Same-Sex Attraction and the Church

A review of Ed Shaw's new book, Same-Sex Attraction and the Church: The Surprising Plausibility of the Celibate Life.

I do not have the space here to summarize the nine missteps Shaw identifies, and I want to give you a good reason to go and read the book – which every thoughtful Christian should do. But I do want to draw attention to what I take to be some of Shaw’s most important points. At the foundation of his argument is his observation that believers ought not find their identity in their sexuality – whether gay, straight, or otherwise – but in Christ. This is, indeed, a central theme of Christian ethics from start to finish. 


Ed Shaw. Same-Sex Attraction and the Church: The Surprising Plausibility of the Celibate Life. Downer’s Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2015. 172 pages. $16.00.

For far too long in this country it has seemed possible to enjoy both the Christian life and the American dream. Christians have conflated the way of Christ and the pursuit of happiness. It has never worked as well as it was supposed to, but the inconsistencies and contradictions have always seemed relatively minor. Now that has all changed, and in this excellent little book Ed Shaw, pastor of Emmanuel City Centre in Bristol, England, is calling the church to wake up.

Christians, including young evangelicals, are increasingly being persuaded that it is unreasonable, or, as Shaw puts it, implausible, to ask those who experience exclusively same-sex attraction to live celibate lives. Sexuality is considered to be central to human identity, and sexual experience is thought to be an essential part of any decent life. To expect a person to be celibate – for his or her entire life – is to ask that person to deny his or her very own self. It is to reject any and all possibility of happiness. And for many Christians this is simply too difficult to stomach. God wants us to be happy, doesn’t he?

Shaw captures the humanity and emotion of the argument for same-sex relationships in his opening story about a young man named Peter. Peter is an enthusiastic member of his evangelical church. Like other teenagers, he has experienced the excitement, the challenges, and the temptations of puberty, struggling to manage the fascinating new phenomena of sexual attraction in Christlike ways. But unlike all of his friends, Peter knows that he doesn’t merely have to wait, to practice abstinence until he finds the right woman. Peter is exclusively attracted to men and hasn’t been able to change that, and he knows that according to Christian teaching, that means he may never have sex.

Shaw captures the angst:

But boy, does Peter want to have sex. He’s growing up in one of the most sexualized cultures since pre-Christendom… Talking to the youth group guys in a males-only session afterward, the husband said sex was the best experience he’d ever had – God was so good to have created something so pleasurable. It would be that good for them too – if they kept it for marriage. But Peter won’t be getting any if he sticks with what he’s been told, if he lives in the light of the Bible’s teaching. And that seems unreasonable (to say the least) for seventeen-year-old Peter. Sex is everywhere. His desire for it is overwhelming. And his church says no to that – forever (14).

Shaw points out that there is a growing number of Christian churches, theologians, and Christian writers willing to welcome Peter and affirm that he can be a Christian while practicing homosexuality. Given that, and given the power of our hyper-sexualized culture, simply quoting the standard litany of Bible verses on homosexuality is becoming less and less persuasive to people. “Just say no!” is no longer going to cut it.

Shaw finds this to be a powerful indictment of the Christian church.

Read More