LGBT, the Bible, and Sexual Identity
What does it look like to be same-sex attracted and a Christian? Does the Christian worldview condemn some to a life of loneliness?
If God is for us, how can He be against someone’s identity? What does it look like to be same-sex attracted and a Christian? Does the Christian worldview condemn some to a life of loneliness? How can Christians show the love of Christ to those who consider them narrow-minded? This week on Ask Away, Vince and Jo Vitale, along with guest Sam Allberry (RZIM speaker and author of Is God Anti-Gay?), address these and other listener-submitted questions on this important and sensitive topic.
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Michael Davis: Hello and welcome to another episode of Ask Away with Vince and Jo Vitale. I am your host, Michael Davis. The good news of the gospel is that thought we are fallen, though we face temptations that dog our heels every minute of every day and though we miss the mark of perfect holiness, Christ has made a way for us to be reconciled to a perfect and holy God.
Michael Davis: Those in Christ are no longer defined by their fallenness, their sins or their temptations. We are new creations and when God sees us, He sees the righteousness and sinlessness of Jesus.
Michael Davis: Yet our culture and many who claim the name of Christian have divorced holiness from Christianity. There are no more polarizing issues in the church today than those of homosexuality and gender identity. How are we to properly understand biblical marriage, gender and our identity in Christ? How are we to love those who deal with temptations that differ from our own? How do we maintain our Christian convictions in a culture that calls those convictions bigoted and evil?
Michael Davis: I am excited to say that we have one of the leading evangelical voices in the discussion in our studio today. Sam Allberry, before we get started, could you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself, your story and how you got involved in tackling these issues?
Sam Allberry: Well thank you for having me. It's great to join you. I work with RZIM as well, so I'm familiar with you guys as a team.
Jo Vitale: I'm so sorry. He's stuck with us.
Vince Vitale: Trying to start off so proper and then we're just going to go and throw a wrench in it.
Jo Vitale: Yeah.
Sam Allberry: So I've been with the team for about two and a half years. Prior to that I was involved in local church ministry. You can tell from my accent that like Jo, I'm from the English motherland which is where I'm still based.
Sam Allberry: In terms of how I got involved in tackling these issues, for me these issues are not abstract or hypothetical. They are part of my own story. Part of my own experience. As a non Christian teenager, I became gradually aware that I was attracted to men and not attracted to women. I remember around the age of 17 kind of realizing that very obviously and deciding at that point that I was going to explore that as a lifestyle. I was about to head off to university, so I was thinking this will be something I can explore when I get there.
Sam Allberry: But then I became a Christian just before I turned 18 and that also changed everything in life, but it immediately made me think, "Okay. I now have to look at this issue in the light of this man Jesus who I want to follow." So then I had to think through what does it mean to follow Jesus with this issue? How do I give this issue to Him? What does He say? What do I have to obey? What does He call me to do?
Sam Allberry: So that really began a process of I guess a few years of wrestling with this issue, trying to understand the mind of God from what we see in the scriptures. Trying to walk in the light of what God calls us to do. And then, in the last few years, this is an issue I've been having opportunities to speak about and write about as well.
Vince Vitale: If I could just jump in and say, Sam in part through his book, Is God Anti Gay and then just through hearing him speak and many conversations with him just in the context of a dear friendship as well, he's taught Jo and myself and Michael would say that he's taught us more on this issue than anyone else and so much just about discipleship generally. So if you haven't been able to engage with Sam on this issue, please do so.
Michael Davis: Well let's jump into the questions. We've got a lot to tackle and not lots of time to tackle it. This first question is from Kim.
Michael Davis: Even though God loves His children beyond our own understanding, the Bible is very clear about homosexuality and it being considered a sin. I believe homosexuality is a matter of identity. It is not an act. Not something you can choose to be. Even if a gay person decides to do the right thing by God and remain celibate, that means they will never be able to experience love, companionship, sex, etc. within marriage. They can live a full life and in many ways, but never that.
Michael Davis: This is incredibly difficult for me to understand as a Christian because at the end of the day it is such a gift to have a partner in life. How do I explain to a gay person or a friend that the God of the Bible who says He is for us and not against us is actually not okay with their identity?
