Monday, January 10, 2011

Review — Turning Controversy into Church Ministry: A Christlike Response to Homosexuality

Turning Controversy into Church Ministry: A Christlike Response to Homosexuality
by William P. Campbell
(Zondervan, 2010)

Publisher's synopsis:
Contentious debate about homosexuality too often takes the place of actually caring for the needs of people who experience same-sex attraction. This book provides clear scriptural and scientific insight, sound logic, and practical advice to help Christians turn churches into centers of ministry related to the divisive issue of homosexuality.

Also available in audio and ebook formats.


I feel I should begin this review with a confession, so it's clear where I'm coming from on this issue: I have homosexual friends, and have since high school. These friends span the spectrum of faith and unbelief, and they land on both sides of the is-homosexuality-a-sin-or-not question.

So to me, it's not just an abstract issue of politics or public health or morality. When I read books and articles dealing with this, I'm not thinking about some hypothetical person "out there" — I'm thinking about people I know and love.

And that, I think, changes everything.

These are my friends — no less beloved even if in rebellion. And from reading certain passages of scripture (like the parable of the prodigal son), I have to believe God feels the same way about them — indeed, about each of us — even when we are actively rebelling against that love.


For many on the conservative side of this debate, compassion toward the homosexual feels like a compromise of biblical truth. Bill Campbell, a Presbyterian pastor in North Carolina, aims this book at church congregations and leaders who would like to demonstrate Christ's love to struggling people, without compromising that truth.

Early in the book, Campbell defines the errors of the two extremes — the gay bashing church and the gay affirming church — as well as the large group of congregations which are "often either too afraid or too apathetic to take a stand either way." (p. 28)

The gay bashing church, Campbell writes, compromises on grace for the sake of truth; the gay affirming church makes the opposite error, compromising on truth for the sake of grace. Campbell proposes a third way:

There are a small minority of congregations... who follow in the footsteps of Christ by bringing grace and truth together without compromise to create dynamic healing ministries for the sexually broken. Those who thus avoid the extremes by following the example of our Lord are the exceptions. The hope behind this book is to make them the norm. (p. 28)
Campbell divides the book into three sections. The first, Analysis: Your Church, Christ's Body, invites the reader to consider his or her own congregation. Extending the body metaphor, he looks at the feet (where your church stands), the heart (how your church cares), and the head (who your church follows).

In the second section, Approach: Overcoming Controversy, Campbell looks at some of the elements that shape the perspectives on both sides of the debate. He gives honest treatment to current research, both biblical and scientific, and ends the section on a grace note with a chapter that shows the reality of God's grace in history, from Sodom to AIDS.

The third section, Action: Building Ministry, gives specific steps for congregations to follow. Using the example of Nehemiah, Campbell lays out a six-sphered plan to build a ministry to the broken, and includes positive examples of churches that have become "safe places for people who have experienced sexual and relational brokenness." (p. 151)

Each of the chapters in Part 2 begins with statements which articulate both sides of the controversy (labeled Grace with Compromised Truth and Truth with Compromised Grace); most chapters end with the written testimony of a person whose story illustrates the chapter's main idea.

Campbell uses a combination of storytelling and exhortation to spur the reader to think more deeply about the chapter's focus issue. Ministry Tips are boxed and highlighted throughout the book, making it easy for the reader to thumb through for quick reminders.

Ministry groups wishing to study the book will be pleased to find a list of discussion questions for each chapter, as well as a list of recommended reading for further exploration on the topic.

I appreciated much about this book. Campbell demonstrates a great deal of courage in tackling the topic, and he doesn't shrink from leveling strong words at the graceless:

Flip through the Gospels and notice who received the fieriest call to repentance from Jesus. Was it the people caught in the web of sexual sin? Was it those who defrauded others financially? Was it those afflicted with brokenness and disease? No, no, and again, no. The Lord saved his most stinging rebukes for the pride-filled and judgmental Pharisees and teachers of the law.

