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Living Out – A Follow-Up and Call to Further Action

Living Out – A Follow-Up and Call to Further Action

On March 25, I began a series of articles that addressed concerns with the ministry of Living Out ( part 1, part 2, part 3 part 4). Over the course of four days, I revealed multiple resources at the Living Out website that were deeply troubling and profoundly unbiblical.

I initially became aware of Living Out as a result of being introduced to the writings of Sam Allberry – one of the founding leaders of the ministry.[1] I had no reason to be suspicious of Living Out, because much of what I had read or heard from Allberry had been essentially sound and consistent with Scripture’s teaching. In addition, the website was officially endorsed by respected leaders such as ERLC President Russell Moore, who wrote, “These resources are anchored to biblical conviction.”[2] Unfortunately, I discovered that this was simply untrue.

The Problems Revealed

As I began to examine the resources at the Living Out website, I discovered that many of them were not “anchored to biblical conviction.” Some of the teaching included the following:

  1. They write, “We’d be crazy to deny the good in permanent, stable, faithful same-sex sexual relationships.”[3]
  2. They suggest that a same-sex couple who had recently “committed their lives to Christ” could continue to live together, in celibacy as friends, and “share the parenting of any children who are there too.”[4]
  3. They claim that no one needs counseling “because they are gay or same-sex attracted.”[5]
  4. They teach that if you are a same-sex attracted person, while you should not act on your desires, you should “choose not to repress your desires.” They offer the warning of a psychologist who says, “to ignore or deny your feelings is dangerous.”[6]
  5. They offer an audit to determine if your church is “biblically inclusive” in its treatment of those who are same-sex attracted. This requires that there be people in your church who are “labelled LGBTQI+ or same-sex attracted,” a structure where “A godly Christian’s sexual orientation would never prevent them from. . . serving in leadership in your church,” and an environment where no same-sex attracted person is encouraged in “seeking” any “change” from his orientation.[7]
  6. When I wrote Living Out to ask what counsel they would give to a young teenager struggling with same-sex attraction, one suggestion they gave was for me to visit the website of True Freedom Trust, which they “highly recommend.” When I visited that site, I immediately found an article that focused on how some same-sex attracted Christians meet “their longings for intimacy.” Some of those ways were “visiting naturist (nude) beaches” or “visiting gay bars or nightclubs without the intention of sexual intimacy.”[8]

In light of these findings, I called upon Sam Allberry to take responsibility for these resources and to immediately take them down. I also requested that those partnering with him on any level (TGC, ERLC, 9Marks) would discontinue doing so until these issues were adequately addressed. Finally, I called upon Russell Moore to renounce the teaching at Living Out and immediately withdraw his endorsement as publicly as he had given it.

The Response

It is not an understatement to say that these revelations sent shockwaves through evangelicalism. By the end of the week, the endorsement of Russell Moore was removed from the Living Out website and 9Marks announced Jonathan Leeman would be hosting a Q&A with Sam Allberry to discuss these concerns. (You can listen here beginning at the 1:06:00 mark).

The interview was encouraging in many ways. Sam took responsibility for the presence of the resources. He admitted that he had approved them years prior and that there was understandable reason for concern. Therefore, he clarified his personal positions regarding same-sex attraction.

Allberry clearly articulated that homosexual desires are inherently sinful, that he did not believe that “sexual orientation” is good terminology as it implies immutability, and that same-sex attraction desires are “to be mortified.” In addition, he argued that although there is a sameness about both heterosexual sin and homosexual sin (i.e., all sin is equal in God’s sight) there is also a distinctive difference (i.e., “homosexuality is a further twisting and pervasion of God’s sexual design”). Sam promised an audit of the content at Living Out was forthcoming and Jonathan Leeman asked for “patience” as we walk through these complex issues.

I was extremely grateful to hear both Sam Allberry’s clarifications and promise. Therefore, I thought the call for patience was prudent and followed that advice. In the meantime, Sam and I have had several private conversations about these issues and discussed them at an even deeper level from Scripture. I want to publicly express my gratitude for Sam’s humility and desire to be faithful to the truth to God’s Word. I believe I can say that he has become a friend, but more importantly I view him and treat him as a brother in Christ. This friendship has brought criticism from some, but I have no reason to consider Sam any less than a brother who is seeking to be faithful in his walk with God.

