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Book Review:
Same Sex Attraction and the Church:
The Surprising Plausibility of the Celibate Life

If you are same-sex-attracted, single, or just trying to support someone else who is facing these challenges, you are going to find a lot to help in the pages of this book.
Read Time: 5 minutes

This book offers a plausible solution to the problem of how human beings who are sexually attracted to their own sex can live a life in Christ. It also explains how it is possible to faithfully live a celibate lifestyle, whatever your sexuality, and how a Christian community can support those who are trying to do so.

If you are same-sex-attracted, single, or just trying to support someone else who is facing these challenges, you are going to find a lot to help in the pages of this book.

The author of the book, Mr. Ed Shaw, is a pastor in the Church of England, Evangelical Alliance. He is not a Christadelphian. His book contains many statements Christadelphians will consider theologically problematic, including references to heaven as the reward of the righteous.

While these are not the book’s focus, the author clearly believes in many of the errors of Christendom, and I wouldn’t recommend the book to anyone whose faith might be shaken. What makes this book so powerful is that, despite his doctrinal errors, Mr. Shaw clearly believes the Bible is the inerrant word of God, and he is trying his best to follow what it says.

Although he personally is sexually attracted to other men, he has chosen not to indulge in his sexual desires but instead has elected to live a celibate lifestyle. One of the things that makes this book persuasive is that it’s written by someone living what he is preaching.

He is facing head-on all the difficulties and heartaches that self-denial brings. However, despite all that, he not only believes the lifestyle he has chosen is right but that it is the best possible lifestyle for someone with same-sex attraction.

This is not a book by someone who is laying down precepts for someone else to follow. It is a book by someone who is explaining why he can live right now the way he does and why it’s possible both physically and intellectually to do so. Lord willing, someday, we will have books written by Christadelphians in the same position, but until then, this is the best book on the subject I have read.

I came across this book as a result of my involvement with the movement, “Navigate by Faith.” (navigatebyfaith.org) We’d been busily researching the topic, and one of the resources we found was livingout.org, a website of people who, in their own words, “experience same-sex attraction and yet are committed to what the Bible clearly says, and what the church has always taught, about marriage and sex.”

it is possible to faithfully live a celibate lifestyle

They use the term “same-sex attraction,” rather than “gay” or “lesbian,” because those terms are used to describe an identity. Their identity is in Christ, not in their sexual orientation. Again, quoting their own words:

“If anyone is in Christ,” writes the Apostle Paul to Christians in Corinth, where some had been converted to faith in Christ from a background of same-sex practice, “he is a new creation; the old has gone the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
For me, part of the “old” that “has gone” is this idea of identifying myself and describing myself according to my sexual attractions. If I were to hold on to that label “gay,” as if it’s somehow intrinsic to who I am now, then by denying myself a same-sex relationship it would feel as if I’d be denying who I really am (an accusation some of my gay friends already level at me).
If my true identity is in Christ, however, then denying myself a same-sex relationship seems like a much more positive outworking of my commitment to follow Jesus Christ. 

I’d previously read several other books on the topic, but this one is the best that I’ve come across so far. Perhaps this is not surprising—as he says in the book, Mr. Shaw has also read the same books I’ve read, and more, and found them unsatisfying.

The majority of books on this subject fail to explain how the gospel message is good news to the same-sex attracted. That’s why Mr. Shaw wrote his book, with such a focus on the concept of “plausibility.” He laments that it has become implausible to tell a person in a gay relationship who has heard the call of the gospel, that he or she needs to separate and live a life of celibacy.

The reason is not that the gospel message is wrong, but because the church (meaning the mainstream Christian churches) has lost the gospel. The church itself has made a large number of missteps, been deformed by the influence of the world around it, and has “made Jesus’ way sound like a bad deal rather than the best way for any human life to be lived.”

As Christadelphians, we would completely agree with Mr. Shaw’s analysis that the church has lost the gospel message, although we typically focus on different issues. This is another reason why I found the book so interesting. The missteps he identifies made by the mainstream churches are ones that Christadelphians may also inadvertently stumble into.

These missteps are not ones we typically teach as first principles. He lists the following errors churches make, which also serve as chapters in the book:

  • “Your identity is your sexuality.” 
  • “A family is Mom, Dad, and 2.4 children.” 
  • “If you’re born gay, it can’t be wrong to be gay.” 
  • “If it makes you happy, it must be right!” 
  • “Sex is where true intimacy is found.” 
  • “Men and women are equal and interchangeable.” 
  • “Godliness is heterosexuality.” 
  • “Celibacy is bad for you.” 
  • “Suffering is to be avoided.” 

For each one of these “missteps,” he describes how the church has gone astray, what God’s true teaching on the subject is, and, of course, why what God says is right. Even for a Christadelphian like me, several of his points were quite convicting.

For instance, I didn’t realize just how much we’ve become afraid of intimate (but non-sexual) relationships between people of the same sex. This is often to the point where some condemn David’s relationship with Jonathan or Jesus’ with his twelve apostles.

Another is just how ingrained our society’s demonization of suffering has become. While the book’s focus is, of course, Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction, the missteps he identifies have ramifications beyond that particular conflict. I think even those not currently dealing with issues regarding same-sex attraction will find the book interesting and useful.

Certainly, Mr. Shaw has an excellent treatment of why God gave us sexual desire in the first place. (Spoiler: it’s really to help us understand God better) This is a theological question almost anyone who has gone through puberty has asked. He also finishes with a couple of chapters on why the traditional teaching of Scripture about how sex and marriage is “plausible” and why the new interpretations that have become so popular lately are not.

Despite being a short book (only 172 pages), Same-Sex Attraction and the Church: The Surprising Plausibility of the Celibate Life packs highly relevant material. For anyone looking for a plausible answer to the question: “Why should a Christian choose not to have sex with the person they love?” this book is it.

Those who live a celibate lifestyle right now, whether attracted to the opposite sex or not, will also find value in this book. It would be helpful, as well, for anyone who would like to be a support to those struggling with their sexuality in their walk.

The chapters themselves are independent and digestible, which makes the book quite feasible as a set of Bible classes. I have personally led classes on this topic several times. To anyone trying to understand how the gospel is truly “good news” for people who are attracted to their own sex, I heartily recommend the book and the website (http://livingout.org) of which Mr. Shaw is an editor.

James Robinson,
San Francisco Peninsula Ecclesia, CA

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