God’s Design for Masculinity and Femininity
About the Guest
Pastor Sam Allberry, who struggles with same-sex attraction, reminds believers that since the fall, all of us have grappled with disordered desires. Same-sex attraction is just one way. Allberry explains that we can't understand marriage until we understand gender, and lists some things parents can do to give their kids a healthy view of masculinity, femininity, and godliness.
Pastor Sam Allberry, who struggles with same-sex attraction, reminds believers that since the fall, all of us have grappled with disordered desires.
God’s Design for Masculinity and Femininity
Bob: How should a parent respond if a son or daughter comes and confesses that he or she is attracted to the same sex? What do you do? Here’s pastoral counsel from Sam Allberry.
Sam: My experience is the more listening we do, early on, the more likely, later on, someone is going to want to listen to what we think. My advice to parents in that kind of scenario—and it’s a very painful scenario—is obviously be persistent in prayer for your child, but make sure you are, of all the people they know, that you are one of the folks they most feel able to share with—be one of the best listeners in their life.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, February 3rd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.
How can Christian parents respond appropriately to a confession from a son or a daughter about same-sex attraction? We’re going to explore that today with Pastor Sam Allberry. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, it occurs to me that there is a question that I never asked myself when I was growing up that probably a lot of young people today are asking themselves. I never stopped to ask myself, in junior high or high school, “I wonder if I’m gay?” And yet, there are a lot of 12- and 13-year-olds, because of what’s being presented in the culture today, who are asking that because they have a friendship with somebody—
—and they find themselves drawn to that person—and they’re wondering if that ought to be sexualized in some way. It’s a curious day we’re living in.
Dennis: It really is. We have a ton of our listeners, who are raising children—that this is one of their fears. Some have already realized some of their fears, and they’ve had a son or a daughter come to them and tell them that they’re struggling with this or they feel like they are gay. They [parents] are wondering how to handle this.
We have the author of a book that’s been out for a couple of years that is called Is God Anti-Gay? Sam Allberry joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Sam, welcome back.
Sam: Thank you for having me.
Dennis: If you didn’t notice that little accent, he is from the UK—he’s a pastor there. I just want to ask you, off the bat: “Is God anti-gay?” How do you answer that?
Sam: You have to read the book to find out! [Laughter]
The trouble is—it’s not a yes/no answer, because we know that homosexual behavior is against God’s will—the Bible is very, very clear about that. But we also know that all of us are fallen / all of us have disordered desires, and that’s as true of our sexual desires as anything else. And yet God is offering us life in His Son. He is actually extending love to us—He’s extending life to us. All of us have fallen short of the glory of God; and yet, all of us can come to Jesus and have fullness of life.
Dennis: So, in essence, you’re answering the question for how a parent should respond to a son or a daughter who comes out and says, “You know, I have this attraction—I have to tell you.” Inside, the parent may be rocked to the very core of their being because of the surprise of this; but what you’re saying is we have to respond as God would respond.
I think part of that is not making this a sin in a category all of its own, the way you expressed it earlier—for some parents, this is their worst fear. We want to be very clear, for Christian parents, your child being same-sex attracted is not the worst thing that can happen to them. I think one of the ways parents can unwittingly make that struggle worse is by treating it as if it is the worst thing that could happen to their son or to their daughter. It is just one type of what is wrong with all of us—all of us have disordered desires—this is one way of having those desires.
Bob: You began with the premise that the Bible is clear on this subject. You know that in recent years others have written books arguing differently. A lot of teenagers have bought those books, and it has given them cover. They’ve come up and they’ve said: “Okay; we’ve just misunderstood the Bible.
“It’s not same-sex attraction that’s a problem. It is violence or it’s lustful, non-monogamous same-sex relationships.” You’re not persuaded by those arguments.
Sam: Not at all. Now, I can see why, emotionally, why you might want to believe them; but it’s not compelling. The reason is—is what Jesus teaches us about marriage. That is what is key here.
Jesus, in Matthew 19, is asked a question about divorce. In His answer, He says in effect, you can’t understand divorce unless you understand marriage. But He then shows us you can’t understand marriage unless you understand gender. As Jesus begins to unpack and expound what marriage is, He begins, not in Genesis 2, but in Genesis 1—not with a man leaving his father or mother—but with God creating us male and female. Jesus shows us the relationship between those two chapters.
