Book Review: Same-Sex Attraction and the Church

same-sex attractionAt the end of 2015, a new book hit the shelves, one that touches on a very pertinent issue within western society today: same-sex relationships.

That book is Ed Shaw’s Same-Sex Attraction and the Church. Shaw is pastor of Emmanuel City Centre in Bristol, England.

His book is an important one because of 2 main reasons:

a) He is a man who experiences same-sex attraction, though refraining from same-sex relationships. Because of this, I believe he has much to offer in the conversation.

b) He identifies 9 missteps that surround this important discussion. But, in doing so, Shaw lays out one very important misstep that happens on both sides of the fence. That grave misstep is that we believe our sexuality determines our identity. Whether one stands in favor of or against same-sex relationships, I agree wholeheartedly that this storyline is deeply flawed! Our identity is not primarily centered in our sexuality. It is a part of our make-up, but not the primary part and definitely not the full picture.

Remember, when reading his 9 missteps, they are not merely directed at those in favor of same-sex relationships. Rather they are pointed at both sides. Some of these are points we’ve probably heard addressed on a regular basis when it comes to this topic, but others add a fresh perspective to the conversation.

The 9 missteps are:

  1. Your identity is your sexuality
  2. A family is a mom, dad and 2.4 children.
  3. If you’re born gay, it can’t be wrong to be gay.
  4. If it makes you happy, it must be right!
  5. Sex is where true intimacy is found.
  6. Men and women are equal and interchangeable.
  7. Godliness is heterosexuality.
  8. Celibacy is bad for you.
  9. Suffering is to be avoided.

While a) I deeply grieve at some of the rhetoric within the church, b) I desire to find a better pastoral path in walking with those who have same-sex attractions, and c) I do want to genuinely understand some of the psychological issues behind the scenes, I am one who does believe God’s good design for committed and faithful marriage relationships is that of a one woman and one man.

Yet I will also say this: I am grateful for these beautiful folk who are also created in the image of our good and gracious Father. We must, and by must, I mean must, find a better way forward in authentically listening to and loving them, while also offering a call to holy love of the Father in whose image they have been created.

If interested, Ed’s own story can be seen in the short video below.

6 thoughts on “Book Review: Same-Sex Attraction and the Church

  1. If I am to be very honest, I have finally concluded that:

    a) heterosexual relationships are predatory, and there is nothing anyone can say that will make me think otherwise – I have been trying for over 30 years to try to find some other way to think of them, and it has just proved totally impossible;

    b) the only way I can function as a woman is to remain single and celibate and never have a total connection with anyone – basically shut myself up in a cage for the sake of my own sanity;

    c) I don’t want to do that, so I have transitioned and begun living as a man;

    d) my answer to the question, “What if the ‘special friend’ in my life is now of the same sex?’ is that the quality of the connection is more important than the question of who has what plumbing;

    e) the only way I can continue to believe God is good is if I assume that heterosexuality is not an ideal – it is at most an option which I am free not to pursue, and that the important thing about the creation story is not the genders of Adam and Eve, but the idea of companionship and connection. And even that is an uneasy balance.

    • Hey –

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      I’m imagining that, at least going by what you’ve shared, this is a difficult situation for you. I don’t have all the answers, nor could I pretend to do so over the web. What I can hope is that our Father is bringing important people in your life to listen to you, walk with you, and help you grow in the things of Jesus.

      • Yes, it has been. A lot has happened in the past few months… I admit that I have learned a lot over the years from interacting with people who represent different thought/belief systems from mine, and this has been no exception. I have been surprised to find out in what measure it has been possible to interact positively and constructively in such a situation.

        This is the thing though: to really talk sensibly to such a person, one has to pose the questions they pose, and of course figure out how one would answer them. And it can end up changing one’s thinking in unexpected ways, so that for example, I am probably still at least still more of a Christian than anything else… but I also know the answer to the question, “How would I live if I found out that God doesn’t exist?” – this happened at a moment when a bunch of friends suddenly “came out of the closet” as atheists all at the same time (and here God had convicted me shortly before that, that I needed to spend more time with non-theists to understand their thinking…).

