Sam Allberry: Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With?
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Does God have any business in your sex life? Author Sam Allberry talks ethics, same-sex attraction, and why sex is way more than we think.
Sam Allberry: Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With?
Sam: I think it surprises people what is actually in the Bible—because we might know the “Thou shalt nots”—but you know, the first human scene in the Bible is a naked man and a naked woman. And they're praising God for the fact that they're both there, together, naked. This is not a Bible that's embarrassed about our sexuality.
Shelby: Somewhat anxious—always authentic—this is Real Life Loading… I’m your host, Shelby Abbott. My desire is to come alongside you, as the next generation, to help you walk closely with God in the humor and hardship of life. I want to do that in a number of different ways through this podcast.
I’ve already been doing that for the last 20 years in a campus ministry called Cru®.
I've worked with college students for my entire career: spoken at universities all around the United States; and written books on things like wrestling with doubt, dating, evangelism, cohabitation, and what it looks like to live under the unique pressures of life as a student. The potential you have to change the world, for the glory of Jesus, in my opinion, is astounding. And that's what this podcast is all about.
Last time, we started a super important conversation with my friend—author, speaker, and really cool British guy—Sam Allberry. Sam's experiences with same-sex attraction and celibate singleness—it's a lot of S's—have given him a unique ability to speak openly about things like sexuality; gender; singleness; and identity, which is such a prevalent topic of conversation this day and age. And he does all of that from an insider perspective; all of this isn't theoretical for him.
I appreciate how honest Sam was, as we worked our way through some of these topics in our conversation. At the end, we'll also talk about the importance of humor and vulnerability in friendships. I really hope it'll be deeply helpful for you. Here's Part Two of my time with Sam Allberry.
Shelby: So we were talking about culture and the sexual ethics of our culture today. Why do you think the Christian sexual ethic—and this is going off a little bit of like maybe some misconceptions about what people think about the Christian sexual ethic—"Why is it so immensely offensive to our culture today?”
Sam: Yes, I think partly because Christians have often presented an ugly version of it. So there's an appropriate offensiveness in that instance, because we're not actually giving people the real goods; we're giving people the kind of rotten version of it.
But I think quite apart from that, even when it's been fairly presented, it can be very offensive because, in our culture, we've made sexual freedom and self-expression the highest good. We've bound up our identity with our sexuality. And so if I'm not being sexually fulfilled, I’m not really being myself; I'm not being true to myself.
And one of the things Christianity does—one of the things Jesus does—is He de-thrones that way of thinking, and says, “Actually, this was never the be all and end all. This was never really/so it was never really meant to be about you.” He puts Himself at the center, and says, actually, He is the One that we need to be true to ourselves, to be fulfilled, and all of those things. And that sex is a good gift from God, in the right way; but it's not meant to be—we've prated it with so much kind of existential significance—that Jesus just demotes it and de-thrones it.
It feels offensive because it feels like He's taking real life away from us. But what He's actually doing is showing us where real life is, ultimately, found. That can feel constraining; that can feel painful. But you flip it around—and you realize it's very liberating—because He's saying: “Hey, you don't need to be sexually-fulfilled to be complete; so let's take that burden off your back. This is not your one shot of being true to yourself, and who you truly are, and self-actualized, and authentic. Actually, it's not the best way of doing that; it's not a healthy way of doing that. It was never meant to do that. Here's the way, actually, you can find real fullness and freedom…”—which I, really, have found to be liberating in my own life.
Shelby: Gosh, that's so good; yes.
What kept coming to mind was The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis's book, when Eustace becomes a dragon. This has been used by a million preachers and speakers about how, when Aslan the lion/the Christ-figure, begins to help Eustace remove the dragon scales by scratching at him—and how painful it is for him in that moment—but he's really/he's setting him free. And how—basically, what you've just said—“This is what Jesus offers you,” and “It's just incredibly painful; but on the other side of that—if we we're able to see—He's not injuring us; He's liberating us.”