So, if this is the case, why am I revisiting the issues at Living Out with this follow-up? I assure you that it is not because I have an ax to grind or cannot be truly satisfied. There is much at stake regarding these matters and serious concerns remain. Two months later, lingering questions still need to be answered.

Questions That Call for Further Action

As the dust has settled over the past two months, I have discovered that many people are confused and think that all has been resolved after Allberry’s interview with Leeman and the removal of Russell Moore’s public endorsement at the Living Out website. I will address this with questions I have been asked in response to my continued concerns.

Haven’t all the objectionable resources that were exposed in your articles been removed from Living Out during the audit?

Answer: NO. Only two resources were removed and all of the resources quoted from the section above are presently live on their website. Although I trust that an audit is being carried out, this reckless and unbiblical teaching remains unedited for people to follow. (It is important to clarify that Sam Allberry does not have the sole authority to remove these resources.)

Furthermore, I continue to find new troubling resources at Living Out. For example, one of the writers answers this question: “How should I respond if my child comes out to me?” In one section, they give counsel for how to respond if “your child is a child or young person.” They declare, “it should go without saying that any family rule about same-sex boyfriends or girlfriends should also apply to opposite-sex ones!”[9] (Exclamation mark is theirs) You read that correctly. Living Out teaches that a parent cannot have different dating rules for their one teenage son and his girlfriend than they do for their other teenage son and his boyfriend. This counsel goes beyond any potential acceptance of a child’s homosexual lifestyle and encourages the parent’s facilitation of it.

Call to Action: I ask others to join me in asking Living Out to have these resources taken down immediately so that no other person is misled or further embedded in their sin. I sincerely believe Sam’s desire is to bring the changes needed. However, Living Out’s unwillingness to remove the troubling resources, even during the audit, raises doubt that they truly believe any substantive change is needed. If Living Out refuses to remove them, I pray Sam will quickly leave that ministry and be clear about why he departed from them.

Didn’t evangelical leaders like Russell Moore withdraw their support of Living Out?

Answer: NO. First, the endorsement of Pastor and TGC founder, Timothy Keller remains live on the website.[10] Second, the ERLC released a statement that indicates Moore did not actually request his endorsement to be removed, but Living Out proactively removed it. Additionally, Moore has yet to publicly renounce the teaching at Living Out. The ERLC offers a statement for those who make inquiry that Moore has always taken a strong stand against homosexuality and his “hope is that clarity will prevail in answer to any questions” about Living Out.

Call to Action: I and my SBC church continue to call upon Russell Moore to renounce the teaching at Living Out with the same public clarity that he gave in his original endorsement. We are thankful for the many biblical stands Moore has taken against homosexuality, but this makes his refusal now to renounce Living Out’s teaching all the more dangerous. I feel certain there are those who are not aware of Moore’s quiet disassociation with Living Out. I do not believe he desires parents to follow Living Out’s dating advice for their children. Therefore, because of his former endorsement of the resources at Living Out, Dr. Moore cannot afford to leave his position on these issues ambiguous.

Since this is new territory, should we continue to be patient?

Answer: It is always wise to be patient, but we cannot afford to be unclear about things that are so blatantly obvious and carry such a heavy eternal price tag. The teaching outlined above is patently unbiblical and we would be wrong to afford any more time for clarification. These things do not call for clarification, but renunciation.

Call to Action: More than two months have passed and little to nothing has been done from a public perspective. I have been contacted by multiple people in SBC churches that are following the counsel of Living Out. Others have told me how they recommended Living Out to many people solely because of their trust of Sam Allberry or Russell Moore’s endorsement.

Christians who are seeking to battle against same-sex attraction need authentic biblical compassion and answers. Living Out, in its current state, is clearly not the place to send them. The lives of real people are at stake and it is far past the time to take a stand. As Paul wrote Timothy, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16).

