About the Guest
When Pastor Sam Allberry accepted Christ in his twenties, he assumed God would remove his same-sex desires through prayer. But Allberry knows that God is committed to his good, even if the struggle remains. Allberry reminds believers that marriage only points to the ultimate marriage we have with Jesus Christ.
Sam AllberrySam Allberry is a pastor based in Maidenhead, UK. He is part of the global speaking team for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, and an editor for The Gospel Coalition. He is the author of a number of books, including James For You, Why Bother With Church? and the bestselling Is God Anti-Gay?
When Pastor Sam Allberry accepted Christ in his twenties, he assumed God would remove his same-sex desires through prayer. But Allberry knows that God is committed to his good, even if the struggle remains.
Bob: Sam Allberry is a 40-year-old single man—a pastor who lives in England, who is also regularly attracted to members of the same sex.
Sam: The particular form of temptation I struggle with the most isn’t primarily sexual—it often starts earlier than that—and that’s feeling drawn to someone / kind of an emotional over-dependency. When I begin to feel that, I know that the remedy to that is: “I am the bread of life [John 6:35].” There’s an implied rebuke in that verse—I often need to hear it—“I am the bread of life.” For me, I just need to keep reminding myself: “Actually, Jesus is the One who makes me whole. Jesus is the One my soul is hankering for. Jesus is the One who truly satisfies in a way that no earthly relationship can.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, February 2nd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey. I'm Bob Lepine. Sam Allberry says that when we’re experiencing any kind of sinful sexual desire, we need to be reminded of the all-sufficiency of Jesus. We’ll hear him talk about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We have a guy, who is with us in the studio today—who, when he was 18 years old, he was confronted with two realities in his life that he had to come to grips with. One was he was attracted to others of the same sex—he was drawn to them physically, romantically, sexually.
At the same time, he became convinced that Jesus is who He says He is. All of a sudden, he had to figure out how he was going to live a life faithful to Jesus and deal with his romantic attractions.
Dennis: Yes; it’s a great story of obedience to Christ and also the birth of a great ministry. Sam Allberry joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Sam, welcome back.
Sam: Thank you. It’s good to be with you.
Dennis: All of our listeners now recognize he’s a southerner—from the United Kingdom. [Laughter]
Bob: From south of London; right? No; I guess it’s actually west of London; right?
Sam: I grew up south of London.
Dennis: There you go—so you’re a southerner.
Sam: I am a true southerner.
Dennis: You’re a true southerner. He is a pastor in Maidenhead, UK—part of the global speaking team for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries—and he’s written a book called Is God Anti-Gay?
I ran into a fellow staff member in the halls this morning and he said: “Oh, I’m so glad you have Sam Allberry on the radio! I give his book away to all kinds of people—it’s the best book! It’s the most balanced book—it’s wholesome / it’s good.” So I thought about having him on the radio with you, Sam. He would make a good agent for your book.
Sam: If he would like to just follow me around all the time—that would be such an encouragement.
Bob: Well, we should say—when you sat down to write this book, as someone who has experienced same-sex attraction during your adult life, you wanted to write a book that was full of truth and grace simultaneously; right?
Sam: Absolutely. I felt a real burden that we needed to have people speaking to this issue from the inside of it, just as sometimes it helps to have someone giving a testimony on suffering who has suffered.
The cultural moment we’re in means that it really will help us to have Christians speaking to this issue, who’ve been dealing with it personally.
Dennis: And when you say that, you’re not saying that from the standpoint of having experienced a lifestyle of being gay—you’re talking about being a follower of Christ, who still struggles with same-sex attraction, as a man.
Sam: That’s correct. So yes; I’ve not been part of—I’ve never had a gay lifestyle, as such / I’ve never sort of acted out those feelings—but that is a form of unwanted temptation that I experience.
Bob: And we should also say that you’ve also not had this experience and gotten married and had three kids; because a lot of the narrative of Christianity, for years, has been: “If you experience same-sex attraction, God will cure you of that,” and “Maybe you ought to go ahead and get married and have three kids—and that’s part of the cure.”