Sam Allberry: Thank you, Kim. That is an amazing question. There are several issues bound up with that question. There's issues of identity, issues over what the Bible teaches, issues of where we find love and companionship, issues of how we understand what a full life is. So there's a lot of things for us to explore there. We could do several episodes on that one question.
Vince Vitale: Oh, absolutely.
Sam Allberry: I think I want to begin where the question ends. How do I explain to a gay person or friend that the God of the Bible who says He's for us and not against us is actually not okay with their identity.
Sam Allberry: I think part of the issue is that is the case for all of us. Part of what happens when we encounter the message of Jesus Christ, His call to discipleship, is that actually we begin to realize the identity we have come up with for ourselves, whoever we are, is an identity that needs to be rewritten by Jesus Christ.
Sam Allberry: Because the fact is none of us apart from a relationship with God can truly understand who we are. We just don't have access to that information. So we think we get who we are and what our life is about and what defines us, but part of discipleship is actually learning to give that whole issue to Jesus and learning from Him who we truly are.
Sam Allberry: So I love the testimony of the Samaritan woman in John four who goes back after her encounter with Jesus and says, "Come and meet a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?" She's encountered this man who made sense of her in a way that she couldn't make sense of herself. That's true of all of us.
Sam Allberry: So for anyone coming to faith, beginning their journey with Jesus, there is a process and it's painful of realizing that the things I had defined my life around are not actually the center of my life. And we kind of got to follow the scripts Jesus gives us on that. So this is not an issue that is unique to those who would self identify as gay. It is true for every single one of us.
Sam Allberry: That I think helps because it means it's not that this group of people is being singled out and it's much harder for them than it is for anybody else. The same challenge is there for all of us.
Sam Allberry: But I think where this can be perhaps uniquely difficult when it comes to this issue is because our culture puts such an emphasis on sexual identity. So our culture basically says you are your sexuality, whatever you understand your sexual proclivities to be. That is you at your most you. And it therefore makes that all important because if that is who you are then that has to be fulfilled in order for you to live authentically as who you are. You can't have a full life without being sexually fulfilled if you are your sexuality. Which is a very common way to think.
Sam Allberry: It's actually not very good news because if you're missing out on sexual fulfillment, you will feel as though you are missing out on the best in life that you can never be your real self and I think that can lead to a crushing sense of despair, a crushing sense of if I am my sexuality then maybe my life is not worth living if I'm not sexually fulfilled. It's a very dangerous line of argument.
Sam Allberry: It's also bad news for those who would say they are sexually fulfilled because it's basically saying to them this is as good as it gets. This is life to the full. And I think many people would say that they feel sexually fulfilled, but it's not satisfying their deepest needs in life.
Sam Allberry: So we have a much better way of responding to this. Jesus just in who He is challenges that because Jesus was someone who was not married, not romantically involved, not sexually active and yet He was the most complete person who ever lived. So we can't make something like marriage or sex or romance intrinsic for human fulfillment unless we end up saying Jesus wasn't really the full human being that He claims to be.
Jo Vitale: Yeah. That's such a good word, Sam. And Kim, what I really appreciate about your question is you're asking it out of the desire to love people well. And that's the heart of the question. Do I have a good message to share with people? And one thing that I've learned from Sam that really encouraged me when I was wrestling with the same question as an evangelist is, how do I talk about this in a way...you know, is this message less compelling somehow?
Jo Vitale: And Sam really challenged that when he said the gospel is not less good news for those who are same sex attracted. Actually, the gospel is good news for everybody. And it's a real challenge to our convictions. Do we believe that? And partly it comes down to this thing you put a finger on, Kim, when you said they won't be able to experience love or companionship.
Jo Vitale: And I think that's a really interesting way to put it because Sam spoke of the idol of sexual identity, but I also think what you referred to at the end that marriage and romance are also huge idols in our culture and we basically think you haven't lived a fully human life unless you've had the Disney happily ever after into the sunset and wow, how much that messed us all up watching so many Disney films from a young age on whereas in thinking that's the culmination of life.
