The Unbiblical Counsel of Living Out
Paul tells the Colossians that they have been saved for the purpose of being presented “holy and blameless and above reproach” before Christ (Col 1:22). This requires, he says, that they “continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister” (Col 1:23). Therefore, Paul’s goal is to proclaim Christ by “warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Col 1:28).
Following Paul’s example, the greatest love and compassion that we can have for Christians struggling with same-sex attraction is to give them wise and faithful teaching that is rooted in the hope of the gospel. Our goal should be to present them “mature in Christ,” which will require us to follow Paul’s pattern of “warning and teaching” that is based in biblical truth. Any counsel we give them should be clear warning of the dangers of sin and solid teaching that will assist them in the battle to mortify their evil desires (Col 3:5).
However, in my examination of the teaching at Living Out, I found it woefully lacking in wisdom and faithful teaching, along with little to no warning like we find in Scripture. I presented some of that evidence in yesterday’s article. Sadly, I discovered teaching and counsel that was even more deeply disturbing.
Distortion and Perversion
In an article written by Ed Shaw (pastor, ministry partner at Living Out, and instructor at Living Out conferences that help churches be more LGBTQ+ inclusive), he describes how he “copes” in his personal battle with same-sex attraction. His aim is to help men who experience this same struggle to respond to the temptation they face when attracted to another man.
He writes, “There are many beautiful men on TV, in magazines and, every so often, they step into real life too. And so I have sat in a church meeting feeling like a sitting target because of the ‘comely’ man sitting straight ahead of me. My instinctive sexual attraction to his beauty has produced such horrific fear of falling into sin.”1
At this point, Shaw does not direct attention to Scripture to mortify the evil desire in his heart, he takes his readers down a philosophical path of absurdity by declaring that he simply needs to “understand how beauty works a little better.” Here is his complete argument:
“Part of this is, I think, a growing realisation that my response to male beauty is, at one level, very natural. In desiring a beautiful man, in wanting to become one with him, I am responding to real beauty as all human beings tend to whenever, wherever, they discover it in any overwhelming form. C. S. Lewis articulates this well: ‘We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.’ Is that not always the human response to incredible beauty – in a sunset, a painting, some music? You want somehow to stay and enjoy it, experience it, become part of it, forever. That’s the natural effect of beauty on you. That’s just how it works. I think that will help me next time I see a beautiful man and find myself wanting to be united to him. I am, at one level, just responding to beauty as I am created to respond to it. There is little I can do to avoid this natural response. We are all wired to appreciate beauty. That’s just how we work.”
Shaw confesses that his desire when he looks at this beautiful man is to “become one with” him and to “be united to him.” However, he does not write of his need to repent or to seek God’s help to mortify these thoughts. Instead, he attempts to co-opt C. S. Lewis’ philosophy of objective beauty that all can see in God’s creation to his own subjective unnatural and sinful desire to be sexually united with another man. This teaching is in no way consistent with the “steadfast and stable” faith that comes “from the hope of the gospel.” The simple and straightforward counsel from Jesus is far clearer: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29).
What is needed to fight against sin is not the philosophical musing of C.S. Lewis, but the biblical mandate of Jesus.
From a biblical perspective, Shaw’s “instinctive sexual reaction” to be “united” with a man that he finds beautiful is not how he has been “created to respond.” That is a result of an earthly, evil desire that dwells in his heart and needs to be put to death (Colossians 3:2). This is the warning and teaching he needs. This is not accomplished by philosophically claiming that he can enjoy the man’s beauty like someone enjoys the beauty of a sunset, but by obeying the biblical command to seek God’s help to mortify that wicked desire. God designed for sunsets to be beautiful, but he did not design one man to bask in the beauty of another man.
Once again, no faithful pastor would give this counsel to a heterosexual man that is dealing with his lusts. Think of a single man telling his pastor that he finds a particular woman in the church beautiful, is sexually attracted to her, and desires to be “united to her.” I could never imagine any pastor saying, “This is simply your natural response to beauty as you were created to respond. You should appreciate the beauty, but do not let it drift into a sexual fantasy.” But, apparently, this is the pastoral advice Ed Shaw would give a same-sex attracted man in the church he pastors,2 and I wonder if this is the counsel he gives when teaching the Living Out conferences to help churches be more “LGBTQ+ inclusive.” (These conferences are being held at various SBC churches and Sam Allberry promoted one of these conferences publicly on Twitter yesterday, March 26, 2019.)