In Genesis 1, from the beginning, the Creator made them male and female, “Therefore a man will leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”
In other words, Jesus teaches us that marriage is predicated on gender. It is because we are male and female that we have this thing called marriage. So marriage is intrinsically and definition-ally heterosexual. The rest of the Bible shows us why that is—in the great story of the Bible, the union of the man and the woman is a picture of the coming together of heaven and earth in Jesus. It is a picture of how God is going to draw and unite a people to Himself.
God has given us marriage as this amazing way of visualizing the gospel—that that union between the man and the woman is the picture, then, of Christ being united to His bride, the church. That is why marriage is male and female—it is like and unlike.
That is the key point here. We don’t have a theology of homosexuality in the Bible—we have a theology of marriage. Everything else we believe about sexual ethics flows from what the Bible says about marriage.
Dennis: Yes; Sam, you know—in just saying that—you’ve just thrown a stone at a hornet’s nest by reducing all the gender options that our culture is throwing at kids today. You’ve reduced it to two—two ordained people, both made in God’s image, but distinctly different—male and female. What are you going to say to the person who goes, “What about all the others?”
Sam: Yes; I think we need to say a couple of things. The fact that Jesus quotes Genesis 1 in Matthew 19 shows us that it is still the case. From the beginning, He has made them male and female. The fall in Genesis 3 distorts our experience of being male and female.
It distorts how we receive the God-given gender that we have—it doesn’t obliterate that gender binary. Jesus reaffirms that gender binary in Matthew 19, but notice the other thing He does. In the very same passages, He talks about eunuchs; and He says, “Some are eunuchs because they were born that way.”
In other words, Jesus recognizes that, alongside the male/female binary, you do have some people who have been born with some kind of physical defect or for some reason are not going to be able to express their maleness or femaleness in the conventional way. So, our experience of being male and female is not often straightforward; because we live in a fallen world. But we see that that male/female binary is still in force—it is still true today.
Dennis: And how would you describe the essence of what masculinity is and femininity?
Sam: I actually think that’s a hard question to answer. We know that it’s more than just our biology. We know it certainly includes our biology; but it has to be more than that, because most of what God has to say to humanity in the Bible He says to us, as men and women without distinction / as men and women in common.
But because there are some things God says to men and some things God says to women, that shows us that there’s a difference between male and female that is not just biological. I think true masculinity is being a male person who is godly, and true femininity is being a female person who is godly. Those two things all end up looking slightly different, but I’m not sure I can quite pin down exactly what that difference consists of.
Bob: I do think that we have to acknowledge that there are places where Bible writers will speak specifically to men or specifically to women. When they do, we ought to pay attention to what those specifics are; because it gives us some hint into the masculine bent or the feminine bent that was built into us.
Bob: We can’t be rigid / we can’t be categorical about it; but we can say, “There seems to be a shade in this direction”; right?
Sam: Yes; I think that’s a very good way of putting it. Yes.
Dennis: I was thinking, as you were talking, about 1 Peter, Chapter 3, where the Apostle Peter addresses women to dress modestly and let their adornment be that of the heart rather than the emphasis of the exterior.
Sam: Correct; and in 1 Timothy 2, Paul talks about men lifting holy hands in prayer without brawling.
Again, that may reflect that—actually, there’s something in us, men, that likes to brawl—and so the focus seems to be: “Rather than wrestling with each other, why don’t you wrestle with God in prayer; and turn that tendency into actually something that is spiritually-productive and godly?”
Dennis: I want to turn us in another direction right now—and that’s back to the parents, who are raising young people today. Boy, I hope I can ask this in the right way: “How can parents today help their sons and their daughters grow through adolescence and have convictions, based upon the Scripture, of what it clearly states around issues like homosexuality?”—because the culture is pressing in on these young people, and they have a face to it—they have friends who are professing to be gay. For them to have a stand is going to be costly.
Coach parents in how they ought to equip their sons and daughters to do this.
Sam: I think we want to—I’m not a parent, so I’m not speaking from experience—but I think we want to model to our kids—if the Lord has given us children—what it means to live by grace. The danger is that we can train our children to be little Pharisees—we can say, “There’s a big, bad world out there, but we’re not like that here.” That is very dangerous; because there’ll then be some non-Christians, who are absolutely delightful and wonderful and just lovely people to be around.