Jo Vitale: I always get nervous when I sometimes have people come to me and say, "Well, God has spoken to me and He's promised me that I'm going to get married." I'm not saying God couldn't say something like that to somebody. Maybe God does sometimes make promises like that, but I get very nervous because I think wow, if that's a misunderstanding and then you don't get married, are you going to feel like God has let you down or that there's no longer good news for you? What are you believing for? Are you believing God for who He is or for what you get out of it in terms of expectations for relationship.
Jo Vitale: I remember one of my best friends really challenging me after a breakup when I was miserable. She just said to me, "Jo, God doesn't promise us a partner. He promises us Himself." And at the time that sounded like bad news to me. That sounded like settling. And the more I've reflected on it, I thought why am I thinking that God is a second best option? That relationship with God is the last good thing? God promises us Himself. Yes, there's that desire for companionship and it makes sense. We're wired that way. We're made for love and relationship. But the one we're made for is truly a person, but it's Jesus Christ. And that, as you say, is very good news.
Sam Allberry: It is. And that is the marriage we are promised.
Jo Vitale: Right.
Vince Vitale: Yes, exactly.
Sam Allberry: That's the key thing, isn't it? And I guess as well, culturally we've put all of our eggs in the basket of romantic and sexual fulfillment. That is what will make me feel whole and complete. The Bible speaks in a much broader range of how we experience intimacy, a sense of being deeply known. A key part of that has got to be the life of the local church that actually we should be having that kind of sense of being a family, of being one with each other as well.
Sam Allberry: So the choice isn't either I have a romantic relationship now or I just have to make do with God.
Jo Vitale: Right.
Sam Allberry: God is wonderful, but He designs us to have human intimacy as well. And intimacy is a much broader category in the Bible than it is in our culture.
Vince Vitale: Yeah, and as you were speaking Sam, I was thinking even in terms of marriage, human marriage. It is very discouraging if you think that the identity has to be in the sexual fulfillment of the marriage. I mean, even anyone who's married is going to get older. There's going to be different seasons in life, you know.
Sam Allberry: Absolutely.
Vince Vitale: And even in the context of a human marriage, if that's what the value in the relationship is then you're setting yourself up for a really bad end to that relationship. So what you said is relevant no matter where someone applies that in their lives.
Sam Allberry: Yeah, it's a massive burden to put on one poor human being.
Vince Vitale: Yeah. One other thing Sam that I've always remembered and I've taken from you is so on the one hand, and you've already spoken to this, that there can be a fulfilled life, there can be worthwhile life even without sex being a part of it and how contrary that is to what our culture sometimes says. But then, I love when you go and sometimes I throw you in this and ask you to speak to this verse, but I might do it again Sam because I just from the first time you taught on this and applied it to this issue I just found it so incredibly helpful that it wasn't just that Christianity was saying you can live a worthwhile life if this is something that you struggle with. Or if you're going to live a life that doesn't include sexual fulfillment.
Vince Vitale: But actually there's this promise that's even so much greater than that. And maybe I'll just read this verse from Mark 10. And if you don't mind offering a couple reflections on it, Sam. I'd love to hear them again.
Sam Allberry: Sure.
Vince Vitale: Mark 10:29, Jesus says, "Truly I tell you, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age, homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields, along with persecutions and in the age to come eternal life." Tell us how that verse is relevant to what we've been talking about.
Sam Allberry: Yeah, thank you. I love that passage. I think my favorite word in the entire English language might be the word a hundredfold.
Vince Vitale: Excellent.
Sam Allberry: Just because of what that promise is giving us. Jesus is, again, He's assuming there that there'll be things that we leave in order to follow Him. That's basic discipleship. There will be a cost. He also assumes the most costly things to leave will be familial and relational. And for some people they literally if they are going to be faithful to Jesus sometimes that will mean they do literally leave their entire family, kin, network.
