battles_christians_face

Thank you to Vaughan Roberts

I wanted to express in writing my thanks to Vaughan Roberts for being brave enough to talk about his struggle with same sex attraction.

In a recent interview in Evangelicals Now , Vaughan Roberts who is the rector of St Ebbes Church in Oxford and the president of the Proclamation Trust talks about the fifth anniversay edition of his book “Battles Christians Face‘ which outlines 8 areas of struggle that Christians face, but he is open about the fact that as a pastor wrestles with these too. The issues include: “image, lust, guilt, doubt, pride and keeping spiritually fresh” and chapter 7 which is on Homosexuality. But in this new edition, apparently Vaughan has included in the preface admission that all of the areas in the book are areas of personal struggle for him and this according to Vaughan this “has caused a small ripple of reaction and led some to ask why I wrote those words and what I meant by them.”

Julian Hardyman who conducts the interview for Evangelicals Now asks Vaughan directly: “Does the disclosure that same sex attraction is one of your personal battles mean you are defining yourself as a homosexual?” to which Vaughan replies : “No, it doesn’t. It’s important to reiterate that I have acknowledged a struggle in all eight of the areas the book covers and not just in one.” There have been a few comments about this differentiation and you can see my response in the comments below.

Vaughan is clear that he holds to a historic and biblically orthodox view of homosexual sex. He says:

The Bible is very clear that God loves everyone, and welcomes all into his family, the church, through faith in Christ, whatever our gender, class or race and, we might add, sexuality. We do need to keep stressing that. But we also need to recognise the fact that the Bible is consistently negative about homosexual sex, and, indeed, about any sex outside heterosexual marriage

Yet being open about the temptation he faces of same sex attraction is a very courageous step in the circles that Vaughan operates in. I cannot think of any senior conservative evangelical leaders who have ever expressed this in public whilst maintaining a commitment to being celibate. I believe this could be a major step forward in how the church relates to those with a homosexual orientation. Vaughan’s example as one of the most respected conservative evangelical leaders and gifted Bible teachers and someone who is open about experiencing same sex attraction could be a turning point that helps the church become less homophobic and more sexually pure.

That Vaughan has been brave enough to talk about these things is to be commended and I pray that it means that the church can demonstrate the gracious compassion of Christ to all and especially respect and support not judge and mock those that decide to walk the hard path of singleness because of same sex attraction.

Thank you to Evangelicals Now for publishing this.

Thank you Vaughan for your openness and courage.

 

 

25 thoughts on “Thank you to Vaughan Roberts”

  1. Hi Krish – great post.
    Just to clarify, the book has always had a chapter on homosexuality; it is only in the preface to the new edition that Vaughan has indicated that each battle has been a personal one for him.
    Blessings, Sam Allberry

  2. Like you, Krish, I commend Vaughan Roberts for his courage in going public on this. However, I also think that it is a very sad indictment on evangelical church culture that we should be writing in these terms at all. I long for churches here we can be honest and up-front about these issues and not feel compelled to sweep tham under the carpet for fear of upsetting others or being considered not to be toeing the “party line”; where we can properly listen to one another without judgement and without jumping to erroneous conclusions; and without trying to squeeze the rest of the world into our mould (which is not necessarily Jesus’ mould either). The truth (and the Truth) will set us free.

  3. Krish

    It is undoubtedly brave of Vaughan to have come forward and made it clear that this is a personal issue for him, and I do hope it will break some of the taboos. However, I think it is at best a baby step, and actually could serve to reinforce the very homophobia you quite rightly hope will be stamped out in the church.

    Vaughan correctly says that there is actually nothing whatsoever in scripture or in Church teaching against homosexuality. He says “There is no objection to people being church leaders because of a homosexual orientation. The focus of the argument is over teaching and practice. Evangelicals say that clergy should uphold the Bible’s teaching that sex is only for heterosexual marriage in teaching and lifestyle, both of which I do.”

    This is an argument that more thoughtful Conservative Evangelicals have been making for some time. There is nothing wrong with being gay. The issue for conservative evangelicals is sex outside marriage – gay or straight.

    However, the whole discussion is not framed as someone who struggles with the desire to have sex outside of marriage – this is hardly something that is particularly difficult to control, and is something that can be faced by gay and straight alike. The “struggle” is with “same sex attraction”.

    Yet, even in Vaughan’s own words, the gender to which he finds himself attracted is not the issue.

    Further Vaughan adopts the language of “same sex attraction”.

