In a tremendously brave move Vaughan Roberts, rector of St Ebbe’s, Oxford, and a prominent leader amongst English evangelicals has announced that he experiences same-sex attraction and yet he remains celibate since this is the clear teaching of Scripture.
It’s helpful for background to understand that in the Church of England, in which Vaughan is an ordained minister, we have had increasing interventions by theological liberals over this issue, advocating for the acceptance of homosexuality in general and the blessing of same-sex relationships. Vaughan’s statement and interview ought to be read not least as a contribution to that debate.
Vaughan has issued the following press release,
In the preface to a new edition of my book “Battles Christians Face”, which features eights areas of struggle, including homosexuality, I write that, to a greater or lesser degree, I face them all myself. Close family and friends have known for a considerable time that I experience same sex attraction. None of the issues in the book define me. As a single man I am celibate, because I believe the Bible teaches that the right context for sex is only in marriage between a man and a woman.
My motivation for writing the preface and answering the questions in the interview in “Evangelicals Now” is pastoral. I believe there is value in a greater openness to talk about these issues in evangelical churches. I hope to encourage those who experience same sex attraction and yet believe that fulness of life is to be found in Christ and holding to his teaching. Singleness can be challenging at times, but I have many good friends, and a loving family, and I thank God for the blessings and opportunities it offers.
As indicated in the release, there is a full interview with Vaughan in the October 2012 edition of Evanglicals Now, reproduced at the end of this article. In it, Vaughan makes a number of very helpful observations,
Does the disclosure that same sex attraction is one of your personal battles mean you are defining yourself as a homosexual?
No, it doesn’t. … All of us are sinners, and sexual sinners. But, if we have turned to Christ, we are new creations, redeemed from slavery to sin through our union with Christ in his death and raised with him by the Spirit to a new life of holiness, while we wait for a glorious future in his presence when he returns.
These awesome realities define me and direct me to the kind of life I should live. In acknowledging that I know something of all eight battles covered in my book, therefore, I’m not making a revelation about my fundamental identity, other than that, like all Christians, I am a sinner saved by grace, called to live in the brokenness of a fallen world until Christ returns and brings all our battles to an end.
How do you think churches communicate [a] negative message?
The problem is largely caused by the fact that most of our comments on homosexuality are prompted, not primarily by a pastoral concern for struggling Christians, but by political debates in the world and the church. …
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. These can be heard to imply that homosexual attraction is just a matter of personal choice. This only increases the sense of shame already felt by those who experience unwanted same-sex attraction and can leave them with the impression that this is a battle that is not safe to share with others in the church. I have become convinced, therefore, that we need not only a greater openness in discussing issues of sexuality, but also a more positive vision and presentation of the nature of faithful discipleship for those who struggle in this area.
And is change possible? Can these attractions be redirected or altered?
The development of sexuality is complex and is, I think, best understood as being on a spectrum, along which individuals can move, especially in the years soon after puberty, but also later. A small proportion of people, including Christians, find that they remain exclusively attracted to the same sex as they grow into mature adulthood. God has the power to change their orientation, but he hasn’t promised to and that has not been my experience.
Research suggests that complete change from exclusively homosexual desires to exclusively heterosexual ones is very rare.
While supporting the right of anyone to seek help to change if they wish, our emphasis needs to be on encouragement to be godly and content in current circumstances.
There’s plenty more very helpful material in the interview which is (I assume not coincidentally) conducted by Julian Hardyman, Senior Pastor of Eden Baptist Church where Roy Clements used to minister.
Vaughan’s interview, indeed the whole co-ordination of this release, is evidence of a continuing godly maturing not just in his own life but amongst evangelicals in general as they come to a more balanced and helpful position on this whole question. Insistence upon a God-given “cure” (something that, as Vaughan observes, the Scriptures never promise) has rightly been increasingly sidelined (but not rejected) in favour of the Biblical response of godly contentment in and through our struggles. Which is the model of a godly response to any of our temptations.
Well done Vaughan. Christian pastoral leadership at it’s best. Do keep him, and indeed all who struggle in this way, in your prayers.