We’ve got a lot of people, who have tried that, only to find that that didn’t fix the desires that they were dealing with.
Sam: No; and it’s not loving—I’ve heard of situations, where people have married and then only told their wife on their wedding night that they’re experiencing homosexuality. That’s just not kind.
Bob: You had come to faith at age 18, about the same time that you were beginning to understand this desire. You spent the next four or five years, not talking to anyone about what you were experiencing—growing in your understanding of who Jesus is / following Him as a disciple. In that period of time, did you try to, as folks say today, did you try to “Pray away the gay”? Did you try to take girls out and see if things would change?
Sam: I did; I did—
—not for a huge length of time, I have to say—but I do remember beginning my 20s, thinking, “I want to end my 20s married and as a father,” assuming that, if I wanted that—that it was a noble desire and a godly desire; and therefore, God would allow it to happen.
Bob: So, two, or three, or four years of that desire—and things aren’t changing—that had to be frustrating.
Sam: It was. I went through a period—not a very long period—but I did go through a period, feeling quite angry with God about that and thinking: “Why won’t these feelings go away? Surely, I’m trying to do the right thing here by aspiring to be a godly husband and a godly father. So why would You not allow me to be able to do that?”
I say it wasn’t a long period of time—it really wasn’t—because I knew, deep down, I needed to be reminded of this fact—that actually, God is more committed to my joy, and my happiness, and my prosperity in Him than I am; and His ways are good. Therefore, if He was denying me the opportunity of getting married and becoming a father, it was because He was going to show His goodness to me in a different way.
Dennis: So, as a result, did you kind of close that door, or is that door continuing to remain open?
Sam: The way I think of it is—I don’t want to presume on God’s will. I remember thinking, “I shouldn’t assume I’ll get married, and I shouldn’t assume I won’t.” I’ve left it at that. What God decides to do—He’s free and sovereign, and He can change feelings. I know of people whose patterns of sexual desire have changed over time / I know people whose patterns haven’t changed.
I have one good friend, who’s still same-sex attracted, but is happily and healthily married to a woman, who—I remember him saying that, as they started to get to know each other / they had a very deep friendship—and he began to feel a sense of attraction towards her. I remember him saying: “I didn’t need to be attracted to women. I just needed to be attracted to her.” Even though his general pattern of sexual feelings is still predominantly same-sex attracted, they had sufficient chemistry and romantic attraction—she knew all about his situation, but they have been able to get married.
So I wouldn’t rule it out for people who are same-sex attracted, but we have to recognize that God gives us a gift in marriage and He gives us a gift in singleness. Either way, we get given something good.
Dennis: Yes; I’m not being one of those who’s describing marriage as: “Flies on the inside of a screen trying to get out, and the flies on the outside of the screen trying to get in,”—you know, it’s a real relationship with a real person that has plenty of real challenges.
But you’re 41 years old now, and—you may not want to answer this question / I give you the freedom to push back—is the lack of an attraction toward a woman at the core of why you’re not pursuing relationships with women?
Sam: I wouldn’t say that’s at the core of it. I think one of the things God changed in me, during my 20s, was going from thinking, “Marriage is something I have to have,” to thinking, “Marriage is something I might have, but I don’t need to have.” I’m grateful for the opportunities for service and for friendships that I have, as a single person.
I’m really enjoying being single and the opportunities that affords. If God introduces me to someone that I could see myself getting married to, I’m sure I would be very thankful to receive the gift of marriage; but I’m not hankering after it. It’s not an absence that is fueling me—it’s a presence—I’m married in Christ. I know that that is the ultimate marriage and the one that most matters. So, I don’t mind now if I don’t get the model of that, because I have the reality.
As a pastor and as someone who has lots of close friends, who are married, I’ve seen enough marriages up close to know it’s not always easy. As you say, there are challenges both ways. If I went from being single to being married, I’d be exchanging the struggles of singleness for the struggles of marriage. I wouldn’t be exchanging struggles for no struggles.
Sam: So, I wouldn’t want to sort of rush in, naively.
Dennis: One last question along that same line: “Would you say this is a mistake that married people in the church make as they welcome followers of Christ into the church, who are same-sex attracted?—that they want to help them fix their attraction ‘issues’ by getting them married?”