I think one of the ways is for the parents to find appropriate ways of showing to their children how they’ve dealt with their own brokenness. That then gives the child permission to verbalize his or her own ways of being broken—but I hope gives them a kind of a gospel-disposition to people in the world around them that: “Actually, we’re all broken people here; but the Lord has shown us grace.
“God is a fixer-upper. This is what He does—He shows grace to those who are not worthy,” rather than a posture of kind of superiority, which is the danger.
Dennis: And Sam, I know you’re not a dad; okay?—at least, physically—you are, spiritually, to a lot of people. I love your answer, because you put it squarely back on the parents to model the kind of grace in their brokenness and how they view themselves but also other people. So the dinner table isn’t filled with mom and dad judging other people, who are broken—it’s more of a compassionate dinner table, talking about how we can take the message of Christ to all people. I like the way you stated that. That’s a beautiful picture of what the gospel has done in our lives.
Bob: Well, and Sam, you’re aware that we’ve created tools for parents—one called Passport2Purity® and another called Passport2Identity™—that you’re a part of. These tools are designed to prompt moms and dads to have the kinds of dialogue with their kids, where they can say, “You know, we’ve not always done it right, but God’s shown grace to us,” where they can be disclosing and transparent.
I think you’re right. I think a lot of us, as parents, are afraid to acknowledge to our children that we’ve ever fallen or that we’ve ever struggled—as if somehow we’re going to give them permission now to go out and fall themselves. I like what a guest said here on FamilyLife a number of years ago—he said: “A lot of parents are teaching their kids how to be sin-avoiders and sin-concealers instead of teaching them how to be sin-confessors and sin-repenters.”
That’s the pattern we’re going to have to follow throughout our lives; isn’t it.
Sam: Absolutely. I think another principle I would encourage parents, as they’re trying to teach their children in this kind of context, is—whenever the Bible gives us a negative/ whenever the Bible gives us a prohibition—is to think, “What is the positive behind the negative?” Every biblical prohibition is trying to protect something that is good—if we can present the positive vision of marriage and sexuality that the Bible gives us in a way that shows God’s goodness and makes sense of the prohibitions that flow from it.
Dennis: We have a number of listeners, right now, whose children have come to them and, as adult children—maybe they’re in college / maybe they’re beyond college—but they’re now beyond experimentation, and they have adopted the lifestyle of being gay: “We’ve watched this happen in our child’s life. We look back and we go, ‘They professed Christ as a teenager, and now they’ve grown up to adulthood.
“’Does it mean they don’t know Jesus Christ?’” Help a parent know how to relate to that son or daughter in a way that invites them to come back to the gospel and to the God of grace and compassion.
Sam: My advice is—you’re playing the long game here. Your priority isn’t to get them on the same page with you by the end of next week. The priority, I think, is—in ten years’ time, you still want to be the person that they most feel able to talk about anything with. To borrow a phrase from a lovely old man at our church, who does a lot of informal pastoral ministry—he was telling me once he was about to meet with a young man who was fairly troubled about something—and he said, “I’m going to give him a thoroughly good listening-to.” [Laughter]
My experience is—the more listening we do, early on, the more likely, later on, someone is going to want to listen to what we think. My advice to parents in that kind of scenario—and it’s a very painful scenario—is, obviously, be persistent in prayer for your child; but make sure you are, of all the people they know, that you are one of the folks they most feel able to share with. Be one of the best listeners in their life. Ultimately, if things go wrong in that child’s relationship and the wheels come off, be the kind of person who’s the natural shoulder for them to cry on.
My experience has been—the more you take an interest in that person, and listen to them, and offer hospitality / you know, don’t push them away but invite them in—and try to build a relationship with that person’s partner as well—what then begins to happen is the child is the one who then starts saying, “So what do you think about this?” The child then actually does want to know.
Bob: And when the child says, “We’ve decided we want to get married,” do you pay for the wedding? Do you do what is customary?
Sam: Well, that is a very, very tricky situation.
Bob: Yes; it is.
