Books Worth Reading: “Is God Anti-Gay?” by Sam Allberry
It is no secret that one of the hottest cultural topics in our society today is the matter of homosexuality. Recently, advocates of homosexuality have won several major victories in both federal and state courts in the United States. Homosexuality has also been legalized in several countries around the world in which it was formerly forbidden. Secular culture is increasingly tolerant of the homosexual lifestyle, in many cases making efforts to actively promote it, as evidenced by the fact that many private companies are now recognizing gay marriages and are offering the same benefits to married homosexual and heterosexual couples. As a result Christians are increasingly finding themselves on the wrong side of mainstream thinking. Advocates of traditional, biblical marriage have been put on the defensive, and presenting the biblical view of marriage is becoming more complicated. Proponents of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender) often present Christians as bigoted, narrow-minded Neanderthals who have failed to recognize that tolerance is the hallmark of the modern world. From the perspective of the pro-LGBT community, Christians are anti-gay; and by implication, God himself is anti-gay.
The modern cultural context certainly does raise an important question that must be answered by Christians and non-Christians alike: “Is God anti-gay?” Perhaps the question might come from the non-Christian in this way: “Isn’t God anti-gay?”
These are important questions in our context, and the Christian church had best determine how it will answer these questions if it is going to minister the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. Thankfully, Sam Allberry, who is an associate pastor at St. Mary’s Church in Maidenhead, England, has come to our aid with a wonderful little book (it consists of only 78 pages of actual text) that speaks directly to these issues. In Is God anti-gay? and Other Questions about Homosexuality, the Bible and Same-Sex Attraction, Allberry not only walks us through the biblical material on the issue of marriage, he also gives us helpful tips on how to answer some of the tough questions we will no doubt encounter from the skeptical world around us.
One thing that makes Allberry’s book standout from other Christian books on homosexuality is the fact that Allberry himself struggles with what he calls “same-sex attraction.” This book does not come from someone who has no idea what it is like to have homosexual feelings or from someone who has no sympathy or compassion for members of the gay community. Rather, this issue is very real for Allberry; he deals with it personally everyday. Therefore, the book has a gracious, merciful, benevolent, and pastoral tone throughout, a tone all Christians should have when ministering to LGBT people.
There is so much good material in this book that it is difficult to chose what to include and what to omit from this discussion. For the sake of brevity (which this review certainly lacks), I will try to restrict myself to the key thoughts of the book in this summary. Some of the main points Allberry makes in his book are as follows:
1.) Homosexuality is never the essence of a person’s identity. A key point Allberry makes at the beginning of the book is that he is not gay. He prefers not to think of himself as someone who is gay but as someone who struggles with “same-sex attraction.” By trying to shift the common homosexual nomenclature, Allberry is attempting to push back against the notion that homosexuality defines a person’s identity. 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 recognize 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 (pp. 8-9).
2.) The Bible plainly teaches that marriage and sex is restricted to heterosexual couples who are committed to one another for life. Chapter 1 of this book survey’s the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sex. Allberry walks through the key passages on marriage in Genesis 1-2, the Gospels, and Ephesians. He argues from Genesis 2:4 that Adam and Eve’s marriage in the Garden of Eden was more than a historical fact; it is the pattern on which all marriages are modeled. He writes:
And the writer makes it clear that he is no longer just talking about Adam and Eve. We’re not being told about this first human couple on the off-chance we’re interested in our ancient family history. No, their story is true for all humankind. It sets up a pattern that we see repeated in every generation. The writer pulls back from their immediate setting to make the general observation: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife. . . .” What was going on with Adam and Eve explains what has gone on ever since. The perfect “fit” between the two of them is the foundation for every human marriage since. The account is not just about their union but every marriage union (p. 15).
Allberry joins the teaching of Jesus with the teaching of Genesis in his examination of Matthew 19:3-6 to show that gender distinction was a key element to the marriage definition. Jesus connects the idea that God created humans as male and female with the ideas of marriage and sexuality. Allberry’s comments on the Matthew 19 passage are insightful:
Jesus shows us that this sexual difference is why we have marriage. We are male and female: “for this reason a man will leave. . .” It is because we are male and female that we have the phenomenon of marriage. Marriage is based on gender. Marriage would not exist without the sexual differences between men and women. It is this sexual difference that accounts for the depth of union between the man and woman. Eve was created out of Adam; made from his body. Their one-flesh union is therefore something of a re-union; joining together what had originally been one (p. 18).
