My Struggle With Same-Sex Attraction
About the Guest
Sam AllberrySam Allberry is a pastor based in Maidenhead, UK. He is part of the global speaking team for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, and an editor for The Gospel Coalition. He is the author of a number of books, including James For You, Why Bother With Church? and the bestselling Is God Anti-Gay?
Pastor Sam Allberry has struggled with same-sex attraction since he was an adolescent. Allberry encourages others who are struggling to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”
My Struggle With Same-Sex Attraction
Bob: It was as a high school student that Sam Allberry began to recognize that he was attracted to other men. But as a high school student, he didn’t see any way to act on that attraction.
Sam: I do remember thinking that this could be something I explore at university. I knew that, at the time, universities had LGB societies, and so I remember thinking consciously, “This could be something I run with when I go to university,” and this was, again, early ’90s; it was pre-Internet. It was, therefore, plausible for me to lead a double life if I wanted to. I was thinking I could be gay at university and no one back home would need know.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, February 1st. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.
There’s no telling what Sam Allberry’s story might have wound up being if he hadn’t found an affection that was stronger than his same-sex attraction. We’ll talk about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.
We have been hoping for a while to have our guest who is with us today be here, but it takes a little while to coordinate schedules and get him from across the Pond.
Dennis: It does. In fact, where is Maidenhead, United Kingdom? Where is that in Great Britain?
Sam: About 30/40 minutes west of London.
Dennis: Okay; alright.
Bob: Near Legoland.
Sam: Near Legoland.
Bob: Yes. I’ve been to Legoland over in Windsor. [Laughter]
Sam: We call it Windsor Castle, but whatever you like. [Laughter]
Dennis: I’m sure that’s right.
Well, Sam Allberry is joining us on today’s broadcast. He’s a pastor in Maidenhead and is a part of the global speaking team for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.
Ravi’s a good man; glad you’re in his company. I like him.
Sam: He’s a great guy.
Dennis: He is a great guy. And he’s [Sam] an editor for the Gospel Coalition and has also written a book entitled Is God Anti-Gay?
Before we start on the broadcast around talking to you, Sam, we had something unusual that just happened at one of our Weekend to Remember ® marriage getaways. We’ve been putting these conferences on now for 40 years. We’ve had over 2.5 million people attend the Weekend to Remember here in the States. I have no idea how many have attended in the 109 countries where our ministry is located—undoubtedly, hundreds of thousands more there.
But we had something happen where a couple who are lesbians came to the Weekend to Remember. I was really proud of our staff and of the conferees who also attended that conference; because when they asked to come, we said:
“Sure! Come on! We’re happy to have you.” The thing that happened was—this couple went through the entire conference. Here’s the thing—we have to welcome people who don’t believe or think like we do. We have to exhibit the love of Christ. I think, in the process of us doing that with this pair of young ladies, they heard the gospel. They heard about where they can find forgiveness and how they can become Christ-followers and live life as God designed it.
Bob: Sam, this is something that you are concerned about, as a churchman; but it’s also something that is a part of your personal story because you have, all your life, been same-sex attracted; right?
Sam: That’s correct; yes.
It took me awhile to recognize that that was the case; but certainly for as long as I’ve had any kind of romantic or sexual feelings, they’ve been to the same sex and not the opposite sex.
Bob: You grew up in the church?
Sam: No; no—not at all. So I didn’t really start—I became a Christian when I was 18, so I was not raised in a church-going family.
Bob: So you were aware of your sexual desire—your same-sex attraction—before you came to know Christ.
Sam: That’s correct; yes.
Dennis: Had you told your parents?
Sam: I had not—I had only just told myself at that point. It had taken me—I’m a pretty slow person—it had taken me three or four years to really recognize what was going on in my own life and kind of admit that to myself.
Dennis: Had you fallen in line with what the culture was doing in terms of guys taking girls out in high school—going to prom, et cetera—the dances—or had you avoided that?
Sam: Well, it’s a bit different in England, anyway. We don’t have the kind of proms and that kind of thing—culture.
I had dated a couple of girls as a teenager, but we didn’t have all the big dances that you guys have here—the high schoolers.
Bob: The period from kind of the first dawning of this in your own life to the point where you came out and said, “I think this is what’s true about me,” you said that was a couple of years?
