MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, November 27th. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: a conversation with author and speaker Sam Allberry.
Allberry is an editor for The Gospel Coalition and author of the 2013 book Is God Anti-Gay? He’s also a full-time speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. He speaks and writes widely on issues of human sexuality and Christian identity.
REICHARD: Allberry is based in the U.K., but WORLD Radio’s J.C. Derrick recently caught up with him at an event in Dallas. Here are excerpts of their conversation.
J.C. DERRICK, MANAGING EDITOR: You are a pastor who openly identifies as same-sex attracted—not a typical position. So I’m curious about how you came to that place and also how that may or may not impact your ministry?
SAM ALLBERRY: I’ve been in local church ministry for the last 10 or 15 years. During that time, I hadn’t been open about same-sex attraction. I began to be open about five years ago and quickly realized that there was a need for teaching and ministry on this issue and that my own experience of it, combined with being a pastor, seemed to give me a slightly unique opportunity to be doing that kind of work. So, yes, my openness on this certainly without any foresight on my part became quite a significant turning point.
DERRICK: There’s a lot of discussion here in the American church and I think it probably goes for your orbit as well, about identity for believers. There are those who say that embracing being gay, using that word, and simply staying celibate is a great way to stay faithful to Christ. There are others that say our identity is in Christ, it’s not to identify with any particular temptation or sin. In other words, to say we would never say, “I’m an adulterer who’s not living that lifestyle,” you know? So, how can Christians navigate that identity question?
ALLBERRY: It really matters. We’ve got to understand who we are in the light of who Jesus says we are if we’re going to follow him in a way that’s healthy and vibrant. So, for me, as I started to kind of speak on this issue, I realized that I didn’t want to say, “I’m gay,” because that implies that this is my identity, this is how I see who I am. It implies something ontological that this is the category of person that I am, equivalent to a race.
So, I felt that language is just not reflective of a Christian understanding of identity. So I think I prefer saying, if anything, that I’m someone who has had experience of same-sex attraction or same-sex temptation because I don’t want to give this issue star billing by making it the kind of primary identifier of who I am.
DERRICK: So, recently here in the U.S. there was a major Christian college that made a change in its student behavior policy. And the old version just had a prohibition on same-sex relationships. The new one, which incidentally only lasted a few days before it was rescinded amid controversy, but it permitted romantic but non-sexual same-sex relationships among the students. Again, how do we think through things like this? Do you see wisdom in that? Is it a trap? What do you see?
ALLBERRY: Yeah, my answer is I think it’s profoundly unwise. I think it’s trying to blur two very different forms of relationship. The nature of friendship is that it is meant to be deep. It is something that can be beautifully and healthily intimate, but the moment we make it romantic, it becomes quasi-marital, and the nature of friendship itself is it doesn’t require exclusivity to work as a deep friendship. It’s not threatened by deep friendship with other people. It’s not a zero sum game.
When we get into the kind of romantic side of things, that’s different. A romantic relationship demands exclusivity, which is why it’s in the kind of quasi-marital kind of area. So I think to try to do a romantic but non-sexual friendship that isn’t a marriage, it’s a really unstable compound, and I don’t see it proceeding well healthily on both of those tracks, because they’re going in different directions. It’s a marriage without benefits and there’s no biblical category of relationship that that fits into.
DERRICK: Another recent story here among evangelicals here in the U.S., there was a conference called Revoice in St. Louis and, as the name would suggest, it was an effort to reevaluate these issues from an orthodox Biblical viewpoint on marriage. The organizers said they’re not compromising there, but just saying we need to talk more about this issue, to think about how we can be more welcoming, more loving and so on and so forth. Can you talk about the pros and cons of a conference like that?
ALLBERRY: Yeah, certainly in terms of do we need to help the church better think through this issue, better pastor those for whom this is part of our own experience, absolutely. I commend anyone who is trying to promote a Biblical view of marriage because that is not easy in this day and age.
My fear is that some people are trying to have Christian ethics with an unchristian anthropology, and that is where, I think, again, things are going to get unhealthy, unstable very quickly. It’s not going to work to try to live in a Christian way when it comes to ethical conduct if we have an unchristian view of our identity, because actually part of the motivation—perhaps the primary motivation the Bible gives us—to pursue holiness is because that is who we now are in Jesus.
And so I don’t want to take one aspect of the fallen nature and make it my primary category of personhood. I just think that’s a massive theological category mistake and, again, it’s an unstable compound that is not going to serve us well going down the road further. I think something’s going to give somewhere.
DERRICK: And yet at the same time, you just mentioned there the need for the church to do better on this. So can you talk about how, practically, what does the church need to do to better love people who identify as LGBT and particularly those who would identify themselves as Christians as well?
ALLBERRY: Yeah, if someone is converted out of an LGBT background, probably their default settings in terms of language and identity are going to be, “Well, I’m LGBT, but now I’m a Christian LGBT.” So, I think we want to help people to think Biblically about identity and the best forms of language to understand that and express it. And I think more broadly than that, if we’re going to pastor well on this issue, we’ve got to re-think what we mean by family life and church family, what we mean by singleness, having a healthy, biblical view of both marriage and singleness, making sure we’re providing a sense of community and healthy intimacy. And just understanding some of the different issues that people may face if they are experiencing this form of temptation.