    Specifically, “Julian: Does the disclosure that same sex attraction is one of your personal battles mean you are defining yourself as a homosexual? Vaughan: No, it doesn’t.”

    The only meaningful definition of homosexuality is attraction to someone of the same sex.

    The phrase “same sex attraction” originally had another word at the end – “disorder”, and it comes from a school of thought that homosexuality is some kind of psychological condition to be analysed and understood, then ideally changed.

    It doesn’t really matter whether Vaughan “defines himself as homosexual” or not. The fact is he is gay.

    What Vaughan is desperately close to saying in this interview is something incredibly simple: “I am gay. And there is nothing wrong with that.” Yet framing it as “I’m struggling with same sex attraction, but it is OK because I’m celibate” means that the problem is not whether someone lives by their reading of the Bible, but whether they are gay.

    Sadly, that sounds an awful lot like reinforcing the homophobia that we really hope this statement helps to eliminate.

    Well, there’s The Mouse’s take, anyhow.

    1. FYI, as someone who can speak to this, you can have struggled with same sex attraction and not be gay. I am a straight married woman who has had same sex attraction in my life (which was a very satanic attack on my marriage and ministry). These struggles are very complex and need God’s revelation. But believe it or not, just because you might have temptations, it does not define who you are. Just like other sins, just because you have struggled with it, it doesn’t mean it is something that you battle with daily (ex. Revenge or adultery). However, obviously there are those who struggle on a day to day basis and I pray for grace and strength for those who do not believe that is who they are meant to be.

  4. thanks for your thoughtful comments Mouse, my take on it is that it is a very first step a brave one at that. You are right that Vaughan is given the opportunity to define himself as gay but chosoes not to. There may be all sorts of reasons for this. Maybe one reason is that to apply an identity label based solely on sexual orientation is possibly quite a political thing to do. I think he just side steps the issue.

    As you rightly say – lets hope this is a first step towards more understanding.

        1. I took Vaughan’s comment to be a refusal to define himself as homosexual due to a desire to define himself in terms of his relationship with God, not in terms of any struggle with temptation.
          He has accepted that he struggles with homosexual feelings, but does not wish to be defined by them. Rather, he wishes to be defined in terms of his relationship to God.
          To quote Vaughan – “No one battle, of the many we face, however strongly, defines us, but our identity as Christians flows rather from our relationship with Christ.” And again, “I’m not making a revelation about my fundamental identity, other than that, like all Christians, I am a sinner saved by grace” [which, of course, is not much of a revelation!]

  5. Hello Church Mouse. I think it is very problematic to suggest that Vaughan’s resistance to the term ‘gay’ is homophobic. The notion of homosexuality as a static identity defining category is a very recent one and is shaped by the fact that our culture defines sexuality in terms of sexual preferences. It’s pretty obvious why this is not desirable from a Christian point of view because the traditional conviction is that your sexuality is found in your body not your mind. It would be perfectly coherent to say you ‘have a homosexual orientation’ or are ‘exclusively attracted to the same sex’. These are more descriptive terms. But the term gay is different. It is an identity marker and because of that, people who are exclusively same-sex attracted will vary in how strongly they identify with the term because they will vary in how strongly they want their sexuality to be determined by their desires as opposed to their physical gender.

    1. I’d go along with that. ‘Gay’ seems to stand for so much more than homosexual orientation these days. It’s seen to be a worldview with certain lifestyle connotations. Maybe Vaughan would be more happy to say he was gay if that didn’t cause people to assume more about his approach to sexuality beyond the fact he is attracted to men.

      1. “Gay” may have connotations in the minds of some conservative evangelicals, but to the rest of us gay people come in all shapes and sizes, with lifestyles as varied as any other segment of society – some gay people are even conservative evangelical priests!

        1. I know a number of people who refuse the term ‘gay’ (or ‘lesbian’) to describe themselves. Some are fairly conservative Christians – certainly not just evangelicals – in some cases their arguments seem to me to be weak; in other cases they have thought very deeply about the nature of identity politics and how that works out and reject the term as a self-description because, in their view, it is irredeemably laden with political commitments they do not share (this tends to be more common amongst Americans than Europeans in my experience).

          One other (in my acquaintance) is an African-American; the fact that African-American men very often refuse the term ‘gay’ as a description imposed by an oppressive white culture is well-known. ‘Gay’ does not adequately narrate their experience of life; some will go out on the ‘down-low'; others will have more complex, perhaps presently un-named, accounts of how they live. But they are certain that they are not ‘gay’.