What right do we, the followers of Jesus, have to hurl condemnation on the sexually, socially, or relationally broken members of our society? There is not one verse in the Bible to support such behavior. Our responsibility is to share the gospel of salvation with everyone. God himself will judge those who refuse to repent and believe. (p. 127)
Nor does Campbell shy away from biblical truth. However, even his thoughts on the Bible's teachings on the matter are characterized by empathy and grace:

For years I have spent time with Christians who support the gay agenda and have questioned and listened to them, seeking to discern how they have come to their conclusions. In general, either they grew up with homosexual inclinations or they have a gay or lesbian family member or friend who believes he or she was born that way. Many of them originally believed the Scriptures clearly teach that same-sex activity is wrong. Still, they struggled. How could a loving God label something as wrong that a person couldn't change? Eventually, they learned about gay "Christian" theology. At that point, everything seemed to click into place. It settled well with them, based on their experience, and hope or compassion moved them to give their homosexual loved one the benefit of the doubt. Furthermore, the alternative of a mean or hateful approach to gays and lesbians adopted by church and society was clearly not acceptable.

But there is a better alternative. A person can embrace Scripture as being trustworthy in its whole and parts, as did Jesus, and can love those who do not so trust God's Word. I am thankful for the great number of Christians who avoid both the extremes of condoning and of condemning homosexuals and who show the compassion of Jesus toward people who feel conflicted about their sexuality. They typically have friends who have come out of a homosexual lifestyle and who are living victoriously in the Lord; they may also have friends or family members who identify themselves as gay or lesbian and are praying for them to come to a place of salvation and freedom through Christ. They hold to the orthodox, plain meaning of Scripture on sexuality. (p. 142-143)
The reader can learn much about compassion from even these few paragraphs: there is great value in listening, in spending time in dialogue, in seeking to understand without demanding to be understood; we are free to carry Christ's compassion to the broken and marginalized without feeling that we are somehow condoning behavior we believe is contrary to biblical teaching.

Moreover, the implication of the second paragraph quoted above — and repeated throughout the book — is that we should never view a person as static and unchanging. To do so disregards God's power to move in that person's heart and work His changes there. (Of course, evangelicals believe this to be true regarding a person's faith; somehow, we forget all about it when the issue is a person's sexuality. It's as if we prefer to take a snapshot of where a person is at this moment and freeze them that way.)

Campbell specifies that the book's concern "is not so much focused on the gay activist but on the person who silently suffers unwanted same-sex attractions and who is looking for help from the church." (p. 129) Interestingly, this statement comes at the end of a long and poignant passage about India's caste system, powerfully comparing the current attitude of some churches toward homosexuals to the attitude of the upper castes toward India's 160 million Dalits (untouchables).

I realize even extending compassion to the person with unwanted same-sex attraction is outside many people's (and churches') comfort zones. And Campbell acknowledges this difficulty: "Better to move slowly together than to move too quickly and fall apart. It has taken decades for our churches and our country to become so confused and conflicted about homosexuality; we cannot correct the problem in a day." (p. 178)

Still, after reading that stirring comparison, I found myself wondering why a ministry would limit itself that way. Immediately prior to that focus statement is this sentence: "Until followers of Christ learn how to respond to the pain in the gay world with the compassion of the Lord, ministry to homosexuals will remain minimal and inconsequential." (p. 129)

If, as Campbell asserts, the gay world is suffering, should a congregation intentionally limit its ministry efforts to serve only those whose same-sex attraction is unwanted? Does not the gay activist — and everyone who falls somewhere between those two extremes — qualify for the same care?

Here's the thing I keep coming back to: LGBT people are people. Like others who enter our lives, they may be struggling with their sexuality, or they may not. And they may be asking eternal questions, or they may not.

But they are almost certainly dealing with the same life issues we all deal with: work, health, relationships, grief and loss. We Christians believe God speaks to those basic needs, and uses His people, the church, to help.

If God uses the church to help people walk through those life struggles, does He mean for us to make that help available only to people who are, or who wish they were, straight?


Added 1/10/2011, 8:12 p.m.: This book would be a valuable resource for congregations that wish to explore possibilities for ministry in this area. It will help them to evaluate their position on the issue, examine current biblical scholarship and scientific research, and establish a plan of action.


This review is a part of the book's blog tour.



  1. Thanks for this review Pam. My thoughts while reading really led up to your last question, "does He mean us to make that help available only to people who are, or who wish they were, straight?"

    My question is, if homosexuality is a sin, what place do gay people (who aren't wishing to be straight) have in the church? If we view gay people as unrepentant, I feel like that necessarily limits the church's ability to interact with the gay community. Does Campbell address this at all?