Sam Allberry: But Jesus doesn't then say even if that's the prospect it's just going to be awful, but grit your teeth and one day you'll get eternal life. Jesus says even in this life it is disproportionately worth it to follow Him. And that's because what we are giving up in that passage, Jesus is promising us in godly kind and much greater measure. So again, He's promising us that in Him we will receive mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. We will be given family in Him.
Sam Allberry: It's an unusual promise because it's one that depends on the people of God to fulfill it.
Vince Vitale: Yes.
Sam Allberry: That we are meant to be the mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and sons and daughters to each other. So it's a challenge for all of us. Who am I being that for? In my own circles, who is the person who apart from the people of God is not going to have parents, siblings, children, all those sorts of things. So it's amazing. And basically, the challenge then falls on the local church to say are we fulfilling in our own life that promise of Jesus? When we talk about our church being a family, are we saying that just because it makes us sound nice or are we saying that because we really mean it? That we are a family to one another.
Sam Allberry: My challenge to churches and I guess especially to pastors is are we in the way we're conducting our church life, are we making Jesus out to be a liar?
Vince Vitale: Wow.
Sam Allberry: I.e., if you're not married, if you don't have your own biological family, do you feel isolated in your church or can you actually say oh no, no, no. I have so much family here. That's the challenge. But if we are, if church is being the kind of people Jesus says we should be, we are demonstrating to a watching world that it is abundantly worth it to follow Jesus. It's not just you can survive just about with being a Christian. It's actually you will have far more than you would have had were you not a follower of Jesus.
Vince Vitale: What you just shared, Sam, it completely inverted my approach to conversations about the Christian faith and how it relates to homosexuality and I felt like it went from not justifying what God doesn't have for someone, but offering what God does have for someone. That he has a hundredfold more. And it just gave me so much more confidence and peace speaking to this topic that I could begin the conversation feeling deeply that God loves people with every attraction, any struggle, any sin.
Vince Vitale: God loves gay people. He wants the best for them. And that's why he's offering a hundredfold more. It's not about what He doesn't have for them. It's about what He does have for them if there's commitment to live life together with Him in the context of discipleship and the church as you say. And what you say about the church is so challenging.
Vince Vitale: And I just think about one pastor said to me there was a gang member who had converted, came to the church, quickly walked away. He asked him, "Why didn't you stick it out? Why didn't you stay with church?" And he said, "I didn't realize it was just one hour on a Sunday." Because when he was part of that gang, they weren't doing good things, but he had a sense of family and it was day to day, hour to hour, week to week. And then he joined the church with this promise of a new family and it was an hour a week on a Sunday. And then it's no surprise that it didn't become a lasting part of his life.
Jo Vitale: Yeah, that challenge already hit home for me a few months ago when I was speaking with a student on a university campus and they were really interested in Christianity. I would say they were right on the point where they were open to giving their lives to Christ, but they were same sex attracted and so the question they asked me really intrigued me. Because often when I'm speaking with students, they're struggling with the idea of even giving up sex before marriage and any kind of sacrifice for God. But this student said, "If I follow Christ and I embrace a life of celibacy, would the church be excited to have somebody like me?"
Jo Vitale: And I just thought, "Wow, he's really seeing the cost here and he's actually open because he's seen how beautiful the person of Jesus is and the life that He's offering." And my reaction, instinctive reaction, is to say, "Absolutely. The church would love to have somebody like you and you'd be a blessing and God has plans for your life and we need you." And these positive responses, but there was a part of me deep down that was thinking, "Oh, but dear Lord, I don't live here and please let it be the case that the local church here would be excited to have him."
Jo Vitale: It's why I'm so thrilled that actually you're writing a book on singleness and it's going to be out next year and we will bring you back on to talk more about that topic then. But I think that is a book that's really needed for the church just to have that holistic vision of the relationships we're called to and what intimacy looks like in a much deeper way than the nuclear family model that it's so often idolized as.
Michael Davis: So this next question comes from Lori. “Our 26 year old daughter just told us she was gay and we believe that the Bible sees this as a sin. She's very angry at my husband and I for raising her so narrow mindedly. So the question I have is what can I ask her in response to her questions and how do we show the love of Christ without condoning the lifestyle?”
