SAM ALLBERRY has been a pastor at St Mary’s Church, Maidenhead, UK since 2008. Prior to that he worked as the pastor for students at St Ebbe’s Church, Oxford, UK. Sam is a contributor to the website LivingOut.org, which seeks to biblically help those who struggle with same-sex attraction. He is the author of the book?Is God Anti-Gay?
Sam was kind enough to answer some questions about his experiences with same-sex attraction (SSA), as well as provide insight into how the church can effectively serve those who struggle with SSA.
How can church members serve those in their congregations who struggle with SSA?
A big factor is creating the kind of church culture where someone feels safe enough to share that they struggle with SSA. That seems to be a major hurdle for many I’ve spoken to. If we only speak about homosexuality in the context of culture wars – as a nasty problem ‘out there’ – then we will make it harder and harder for our own brothers an sisters to feel able to speak up about it personally. Something that needs to be remembered alongside this is that someone who has shared about personal struggles with SSA may not need/want that to be the main thing you talk to them about. We must be careful not to define fellow-believers by any one struggle they experience. Many Christians with SSA will be thinking about the demands of likely long-term singleness, and so we need to make our churches places where people can flourish as singles rather than it feel like they’re being sentenced to years of unremitting loneliness. We need to treat the people of God as family; those with biological families need to open up their home lives to the unmarried.
What unhelpful things do Christians say about SSA?
It can vary. Some seem immediately to latch on to the idea that SSA means counselling must be an urgent need. I’ve known a number who have needed counselling but it strikes me as a strange and unhealthy gut reaction to go straight there when the issue comes up. I’ve had some people say something along the lines of ‘Well I’d suspected as much; it’s fairly obvious’ which then made me wonder quite what they meant. Sometimes people will say something like ‘Well that explains why you’re so sensitive’ as though such an attribute could exist nowhere else. Others assume what the battle will and won’t mean and will start pronouncing guidelines about whether you should have male friends, etc. But I think the worst thing I heard was someone who’s reaction was basically ‘EEEEEEWWW’ – and he was a pastor…!
Some Christians seem to believe that deliverance from SSA means reorientation of sexual desires. Clearly this hasn?t been your experience. What would you say to those Christians?
I think the main thing is to keep coming back to what the Scriptures do and don’t say. When someone makes a claim about being delivered, or desires reorienting I want to press them on what their biblical warrant is for saying that. All of us have skewed sexual desires; none of us is ‘straight’ in that sense. And we hope that we will respond to those desires with godly discipline. It may be that in the Lord’s goodness he diminishes the strength of those desires, but it would be unusual for him to remove the temptation altogether this side of glory. It seems to me that the biblical pattern is God teaching us to stand up under temptation. At the end of the day, I know the most important thing in my life is to become more like Christ. That matters more than my desires being reoriented. If they switched to being heterosexual I’d still be struggling with sexual temptation – it’d just come in a different form.
How would you encourage a person who is struggling with SSA, and doesn?t quite know what to do with their desires??
There are a number of things to say by way of encouragement. The first is to try not to make too much of it. The Bible nowhere says that our sexual desires define who we are. So we mustn’t translate the presence of SSA into a new way of seeing ourselves. The way society insists our desires are fixed and defining is deeply unhealthy and destructive. The flip-side of not seeing this desires as defining is to make sure we’re very clear on the things that are defining: having been created by God as male or female, our standing before him through and in the person of his Son. These are the things we need to see ourselves in the light of.
Secondly, try not to assume the presence of these feelings necessarily means anything. Experiencing SSA does not mean that’s now a permanent fixture. For many people, these feeling have come and gone with time and natural development. And for those of us for whom these feelings seem to be long-term, again try not to make quick assumptions about what that will and won’t mean. A number of long-term SSA Christians have been able to experience healthy marriages; some of us haven’t. So try not to assume either way. And be careful what you set your heart on as your long term prize. I pined and prayed for marriage and family for a number of years before realising that there was an even greater thing to long for and cherish – a deeper relationship with Jesus. Once that is the goal, it puts other things in a much healthier perspective. I now realise I don’t need to be married (though the Lord may yet enable it), but I do need to be more like Christ. If continued struggling with all this is something he can use to that end, then I will be thankful.
With all unwanted desires, we have the blessing of bringing them to the Lord again and again. I am so thankful that as a Christian I can come before my heavenly Father and be open about the worst things in my heart. I know I can come to him with all the rot and darkness. So don’t hide your desires from him: confess them with all the heaviness and hopefulness of someone who knows they stand secure in his grace. And pray that alongside those unwanted desires God grows and deepens an even stronger desire for him and for his service. Desire Christ more.
What resources would you recommend??
There are all sorts of resources. The testimonies of other Christians faithfully battling SSA continue to encourage me, so I’ve found enormous encouragement from Wesley Hill’s Washed And Waiting and Rosaria Butterfield’s The Secret Thoughts Of An Unlikely Convert. I hope the testimonies and articles on our website, LivingOut.org, will be a help to those with SSA and those wanting them to flourish in Christ. And may the ministry of the gospel through the local church increasingly be the very best resource for struggling Christians!