Sam: It's like the surgeon’s scalpel; isn't it?
Sam: He cuts us to heal us—and healing we need—all of us.
Shelby: Yes, that's really true.
Speaking of the perspective of sexual ethics: “How is the secular perspective inconsistent in their own views?”
Sam: That's a good question. I think, probably, in lots of ways. The one that most brings to mind is: culture is, at the same time, saying: “This is one of the most significant things in life; this is how you truly find full happiness.” [Culture] is also trying to say: “On the other hand, ‘Oh, it's just physical; it doesn't matter. Why should God care what we do with our bodies, as consenting adults? It's just the exchange of bodily fluids. Why are you guys making such a big deal?’” So [culture’s] kind of elevating it to being a supreme good; while at the same time, trying to pretend it's merely a biological thing. That's an inconsistency.
Perhaps—maybe we should have talked about this on the frontend—but there's so much confusion about what Scripture does say about sex—and what to do with our bodies—same-sex attraction; transgender. Stuff like that: I've had more and more people—even people, who I've been very close with, who are fellow ministers of the gospel—change their views and become LGBTQ-affirming in a very public way.
Seeing the confusion, and kind of the nuance of where people land on that subject in general: “What is the biblical vision for sex?” and “How is it different from the secular view?” Maybe that's a question where you could go in a lot of directions, but I'd love to hear what you have to say about that.
Sam: Yes, I think/I mean, the obvious difference is the surface level one, which is in terms of what Christians are permitting, and what secular people are permitting, being different. The reason for that is because we have wildly different ideas about what it means and what it points to.
In the biblical way of thinking—actually, the way Jesus teaches about it—sex is actually never meant to be about sex; it's meant to be pointing to something beyond itself. It's always been about much more than we think it is. We tend to think of it as being a means of deep pleasure and gratification, and there's something significant we feel is going on there.
But that very thing itself is meant to be a signpost to a much larger story that we are part of. It's not for nothing that Jesus doesn't just call himself—the Redeemer, or the Savior, or the Son of God, or the Christ—He calls himself the Bridegroom. There's a whole story going on here that we are part of that is a romance that our own sexuality is meant to be a reflection of. I think what we've done is we've turned it in on itself and made it about ourselves, and our feelings, and our wanting to feel fulfilled. We've missed that wider story that it's meant to be part of.
Shelby: That's good. And it’s not typically the perspective that we take, because we thumb through our Bible and say: “This is what it says here,” and “This is what it says here”; but we can miss the bigger picture. And you're so good at being able to surgically go after that kind of stuff. You have such a unique voice in that way.
Sam: Well, I think it surprises people what is actually in the Bible—
Shelby: Yes. [Laughter]
Sam: —because we might know the “Thou shall nots,” because they're there; they were always there—but you know, I didn't think about it this way for many years—but the first human scene in the Bible is a naked man and a naked woman. And they're praising God for the fact that they're both there, together, naked. This is not a Bible that's embarrassed about our sexuality.
Shelby: Right; yes.
Sam: Well, you think about the book, the Song of Songs—again, that's the kind of thing most people would have no idea is in the Bible—a celebration of intimacy between a man and his bride, done in a way that is so clearly pointing beyond just them to a bigger reality.
Shelby: Thinking about this—of more like being intentional to be biblically-literate about this subject, and then also sensitive to others as well—you're pretty good at being able to balance those things. “What do you think it would look like, for a young person, to make themselves uncomfortable for the sake of the gospel, specifically when it comes to kind of threading the needle of standing for the biblical sexual ethic, and then treating others in the LGBTQ-plus community with dignity, gentleness, and respect?”
Sam: Yes, we don't get to choose between those two things. And if we think one excludes the other, we've understood neither. So the moment we think our sexual ethics mean that we can demean someone, actually, we've not understood the sexual ethic—because the very basis by which we might think we can demean someone else—actually, Jesus puts us all in the same boat; so whatever we're giving them, actually, is due to us as well.
