by William P. Campbell
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)Structure:
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.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:
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)
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.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.
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)
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.