Eternal lives are at stake and the time of waiting is over. While we are patient, people are perishing.

[1] https://www.livingout.org/who-we-are

[2] This endorsement has since been removed.

[3] https://www.livingout.org/what-s-wrong-with-a-permanent-faithful-stable-same-sex-sexual-relationship?

[4] https://www.livingout.org/is-it-ever-responsible-for-people-with-same-sex-attraction-to-get-married

[5] https://www.livingout.org/does-living-out-support-gay-cure-or-conversion-therapy

[6] https://www.livingout.org/is-it-ever-responsible-for-people-with-same-sex-attraction-to-get-married

[7] https://www.livingout.org/resources/the-living-out-church-audit

[8] https://truefreedomtrust.co.uk/am-i-kidding-myself

[9] https://www.livingout.org/resources/how-should-i-respond-if-my-child-comes-out-to-me

[10] https://www.livingout.org/who-supports-us

Living Out Part 4 – A Call to Immediate Action

Living Out and a Call to Immediate Action

When Paul wrote young pastor Timothy in the church at Ephesus, he reminded him of this sobering reality of ministry: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16).

As pastors, we must keep a close watch upon our lives to be sure that we are walking in godly ways lest we fall and disqualify ourselves from ministry and shame the cause of Christ. Furthermore, we must be careful to make sure that what we are teaching is biblically sound. This is no small thing that we are called to do as ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must live by the power of the gospel and clearly guard the gospel because our own salvation and the salvation at others hangs in the balance.

This has been my concern in addressing the troubling details I discovered at Living Out. For the past three days I have shared the bad theology and even perverted counsel offered by two of the websites leaders. You can find those articles here: part 1, part 2, part 3.

My heart in this has been that of  a concerned pastor. Throughout my ministry, I have sought to love those struggling with same-sex attraction and extend a gospel message that offers them a hope of real transformation. My aim has been to expose, but not be a sensational exposé.

People need to be saved and set free from the power of sin. Eternal lives are at stake and the gospel is the only thing that can bring transformation. This means that we must be biblically precise in defining sin and repentance. The gospel calls for a lifestyle of repentance and faith, so we dare not offer any other path in redemption, which will ultimately be a path of self-indulgence and false hope.

I take seriously this responsibility as a pastor and I believe most of those who are currently directing people to Living Out do as well. Therefore, surely we would not point anyone to a website that is filled with spiritual landmines that could lead to the destruction of her soul.

Consider another article at Living Out where Sean Doherty offers advice to a heterosexual married couple where “one or both spouses experience same-sex attraction.” Even in this situation he does not call upon either person to mortify their “evil desire” (Col 3:5). Rather, regarding their same-sex attraction, he shockingly tells them to “choose not to repress your desires.” While he does tell them not to “gratify the desires,” he offers this advice: “Christian psychologist William Kraft argues that whilst it is of course right to avoid situations which place us in temptation, that is not the same as seeking to ignore or deny your feelings, which is dangerous.”

The real danger Jesus sees is not the potential of denying your feelings, but the potential of giving oneself over to sin and ending up in hell. Therefore, he commands us to radically remove everything that would potentially lead us toward indulging our sinful desires (Matt 5:29-30). Paul tells the believers at Colossae that they have been fundamentally transformed by their union with Christ in his death and resurrection. This reality demands that we “put to death” not only the outward expressions of our sin, but the inward “impurity, passion, evil desire” that lurks in our heart (Col 3:5-11). However, rather than give this clear teaching of Scripture as counsel to believers struggling with same-sex attraction in a heterosexual marriage, Doherty gives his readers the advice of a psychologist that tells them “not to repress your desires.”

I must stop and ask those who support Sam Allberry’s ministry, does this reflect the gospel’s message of faith and repentance that you believe? We can choose the teaching of Jesus and Paul or the counsel of Living Out, but what we cannot choose is both.

Living Out is giving real counsel to real people. Some of them are in our churches and are turning there for counsel because they trust those who are pointing them in that direction. If lives are at stake, we cannot take the answers offered by Living Out lightly. This is not a debate class exercise where we can afford to defend the wrong position in a sterilized classroom setting. Real people are going to follow our lead and many will end up shipwrecking their lives on the unbiblical counsel and bad theology offered at Living Out.