This caused me to wonder what kind of advice Ed Shaw and Living Out would give to a random person who struggled with same-sex attraction and reached out to them. Therefore, I contacted them through their “enquiry form,” 3 using a pseudonym, and asked what counsel they would give to a young teenager struggling with same-sex attraction. (I was told by a pastor who supports Living Out that the target audience of their website was a “15-year-old teenager who struggles with same-sex attraction.”) In a few days, I received the following reply:
“Thank you for taking the time to contact Living Out… If you are seeking someone to talk to, please do approach a leader at your local church and ask them to help you in the light of the advice given through Living Out. You might also benefit from visiting the website of the True Freedom Trust – another organisation supporting Christians who experience same-sex attraction that we heartily recommend. The Living Out Editorial Team (Ed, Sam, & Sean).”
At first, I was thankful that they pointed me to my church leaders, but then I clicked on the link to True Freedom Trust, 4 which they “heartily recommend.” The first article that caught my attention was one that dealt with loneliness and physical isolation for those experiencing same-sex attraction but still desired to remain celibate. Here is what I found when I read that article:
“Over many years of providing pastoral support at TFT, we’ve heard same-sex attracted Christians suggest a number of ways of meeting their longings for intimacy:
- Hugs with a same-sex friend
- Visiting naturist beaches5
- Visiting gay bars or nightclubs without the intention of sexual intimacy
- Using an online chatroom or a dating website/app to meet other same-sex attracted people just for friendship
- Sharing a house or going on holiday with another person of the same sex
- Solemnising a particular same-sex friendship
There is no ‘one size fits all’ biblical answer to many of these suggestions, although some of them (eg the dating app or visiting gay bars) ring more alarm bells than others.
What seems relatively safe behaviour for one person might be ‘playing with fire’ (Prov 6:27) for another person. We are all wired differently and at different levels of maturity in our Christian walk. For example, one person might find going on holiday with a same-sex friend provides great companionship and helps to deepen friendship. But another person, particularly where there is sexual attraction towards the friend, might discern that there would be too many temptations and not enough accountability. What is important is that each person seeks to be utterly honest about his/her own heart desires and vulnerabilities, whilst recognising that it is so easy to deceive ourselves (Jeremiah 17:9), and also reviews the impact on others involved.” 6
I was shocked by the author’s statement that there is “no ‘one size fits all’ biblical answer to many of these suggestions.” Other than hugging a same-sex friend, none of them are biblically sound wisdom at best and most are clear violations of Scripture regarding purity. I cannot fathom how a gay dating app and visiting a gay bar does little more than “ring alarm bells,” and visiting a nude beach 7 does not even make the list of “alarm bell” examples. Remember that I wrote them asking help for a teenage boy, who is supposedly their target audience. Just imagine the destructive path this could set a young man down. Where is the “hope of the gospel” in this?
The rest of the article goes on to give basic biblical principles that would help a Christian who is thinking through decisions that involve matters of conscience. But the seductive nature of the list cited above is inconsistent with the principles outlined. This is a dangerous contradiction to put before those struggling with same-sex attraction, implying that the suggestions in the list might pass the test. There is a “one size fits all biblical answer” for the Christian regarding these matters–“flee sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18).
Men Who Rise Up and Speak Twisted Things
Just because individuals agree with us on certain orthodox teaching does not mean that we should avoid careful discernment when they disagree on other fundamental issues. When Paul had his final meeting with the elders at Ephesus, he gave this warning: “and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:30).
To be clear, I am not claiming that any of those involved with Living Out are definitely men of which Paul speaks. But I am saying we would be foolish to excuse the twisted things that are being spoken at Living Out by simply pointing to other things they say which are consistent with sound doctrine.
Paul tells the Ephesian elders that the men of which he warns will rise up from among themselves. If so, these men became elders in the first place because they were orthodox in their theology. However, they eventually began to speak twisted things that led disciples away from sound doctrine. How many disciples among us are being led away even now because they trust those who are pointing them to Sam Allberry and Living Out? (At the time of the publication of this article, Dr. Russell Moore, who heartily commends the resources at Living Out, continues to stand behind his endorsement.)
Therefore, while it would be uncharitable to immediately place these men in the group warned about in Acts 20:30, it would be completely unwise to simply dismiss this possibility. If we are to take the warning of Paul seriously, when men among us start speaking twisted things, we need to take serious action.
Tomorrow, I will address that final critical issue.
4 Apparently, this is their common response. On their website, Living Out recommends that parents point their children, who “come out” as gay, to True Freedom Trust. https://www.livingout.org/resources/how-should-i-respond-if-my-child-comes-out-to-me
If you perform a search at the Living Out site, you will find they have a close partnership with True Freedom Trust.