But similarly, that the dignity of human people doesn't cancel out some of the challenging things Jesus does say about sexual ethics; in fact, it accounts for it. It's precisely because we are worth so much to God—it's precisely because we are dignified as His image-bearers—that He actually cares how we handle our sexuality.
He cares who we sleep with because He cares about the people doing the sleeping. We matter to Him; and therefore, it would be weird if He didn't care how we use our sexuality. So if I misuse my sexuality, or I misuse someone else's, God cares about that because these things are meant to be precious; and because we're worth so much to Him.
So that means as, as Christians, we have to both be—those, who really do create a sense of safety, and compassion, and dignity—whilst also holding some beliefs that will be very counter-cultural to most of the people around us. To do both of those things at the same time, that is, I think, how we try and step into the space that Jesus Himself occupied so beautifully.
Shelby: Yes; you talked about one time, the possibility of a trans-person showing up at your church and how the response would be from the congregation there. And your question is: “Well, what's the alternative?”—that they don't show up here?—
Shelby: —like that's a much more dangerous thing. I tried to think about that, intentionally, with my church, like: “What would I do? Would I go to this person and talk to them?” or “Would I”—you know, God forbid—“Would I try to shield my children from them?”—that kind of a thing.
“What would be a scenario like that for people to kind of sink their teeth into, to say: ‘This is how I can thread the needle, of being biblically loyal to what the Bible communicates about sex and sexuality, but also be kind and caring for others’?”
Sam: Yes; I think part of it is stepping into someone else's world in a way that might make us uncomfortable; but we want to do that, because we want to put the discomfort on us and not on them. So if I'm meeting a trans-person for the first time, who's not a Christian, I'm not going to be thinking: “I'm going to set the ground rules here for what I call you,” and for all of those things.
I might think, “Well, one of us is going to be uncomfortable, very early on, in this conversation, based on the fact we have very different understandings of who this person is.” But actually, as a Christian, I'm thinking: “Is there a discomfort I can carry for now, that will help them feel at ease, so that we can actually have a conversation?” or “Am I going to put all the discomfort on them and say, ‘Well, unless you kind of play by my rules, we're not going to have a relationship.’”
And I'm always intrigued by, you know, how Jesus was known as the friend of sinners. He was able to be with people, without affirming what they were doing, in a way that they wanted Him around. He didn't have to agree with them to be with them, and He didn't have to reject them to disagree with them.
I think so much in our own culture is: “If you disagree with someone, you have to treat them as inferior. You have to reject them and push them away.” Jesus, doesn't let us do that. The people—who we might disagree with/the people, whose behavior we might disapprove of—are the very people Jesus, I think, would have us draw closer to us rather than pushing them away from us.
When my oldest daughter was approaching the end of the first year of school, when she was in kindergarten, the elementary school, where she goes, announced its very first annual Daddy-Daughter Dance. This was a big deal in the Abbott household. I mean, we put it on the calendar; we counted down the days.
When it finally arrived, we went all out. My daughter put on her best dress. My wife let her wear jewelry; she even put a little makeup on her, which I thought was a little kind of weird. Me: I put on my best suit. I bought her flowers from a flower store—not from the grocery store—from a flower store, which was way too expensive; but she was worth it. We got together out front; we took pictures.
I took my daughter on a date. Now, when we left the house, I walked her to the car by the arm. I opened the door for her; and then she climbed into her car seat; [Laughter] I buckled her in—we got in the car—and we drove to the daddy-daughter dance.
Now, when we arrived at the school, I could hear, down the hallway, the music coming from the gymnasium, where the DJ obviously was, and it was thumping in there. It was really, really exciting, so that amped up our anticipation for what it would be like when we got there. As I entered through those gym doors, I will never forget the environment there. Over in the back left corner was the DJ, who had set up his booth; and his speakers were flanking him on the left and right, playing, you know, Justin Bieber songs.
