Our subject this week is the topic of same-sex attraction and how to help single people who feel frustrated by that experience in their single life. My guest this week is the Reverend Sam Allberry, who is the pastor of Saint Mary’s Anglican church and is the author of the book, Is God Anti-gay? I wanted to bring Sam on here to discuss this question, Sam, what are some of the unique struggles of a person who is single who struggles with same-sex attraction?
Rev. Sam Allberry: Good to be with you. Most of the struggles would be similar to other people who are single for other reasons. There is the struggle of feeling lonely and isolated; our western culture and to some extent our church culture still generally functions around families and couples. Therefore, you can feel a bit like a spare part as a single person even in the church sadly. So that is one issue that is common to both but will be nevertheless felt acutely by those with same-sex attraction.
Sometimes depending on the church context there can be – if people know about the same-sex attraction – a bit of stigma. People can just assume that you are already weird for being single, now you are a bit more weird for having this issue too. Sometimes people are struggling with other people’s perceptions and misunderstandings of the issue.
It can also be quite lonely from the point of view that sometimes people don’t quite understand what you are grappling with. It varies from person to person. I know a number of people who are same-sex attracted and it kind of maps out differently from person to person where the pressure points are, where the temptations are, where the struggles are. It can feel as though there aren’t perhaps many people who really understand what you are going through. So one can kinda feel an additional layer of isolation sometimes because of that.
Another struggle can be many of us who are same-sex attracted have a very deep yearning for companionship. God is generous in giving us good, healthy, deep, friendships, but there can still be a yearning that you know is not going to be met for something more than deep friendship. That is a struggle as well and the sense of it should be a struggle.
Dr. Heath Lambert: What would you say to someone who feels overwhelmed, tired, and exhausted by this struggle. They are worn out, it has been in their life for as long as they can remember and when they think about a lifetime of singleness, it just makes them feel sad. How would you encourage someone feeling that way?
Rev. Sam Allberry: I think that I would acknowledge that there are challenges in being single long term. I would want to sort of affirm that side of things and say, yes it is a struggle. One can understand why someone would feel daunted and at times overwhelmed by the prospect of that. But at the same time we want to say that actually, Jesus says to all of his people that discipleship is costly and the cost will vary from person to person. There is a danger sometimes, we just assume, “my cost is greater than anybody else’s.” That is because we don’t see what is going on in other peoples’ lives. Those of us who are single might look at people with kind of healthy family life and think, “oh, well they don’t have any problems.” Yet people with family life will be very aware of any number of problems they have that single people don’t have through not having a biological family. So we mustn’t assume that our struggles and costs are unique. It is standard issue for discipleship to be costly. Jesus said we need to deny ourselves and take up our cross and long term singleness may be part of the cost for some of us, but it is not the only cost for us. Actually, it is not that much worse than what many other people have to bear with, it is just a different kind of cost.
So we need to be realistic about that; Jesus is wonderfully clear and upfront, he gives us the right expectations of the Christian life. We need to remember as well that alongside the cost that we don’t minimize or downplay that we are called to rejoice. Jesus said that life this side of glory will be hard, but he also promised blessings and joy. It is not just grit your teeth and wait for the Second Coming, but actually we have already been blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing Paul tells us. We are to give thanks in all circumstances, there are challenges that come up as a result of our singleness, there are also opportunities as well. So we must be those who count our blessings. So if somebody is feeling overwhelmed, I would want to say, let’s think about why you are overwhelmed. But let’s also think about what God has given you, how God has equipped you, the resources that are available to you in him, and try to get the challenge in a wider perspective.
Dr. Heath Lambert: One of the things we want to say though is that we don’t want people to struggle alone. What are some things that the church can do to come alongside those folks and love them well?
Rev. Sam Allberry: There are a number of things. One, I guess the most basic, is churches need to have a culture where it is safe to raise this issue and to talk about it. If someone is struggling with same-sex attraction they need a church culture in which they feel able to say, “actually this is an issue for me.” Doing that having a sense that they will be understood, that they will be heard, that they will be care for, loved, and supported. So that is one thing; we need to have that kind of general context.
In addition, the church needs to understand the issue and how it plays out in that person’s life. That will give fellow believers a good insight into what will help that particular individual and it varies from person to person. For some people the most help they need is to be much more clear biblically on what the truth is on this issue, for other people what they most need is actually people to walk through life with them; families to include them, people to go on holiday with, that kind of thing. It will vary from person to person. Others will need accountability and people they can be open with who can be kind of keeping an eye out for them as they battle with temptation. So there will be a number of different things depending on the person. So when you meet a Christian with this issue it is good to listen to them and find out how the issue is playing out in their particular life and therefore what will most help them.
Something else the church must do is honor singleness. Where I come from I think the church is still weak on this issue and my observation is the church in the States is weak on this too. Churches should be places where single people can flourish and thrive for the long term without feeling as though they are not proper Christians.
Dr. Heath Lambert: If the church is going to help an individual with this specific problem, they need to know the person has the problem. And so perhaps there is someone listening to this and they struggle with same-sex attraction but nobody knows. They don’t know who to tell and they don’t know how to bring it up. Maybe they have been in relationships for years and they are going to talk about this and they are going to say, “hey, here is something that you have never known about me,” and they just don’t know who to tell or how to bring it up. What kind of counseling would you give to that person as far as reaching out to somebody?
Rev. Sam Allberry: I want to really encourage them to do it, firstly. We are not designed to bear these burdens on our own. God has made us to be in Christian community. All of us have different battles and all of us need the encouragement and strengthening of other believers who are rooting for us, cheering us, on praying for us. So it is really, really important to tell someone.
I think if there is no one obvious who springs to mind in your life, then the kind of person you are looking for is someone – I think for the very first person you tell – good to have someone who is an older, wiser Christian of the same sex as you. Maybe there is someone in leadership within the church or someone else who you know who has been around the block a few times as a Christian believer. Pray for wisdom on that. Those in church leadership should be people you can talk to about this, they should have the maturity and sensitivity to handle the issue well.
There is always a bit of risk in disclosing this to others. Some people don’t always react in the most appropriate or seemly kind of way. If you get someone who is a bit of a dud, don’t let that put you off telling someone else. My experience has been the vast major of people I have spoken to about this issue, particularly in the early days, it was a life changing blessing for me to have them know about this issue; it made the world of difference.
If you would like more information about this topic, you can visit www.livingout.org. To read more about this topic, be sure to check out Heath Lambert and Denny Burk’s book Transforming Homosexuality.