Sam: Yes, probably two or three years, I think. I had good friends that I was beginning to be aware I had a very strong emotional attachment to—that was sort of the first indicator—a real emotional dependency / that kind of thing. I began to be aware that I was having feelings of sexual attraction, as well; but this was 25 years ago, and the issue of homosexuality wasn’t on the table in the way that it is now. So it wasn’t as obvious to me to think, “Oh, that must be homosexuality.”
Dennis: There are a lot of parents who just leaned forward toward the radio as you started talking about this, because this is 25 years later.
I mean, today, it is a very live issue for teenagers to be confused about their sexuality and to have this be a live option on the table that’s acceptable in the culture. What would you say to parents who are watching their teenagers grow up? How should they be relating to them in the midst of this confusion?
Sam: I think one of the positives is that we’re far more able to talk about this issue than we used to be, both as a culture widely, but also within the Christian world as well. One of the big negatives of where our culture is at is that I think it encourages young people to make their sexual feelings their core identity. I think that’s unhealthy at any age—I think it’s especially unhealthy for teenagers and young teenagers—even more so because so much of life isn’t settled down yet.
So I think one of my big cautions for people is if you’re experiencing some kind of confusion about your sexuality—maybe you’re experiencing same-sex attraction and you’re a young person—is not to assume that’s who you now are—and for parents as well, to not think, “Oh my goodness, that must be who my child is now going to be forever.”
Dennis: And not be shocked if your child maybe hints at this or expresses it.
Sam: Absolutely; yes. I mean, let’s be honest—we live in a fallen world and, therefore, any of our kids are going to have disordered sexual desires. So, I just make an assumption that any teenager is going to be struggling with some kind of sexual temptation. You know, even those who are heterosexual are still struggling with inappropriate desires and all the rest of it.
If we assume that we should never be shocked if a teenager says to us, “I’m really struggling with…”—“x” or “y”—whatever it might be.
Same-sex attraction is just one type of, actually, the issue that all of us face—which is that our desires are fallen and disordered.
Bob: So let me go back to that two-year period while you’re processing what’s going on in your own desires, doing it without any kind of a biblical worldview in place. Was it frightening? Was it curious? Was it exciting? What were you thinking as you began to wonder: “Who am I?” and “What am I feeling?”
Sam: It certainly wasn’t exciting because again, 25 years ago these things weren’t generally spoken about publicly—certainly the high school I had been in was an old boys’ school, and the culture there was mortally homophobic. So, it wouldn’t have been a good thing—it wouldn’t have earned me any friends to have come out at that point and said, “I think I’m gay.”
Bob: No celebration—no teachers who would have stood up and said, “Now, we need to honor Sam for his courage.”
Sam: No. I probably would have been beaten up by my peers, I would imagine; but I do remember thinking—this is my final year of high school—I remember thinking that this could be something I explore at university. I knew that, at the time, universities had LGB societies; and I remember thinking, consciously, “This could be something I run with when I go to university.” This was, again, early ’90s; it was pre-Internet, and it was therefore plausible for me to lead a double life if I wanted to. I was thinking I could be gay at university and no one back home would need know.
Bob: In the midst of this awakening sense of sexual attraction to other men, you also heard the gospel in a way that you’d never heard it before.
Sam: That’s right. I’m so thankful for the Lord’s timing in all of this; because it was just a matter of months after me thinking, “I might explore this at university,” that I actually became a Christian.
So I never really had the opportunity to act out on these feelings.
Bob: What were the circumstances around which you came to faith?
Sam: Well, a couple of good friends of mine, who were Christian believers, invited me to their church’s youth ministry. By the time I finished my high school exams I had literally nothing else to do for three months. So I thought: “I’m open-minded. I’ll give these guys a go.” I’d gone, back and forth, as a teenager, about whether I believed in God or not. I was certainly open on that issue—so: “Yes. I’ll find out a bit about what makes them tick.”
These were really good friends—I so admired them. I thought, actually, “What makes them tick is going to be of interest to me.” As I went along to their youth meeting, I was 17 years old. A guy stood up to give a talk—he was in his 80s, I think—so, theoretically, I shouldn’t have been remotely interested in this.
But he expressed the heart of the Christian message in a way I had never heard before. He said, “Christianity is not about God rewarding good people; it is about God forgiving bad people.” I had never heard that. I just assumed, growing up, that if God was real, it was all about being a good little boy and a good little girl, and God would like you and then you get to heaven.