Now, all the little girls were directly standing and dancing in front of the DJ booth. It's like this big massive little ball of energy. The dads, however, were lining the perimeter of the gymnasium, all on the outside—kind of just standing there—watching their daughter dance; or maybe some of them were holding up their phone, taking some video of their daughter dancing. To the point that, as we walked in, my daughter looked at me; and she stopped, and said, “Daddy, I think you're supposed to stand over there with the rest of the dads.”
And I got down on one knee in front of her, and looked her right in the eyes; and I said, “No, sweetie, we've been waiting for this for a long time. Do you want me to dance with you?” And she said, “Yes, Daddy.” And I said, “Alright; then let's do it.” I grabbed both of her little hands, and I waded out into this sea of little dancing jumping girls. I started to dance with my daughter, just me and her.
Now, I'll never forget that moment; because all the dads were staring at me. And I wondered, for a moment, if I shouldn't be doing what I'm doing; but then I reminded myself that my solo desire that evening was to please my little girl. My singularity of focus was her.
And it was funny—because when I actually broke the ice and started dancing with my daughter—it did, in fact, spur all the other dads on to come out and dance with their daughters. For the first time in my life, I was a trend-setter.
It was a beautiful moment because, just like me that night with my daughter, I think all of us need to live with a singularity of focus. I wanted to please my daughter; and as believers in Christ, we need to live to please our heavenly Father. There are obviously going to be moments, when we know others are staring at us, and we're going to feel uncomfortable. But when we remember what we're at the dance for, so to speak, the anxiety/the insecurity just melts away; and we're able to please only our heavenly Father.
This has been a Shelby Sidebar on Real Life Loading... Now, back to my conversation with Sam Allberry, where I try to tell a serious story; and he just savagely makes fun of me.
Shelby: Cru® was started by this guy named Dr. Bill Bright. Dr. Bright was all about sharing the gospel all the time. There's stories of him, like going to pick up a bucket of chicken at KFC®, and him not returning for like an hour and a half; because he went through the dining room and shared the gospel with everybody sitting there. And his wife was all mad at him—that kind of stuff—funny stories like that.
But I/when I was in college, I randomly was flipping through the television. I came across a Christian TV show, and there was Dr. Bright, sitting in this really elaborate gold-leafed chair. My first thought was like: “What is he doing there? Why is he on this show?”—that we kind of like snicker at and that kind of thing. He was asked this question; and he turned away from the host, looked directly into the camera, and started sharing the gospel. And immediately, I was like: “This is why he did it. He just wanted to get the gospel out.”
As much as people labeled him for going on that show—and told him: “This…” and “This…”—I was like, “He's being Christlike—because the Pharisees labeled Jesus as a friend of sinners—but the greater good was to connect with them and help them to understand the truth of what the gospel actually is.”
Sam: Well, I'm glad you said that—and that helps me explain why I've come on this show for the people here, who are kind of—“Why would you go with Shelby?” [Laughter]
Shelby: I'm so glad that you're making yourself uncomfortable for my sake. That's a really selfless thing of you. I really appreciate it.
Sam: I know a bit more of the gold-leaf stuff would be quite nice if you could send some of that my way. [Laughter]
Shelby: I’ll try to find some and ship it to you.
One of the things that I've appreciated about you so much is that you're able to talk about these very difficult, heavy things but also maintain a healthy sense of humor.
I was just curious—like as a single guy, living out what it means to be a Bible-believing follower of Jesus Christ, and experiencing the highs and lows of all of that—“How has the family of God kind of been a life-giving anchor for you? What are the moments, where you're like, ‘This has just been the best’?”
Sam: Yes; well, I think you prefaced your question with a hint towards the answer, actually. It’s things like humor make a difference. The gospel makes certain things far, far, far more serious to us. And as far as I'm concerned, that makes everything else much funnier. [Laughter]
I know what to take seriously, and I know to take it more seriously than I would do instinctively; but that just puts everything else on the table, just to find absurd. And so there's something cathartic, and healthy, and psychologically stabilizing about being able to laugh together—especially if it's non-crawe laughter [devouring somebody else]—you know, it's laughing at ourselves/our own foibles; that does us all kinds of good.