Sam: And it’s, again, where we want to be people of grace and truth. We don’t ever choose between grace and truth—the two are joined together in Jesus, and what God has joined together let man not separate. So it’s not, “Pick whichever one you feel most temperamentally aligned to.” If you think you have grace without truth, you don’t have either—the two go together in the Christian lifestyle.
We need to think of, “What is the way of expressing friendship / of expressing affection and love that is faithful to what we know we believe?” Whatever we decide to do, we want it to be heard by the child as, “Well, I know where my parents stand on this; and I know how much they love me.”
Dennis: The bottom line is—we want a formula. We want a formula that guarantees an outcome. It is human beings we’re loving here—it’s a broken, flawed human being loving another broken and flawed human being.
As you were talking, I’ve never applied this verse—in all the years I’ve read it, I’ve never thought of it in light of this—but this would be a great verse for a parent of a child who’s struggling with his or her sexuality, whether it be heterosexual or homosexual—it’s Romans, Chapter 12, verse 18: “If possible, so far it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
The long view means you have to give up your soapboxes, and your sermons, and leaving books on the nightstand, or having their car radio tuned into our broadcast because you know I’m going to be talking about that subject.
Bob: Well, and that also means that, if you’re going to have some of the conversations, where you’re going to do listening, like Sam talked about, you better go into those conversations, prayed up and ready to hear things without your face showing your shock.
Dennis: Well, and Sam didn’t say it in his answer; but he has a lot to say in terms of additional answers to that question in his book, Is God Anti-Gay? This would be a great tool for any parent to have, in advance of a conversation, because it just gives insight where it matters in interpersonal relationships with the people we love the most. Shouldn’t we be better prepared to know how to love them? I think we should.
Sam: That verse in Romans—I’ve never sort of connected it to this context, but I think that is a fantastic verse to use.
One of the mistakes I’ve seen Christian parents make in this scenario is where their child is involved in a same-sex relationship—is they’ve blamed the child’s partner, either explicitly or implicitly; and they’ve ended up saying, “You are not welcome in our house.” The net effect of that, almost always, is you end up pushing both of them away—
Dennis: You repel them; yes.
Sam: —which is why I said, earlier, I think Romans 12 is a great verse for that—build a relationship with that person. Disapproving of the relationship doesn’t mean disapproving of the person.
Dennis: Yes; how do you have peace with people you don’t agree with?
Sam: Yes; I think the way God does it is—you invite them in, and you sit down at the table with them, and eat with them.
Again, my experience has been with friends in this scenario, when they’ve really actually said: “Well, listen, if you’re a friend of my son, you’re a friend of ours. We would love to get to know you better.”
Dennis: That would take a measure of grace—
Sam: It’s hard! It’s hard!
Dennis: —to make that statement.
Sam: I can think of one family, where that’s actually been their approach—it hadn’t been their approach—and they thought, “Actually, no; we must actually reach out in friendship and love to this partner.” It’s now been a year or so later. The partner is now coming to them, saying, “So what do you believe as Christians?” and now he is feeling safe with these parents to actually have quite serious conversations with them.
Dennis: Romans 12:18: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
Bob: I’m just going to tie that verse to Jesus’ statement that we’re to be as wise as serpents in that process and be as innocent as doves. Part of the way you do that, I think, is you get a copy of Sam’s book.
It provides you with good, solid, biblical thinking on this question so that you can know how to live at peace with all men. It’s called Is God Anti-Gay? You can request a copy when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY, or go online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Again, order, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Dennis: Sam, I think you may have heard us talk about this prior to coming into the studio, but I do have a favorite question. Out of everything you’ve done in all your life, what is the most courageous thing you’ve ever done?
Sam: In one sense it doesn’t feel courageous to have done this, but I think it probably is being open on this issue. I’m willing to try to stand for Christ on this issue.
I mean, it’s been a great privilege too. I don’t particularly enjoy talking about homosexuality, but I love talking about Jesus. For me, talking about homosexuality is a wonderful means of talking about the goodness and sufficiency of Jesus. I’m aware that it’s flying in the face of very, very strong cultural currents; and it hasn’t made life easier in lots of respects. A lot of people don’t like someone in my situation speaking the message I have, but it’s been a great privilege.
Dennis: Well, I want you to know you really are a hero of the faith—period! Thanks for standing strong.
Sam: Well, thank you.
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