Sam Allberry: Thank you Lori. Again, that's a very personal question. It's a very immediate question for you. Actually, it's a fairly common question as well. There are so many people who are in similar kinds of situations where someone close to them is identifying as gay whether it's a child or a parent or a sibling. So these are situations so many of us have to deal with. And again, it's why this is not an abstract, hypothetical issue. When we think of this issue we're thinking of people that we know and love very dearly. People who are very close to us.
Sam Allberry: There are I think a few things you can ask her in response to what she's raised. There are so many things to say on this and obviously, not knowing you and not knowing her and the dynamic you have, it's very hard to be prescriptive. But a few general things that I hope might help.
Sam Allberry: One is to thank her for being honest with you. And to assume that it probably wasn't a very easy thing to raise. Generally, telling your Christian parents this is an issue, most people would be anxious about doing that. So I think the most important, immediate, short term response is just to thank her for being open with you to kind of reassure her that was the right thing to do, that you appreciate that she's trusted something very deep and personal to you. So do show her gratitude for that.
Sam Allberry: I think, too, if she is comfortable sharing with you a bit more on it, is just to ask her some very gentle questions about how long she's known and what it's been like for her and how she's feeling about it. There's a verse in Proverbs I always come back to in these kinds of situations. Proverbs chapter 18 verse 13 says, "If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame." Sometimes to quote a friend of mine at church, we need to give someone a thoroughly good listening to before we then think about what we're going to say.
Sam Allberry: Because actually, the more we listen the more we'll get a sense of where someone actually is, how they got there and what the starting point should be for then how we respond to them. So I think that's an important step as well just to find out if she's comfortable sharing more just to get a bit more of that story, find out what the ups and downs have been and that kind of thing.
Sam Allberry: I think then, as well, you've asked how do we show the love of Christ without condoning the lifestyle? Again, this is an issue that is true of every human being we encounter. Every person we meet we want to care for and love, share Christ with, but we don't want to condone the particular sins that person is involved with.
Sam Allberry: It's something where I think that the Bible, again, says something very different to our culture. Our culture tends to say if you love me you have to affirm me. In the Bible as far as I understand it, I'm called to unconditionally love people. I'm not called to unconditionally affirm them. And, in fact, the act of loving someone will sometimes mean I can't affirm them. Which actually parents, I presume, would know anyway just from dealing with children generally that because you love them you don't let them do certain things and all the rest of it.
Sam Allberry: So I think when it's your own flesh and blood child in this kind of situation, you're playing a long game. I think that we're not going to resolve all these issues by next Wednesday with them. It's good for them to know that you love them by the way you now handle this part of their life. That you are gentle. You are careful. You are tender. You're quick to listen and slow to speak. And not to be in a rush to say everything that you believe about this issue.
Sam Allberry: I think there's a wisdom issue of when is the right moment to do that. At this stage, I think the child needs to know you're still for them. You're still their parent. That bond is not going to change because of this disclosure.
Sam Allberry: And I think part of when you do get to talk about that specific issue of being raised so narrow mindedly is to try to show how actually Jesus teaching on this issue is deeply challenging and humbling for every single one of us. He teaches in places like Matthew 15 that sex outside of marriage is He calls it a sin. He says it defiles us. He says in Matthew 19 that marriage is between a man and a woman. That marriage is based on our having been made as male and female.
Sam Allberry: If we understand what Jesus is saying there and the implications of that, there's not a single one of us who should not be deeply humbled by that. We all have different ways in which we have fallen very far short of Jesus teaching. So in that sense, I wouldn't say it's the teaching itself is not narrow minded because it levels the playing field. It says actually and this is part of the response I take it to a child in this situation is we're all in this together. Us as parents have fallen very far short of God's standards on this. There are many times we've had to repent and learn difficult lessons.
Sam Allberry: I think that then makes it just a safer issue to talk about because there's no presumed position of superiority or judgmentalism. Actually, we're all being refined and exposed by the words of Jesus.