  2. R: Thanks for your comment!

    As far as I can tell, Campbell doesn't address your question directly. However, there are implications and allusions that indirectly speak to that issue. Several of the testimonies are from those who were once unrepentant, which tells me someone had to extend a hand of welcome.

    As for my own thoughts on this (which you didn't ask for, but I will give you because I'm generous like that), I find it helpful to test my attitude toward this a couple of ways: first, I test it against my attitude toward any sin. If a church limits its ability to interact with a person based on their repentance, that church will be limited indeed! Second, I test it against myself, remembering where I was before I came to faith. I'm grateful those Christians who reached out to me didn't restrict their interactions to the repentant.

  3. I just checked the link. One of 13 blogs! That's pretty cool.

    I found your last critique to be pretty legitimate, and I'm glad to have found that the first half of this entry wasn't really your critique. haha

    During Chuck Swanson's "Joe the Homosexual" night during Cornerstone's annual Purity Week, he was finally asked at the end during Q&A (or perhaps made the gradual build in his story-telling) to the hypothetical circumstance in which a Christian has tried and tried to minister to people who are either firmly conclusive or adamant in their accepting/embracing their homosexuality, in which Swanson responded,
    "Then the only thing left to do is walk away."
    In other words, close the door on those people after one has genuinely tried for so long.

    It didn't sit well with me at all. Your thoughts on how the church responds to the basic needs of people is reminiscent of that.

  4. Long An: Thanks for your encouraging words!

    Granted, I am an idealist. I know not everyone's in the same place. And maybe I'm totally wrong here.

    But the thing is, the church is not just the congregation of people who participate in outreach programs, etc. -- the church is you and me, making friends with people who are outside that congregation, reaching out in the name of Jesus to people who need Him.

    If we can't see the person beyond the sin, we're no better than the Pharisees.

  5. Like you, I have many beloved friends and family members who are gay. Some of them are more faithful Christians than me or many other Christians I know. I suppose I fall into Campbell's 'erring on the side of grace' camp. The thing is, theological answers fail me on this issue. When I see someone who demonstrates the fruits of the Spirit, who lives in love, who is devoted to Christ and confesses him Lord, who has repented [not of homosexuality] and been baptized. Who has been a Christian longer than I've been alive and who has a lot of Godly wisdom to offer me. I just can't imagine an appropriate role for this person that is anything less than full communion and full participation in the church. I use this example as the most obvious example of a gay Christian because their witness is so irrefutable but obviously there are gay Christians along the entire spectrum of faith and I believe they too should be welcomed in the church -and not just as people to be witnessed to but as people who can witness to us.
    I have contemplated that I am being cowardly in my conviction but honestly, I wait for the Spirit to prick my conscience and the prick does not come. I spent a lot of passion and anger investigating this issue for many years and of all the positions I contemplated the one that finally brought me peace was acceptance. I realize what I just wrote falls directly into Campbell's narrative as a "Christian who supports the gay agenda"...whatever that means. Campbell readily acknowledges the position I am coming from and spent years interviewing people like me so I am kind of surprised that he failed to address the questions I have. Maybe this book is for Christians who haven't made up their minds...or Christians in the anti-gay camp who can be brought to a more moderate position. I think I might have to read it for myself.

  6. R: I understand your struggle. I think I fall into the same camp as you. I'd rather err on the side of grace than close the door on a relationship because the person is in sin as I understand scripture. (And that last phrase is important.) But again, I have to ask myself, would I close the door on someone whose sin is a different one?

    To Campbell's credit, he doesn't use terms like "gay agenda" frequently... but those terms are so heavily loaded that the reaction is understandable.

    And it's possible he addressed the question you ask and I just missed it. I hope you do read the book -- maybe we can get together over coffee and talk about it.

  7. pam
    that christendom would in any way say that being homosexual is a sin shows that after 2000 years christendom still struggles to fully embrace the new covenant of christ, the new covenant which is not the revised old covenant, but the new covenant that is entirely new, whose righteousness is apart from the law, and "transcends the law" and is about christ's love and only about law as it points to that love. god is love.

    being gay does not come against this love, love one another as i have loved you, as directed by the 2nd commandment, love neighbor.

    if you think otherwise please explain.

  8. Thanks for the response Pam! I'd like to clarify and agree that the church isn't to be simply utilized and seen as some kind of outreach program. I found your first comment to R to be a great elaboration on mine.