Sam: I think it’s a big danger. The faulty assumption behind it is that marriage is the goal of the Christian life: “So your same-sex attraction is a problem; because it’s stopping you from getting married. So if we can fix you up so you can get married, then we can check the box and you’re okay,”—which does not honor what the Bible says about the goodness of singleness.
Nor does it honor, I think, what the Bible says about human marriage being a pointer to the ultimate marriage, and not ultimate in itself.
Dennis: So, I lied—one more question: “Do you find people at your church, who come up to you and say: ‘Oh, Sam! I have this friend I want to introduce you to,’ with a big, sly grin on their face?”
Sam: That has happened—one of the wonderful side effects of being more public about my same-sex attraction is that doesn’t happen anymore. [Laughter] People stopped trying to set me up after I—[Laughter]—it was worth doing it just for that reason alone, actually—[Laughter]—because people—actually, what would tend to happen is—people wouldn’t say, “Sam, I have someone I’d like you to meet,”—they would just say: “We’re inviting some people around. Why don’t you come for a meal?”—and it would be them, another couple, and one single lady. I’m kind of thinking, “Oh, I see what’s going on here.”
Bob: Pretty clear with this.
I want to ask you about the specifics of what you do to take every thought captive and to battle against temptation, which you still feel.
So in a moment when you’re experiencing temptation, do alarm bells go off? Do you have a pattern you follow? What do you do?
Sam: I think one of the key things I’ve learned is that you respond to ungodly desire with godly desire. The particular form of temptation I struggle with the most isn’t primarily sexual—it often starts earlier than that—and that’s feeling drawn to someone—
Bob: A relational—
Sam: Yes—kind of an emotional over-dependency. When I begin to feel that, I know that the remedy to that is: “I am the bread of life.” There’s an implied rebuke in that verse—that I often need to hear—it’s: “I am the bread of life.”
In my moment of temptation, I’m treating someone else as though they are the bread of life—that this is the person that will make me feel complete, and whole, and perfectly understood, and I can ride off into the kind of friendship sunset. For me, I just need to keep reminding myself: “Actually, Jesus is the One who makes me whole. Jesus is the One my soul is hankering for. Jesus is the One who truly satisfies in a way that no earthly relationship can.” So, for me, the main point of temptation is often at that point—it’s the: “This feels like someone who can kind of make life completely click.”
Bob: You’ve talked to people, who will say, “The intimacy that I have with Jesus, without skin on—there’s something about having a person across the table that you experience emotional intimacy with that—I can’t have with Jesus, because He’s not across the table from me.”
Sam: And that’s—there’s a lot of truth in that. We’re not designed to just be intimate with Jesus and only intimate with Him. God has made us to be relational and social and to have intimacy, at a human level—not just at a vertical level with God—but horizontally with one another. Marriage is the most—is the deepest form of human intimacy we can experience—but it’s not the only form of intimacy—and actually, the intimacy we can enjoy in good friendship, I’ve realized, is wonderful.
The way I often think about it is—I don’t have the depth of intimacy with any one person that a married friend might have; but through being single, I can have a breadth of intimacy with a range of close friends that I wouldn’t be able to have if I was married.
The Bible says I can live without sex. I’m not designed to live without intimacy, and so I’ve come to hugely value good friendships. The wonderful thing about being single is—you have more capacity for friendship, and therefore, with a range of people, which is a huge privilege. I’ve begun to realize, actually, I have more intimacy with the friendships that I have than even some married people I know.
Bob: The Bible says you can live without sex; but the culture we live in shouts, and screams, and whispers, and continues its barrage: “Oh no; you can’t! What you’re denying yourself is the epitome.” What do you do with that message?
Sam: And sadly that message can come from within the church as well.
Bob: Oh, wow; yes.
Sam: So, we know that the most fully-human and complete person who ever lived was Jesus Christ, who was never married / who never had sex. So we can’t say that sex is intrinsic to human fulfillment; otherwise, we’re denying the full humanity of Jesus.