Vince Vitale: That's so good and in the last year I had one experience, which was just such an encouragement to me which picks up on some of what you said, Sam. And it was at the end of a service a young woman came down to the front to talk and she had walked away from church a number of years prior because she had realized she was same sex attracted and had come out as gay and had told her parents and had figured that the church was no longer the place for her and then walked away. But she told me when she came down to the front of the church that when she first told her parents, her dad's first words to her were, "I have given my life in order to be your father and there's nothing you could ever do that could ever change my love for you."
Vince Vitale: I'm sure they had many other conversations about all sorts of things after that, but those are the first words out of his mouth and I just found that so moving and so helpful. And it was so powerful because in the context of the church service then during the time of musical worship when she had come back to church for the first time, she said that she just had this deep sense inside that those words were not only the words of her human father, but also of her heavenly Father saying quite literally, "I have given in Jesus my life in order to be your Father, your God, and nothing you could do could ever change my love for you."
Vince Vitale: And she decided that she wanted to pursue relationship with Jesus again. And the other part of that story that always strikes me is that the sermon that day was on the cost of discipleship and it leveled the playing field in that way as well and some of the stories that were told and the people and the lives that were highlighted were people who were really understanding that there's a high cost of discipleship for every person that decides to follow Jesus. And all of a sudden, it didn't seem so odd to her that there might be both a cost and then also the hundredfold that you spoke about.
Vince Vitale: I think sometimes we frame this in such that there's certain types of people or people with certain types of attractions or certain circumstances in their life for whom Christianity is challenging, but then there are other people for whom it's allowed to be easy. And it's just not.
Michael Davis: Yeah. That's right.
Sam Allberry: That's so important, isn't it? I think sometimes people will feel as though they're being singled out for particular condemnation and sometimes that does happen in the church. Sometimes we make homosexuality our go to sin when we're preaching and we're looking for examples of...you know, it's easy to kind of pick on that one. There's far more heterosexual sin going on in any given church family than there is homosexual sin.
Vince Vitale: Absolutely.
Sam Allberry: Sometimes we focus on one more than the other. So I think we kind of need to look at ourselves and think have I been consistent on this? Or have I tended to kind of single out this sin and make it the kind of punch-bag sin that I go to rather than the thing. I think we're much stricter with other people's sins than we are with our own.
Michael Davis: Well guys, we are out of time. Sam, sum it up for us.
Sam Allberry: Thank you. Well, we can't just sum this up with a sentence obviously.
Vince Vitale: We figured it all out, right Sam?
Sam Allberry: We've scratched the surface of some aspects of this issue. I'm sure there are much more discussions that need to be had in due course, but I think for now the key thing is Jesus treats us all the same. The gospel is good news for every single one of us and it's not easy news for any single one of us. It is not more costly and less beneficial to someone just because they're gay. If there's no hope for gay people, there's no hope for anyone. We're all in this together.
Jo Vitale: Sam, thank you so much for what you shared with us today. And just to reaffirm what Sam has said that we've had so many questions come in on this subject and we will certainly be having Sam back on the show to talk more about this as well.
Vince Vitale: Please.
Jo Vitale: So we're aware. I know many of you are thinking, but what about my question on this topic? We will continue to talk about this because there's so much more to say. But I thank you for the tone in which you've said it today and Sam's just someone we admire not only for the message he brings, but for the way he really loves Jesus. And I look at his life and I do see that promise of the gospel lived out of both the challenge in the cost of discipleship, but also the abundance of life. So thank you for the faithful way that you're walking and how much we learn from that.
Jo Vitale: One resource I just want to highlight is called livingout.org. It's just a fantastic website. If this is something you want to be thinking more about, if you want to hear more stories of other people who are really wrestling with this question of what does it mean that I am same sex attracted, but I'm also a Christian and how do I engage with this question. What does it mean to live out as a Christian publicly while also being aware of challenges around the question of sexuality, do check out that website. It's just full of amazing stories from people who are walking this out together and desiring to live faithfully for Christ but also loving the world and sharing the gospel. So I highly commend the website to you. That's livingout.org.
Michael Davis: Sam, Jo, Vince, thank you guys for joining me. Thank y'all for listening and we will catch you next week.