A Closer Examination of Living Out
In my past experience, many Christians have not demonstrated compassion towards homosexuals and those struggling with same-sex attraction. As I shared in my first article, I found it common for Christians, even pastors, to express ridicule and contempt towards homosexuals rather than love and compassion for them. Therefore, some of the shifts occurring among evangelicals regarding how we help those struggling with same-sex attraction are for the good.
Leading the way in this conversation has been Sam Allberry who is founding editor of Living Out. He is a pastor who identifies as a same-sex attracted person and has become a central voice in evangelicalism for the discussion of how the church should help those experiencing same-sex attraction. Major evangelical ministries (e.g. TGC, ERLC, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries) are giving him a platform to help the church better understand and address these issues. Much of what I have read or heard from Sam Allberry has been essentially sound and consistent with Scripture’s teaching. For this I am grateful.
However, I began to observe things coming from Sam Allberry’s ministry site, Living Out, that troubled me. When I contacted some trusted pastors who openly supported Living Out ministries, they encouraged me that Allberry and his ministry partners were committed to the same biblical principles regarding homosexuality that we were.
Therefore, I decided to take a closer look. Maybe the alarm bells in my head were misguided. After all, some of my most respected pastor friends promoted the ministry-even hosting Living Out events in their churches-and those in the SBC gave Living Out a ringing endorsement. Russell Moore, President of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, posted a hearty recommendation directly on the Living Out website.
“These resources are anchored to biblical conviction, unwilling to be tossed by the winds of cultural change. They are also full of mercy, offering God’s grace as well as practical wisdom for those struggling to follow Christ.”1
Based on Moore’s evaluation, I proceeded to test some of the articles by the Living Out ministry leaders. Were these resources truly “anchored to biblical conviction” and “practical wisdom for those struggling to follow Christ?”
The Testing of the Resources
According to its website, Living Out is “co-ordinated by three Christian leaders who experience same sex attraction. They are: Sam Allberry, Sean Doherty, Ed Shaw.”2 I only found three articles by Sam Allberry that were written and posted on the Living Out website. None of those raised any major concern. There were six original articles by Sean Doherty and five by Ed Shaw.
In one article written by Doherty3, he sought to answer the question of whether a same sex couple should stop living together if they become Christians. While acknowledging that the couple should “cease the sexual aspect of their relationship,” he argues that it may be good and right for them to continue living together, “especially if they have children.” Here is his counsel:
“holding back from sexual intimacy doesn’t spell an end to physical intimacy, not for a moment. . . . there are wonderful ways to be physically close to other people without being sexually close to them. We hug and kiss our friends and relatives in non-sexual ways. We hold hands with children. Some people (especially guys?) love to play fight (my sons love to do this with me – personally, I would prefer to cuddle them, but I have to play fight with them, because it is a way they give and receive physical affection!). None of these things necessarily have anything to do with sex, but they have much to do with physical affection and intimacy – as St Paul puts it, greet one another with a holy kiss (2 Corinthians 13:12). . . . Of course, it may take time and a bit of trial and error for a couple to redefine the boundaries and work out how they can best remain physically close to one another, without crossing the line again into sexual intimacy. But I believe this is worth working at, in order both to honour God by not crossing that line, and to honour him by sharing healthy physical affection with the people he has given you to and to you (wording of the original).”
It would take a great amount of time to parse out all the problems with Doherty’s counsel. However, I fail to see any practical wisdom in this. I cannot imagine a pastor giving this advice to a heterosexual couple that is living together and then both become Christians. Who would tell them to continue to live together, experience other physical intimacy, but just do not have physical sex? This is only inviting temptation for the flesh that will most definitely lead to further sexual immorality-especially during the period of “trial and error.” This is not “practical wisdom.” It is foolish advice at best and unbiblical at worst.
Last Friday, I had an interaction with Sam Allberry on Twitter concerning Doherty’s article. Allberry’s response was that it was being “misunderstood” and needed to be “reworded more carefully.”4 The exchange was gracious on his part and many of the things he said during our interaction was consistent with other public things he has said that I appreciate. Yet he continued to assess my concerns with Doherty’s article to be nothing more than “transatlantic differences.” 5 In other words, what was written was simply being lost in translation.6 Allberry promised to release a piece the next day through TGC to make his stance clearer. In that post he stated his position against same-sex Christians having “non-sexual romantic relationships.”7 Although the post was excellent, it did not at all address the problems of the Living Out article that we discussed the prior day.
For example, Doherty argued that it was a good thing for a SSA couple–who had once been practicing homosexuals–to continue to live together after they became Christians. He even acknowledged that there would be a “trial and error” period in moving from a sexual to a non-sexual relationship, but that it was “worth working at.” For Doherty, this was particularly worth the effort if the couple had adopted children.8 He goes so far to say, “The intimacy, fun, loyalty, companionship, and faith encouragement aspects of same-sex relationships are great, and they can of course be a healthy environment to nurture children.”9 Stop and consider the absurdity of this argument. A same-sex relationship has absolutely no potential of naturally producing children, yet he speaks of it as a type of normal and “healthy environment.” What exactly is unclear about Doherty’s position that could be fixed by “rewording?” It is not the article at Living Out that is unclear to me, but the position that Allberry actually takes on these issues.
