Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Same-Sex Attraction and the Church - The Surprising Plausibility of the Celibate Life by Ed Shaw

To be a Christian is to be called into a life of suffering. That was the main message I was left with after reading the conclusion of this book.

I requested this book (one among five others) when IVP snail-mailed me their beautiful catalogue earlier this year.

It was an easy read and I finished it within a week.

The book is organised into 9 missteps or phrases that people today quote to justify a same-sex relationship. They are namely:

Misstep #1: "Your identity if your sexuality."
Misstep #2: "A family is Mom, Dad and 2.4 children."
Misstep #3: "If you're born gay, it can't be wrong to be gay."
Misstep #4: "If it makes you happy, it must be right!."
Misstep #5: "Sex is where true intimacy is found."
Misstep #6: "Men and women are equal and interchangeable."
Misstep #7: "Godliness is hetereosexuality."
Misstep #8 "Celibacy is bad for you."
Misstep #9: "Suffering is to be avoided."

Just reading the content page made me cringe slightly. Although I agree that some of the above phrases are obviously wrong to begin with, others were a little bit more neutral.

Anyway, here are some of my thoughts.

As a pastor in England, I would say that it's easier for the author to form strong relationships with married couples and their children. In Chapter 2, he relates how he is a godfather to 12 children and enjoys spending time with them. He argues that a church family should be that, a family, but acknowledges that it can be difficult for some to find their place in this family. I must say that although a church ought to function like a family, it currently needs major improvement. I can count on one finger how many married couples invite me to meals after spending 10 years in church. I must give it to him that he does challenge the average churchgoer to take the initiative to invite single people, same-sex attracted or not, to integrate these people into their lives so that the meaning of family can be actualised.

Even so, he does confess that there are times he has "kitchen floor moments" where he just sits there crying. The honesty is appreciated and it is indeed a lonely journey for the gay Christian. It's interesting that he doesn't use the word "gay" to identify himself, but rather "same-sex attracted". He says that labelling one as gay often brings with it the baggage the stereotype brings and would rather invite conversations people initiate when he introduces himself as "same-sex attracted". Fair enough, I thought.

But the final chapter is perhaps the main thrust of the book. Basically, this is a thorn in the flesh that the gay Christian has to bear till the day Jesus comes back. To be a Christian is to be called to suffer. Depressing but true. No one ever promised an easy walk with a Saviour that was mercilessly whipped and nailed to the cross. We are called to take up the cross and follow Him. Sigh.

I would have appreciated it if the author took the time to explore the possibility of celibate same-sex relationships, recently made public with a bishop from the Church of England declaring that he is gay but in a celibate relationship. This is a viable alternative from the one the author proposes and is one that is sadly missing from the book. 

In addition, I have some problems with how Ed Shaw easily sweeps aside revisionist arguments in a short appendix at the end of his book. It was actually the first thing I read after he mentioned it in the introduction and apart from saying that they were polarizing, emotional and plagued with doubt, he did little to interact and wrestle with key biblical texts those books explored. 

I personally thought James Brownson did a good job analysing Genesis and was looking eagerly forward to a counter-argument but was disappointed. In addition, Matthew Vines did an excellent job and simply dismissing the detailed arguments the book made did not do justice to it.

All in all, I thought this was a good effort by Ed Shaw to argue for the celibate life. Unfortunately, until the Church celebrates singlehood the way it does marriage, the celibate life just isn't really that plausible. It is in theory, not in practice. 

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.