Glenn Stanton, Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor (Moody Publishers, 2014)
Glenn Stanton has vast experience of speaking about sexuality and gender to different audiences, and in Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor his expertise really comes across. One thing I greatly appreciate about Stanton’s book is his clear compassion for those with whom he disagrees on same-sex relationships. He has genuine friendships with, and respect for, many who are advocating for full endorsement of gay marriage. And they clearly have respect for him too. So much so that one of the commendations on the back of the book comes from a gay rights activist. He also acknowledges the failings and lack of love from many on both sides of the debate and urges us to do better.
The book begins with a helpful explanation of the complexity of the LGBT community and an introduction to the terminology. Some of the language, especially around trans, has moved on since the book was published in 2014 but this doesn’t detract from the book’s usefulness. There’s an insightful discussion of homosexuality’s ‘social evolution’ from:
To a thing in itself, classified as a disorder to be healed of
To an orientation and thus, a political movement
To an identity, and thus, a right'(p.44).
Stanton then moves on to a brief examination of biblical teaching on sexuality. Starting with Jesus’ teaching about marriage, adultery and lust, he shows that sex is reserved for a marriage between one man and one woman, but that same-sex love in the form of friendship is an equally valuable gift from God (p.53).
His treatment of Jesus and the gospel accounts on sexuality is brief but compelling. The weakest part of the book is the handling of the other biblical passages that specifically mention homosexuality and the revisionist arguments surrounding these. Stanton devotes just under four pages to this discussion, which is far too brief. For a more thorough exposition of the biblical texts, I would recommend What Does the Bible Really Say? by Martin Davie and What does the Bible really teach about homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung.
Stanton does, however, make the very important point that, ‘If we are going to get a correct interpretation of Scripture as God intended, we have to judge various verses in connection with the fullness of God’s word’ (p.63). In the rest of this section, he clarifies that same-sex attraction itself isn’t sinful, and that homosexual sin is no worse than any other sexual sins.
The section on intimacy is a poignant reminder that at the heart of all sexual sin is a craving for intimacy and acceptance. As Stanton says, ‘This truth should not make us angry or condemning towards others but compassionate and sad’ (p.72). The chapter ends with a list of 10 non-negotiables for evangelicals toward same-sex attracted people and a list of eight non-negotiables toward homosexuality, which summarise much of what has been said before in a concise and winsome way.
At the heart of all sexual sin is a craving for intimacy and acceptance.
Chapter 3 calls for nuance in areas where we’re prone to polarisation. Stanton exposes the false dichotomies of ‘bigots vs. perverts’ and ‘friends or enemies’ and shows that we need to learn to have much more sophisticated conversations and build genuine friendships where we love and listen to one another. He goes on to call for churches to unreservedly welcome LGBT people without compromising scriptural teaching, and he exposes some of the myths surrounding the debate on sexuality. There’s a brief but interesting discussion on whether same-sex attraction is the result of nature or nurture, with the conclusion being that the either/or narrative is too simplistic. He also discusses the nature of healing (and makes the excellent point that healing is not heterosexuality, but rather holiness), ongoing same-sex attraction, and disagreement in friendships.
In the next chapter, Stanton gives some case studies of people who are getting it right. I found this particularly encouraging as it is all too easy for books to focus on everything that we’re doing wrong, leaving us feeling criticised and demotivated. We read about two pastors – one from an affirming and one from a conservative church – who have a deep friendship and do Bible studies together. We meet Christian parents whose honesty and vulnerability about their own sexual temptations is a massive comfort to their same-sex attracted daughter. There are stories of work friends, a boss and his employees, and even an account of the heartwarming interaction between Dan Cathy, Christian Chick-fil-A president, and Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride. The most powerful and poignant story for me was the Christian mother whose son had contracted HIV from his male partner. They both developed AIDS and she nursed them both and loved them as Jesus would.
The second half of the book focuses on practical advice as we navigate tricky situations in our friendships, homes, churches and society. These chapters largely take a question and answer format which makes them easy to dip into if we’re wanting help with a particular situation. The questions tackled include:
- How should I respond to my gay child’s partner?
- Should I go to a gay wedding?
- What about gay people in the church who don’t want to change?
- What if gay people want to become church members or teach Sunday school?
- Should we have an official church statement on sexuality?
- Should I support or oppose gay rights?
- Should our religious beliefs be kept separate from our community values?
The advice is clear, compassionate, practical and godly, even though we may not agree with absolutely everything because, as Stanton points out, there is room for individual conscience as we seek to apply scriptural teaching to pastoral situations. All these chapters are underpinned by a real grace and care towards sexual minorities and emphasise the importance of loving well, listening and not treating people as projects.
If there’s one failing in the book, it’s that it tries to cover an awful lot of ground, to the extent that some topics (biblical teaching on sexuality and some of the questions that are touched on in chapter 3) get scant treatment. The real strength of the book is the focus on forming genuine, loving friendships with LGBT people and the call to share Christ with them. Many books deal helpfully with the pastoral issues of living as a Christian who is same-sex attracted, but Stanton clearly also wants to help us engage with LGBT people who are not yet followers of Jesus. I hope that his book inspires many of us to share Jesus with our LGBT friends and family.