        I’ve become annoyed with the manner in which many public testimonies of Christian faith give the impression that the person is worshiping God’s blessings, and not God Himself – and that, from a question I heard a young Muslim revert pose in his testimony of faith.

        I’ve discovered that I was independently posing the sorts of questions that universalists pose, and ended up explaining the gospel very differently from how I used to – that the purpose of Jesus’ sacrifice is to remove the punishment and reward paradigm from the picture so that we can come to God for the right reasons.

        I’ve met an agnostic who loves the Word more than probably most evangelical Christians I know. And figured out a way to “say the Rosary” together – what we ended up doing was just reading Scripture passages together that talk about each of the mysteries in a given series.

        And now this. It’s been quite a ride.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts, Scott – and yours, Karolboski.

    My own thoughts, for what they’re worth, are that Ed Shaw is right that we shouldn’t define ourselves in terms of our sexuality. But we ALL tend to define ourselves in terms of our difference, our alterity. Since most people identify as “straight,” they tend not to define themselves in this way. Be honest: when’s the last time you met someone who introduced themselves as heterosexual? It’s not a defining characteristic in that sense. The consequence is that sexuality and sex are perhaps less spoken about than they deserve to be (in the church, at any rate), leading to a sense of alienation for those who identify as somewhere on the LGBTI spectrum; especially given the opprobrium lots of Christians still attach to same-sex attraction, which for some reason seems to exceed our condemnation of a lot of other sexual sin.

    I hope Ed’s book launches a debate that we clearly need, and I hope your blog plays a part in stimulating that, too.

    • Tom –

      Thanks for commenting. You’re right that most people don’t state the status quo about their identity. I won’t launch out necessarily (if ever) and tell people I’m heterosexual…unless they ask. Same with many things about me – telling them I’m type A, extroverted, left-brained, lover of writing/reading, etc.

      Now, of course, I think our sexuality is a part of us. But it is not THE defining characteristic. I think too much rhetoric is charged in this way – “Well, I’m heterosexual because that’s God’s plan!” “Well, I’m gay and I believe God says it is ok!” We’re all try to best one another based upon our idea of our sexual identity. Because it’s the supercharged issue of today, we don’t even allow for ourselves to be MORE than our sexuality.

      We have a messed up idea of identity and sexuality on BOTH sides of the conversation. We have to see this.

      Having said that, you are right to point out the alienation. I want my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, made in the image of God, to know that I want to walk with them, listen, understand, even before I’m able to speak into their personal situation. I believe we should not speak until we have listened

    • I think there are even gay people who will say that “just like it is God’s plan for your life that you be straight, it is God’s plan for my life that I be gay”. See, there was one thing that always kept me from categorically coming out against homosexual relationships, especially if they were intentionally and actually permanent and monogamous. Remember in Matthew 19, how Jesus deals with the notion of divorce? He states the ideal. But then He appears to take up the question of, “OK, that’s very nice except… my life isn’t ideal. I’m already divorced. Now what?”

      It could be argued that the answer to that question for a gay person is, “The important thing is the quality of the relationship, so go ahead and have a relationship with someone you able to love – even someone of the same sex – but just make sure it meets the quality standards (i.e. leaving, cleaving and weaving) that are given in the Word.”

      Now, I do believe in miracles. So that was, as it were, what kept me from pursuing a homosexual relationship. But that was until I realized that there are certain objective facts surrounding heterosexual relationships that no amount of redemption will change. Facts that I am in no way able to accept.

      The weird part is that on an everyday basis, this stuff doesn’t make any practical difference in my life. I am not currently “in a relationship”, so I am single and celibate, and – surprise, surprise – I actually have a life 😛 I realize that many people find that to be oxymoronic – and that may be part of what the author was trying to address.

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