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15 August 2014

Christians and same-sex attraction: the other side of the story

Christian singer and songwriter Vicky Beeching has done this week what I did as a Christian pastor last year –been open and honest about her same-sex attraction.

On the face of it we seem to have been driven by the same aim: to contribute our personal perspectives to the much-needed debate the Church is having on this issue.

I share her desire to challenge and change much about evangelicalism's perceived approach to this issue. We have often needed, but failed, to repent of wrong, hypocritical attitudes to homosexual sin and brokenness: there have been times when we've acted as if it were only gay people who had got things wrong sexually. In reality there isn't a single church member in this country who is not sexually broken in some way.

I'd also recognise how regularly there has been unloving application of what God says about gender, sexuality and sex. There is sadly the kind of false teaching that allowed Vicky to develop unhealthy feelings about herself –rather than the discovery of a secure identity in Christ, whatever her sexual feelings. Same-sex attraction is not an unforgiveable sin, in any shape or form.

But Vicky's story is not the whole story. I've personally experienced so much genuine acceptance and love when I've shared my experience of same-sex attraction with fellow evangelical Christians. Rather than looking down on me they've looked up to me –wanting to benefit from my perspective.

There has been a widespread welcome from evangelical leaders across the theological spectrum for www.livingout.org –a website that a group of same-sex attracted Christians set up to help the Church understand how they can better enable those who experience same-sex attraction to flourish in our midst. Vicky's bad experience is not everyone's and we are working hard to ensure better theological reflection and pastoral care in the future.

We do need to accept that, embarrassingly, the Church has not always got everything right in this area. But tragically it is Vicky who is wrong on the morality of gay sexual relationships.

We are simply not at liberty to change what the Bible says about sex being for the marriage of a man and a woman (Genesis 1-2). We cannot alter this God-given picture of the eternal marriage of Christ and his Church (Revelation 21-22) with unity in difference at its heart. Jesus didn't –despite all his counter-cultural actions and words to women, tax-collectors, lepers and Gentiles –and neither should we. Vicky, and others like her, are wrong to try and change the essence of what the Church has always taught in this area.

So we need to hear Vicky's story, but then listen to other same-sex attracted Christians who have a different story to tell. Our stories rarely make the national newspapers or TV news, but large numbers of us want to remain faithful to the teaching of the Bible. We do this, not only because we believe that God's word is good, but also because, in the end, we believe it signposts the route to human flourishing –and to life itself.

Ed Shaw is the pastor of Emmanuel (City Centre) in Bristol and part of the team behind www.livingout.org