          Others still, generally fellow-academics (who have read Foucault and Butler and that crowd), dismiss ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ as essentialist terms and so unacceptable; they will often embrace the term ‘queer’, and with it a rejection of any account of sexuality that does not recognise that all defined patterns of gender and sexuality are hegemonic cultural impositions and so are necessarily oppressive.

          How do we navigate all this? My ethic is simple: all people should be allowed the right of self-definition. If someone says he is gay, I will call him gay; if he says he is queer, not gay, I will call him queer; and so on. Vaughan Roberts was offered the terms ‘gay’ and ‘homosexual’ and refused them in the interview; if his preferred description of his life is that he experiences ‘same sex attraction’ then he ought to be allowed to narrate his life in such terms, and the rest of us ought to respect that choice and use his preferred language if we feel the need to discuss his life.

  6. Ooops sorry hit submit by accident.

    I find your perspective concerning Mouse because it involves telling people how they should identify themselves and what words define them which is ironic given that the movement for gay liberation and inclusion is surely at least partly a quest for self-definition against heterocentrism. You cannot deny that for some people the word gay means more than ‘exclusively same sex attracted’ which means that others will not want to use the term for themselves because they don’t want to align themselves with that. To label us self hating for that seems an overreaction.

    1. We’re stuck in a bit of a loop here. My point is that gay people come in all shapes and sizes, and any connotation that comes with that word other than homosexuality is an artificial construct.

      Perhaps you could spell out exactly what you think gay means other than homosexual. “Some people” may think it means something else, but it does not, and to insist that “gay” people must be part of some political agenda or lifestyle group really is part of the problem.

      For me, to say that you reject that term because of a false idea about what that means doesn’t make much sense.

      I’m not telling anyone how to define themselves, and I agree that sexuality is often fluid and hard to describe. But in Vaughan’s case it appears very simple.

      1. The thing about using the word ‘gay’ to define or describe somebody, is that the word is a cultural word rather than a word with a fixed, descriptive meaning. Homosexual is of mixed Greek and Latin origin (according to Wikipedia!) with ‘homo’ Greek for ‘same’ and sexual presumably being based in Latin. So this is a better word because it has clear(ish) meaning. Having said this, a search for the etymology has someone in 1897 saying he thinks it is a ‘a barbarously hybrid word’ and that homogenic would be a better word (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=homosexual). I wonder whether Homophile is better (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homophile).

        Even if we use Homophile, I think Homophilia is better, because if emphasises the attraction rather than defining the person.

        Vaughan says ‘Also, in countering the simplistic binary model of the world that people are either born gay or straight (or, occasionally, bi), we are prone to make overly dogmatic comments ourselves about causation and cure.’. Now whilst he’s criticising people who say being gay ‘is just a choice’ he is also clearly saying that it is too simplistic to state that people are either born gay or straight (or bi). Perhaps this is an indication as to why he refuses to be described as gay or homosexual.

        This is my biggest problem with this approach of calling people ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’. You are defining people as something other than ‘Saints’ or ‘Children of God’, or other such identities that are grounded in Christ. I refuse (although not actively or consciously enough) to be defined as ‘heterosexual’, or as ‘a youngster’ (25), or as a ‘charismatic’ (as I’ve come to the conclusion I must be, although I’d never define myself as that), or an evangelical (ditto). To be honest I refuse to define myself as a Christian, because of the negative connotations to it and the fact its meaning is something different to each person (to a great extent). I could just about cope with ‘follower of Jesus’, although that is perhaps sometimes a bit generous given my thoughts and actions! For a further example, I refuse to say I am someone who is always late, rather saying that in the past I have had trouble with timekeeping.

        Why should I speak identities or names or labels over myself (or others) that are rooted in anything other than God’s work in and through me?

  7. Kudos to this honest man. One thing that annoys me, and that I am glad to see this pastor shoot down, is the tendency in our culture to identify people based on a sexual urge they have. Since when in history anywhere has a strange sexual urge someone has define them as a person? I am not defined by my sexual urges toward women, and you never see heterosexuals ever go around wearing that badge on their chest. Yet the homo-fascist lobby in the west has made it a calling card. To come out of the closet is to reveal who you really are.

    This is something that needs to be battled. Not asking questions like the interviewer asked (“Does the disclosure that same sex attraction is one of your personal battles mean you are defining yourself as a homosexual?”) is a way to start. This guy doesn’t let it define him. Neither should anyone else.

