Ed Shaw is the pastor of Emmanuel City Centre in Bristol and a trustee of www.livingout.org. This is the story of how the biblical wisdom of John Stott helped Ed at a time of need.
Back in the mid-1990s I was an undergraduate at a university college with an evangelical heritage. An ordained staff member had just published a book suggesting that sexually active same-sex relationships were not wrong for Christians. A huge amount of controversy followed.
I sat down and read this revisionist book over the next university vacation: I didn’t want to criticise something I hadn’t explored with an open mind for myself. I read it as a young Christian not yet open about my own developing same-sex attractions. I had never come across such new ideas before but both the pain of the author’s experience and his odd methods in questioning scripture and doctrine deeply troubled me. Afterwards I needed someone who could help me respond with both pastoral compassion and biblical clarity to this book - and my own personal experience.
Looking back I have John Stott to thank for encouraging me not to seek a same-sex sexual relationship for myself.
I suspect it would have been my Dad who would have pointed me in the direction of the latest edition of John’s Stott’s Issues Facing Christians Today and this chapter on homosexuality. There I found someone who clearly both loved the people he was writing about and God’s Word. I also benefitted from the insights of an evangelical leader who was not afraid to interact with the ever-developing scientific research in this whole area and those who interpreted the bible very differently to him.
Looking back I have John Stott to thank for encouraging me not to seek a same-sex sexual relationship for myself. The characteristically careful distinctions he opens with helped me process my sexual feelings in a liveable way. His exposition of the biblical passages that speak about homosexual practice built my confidence in God’s Word. His big picture portrait of the place of marriage in the Bible and Christian doctrine enabled me to make sense of these biblical prohibitions in their wider context. His careful refutations of new interpretations and cultural attitudes exposed the flimsy premises on which they were built. But his clear pastoral love and concern for people like me also stopped me from feeling steam-rolled by the intellectual weight of what he was arguing.
In particular I can remember being moved by how he provocatively challenged his evangelical readers. Towards the end of the chapter Stott makes this incredibly important point:
“At the heart of the human condition is a deep and natural hunger for mutual love, a search for identity and a longing for completeness. If gay people cannot find these things in the local ‘church family,’ we have no business to go on using that expression.”
This was written by a man who got what I was looking for. But it was also written by a man who saw the need to challenge evangelical churches to enable me to find these life-giving things in their midst. He rightly saw that repeated talk of “church family” was not enough – it needed to become a lived reality for people like me.
A couple of decades later the ministry of www.livingout.org continues to pose a similar challenge to evangelical churches – often using Stott’s words here. We continue to need to take them seriously and use them to help break the all-pervasive idolatry of the nuclear family in society today. Wonderfully they are words that have been taken seriously by many and I keep hearing of evangelical churches in which gay people are experiencing a genuine family life - warmly welcomed and supported by their sisters and brothers in Christ.
But if that is to become a universal experience this challenge from Stott needs to be heard again. And its wider context needs to read too. Interestingly no new significant territory has been opened up in the Church’s protracted discussions on human sexuality since he wrote these words: they continue to speak with relevance into our contemporary debates.
I am so grateful to John Stott for the guidance he gave me as a young same-sex attracted Christian over twenty years ago. He helped keep me on a course that has enabled me to grow in Christ and flourish as a human being. I am delighted that this new edition will give others the chance to benefit from his wisdom and insight – in the hope and prayer that many will be encouraged to further embrace the life-giving teaching of God in Jesus Christ.
This is an extract from Same Sex Relationships by John Stott, a revised and updated section from Issues Facing Christians Today.