It’s been on my mind for a while now that, whilst there is a place for debate and argument when it comes to the ‘grey’ areas of Christianity, we would do better to find ways of living alongside those who take a different stance to us, rather than relentlessly trying to persuade others to adopt our own viewpoint.
After all, Jesus said, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).
Call me a crazy fundamentalist, but I think Jesus had a point. We gain nothing by arguing people into submission. We gain much, however, from conversing with our brothers and sisters, listening to their views and sharing ours. The deep love which can be experienced through relationships where there are differences can be highly attractive to those who observe it.
So I was delighted when I discovered, last year, that Stephen Elmes had written a book which was encouraging just this sort of open conversation on a subject close to my heart – sexuality.
Quite simply, this book is wonderful. The friend who lent it to me offered the proviso, “It won’t give you any answers – just more questions”, but I’m grateful for this.
For eight months of 2014, Baptist pastor Stephen Elmes led a working party in his church to discuss the issue of sexuality, with the aim of ‘considering how a local Baptist church might respond to those who live with same-sex desires and seek to follow Christ’. The results formed the main research vehicle for a dissertation Elmes submitted for a Masters degree in 2015.
This book alternates four strands, woven together to make a whole: summaries of the working party’s discussion, pieces of theological writing by Elmes, true life stories (names changed), and fictional conversations with a non-Christian protagonist ‘Alex’, whose role is to question Elmes’ research methods, and make sure no stone has been left unturned.
I loved a lot of things about this book. The gracious, gentle tone of its author. The compassion and love which flood every chapter. The engaging, ‘storyteller’ style at which Elmes is adept; the book prompts and challenges its readers, but feels easy to read. However, most of all, I liked hearing the reasoning behind those views which are different to my own on this issue. It gave me more understanding, and I hope it will give me more humility and openness when discussing this issue with others in the future. It’s a book all Christians should read.
A slight niggle of mine was that we never got to see the response which Elmes’ working party fed back to their church. Perhaps this was because such a response outside of its proper context could have been easily misinterpreted – and, with such a sensitive subject, this could have far-reaching consequences.
Whatever the reason, it would have been helpful to include some ideas of what a church’s response to those with same-sex attraction could look like. The book ends with ‘to be continued…’ – so perhaps this gives hope that we’ll be reading more from Stephen Elmes in the future! (In fact, I only just noticed that the book’s title bears the heading ‘Part One’, so I would think that a sequel was happily inevitable!)
Yes, perhaps this book won’t give you ‘answers’. But perhaps answers aren’t what we need. Perhaps a deeper awareness of the questions can help to formulate a response which is compassionate, God-centred and Christ-exalting. This book leads you to believe that such a response is possible. I thoroughly recommend it.
If you’d like to get your hands on a copy, simply comment here on the blog (Facebook/Twitter comments won’t be entered) by 11pm this Thursday, 8th February. I’ll use a random generator to pick a name, and put a copy in the post a.s.a.p. Good luck!
Disclaimer: All views are my own. I did not receive a free copy of the book in return for this review, and haven’t been bribed in any other way. But if enough people buy this book upon my recommendation, maybe Stephen Elmes will buy me a glass of wine if we ever meet 😉