I was listening, and this was the first time I’d heard about grace. It was actually God forgiving people who are sinful—not God rewarding people who thought they were good. That shocked me—I thought, “I’ve never heard this before!” I remember feeling drawn to that message. I began to go there every week. I joined a Bible study group. I began to hear these truths from the lips of Jesus—that it is not the healthy who need a doctor / it’s the sick. I began to realize He came for broken people.
Dennis: I want to go back to a very quick description you had of a couple of friends who you really admired. They lived out their faith as teenage young men.
Dennis: They weren’t perfect, but there was something different about them that drew you toward the message of Christ. What was it?
Sam: It was, quite frankly—I was working in a coffee shop at weekends to earn a bit of money during my final two years of high school. That’s where I met these Christian friends of mine. They were the same age as me, but they had—they had a real integrity to what they said that was very unusual. My own experience at high school was that friendships were quite political; but I just had a sense with these new friends that they always meant what they said and that they were committed to you, full stop—period.
There was nothing kind of fickle or superficial about their friendship.
Dennis: I’m glad you used that word, “integrity,” because that means whole.
Dennis: That means authentic. That means real.
We have teenagers, who listen to this broadcast; and they may not understand it, but they are salt and light to somebody.
Dennis: People are watching them.
Sam: Well, my experience shows it can be—I say a little / it’s a big thing—but actually, just being a person who keeps their word can have a huge impact in the culture around us, because that was all it was for these friends of mine. I knew that they meant what they said. So it really was that integrity that set them apart in my mind. I thought, “Well, I’d like to find out more about what they believe.”
Bob: There was a point where you kind of faced the line in the sand and said, “I have to make a decision.”
Sam: That’s right. I was really intrigued by Jesus.
I’d grown up with a mental image of Jesus that—He was a cross between Gandhi and one of the Bee Gees. He was this guy who said good things—
Dennis: Hold it! Hold it! [Laughter]
Bob: Quite a cross! [Laughter]
Dennis: That’s paradoxical right there—I’m sorry.
Sam: Well, I said I pictured Him as looking like one of the Bee Gees—long blonde hair, and good teeth, and that kind of thing. So that was sort of—
Anyway, what I began to realize was that the real Jesus was far more interesting, far more frustrating, and far more compelling than I had ever realized. He said things that kind of—sometimes sounded like fingernails down a chalkboard—they just jarred with how I would naturally think. He made claims about Himself that people don’t normally make if they’re in sound mind.
And yet, He seemed to read me in a way that I’d never read myself. His words seemed to expose me. I began to realize I was one of the people for whom He came.
I remember thinking, in a general, abstract way, “This is true.” But then I also remember thinking, “What does that mean for me?” And that was the point; because there were several weeks before, “Yes; I think this is true.” I began to realize that Jesus was calling for me to respond. This is not one of those things that I can say is true and leave to one side. It has to be everything, if it’s true—or nothing. I remember consciously thinking, “If Jesus has died for me,”—and I believed He had died for me, not just for sinners, but for me—“I want to follow Him.” I remember at that moment, sitting—in my mind, thinking, “I’m going to follow Jesus now.”
Bob: Did you know that where He would take you would conflict with the feelings that had started to emerge sexually?
Sam: Not really. I knew that Christians believed sex was for marriage. I figured that was probably going to be part of the deal; but I kind of figured, “Oh, in that case, my feelings will change.” So I didn’t anticipate this being a long-term situation that I would be in. But at the time, all I knew was, “I do trust Jesus; and whatever He ends up saying, in any area of life, will be good for me.”
Bob: I have to wonder if some of the folks listening to us today have always thought Christianity was about, “God does nice things for good people,” rather than understanding that it’s God forgiving all of us who need forgiveness.
I’m just wondering right now if there’s a listener who’s leaned toward the radio, been compelled to hear your encounter with Jesus and is sitting there, going: “Yes. I’m familiar with His claims. I’ve been thinking about it a little bit—maybe thinking about it more now as a result of hearing your words.” What would you say to that man / that woman, who’s maybe at the same fork in the road you were?
Sam: I would say a couple of things. I would say: “We’re not Christians because we think we’re good; we’re Christians because we know we’re not. Actually, when we know our own hearts, we need a Savior. We don’t need a performance coach—we need a rescuer.”