  8. I worry that the refusal of the word ‘gay’, when most people are happy to self-define as ‘straight’, is to give in to a heteronormative view of the world which is as contrary to Scripture as a homonormative view would be. I entirely understand Vaughan Roberts’s desire not to use the word ‘gay’ of himself, but note that Wesley Hill, for example, is not unhappy with the word, while adopting a broadly similar approach to the subject.

    I think for conservative Christians to be able to say that they are gay and faithful to Scripture and the Tradition would be enormously helpful, not least because it would be culturally subversive: there are ways of ‘being gay’ which are not loaded with connotations of sexual permissiveness or effeminacy. For that reason, while delighted by Vaughan’s interview, which I found very encouraging, I do slightly regret that the evangelical world in which I live and move and have my being is still one in which ‘being gay’ is seen as taboo. While that is the case, sharing the gospel with gay and lesbian people is going to be an unnecessarily difficult task. But it is much easier today than it was earlier this week, and for that I rejoice!

  9. I am extremely grateful for Vaughan Roberts’s interview: it is pastorally sensitive, biblical and wise. I think it makes it easier for evangelicals to witness to their friends, families and colleagues, in a world in which the way Christians talk about sexual ethics is becoming ever more foreign.

    I entirely understand why Vaughan Roberts does not want to self-identify as gay. That is his prerogative. I note with interest that Wesley Hill, who writes from a similar perspective, does not share his nervousness. More widely, I worry about what it says about evangelicalism that the notion that someone might ‘be gay’ is still taboo. A Christian will not want to self-identify as a murderer, because (s)he does not want to be defined by his/her sin. A Christian politician is less likely to be reticent about self-defining as a Liberal Democrat, for example, because being a Liberal Democrat is not (normally) considered sinful! I find the idea that for someone to ‘be gay’ is in itself sinful very hard to accept.

    I do think it would help our Christian witness if we were able to offer gay people a distinctively Christian perspective on ‘being gay’. As it is, we are in danger of being reduced to talking about ‘same-sex attraction’, which sounds a bit clinical to most of us.

  10. I feel obliged to point out at this point, that my original comment was that in Vaughan’s own terms his sexuality matters not one jot. The issue is purely about sex outside marriage. Yet the thread seems to have developed without a mention of the actual issue, and a whole debate about sexuality.

  11. It does seem a bit wrong to be discussing someone’s struggle on a blog…
    I guess though that Vaughan doesn’t want to use the term gay to describe himself because he is not enthusiastically embracing it, just finding ways to live with it. That seems fair but it does put a spanner I the works for people who want labels to be clearer.
    I’m not a great fan of conservative evangelicalism but massive respect to him.

  12. Apologies for the three posts, two of which are identical. I thought my submission hadn’t worked, and kept clicking ‘Send Comment’! Krish, do please feel free to delete one (or two!) of them.

  13. There are certainly words I have a problem with here. One is ‘struggle’. Regardless of his sexuality, if Vaughan Roberts is a single man who believes that the only place for sex is within marriage, then the struggle surely hs nbothing to do with his orientation but rather controlling his sexual impulses. It’s the same as if he were straight/heterosexual, surely? And if that’s the issue, why even mention his ‘same sex attraction’? That’s not the point.
    But, like ChurchMouse, I also have a problem with his refusal to use the term ‘gay’. Is it *still* a problem if a homosexual evangelical refers to themself as ‘gay’? Years ago, I wrote a feature for Woman Alive magazine about singleness, and asked the rhetorical question: ‘And what of lesbian Christians?’ at a time when sex same attraction was barely neutrally recognbised. When the piece was published, the line had been altered to ‘And what of *Christians who are lesbian?’ I found this strange so queried it. The Editor replied ‘You can’t be a Christian and a lesbian’. (I have heard the same said about bisexuals.) I was flabbergasted. I had worked at evangelical development agency, Tear Fund, and there were certainly gays and lesbians working there! Vaughan Roberts does seem to talk as if being ‘same-sex attracted’ and an evangelical Christian is a dreadful thing for him to be, and that the only way for him to be open about his sexuality and be still accepted within evbangelicalism is to couch it in such negative terms. It is rather a shame that he only has to speak like this and he is celebrated as ‘brave’. I wonder what will happen to him from here should his thinking and praying drive him to any further, more assertive declaration? Were he to choose even to define himself as ‘gay’ would that be a step too far for most evangelicals, or would he always have to add ‘and celibate’ to it, like a ball and chain behind him that people of no other sexuality have to, to remain accepted?

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