However, Doherty’s articles aren’t the only problems at Living Out. Let the reader decide if the others are simply “misunderstandings.”
In a different article, Ed Shaw seeks to explain what is wrong with a “permanent, faithful, stable same-sex sexual relationship.”10 While there are good things in this piece, there is a fundamental flaw in how he tries to view a same-sex sexual relationship as having a certain good to it. He writes the following:
“We’d be crazy to deny the good in permanent, stable, faithful same-sex sexual relationships. Read accounts of the gay community at the height of the AIDS epidemic, and you’ll be moved to tears by the self-sacrificial love of couples who devotedly nursed both loved ones and complete strangers… We certainly don’t deny that there are real elements of beauty in the relationship of the nice gay couple next door. Their commitment and love are part of God’s common grace to humanity. The happiness your niece [and her lovely new girlfriend] is enjoying is a good that God has created for us to enjoy. Her happiness is real.”
Thankfully, Shaw does continue to say that the “many good things we might see or experience in a permanent, faithful stable same-sex sexual relationship don’t by themselves make the sexual aspect of the relationships legitimate.” However, this caveat does not diminish the troubling aspects of his previous argument. It is shocking that the example he gives of “self-sacrificial love” that homosexuals express to one another is the compassion they show to others who have contracted a disease as a result of their perverted lifestyle.
To illustrate the logical absurdity of such an argument, imagine someone claiming how much we can learn from the commitment that bank robbers have for one another. How wonderful their loyalty is as they watch out for one another during a robbery, and how exemplary their kindness is as they fairly divide the money between each other. If one gets shot as a result of the heist, they model compassion as they tend to his wound and nurse him back to health. This kind of argument would be readily dismissed by any sound thinking Christian.
More importantly, the thinking is not “anchored” in Scripture. It misrepresents the biblical view of the true nature of homosexuality as well as the Bible’s concept of what is considered good.
First, regarding the true nature of homosexuality, it is exegetically impossible for Shaw to support “the good in permanent, stable, faithful same-sex sexual relationships” from an examination of Romans 1:24-27. How can he claim there is any authentic good or happiness in a relationship that is fundamentally flawed in its very nature? It is a relationship that is based in the abandonment of the “natural relations for those that are contrary to nature” and are “dishonoring their bodies” with one another. God offers no good assessment of this relationship, but declares it to be the result of “exchanging the truth about God for a lie and worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator.” Essentially it is a worship of self and any other “good acts” that there might be are equally self-centered.
Second, regarding the Bible’s concept of what is considered “good,” Romans 3:10-12 says, “There is none righteous, no, not one; … no one does good, not even one.” Even the seemingly good acts of unbelievers are steeped in a love for self rather than a love for God. From a biblical perspective, a truly “good deed” proceeds from a heart that wants to love and honor God as reflected in the great commandment (Matt 22:37). No one is able to give true sacrificial love apart from a heart that has been transformed by the Gospel. The Bible does not allow for the separation of people’s deeds from the depraved condition of the heart (Matt 5-7).
Furthermore, if we want to understand God’s common grace, consider Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:45: “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and unjust.” Therefore, while homosexual people experience common grace from a good God (provision of their needs, for example), we must not say that their “same-sex sexual relationship” produces anything truly good. Ultimately, they are headed toward God’s wrath (Col 3:6). Only God’s intervention and redemption can bring about good, and that redemption demands repentance. God’s common grace is not pictured in your niece’s false sense of happiness derived from her unnatural relationship that is an expression of rebellion toward God (Rom 1:24-26).
While these are only two troubling examples found at Living Out, the site is replete with articles that give a mixture of sound and unsound teaching. For example, the writers are firmly committed to the sound teaching that “sex should be within marriage, and that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.”11 However, they also teach that the sexual identity of a gay person is fixed and they should not be counseled to seek change. If a gay or same-sex attracted person needs counseling, “it isn’t because they are gay or same-sex attracted.”12
Found to Be Anchorless and Foolish
Although I rejoice in Living Out‘s commitment to refrain from outward expressions of sexual immorality, I weep at their other counsel that is profoundly unbiblical and is not a true commitment to a biblical sexual ethic in its broadest understanding (e.g., allowing for “trial and error” periods in a “living together” situation). The agreement on the former should not assuage our deep concerns regarding the latter.
Rather than anchored in Scripture and wise counsel, I found these articles to be woefully lacking in wisdom and anchored in thinking that is more worldly than biblical. Instead of counseling someone to flee sexual immorality, they clearly leave the door open to flirt with sexual immorality.
Furthermore, the same counsel would never be given to heterosexual individuals from a biblically faithful pastor. While they claim that being gay is no more problematic than being straight,13 they continually offer solutions to the struggles that same-sex attracted individuals face that no one would ever give to heterosexuals in their struggles.
Why are special treatment and categories being given for those struggling with same-sex attraction? If it is just like any other temptation and sin, why all the special considerations?
Sam Allberry claims that the problem is merely a “misunderstanding” of the articles published at Living Out. I find the articles to be quite clear in their articulation. However, there does appear to be a fundamental misunderstanding regarding the nature of the sin and how to battle against it from a biblical perspective. That will be the focus of tomorrow’s article.