The second thing I would say is what we’re told in the Scriptures: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
If you are someone who’s beginning to think, “I’m feeling drawn to Jesus—that this is a Man, who is unfathomably good, and His ways are good and right,”—it’s, as we start to follow Him, we can taste that. It’s not always easy—sometimes it’s very, very hard—but we can taste the goodness of what He says, as we follow Him.
Dennis: Jesus did say: “Truly, truly I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
Sam: Now, do you know what’s wonderful about that? That was the first verse I learned off by heart, just after I came to faith—John 5:24—is that right?
Dennis: That’s correct!
Sam: Because I remember thinking—I can’t remember where I came—I’m sure a friend would have pointed me to that verse; but I remember reading it and thinking: “Wow! This is what’s just happened to me!”
Dennis: “I have passed from death to life!”
Dennis: To the listener who’s tuned in, today’s the day of salvation. Realize you’re bad and you need a Savior—it’s that simple. Cry out to Him: “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner. Take me as I am and make me become who You made me to be.”
If you pray that prayer, you have the rest of your life to begin to figure out what we just talked about here—what it means to be a follower of Christ, to be a disciple, to get in the Bible, to know God, and all that the Bible has to say about how to live life. It’s an adventure. I’m telling you—it is an adventure of a lifetime.
Sam: There’s never a dull day.
Dennis: Never! Because you’re in the hands of the One who made you—doesn’t get any better than that—and to know you’re reconciled to Almighty God / that He’s forgiven you, you’re clean, and He’s washed you white as snow—He said.
Sam: And He’s for you.
Dennis: He is for you, and He has a plan for you.
Bob: We have on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com a link that says, “Two Ways to Live,” that spells out what you’re talking about here. Are we going to live self-directed lives, where we simply follow our desires and our passions and they rule us, or are we going to lead God-directed lives, where we bring our passions and our desires under the lordship of Christ and He rules us and He calls the shots in our lives?
I’d encourage listeners—go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and click that link that says, “Two Ways to Live,” and ask yourself the question, “Which way am I living, and how do I want to be living?” Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. You’ll find the “Two Ways to Live” link when you get there.
You’ll also find information about the book Sam Allberry has written, called Is God Anti-Gay? And Other Questions About Homosexuality, the Bible, and Same-Sex Attraction. This is a short, simple book, very accessible, easy to read. I know folks who keep copies of this book available to share with friends they know who ask questions about same-sex desire and same-sex attraction. Again, find out more about Sam Allberry’s book—Is God Anti-Gay?—when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com. You can order online or you can call to order—1-800-FL-TODAY is our toll-free number—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.” Or again, order online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
You know, as we’ve talked about this subject today, I’m thinking about friends of ours, who—actually, Legacy Partners—who live in the Midwest, and this has been their experience.
They have a son who has come to them and said that he is attracted to members of the same sex. He’s come out to his parents, and it’s been a real struggle for them. Over and over again, as we’ve talked about the subject on FamilyLife Today, we’ve been able to send them books and resources, transcripts, audio programs we’ve done. I was talking with the mom recently and she said those programs have been a lifesaver to them as they’ve navigated these difficult waters.
Well, that’s what we’re here for—FamilyLife Today wants to be a resource. We want to provide practical biblical help and hope for your marriage and your family when you face challenging times, whether it’s marital issues or family issues. On our website at FamilyLifeToday.com, we offer articles and past programs, where you can get help. You can get biblical information about whatever issue you are confronting at the moment related to marriage and family.
Our goal is to see every home become a godly home and to effectively develop godly marriages and families, because we think godly marriages and families can change the world, one home at a time.
We are helped in this endeavor by those of you who support this ministry. Some of you do that occasionally, some of you do that monthly as Legacy Partners. Whether you contribute, month in and month out, or you send an occasional gift to support this ministry, we’re grateful for whatever you’re able to do and for your vote of confidence in the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
In fact, we’d love to say, “Thank you,” for your support today by sending you Dennis and Barbara Rainey’s best-selling devotional, Moments With You. It’s a guide that couples can use each day to spend time together in the Word and in prayer. It’s our gift to you when you make a donation today. You can do that online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate.
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Now, tomorrow, we want to find out if Sam Allberry was ever angry with God over the fact that he was same-sex attracted and a Christian, and that meant being celibate and never being a husband or a father. He talks about that tomorrow. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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