It's also a way of being vulnerable with someone. I was thinking about this the other day: any kind of emotional openness is vulnerable because you're laying open something of your heart. And that, that includes laughter. When you laugh with someone, you're actually being vulnerable in front of them; because they could stomp all over that if they so choose.
So being able to just have fun, particularly as Christians together. I was with a group of guys from church, just a couple of nights ago. One of our buddies was having his birthday, so we all went out to celebrate with him. We just laughed our full heads off the whole evening; I can barely even remember what about now. But it just felt like/it didn't feel like that was a break from our Christian mutual edification to have a laugh together; it felt like it was part of an important ingredient. We don't have to be intense and serious about everything; in fact, we shouldn't be. There's something humanizing about that.
I think the church, at its best, is able to be there for the things that really do need to be serious to us, and things that we should care about; but it can also be there, as well, for those moments of: “Let's just enjoy being people,” “Let's just enjoy our humanity together.” That kind of stuff has helped me.
I've talked a lot about friendship and just what that is, and can be, and can mean to us. And I've loved/one of the things I've loved, as a single person—that I probably wouldn't have been able to do if I wasn't single—is having quite a crazy range of friends. I've got two pictures on my desk in front of me, right now, that I can just happen to see. One is of a couple in their 70s; he's one of my dearest friends, but he's old enough to be my dad. And next to a picture of him is a picture of a young guy, whose family I know really well; and I'm old enough to be his dad. But both of those guys feel like family to me; that just is a crazy blessing.
Shelby: And kind of what you were saying before: “That's how it should be.”
The summer mission that my wife and I have run, for the last ten years, in Ocean City, Maryland—we get a group of college students, who come in and spend ten weeks over the summer—and inevitably, at the end of that time, they start talking about: “Oh, we're going back to the real world.” And I go, “The truth is: you've just experienced the real world. You've been in the kind of community that will be a taste of heaven for you. You're actually going back to the abnormal now. It feels like it's going to be normal; but this is what it's supposed to be like: this kind of connection,”—like you said—“vulnerability,” “laughter,” “humor.”
There's a reason that like we get with certain people, and it's like: “I just crave it,” “I crave that deep belly laughter,” “I want tears rolling down my face,”—I’ve got to replicate that over and over again—and there's something godly about that. That's written into, who we are, as people; we shouldn't be ashamed of the fact that we like to laugh and have fun.
A buddy of mine says: “The people I make fun of the most, in their presence, are the people I like the most.”
Shelby: And so I like that you just took a jab at me a little. It makes me feel loved by you; it really does, because I know you.
Sam: Yes, yes. I've got plenty more love to give there, Shelby. [Laughter]
Shelby: I know you're never trying to be mean to me—you're just being who you are—well, I mean, kind of; yes.
Sam: I don't have to try to be mean to you; I just am. [Laughter]
Shelby: It just comes naturally for you.
Well, let me kind of wrap up our time with this final question. This show is called Real Life Loading…—and then there's three dots afterward—and those three dots are intentional. “What's the most nervous that you've ever been when you've gotten the three dots on your phone? As you're in a text message conversation, and you see those dots, how has it been most tense for you? Can you think of a time when you're like, ‘What are they going to say?’”
Sam: I don’t know if I can think of the most nervous I've been; but there's certainly been times where—this happened recently—made a new friend—someone whom I just felt: “What a gift it is to know this person,”—and wanted to express that to them as I sent them a message, just saying, “Hey, I loved the time we spent together this week. I really feel like the Lord has given me a very precious new friendship.”