    I haven't read this book, but I had a feeling it'd be one that encourages people to show more love and understanding of homosexuals.

    Though the mentioned is vital, I wonder as to what different theological stances churches take. It seems as though every time the topic of homosexuality is spoken at a church, the main meat of it all is to show love.

    I understand that showing love to gay people can still be lacking when you look at Christians and churches on a national level, but there are gay people who have readily been given love and time and ministry and a disciplined withhold from quick judgment,and those are the ones that have been occupying my mind.
    I'm sure they welcome the movement to reverse the animosity, but it doesn't do much for them in terms of a decision (that is, if they can even find it in them to make a "decision", or if a decision is even relevant).
    So marketing and preaching about love on this topic is vital and bettering, but it also seems to be veiled stalling for a topic that is equally (or more?) important.

  9. feetxxxl: Welcome to the blog, and thank you for your comment!

    I hesitate to answer it, though. I'm not sure I'm able to provide an answer that will satisfy you. However, as the old saying goes, fools rush in where angels fear to tread... so here goes:

    From my reading of Campbell's book, he does see it as sin. However, he gives a fair treatment of some of the biblical texts that have historically been used -- and consistently speaks against the idea of bashing people with Bible verses.

    For myself, the point I've tried to make here (as well as in several other posts) is this: wherever one lands on the sin issue, there's no biblical justification for treating someone as a second-class citizen.

    Please, stick around. Read more. And keep talking to me. I need your perspective.

  10. Long An: I'm glad you've heard many messages that emphasize love, but I'm not sure your experience is typical of most. Based on what I've seen and heard, I think there's a lot of confusion and conflict still out there on the topic.

    Maybe I'm slow (or just undercaffeinated), but I'm not clear on what topic you're referring to in your last paragraph. Can you clarify for me?

  11. Pam and All:

    Thank you for your book review, Pam!

    Regarding the various questions that are being bantered around, the primary goal of the book is to help the more conservative element of the Christian church (which is a majority of Christians) to develop a compassionate response to people who experience same-sex attractions. These are churches that accept the teachings of the Bible as guidelines for living, and that interpret the Bible at face value.

    People who experience same-sex attractions and yet who want to be part of such congregations often describe their SSA as unwanted. My aim was not to exclude consideration of people in the LGBT community, but to provide a primary focus on how the above-mentioned congregations can respond to this issue in a Christlike manner in which a church does not compromise Scripture while it shows unconditional love to all people.

    No book can say it all and I hope the message of my book can help at least some Christians to be more thoughtful about how they approach this challenging topic.

    WP Campbell

  12. Pastor Campbell: Thank you for your response, and for the succinct explanation of your book's goal.

    I appreciated how you held the ungracious attitude up to the light of scripture and showed how Jesus responded to that same attitude in the Pharisees.

    I imagine you've had criticism from both extremes. I certainly didn't mean to pile on. I do think your book is a great resource, and I hope and pray many churches use it as a starting point to change hearts -- beginning with their own.

  13. pam and campbell

    pam, you dont appear to get my point. campbell if you are using legal understanding of verses to determine what is sin, you are setting up standard of sin according to the law.

    but the standard of the new covenant is christ's love, not interprettation of law. it is a standard of spirit, because we live under grace, which is also spirit. sin is what comes against his spirit, his love.

    god is love .god is spirit. god's love is spirit, received thru grace thru faith.

    christ is the light that walked the earth. why then would believers chose to be led by the shadow of the light rather than the light itself? scripture says the law, which was "weakened by the sin nature" which even if we follow it receive no righteousness," is ONLY a shadow of things to come not the realities themselves". it is christ's love that are the realities to come.

    christ's love is apart from the law, because the righteousness that is of christ is apart from the law. that which is apart from the law determines the law, so" there is no excuse." romans 1:20.

    antiquity, and what numbers of believers ("who see in part, thru a poor reflection") generationally handed down, and what they handed down does not determine what is the truth of what is god. the church historically handed down religious doctrine that supported ethnic slavery for 1700 years, indulgences for 800 years, burning witches at the stake 1700 years. christendom supported 2000 years of antisemetism, an antisemetism, that worldwide, at its height, provided for a halocaust conducted in a christian country, germany, 50% catholic, and 50% lutheran, that was the first country to receive the bible in its own language(1500's), translated by their national hero , luther....and all this in spite of romans 10 and 11.

    the law is to make belivers conscious of not loving, but it is thru an understanding of what christ's love is(not isnt) in conviction of believer's hearts thru intimate relationship with christ's spirit that lives in them.

    it has been said that mother teresa told her nuns not to engage in religious discussions about christ , but instead be christ, be his love.