In the final section of Allberry’s treatment of marriage, he points out that God’s purposes for marriage are consistent only with a heterosexual relationship. First, “human marriage is meant to reflect something of God’s nature” (p. 18). The God of the Bible has 3 persons who are united in one nature. Heterosexual marriage illustrates a unity and diversity akin to the unity and diversity in the Trinity. Second, “this one-flesh union is designed to be the way in which Adam and Eve fulfill God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (pp. 19-20). Obviously, procreation is tied to heterosexual unions. Finally, human marriage is “meant to reflect the grace that, in Christ, God shows to his people” (p. 20). The marriage relationship pictures Christ and the church, not Christ and Christ or the church and the church. Anything other than heterosexual marriage distorts the picture.
3.) Homosexuality is both unnatural and unscriptural. Chapter 2 walks through the biblical passages that deal directly with homosexuality. While space forbids me dealing with each of his treatments, his exposition of Romans 1 is especially helpful. He notes that homosexuality is against nature, saying, “Paul’s point in Romans 1 is that our ‘nature’ (as we experience it) is not natural (as God intended it). All of us have desires that are warped as a result of our fallen nature. Desires for things God has forbidden are a reflection of how sin has distorted me, not how God has made me” (p. 30). These sorts of comments help us understand why Allberry does not want to refer to identify himself as “gay.” God did not make him gay, that is in his essence. These proclivities are the result of a fallen nature not human nature itself.
4.) Homosexuals need the gospel, just like everybody else. Perhaps the most-helpful theme in this book is Allberry’s emphasis on the fact that homosexuals are really no different than anybody else when it comes to their need of the gospel. Sometimes heterosexual Christians fall into the trap of thinking that homosexuals are way worse sinners than they are themselves. We view homosexuality as taboo while we excuse sins like greed, lying, and adultery. We think that homosexuality is an abomination to God while our “respectable” sins are no big deal. We think that homosexuals have to give up more than we do to follow Christ. Allberry shows that this type of thinking is really not the case at all.
It should be pointed out that Allberry pulls no punches as to the outcome of homosexual sin. He clearly states that “homosexual conduct leads people to destruction” (p. 34), but he notes that all sin–ALL SIN–leads to destruction. At the point where Allberry answers the question “Is God anti-gay” directly, he answers, “‘No.’ But he is against who all of us are by nature, as those living apart from him and for ourselves. He’s anti that guy, what ever that guys [sic] looks like in each of our lives. But because he is bigger than us, better than us, and able to do these things in ways we would struggle to, God loves that guy too. Loves him enough to carry his burden, take his place, clean him up, make him whole, and unite him for ever to himself” (p. 11). More pointedly, Allberry says that 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 any major adjustments to their lifestyle or aspirations, it is likely that they have not really started following Jesus at all” (p. 11). Christ calls everyone, whether they are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, or heterosexual, to give up their entire lives to him. The message is the same for homosexuals and heterosexuals alike.
5.) Christians need to provide useful support to homosexual Christians and non-Christians. Both the church and the world have people who are struggling with homosexuality. Allberry deals with the different groups in chapters 4 and 5. Here are some of the useful tips Allberry gives for helping these people in their struggle.
- Make homosexuality easy to talk about (pp 64-65, 72-73). Listen carefully. Thank people for their openness. Ask them questions about how they came to this point in their life, etc.
- Honor singleness (p. 65-66). This could easily have been a major point in my treatment here as Allberry spends a good amount of time on this subject. For people who are struggling with homosexuality, heterosexual relationships may not be attractive to them (Allberry himself remains single). Allberry shows that the only other alternative is singleness, and singleness is a good thing in many cases.
- Remember that the church is a family (p. 66-67). The family make-up of the church provides support and companionship for those who struggle with sexual sin. It also is a place where they can feel love and be accepted as family.
- Deal with biblical models of masculinity and femininity, rather than cultural stereotypes (p. 67)
- Pray for them (p. 73)
- Love them more than their gay friends do, and we need to love them more than they love their homosexuality (p. 73)
- Provide good pastoral support (pp. 67-69).
By way of conclusion I would like to point out that the cultural war in which we find ourselves can result in attitudes of condescension and even hatred for people who have been caught-up in homosexual lifestyles. We can easily become like the Pharisee in Luke 18 who missed out on God’s mercy when he prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” Rather than having a prideful attitude we need to remember that we are redeemed people ourselves. In our zeal to defend biblical truth, let us not forget that we are proclaiming a truth that has transformed us and will transform others as well. We are not trying to kill our opponents on the spiritual battlefield; we are trying to get them to switch sides.
Is God anti-gay? will help people understand the Bible’s message for homosexuals about homosexuality in a clear and concise way. As a result, this is a book worth reading.
Note: An interview with Sam Allberry about his book can be found here.