With the documented evidence that I have presented, I am issuing a call for immediate action to be taken. I am asking pastors to join me in calling upon our fellow evangelical leaders who are connecting themselves with Living Out to immediately take notice of what it is they are actually supporting. If they endorsed without doing due diligence, they should confess that they failed to “keep a close watch on the teaching,” repent, and publicly renounce these dangerous teachings.

Proposals for Action

1. While there is much I have appreciated about Sam Allberry, Living Out is his ministry and he should take responsibility for the content of the website that is unsound and twisted doctrine. Allberry knows about these articles and has chosen to not immediately remove them, even though he previously promised he would.1

He asks for time to give a thoughtful response, and that time should be afforded.2  However, what we cannot afford is another person to be deceived with the unbiblical counsel given at the Living Out website. Nothing is stopping Allberry from taking the troublesome articles down as he prepares a response. If his voice is to be trusted in the future, these articles need to be removed, unequivocally renounced, and a promise to provide greater oversight of the counsel given at Living Out. These are not issues of “misunderstandings” on the part of the readers, but a clear lack of understanding of Scripture’s teaching of sanctification on the part of the writers at Living Out.

Allberry must not address this with private revisions in the shadows of the night, but with public renunciations in the light of day.

2. As a pastor of a SBC church, I am asking Russell Moore to renounce the teaching of Living Out and immediately withdraw his endorsement as publicly as he has given it. In addition, I do not see how the ERLC can continue to partner with Allberry unless he, too, publicly renounces these teachings and removes anyone from Living Out who would persist in teaching such things. No pastor should be pointing his people to men who have offered such unsound teaching – neither should any denominational leader.

Until these issues are adequately resolved, the ERLC should not be partnering with Allberry in any capacity. Therefore, I ask the ERLC to remove Allberry from their April 2nd lineup at the TGC event in Indianapolis.3

3. Unless Allberry gives an adequate response before April 1, I request Midwestern Seminary and 9Marks to ask Allberry to step aside from their upcoming event in Indianapolis.4 These matters are far too serious to not take immediate action. Allberry, himself, has said he needs time to answer these things because he has a “hectic schedule.”5

To be clear, this is not a “guilt by association” fallacy. When you promote Sam Allberry, you might be doing more, but you are certainly not doing any less than promoting his public ministry in its entirety, which includes Living Out. Allberry should get his own “house in order” before another person is pointed to his leadership.

4. I also ask for The Gospel Coalition look into these issues and hold Allberry accountable. Many evangelicals look to you for biblical wisdom and counsel. Those who you embrace and elevate will be followed. Those who follow Allberry will eventually make their way to Living Out.

5. I call upon all evangelical leaders to research carefully the ministries they consider endorsing or recommending, taking seriously the pastoral responsibility we have in ministering to God’s people. People trust us to watch over their souls, and they trust our recommendations. If people fall into error it should be in spite of our carefully researched recommendations, not facilitated by our uniformed endorsements.

These actions, for which I call, should not be interpreted as a lack of care for those who struggle with same-sex attraction, but a clear sign of the greatest of care for them. We are all sinners and what we ultimately need is to be confronted with biblical truth that points us to a lifestyle that is characterized by authentic, biblical repentance and faith.

In matters of repentance and faith, we dare not speak in pale pastels but in bold colors.

We must never forget that eternal lives are at stake. The only hope we all have is a pure and unadulterated gospel message – not only for our justification, but also for our sanctification. If we truly care about the souls of those who are battling against same-sex attraction, we must also care about the fidelity of biblical truth that is their only hope of deliverance and salvation – as it is for all of us no matter what our sin-struggle.

If we really believe this, we will take action and we will take it now.

 

Living Out Part 3 – Unbiblical Counsel

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.

