexual couple or individual begins to attend your church, they are like every other sinner: in need of God’s grace. Allberry argues that rather than starting with homosexual sin and working toward the gospel, he would rather “start at the center and work outwards, than start at the edge and work in.” “The center,” he explains, “is the death and resurrection of Christ” (65).
Churches also have a responsibility to love and care for those in their church who struggle with SSA. By making the issue easy to talk about, it will help these individuals avoid isolation and give them a supportive family as they fight temptation. Additionally, churches need to avoid pitfalls in denigrating singleness and promoting false cultural gender stereotypes.
What if My Non-Christian Friend Tells Me He’s Gay?
Allberry is clear: “The first thing you should do is thank them for being so open, and entrusting something so personal to you” (74). He encourages the believer to listen and ask questions; probe into their life. Then pray for them. He says, “We need to love them more than their gay friends do, and we need to love them more than they love their homosexuality” (75).
Eventually, our friend will want to know what we believe about homosexuality. It is important to explain why “God has a right to say what we should and shouldn’t do with our bodies,” and we have to be clear that repentance and belief in Jesus will require turning away from a gay lifestyle. However this is not unique for the homosexual; all believers have to die to themselves before they can be made alive in Christ.
Allberry concludes by pointing to Jesus as the bread of life. Not the side-dish of life or the optional roll beside our meal, but the bread, the staple, the sustaining center of our lives as believers.
A Few Comments.
Allberry deals with this issue with such clarity and grace, it is hard to see how anyone can improve on what he has put together in this short volume. Some books dangle the carrot in front of you, but after you finish, you feel like, “Is that it? That was a let down.” Allberry does not shy away from the tough issues and questions. Every question you might hope to be answered is answered. You will not finish this book hungry. He marches from theoretical to practical at a perfect stride, balancing Biblical text, personal experience, and counseling advice.
I plan to share this book with as many people as possible, and I hope this review might pique your interest. Go get the book here.
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