  14. feetxxxl: It's possible I missed your original point. Thank you for clarifying.

    It's also possible I read into it, and chose to answer it a different way. I don't want to initiate (or escalate) an argument. I would rather extend grace. I admit I'm not too good at it yet.

    I think I view the relationship of Old and New Testaments in a different way than you do. But rather than attempt to defend my view in this post's comment section, I want to treat you as my guest -- with respect and courtesy. I will read your comments again and try to understand your perspective instead of trying to get at what's underneath. (I apologize. I'm a counselor. It's in my training.)

    At the same time, I would ask that you look at your tone. You may not realize how harshly you're coming across. I realize this is a very touchy subject -- but if we're really about demonstrating Christ's love to one another, can we start with people in the blogosphere whose opinions we differ with?

  15. i will attempt to be more cognizant of my tone thank you for your comment. but my interest is not to convince anyone of anything, that is for the holy spirit, but to discuss the basis for different understandings. how do you look at the old testament differently? is it based on scriptures or belief systems? what scriptures? what belief systems?

  16. opinions: appears to be another word for undiscussable subject. undiscussable subjects are the things that most controls us.

    history about homosexuality:for 600 years it has been made illegal in anglo-saxon culture. king henry, who also had an opinion, head of church/state, made it a hanging offense in the 1500's. it remained on the books for 300 years. queen victoria, another head of church/state wanted to further that opinion, by transposing the word "homosexual" into scripture 1cor and 1tim to equate it with "lechery"(wythe's translation) and kjv "abusers of themselves with mankind" and the "shameful lust" of romans1, without any written explanation. i know because i emailed every bible publisher who had transposed the word, asking for written references that supported it. they all emailed me thanking my request, but none ever emailed any reference or where i could find it.

    british settlers coming into this country brought this same understanding(opinion) of illegality with different punishments. the church is the culture and the culture is the church. no one lives in a religious bubble, or a purely secular one.

    because homosexuality was deemed illegal it remained an undiscussable subject(opinion).

    the only thing about something(opinions) being undiscussable. along with their pain (the reason they are undiscussable) they are also infused with lies and ignorance.

  17. Anonymous8:08 PM

    Thanks for posting on this topic! Despite the usual negative connotations that often accompany the discussion of homosexuality among Christian circles, it is one that must be addressed with a measure of grace extended to all persons involved.

    With discussion of (but not limited to) homosexuality, I encourage caution to be taken regarding what people use to support their argument from a Biblical stance. Most theology is based off of human construct in order that we may have a better attempt at understanding the Bible. Also, we must be careful not to 'proof-text' parts of the Bible by phrases and passages out of context to try and support ones argument.

    I am not saying that it is wrong to look to the Bible for support. However, I am encouraging those involved in these types of discussion to do their research more adequately and not assume a text to mean something it was not intended to mean.

  18. anonymous

    in order for something to sin be under the law it must shown to be an sin not under the that there is "no excuse" as in romans 1:20, but rather thru "what has been made", from what we personnally witness thru fellowship as in "that which we have heard, what we have looked at, which we have seen with our eyes and our hands have touched"(1john1) thru the spirit that lives in us because he created us, who created all very good(gen).

  19. Anonymous9:44 PM

    I would encourage you to look more into the context of those passages.

  20. anonymous

    the difference between our understandings: your understanding is that the standard of the new covenant is law which scripture says "is only a shadow of things to come and not the realities themselves", a shadow of the light that walked the earth.

    my understanding is that the standard is christ's love, the light, "love one another as i have loved you" as directed by the 2nd commandment, love your neighbor as yourself. christ's love is "the realities themselves". it is his love that determines what the law is and what it says, christ's love that "transcends all knowledge(law)"

    "if you know me you know the father. now that you know me you know the father as well."

  21. christ came to fulfill the law. to fulfill something is to complete its purpose. the purpose of the law is to point to the spirit of christ, in whom the father has" put all his fullness"

    god is love,1john4.

    god is spirit,john4.

    god's love is his spirit.

    christ is god,john20.


All comments are moderated by the blog's author prior to publication.