1 https://www.livingout.org/how-do-you-cope-with-sexual-attraction-as-a-christian-with-same-sex-attraction (All articles were live at the time of the publication of this post)

2 https://www.livingout.org/who-we-are

3 https://www.livingout.org/get-in-touch

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.

5 https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/naturist

6 https://truefreedomtrust.co.uk/am-i-kidding-myself

7 https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/naturist

Living Out Part 2 – A Closer Examination

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.

 

1 Moore’s endorsement is of no surprise since Allberry regularly speaks for the ERLC and has a section on their website specifically devoted to promoting his resources (https://erlc.com/resource-library/author-index/sam-allberry). (NOTE: At time of publication, all the links in these footnotes were live.)

2 https://www.livingout.org/who-we-are

3 https://www.livingout.org/resources/celibate-same-sex-couples?

4 https://twitter.com/SamAllberry/status/1109114655618859010

5 https://twitter.com/SamAllberry/status/1109130449849380865

6 Allberry promised to have the article in question removed immediately because of the “misunderstandings,” but at time of the publishing of this piece the article remained live at Living Out.

7 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/non-sexual-romantic-relationships/

8 Dougherty argues for this position in multiple articles at Living Out. See https://www.livingout.org/resources/becoming-christians-what-if-you-are-an-ssa-couple

9 https://www.livingout.org/resources/celibate-same-sex-couples

10 https://www.livingout.org/what-s-wrong-with-a-permanent-faithful-stable-same-sex-sexual-relationship?

11 https://www.livingout.org/what-does-the-bible-say-about-sex

12 https://www.livingout.org/does-living-out-support-gay-cure-or-conversion-therapy

13 Ibid.

Living Out Part 1 – The Shift

The Church’s Shift in Addressing Homosexuality

In my seminary days, Dr. Howard Hendricks warned us that the church tends to drift from one extreme to another. He declared that the church tends to be balanced only for a brief moment when it is swinging from one end of the pendulum to the other. I am reminded of this assessment as we see a major shift taking place in the way the church is addressing homosexuality. Some has been for the good and some for the worse.

Shifting for the Good

Sadly, I grew up in a time when it was common for Christians to bash homosexuals rather than to lovingly call them to repentance and faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I often heard preachers stand in the pulpit and ridicule homosexuals to the laughter of the audience. Even as a teenager, I was appalled to hear many Christians openly belittle homosexuals. No one struggling with that sin would openly admit their sinful condition before a church that would treat them as nothing more than an object of derision.

When I became a pastor, I was committed to our church being a safe place to confess any sin without fear of ridicule. Churches who commit to making their congregations safe places, while remaining committed to a clear call to repentance, have seen individuals set free from homosexuality by the power of the Gospel. As a church, we were able to say with Paul, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God” (1 Cor 6:11).

Furthermore, we gave opportunity for every person to serve in the church who had turned from sin and had been transformed by the Gospel. In my first pastorate, we even hired a man who struggled with same-sex attraction to work for our church on our support staff. He was walking in repentance and faith as well as seeking God to mortify that desire. This was twenty years ago, when such a thing would have likely been frowned upon by many who are now championing it.

First, I share these things because I am broken over how the church has treated homosexuals in the past. I am thankful to see the shift that has taken place in churches to demonstrate love towards those struggling with homosexuality. A voice calling for a more biblical attitude is Sam Allberry who is the founding editor of Living Out and works with the ministries of TGC, ERLC, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries et al. As a Christian minister who is same-sex attracted, Allberry has quickly become the leading authority among evangelicals on the issue of homosexuality.

I read his book, Is God Anti-Gay?, several years ago and found it biblically sound. For example, he argues that someone who struggles with same-sex attraction should not be shunned by the church because the same Gospel that saved me has the power to save them. I heartily agree. He also declares that one’s identity is not rooted in his sin struggle and no Christian should label himself as “gay.” I give an enthusiastic, “Amen!” This is a good and biblical shift in thinking that needs to come to many in the evangelical world.