I remember hearing one Christian leader say, “You can’t expect someone to live without romantic hope.” I remember thinking, “That’s a dangerous thing to say; because it implies romantic intimacy is the key, fundamental, essential ingredient for a complete human life.”
Dennis: Sounds like idolatry.
Sam: And it is. It’s funny—just as I heard that person say that—I was preaching through 1 John. I came to the bit, where it says, “If anyone denies that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, he is antichrist.”
I remember thinking, actually: “That is the effects of that kind of comment. If you say you have to have sex / you have to have a romantic relationship to be healthy, as a human being, you are denying the full humanity of Jesus. You are denying that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. You might not know that you’re doing that, but you are—it’s the spirit of antichrist.”
Dennis: I just want to go back, Sam, a moment, to something you said earlier about temptation. I was thinking about reading this passage to our listeners—they just need to know this, because these are some of the best words in the Bible about how to handle temptation and how it works on us. James, Chapter 1, verse 13—it says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one.
“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then, desire, when it has been conceived, gives birth to sin, and sin”—this is interesting—“and sin, when it is fully grown, brings forth death.”
There’s a progression there of the lure, the enticement, the taking of the bait—fiddling with it, coddling it, entertaining it—finally, experiencing it. When God warns us about something, He’s spot on.
Dennis: He’s doing it for your own good.
Sam: Yes; the thing that really hit me from that passage in James—it was brought home to me when a friend of mine, who’s in his late 50s / and a very tall, strong guy, came up to me and said: “For the first time in my life, I have just lost an arm wrestle with my son.
“My son is now stronger than I am.”
The lie we so often believe is that: “If I just give in to sin, I’m just getting it out of my system. That’ll help.” James is warning us that, actually, sin gives birth, grows up, and gets stronger than us. The more we feed it, the stronger it gets; and we will end up with a son who is stronger than us, and we will have no capacity to resist it.
Bob: Yes; and it may be that there are listeners, who are thinking: “I’ve had these desires. I’ve wrestled with this.” I think it would be very encouraging for you / very helpful for you to get a copy of Sam Allberry’s book—Is God Anti-Gay? And Other Questions About Homosexuality, the Bible, and Same-Sex Attraction—
—first of all, to understand clearly what the Bible teaches; and then secondly, to hear from somebody who, like you, has had this same struggle, and hear how he has applied what the Scripture teaches in his own life.
We have copies of Sam Allberry’s book—Is God Anti-Gay?—in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. and you can order copies of the book. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. You can also order when you call us—our number is 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, this is a subject that we have revisited a number of times over the last two or three years. The reason is because it’s one of the subjects in this culture where, to hold firm, biblically—to have a biblical worldview around sexuality—is not going to make you popular. In fact, you could face persecution for believing what the Bible teaches about same-sex attraction and about homosexuality.
Our goal, here at FamilyLife, is to continue to provide practical biblical help and hope around the kinds of issues you may face in your family or the kinds of issues that we’re facing in the culture, where you may need to know how to stand firm, biblically. Our goal, at FamilyLife Today, is to see every home become a godly home. We want to provide practical biblical help and hope for every marriage and every family. We’re grateful for those of you, who are not only regular listeners, but those of you who contribute to help cover the cost of producing and syndicating this daily radio program.
We could not do what we do here each day if it weren’t for Legacy Partners, who contribute on a monthly basis, or those of you who will, from time to time, make a donation. Maybe it’s a subject you hear or a topic that is particularly helpful for you that causes you to go online at FamilyLifeToday.com and make a donation or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. Or maybe something prompts you to mail a donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; our zip code is 72223. Whatever it is, we’re grateful for your responsiveness and your partnership in this ministry.
In fact, if you can help with a donation today, we’d love to send you a copy of Dennis and Barbara Rainey’s daily devotional guide called Moments with You. It’s great for husbands and wives to use each day of the year as a regular prompt for praying together and something that will point you to the Scriptures each day.
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And we hope you can join us back tomorrow. Sam Allberry’s going to be here again, and we’re going to talk about what a mom and a dad ought to do if a son or a daughter steps up and says, “I think I’m gay.” We’ll talk about that tomorrow. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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