I sent that message to someone just a few days ago. But I thought, “I wonder if that's going to come across as a bit over the top,” or “Maybe they were just thinking, ‘Hey, that was a nice coffee; but that was it,’ kind of thing.” Yes, so there's that kind of/you've just said something that is quite vulnerable and you're like: “Are they going to appreciate that? Are they going to like that?”
Another time—actually, which would've been a bigger deal than that—was a very, very dear friend of mine, who has just started dating another guy. He's a very, very precious friend to me; so there's been some heartache with all of that. But I remember he gave me the privilege of meeting his new boyfriend. I mean the word, “privilege,” because I know he was thinking through: “Who, from his Christian life, can he trust to meet this new person in his life?” I felt very, very thankful he was willing to trust that to me.
So I remember, after they came round/after they'd left, I texted him, saying: “I feel so thankful that you trusted me to meet him,” and “I know other Christians have said hard things to you and to him. I know some Christians have said some very unkind things to you and to him. I don't ever want either of you to feel less than you are truly worth in God's sight. I want to be a friend to you both,”—and so on. And then, as I pushed “send”; I'm like, “Should I've said all that?”
And then you see the three dots; you're like, “Oh, my goodness; have I just blown it or something?” So those tend to be the times.
Shelby: I'm actually curious: when you got the three dots from that guy, did he reciprocate? Did he actually like: “Thank you for being kind and gentle.” Did it end up turning out to be a good text message conversation?
Sam: He said to me: “You are definitely already a friend to us both,”—
Shelby: Oh, that's great.
Sam: —which he's not given to much emotional self-expression; so the fact that he said that, actually, that meant a huge amount to me.
Shelby: I’m sure; yes, it's beautiful. And again, that’s: I think Christians are often more concerned with being correct/being right than they are being caring about others.
Sam: And I think part of that is because we've mistaken being right for being truthful.
Shelby: What do you mean by that?
Sam: Well, part of what it means to live in the truth is that I don't care if I'm the one who's always right in everybody else's eyes. Because part of the truth is living with the fact that I need the Lord every day—because I'm sinful; I'm broken; I'm an idiot—and therefore, I don't need to be the one who always looks like he's right.
I think a lot of the guys, who are most denouncing everything with a pulse around us, it's not because they love the truth—they love being right—and the two things are not the same.
Shelby: That's so good; yes. And it's hard to see good examples of that, especially in social media.
Sam: Yes; I mean, social media is so set up for just, you know, drive-by verbal shootings.
Shelby: Yes, dunking on people.
And there's not a lot of examples that we can point to clearly, on like a tweet thread or whatever, of going: “That guy's humble.” It's hard to live out a life of humility on social media. It seems like it's just not a platform to live on at all, if you want to be humble.
Sam: Yes, which is why I'll regularly post about how humble I am so that people can see the tweets and know that I am. [Laughter]
Shelby: Yes; right. [Laughter] And I'll “like it”; and then I'll retweet it, and say, “Me too.”
Sam: Yes; exactly.
Shelby: Yes, that's good.
Sam, my friend, it is so good to talk to you. Thank you for being in this specific arena. And I'm honored to be able to engage in conversation about this, and be your friend, and see how God is using you in such profound ways. Thanks, buddy.
Sam: Well, right back at you, Shelby. I love you dearly—I look up to you—I cherish you as a friend and as a brother.
Shelby: He's the best; isn't he? If you want to hear more from Sam Berry, I'd specifically recommend two of his more recent books: 7 Myths About Singleness and What God Has to Say About Our Bodies. Those are two really poignant and gentle books that I found to be extremely helpful.
If my conversation with Sam today has been helpful for you, I'd love for you to share today's podcast with a friend; and wherever you get your podcasts, it can really advance what we're doing with Real Life Loading… if you'd rate and review us. It's comically easy to find us on our social channels: just search a… or look for our links in the show notes.
I want to thank my producers, Josh Batson and Bruce Goff. I’m your host, Shelby Abbott. We’ll see you back next time on Real Life Loading…
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