The second reason why I share my experience is because I also find some of the shifts taking place in the church regarding this issue to be for the worse and deeply troubling. I fear the pendulum has swung past the point of biblical balance. Some seem to be moving from maliciously condemning people struggling with homosexuality to shrinking from their responsibility to call them to full repentance from their sin. When it comes to the issue of homosexuality in our culture, we must not bash, but we dare not blush at calling them to authentic biblical repentance.

Shifting for the Worse

I have serious concerns for the current movement in evangelical thought regarding how we address homosexuality in the church. They come from the same source that gave me hope in some of the good shifts taking place –  namely Sam Allberry and his ministry Living Out.

The first sign of concern for me was support from the official Twitter account of Living Out for a conference called “Revoice.” The organizers of Revoice were already on record promoting an unbiblical view of homosexuality. Their teachings have been rejected by every leading evangelical, including those who fully support Living Out. However, Living Out tweeted on May 4, 2018, “And for our US followers, there is of course the revoice.us event coming up in July which we highly recommend!”

After pushback over this shocking but seemingly enthusiastic support, the tweet was removed. It was claimed that it was an accident made by a misinformed intern or support staff. While willing to give the benefit of the doubt, it raised a red flag and caused me to look more closely at Sam Allberry’s ministry, Living Out. Some of what I found there was similar to the counsel coming from Revoice and there were direct links on the website that took you to the writings of the speakers at Revoice. In addition, much of the material at Living Out is equally disturbing.

My attention was immediately drawn to a 10-point Audit that would help a church identify whether it was biblically inclusive to the “LGBTQ+ community.” While several of the questions were clearly biblical and helpful, I was disconcerted by some of the language. The most careful review I have seen of this audit, which is published by Banner of Truth, is by Al Baker, a Presbyterian evangelist. He concluded that this audit was an example of “mainstreaming of homosexual perversion into the church.”[1]

Being in agreement with Baker’s overall assessment, I highly recommend reading his critique. However, I will briefly focus on the tenth statement of the Living Out audit, which reads, “No one would be pressured into expecting or seeking any ‘healing’ (their quotation marks, not mine) or change that God has not promised of us until the renewal of all things.”

Essentially, Living Out teaches that a same-sex attracted individual is fixed in his orientation and the orientation itself does not need to be mortified. While they admit that acting on the desires would be sin and even the attraction itself is a result of the fall, a church is not “biblically inclusive” if they tell a Christian who experiences same-sex attraction that they should even “seek” for God to remove that desire.[2] They go so far to say, “attempting to change someone’s sexual orientation sends a number of potentially damaging messages. . . . our sexual orientation is not a sign that we need counselling more than anyone else.”[3] While I agree Scripture nowhere promises that Christians will be free from all struggle with sin, it is crystal clear on how we should confront our sinful desires.

Paul writes in Colossians 3:5, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” The work of killing sin for the believer does not only attack the outward expressions of that sin, but goes all the way to the root of sin, which is located in the heart. We are to put to death the evil desires themselves. Seeking for God to bring “healing” to our evil desires is at the core of biblical teaching.

In light of all of this, I was very troubled to learn that several churches from my own denomination (SBC) were hosting or supporting Living Out conferences. I contacted two of those pastors and shared my concerns. They assured me that Sam Allberry and Living Out were being misunderstood and that there were more charitable ways of reading the aforementioned audit. I respect both of these pastors and wanted to believe what they were telling me was true.

But as I looked further into the Living Out website, I have discovered things that are even more deeply disturbing. Based on these findings, I do not believe that we should give a more charitable reading of that document, as I am convinced that the teachings of Living Out are inconsistent with a biblical worldview. If the ministries of TGC, the ERLC, and other evangelical leaders promoting the teachings of Sam Allberry’s Living Out have been unaware of what is taught on their website, I pray that this series will help them become aware of it and speak out against it. If they have been aware of this teaching before now, I am deeply concerned for the direction of these ministries.

Tomorrow, I will begin to share what I have found.

 

[1] https://banneroftruth.org/us/resources/articles/2019/lgbtq-audit/# 
[2] https://www.livingout.org/UserFiles/File/Living_Out_ChurchAudit.pdf
[3] https://www.livingout.org/does-living-out-support-gay-cure-or-conversion-therapy