Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: Why and How Christians Should Have Gay Friends, by Brad Hambrick
Endorsed by Danny Akin, Ed Welch, Garrett Higbee, Scott Sauls, and more
Conversations on controversial issues do not tend to go well when the dialogue happens community-to-community or figurehead-to-figurehead. Whether it’s race, religion, or politics, groups don’t talk well with groups. Too much is at stake when we feel like our words and actions speak for the collective whole. Platforms and podiums will never accomplish what can only be done around dinner tables and in living rooms.
That is why the aim of this book is friendship. Friendship is the level at which influence can be had, because the dialogue does not seek to represent an agenda but to understand a person. Friendship is what protects good points from becoming gotcha moments.
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Conversations on controversial issues do not to go well when the dialogue happens community-to-community or figurehead-to-figurehead. Whether it’s race, religion, or politics, groups don’t talk well with groups. Too much is at stake when we feel like our words and actions speak for the collective whole. Platforms and podiums will never accomplish what can only be done around dinner tables and in living rooms.
Two individuals from those respective groups are much more likely to forge a good relationship, influencing one another in various ways. Unfortunately, an individual who listens well is often viewed by his or her collective compatriots as engaging in compromise; at the group level, representing each side fairly feels too much like agreement.
That is why the aim of this book is friendship. Friendship is the level at which influence can be had, because the dialogue does not seek to represent an agenda but to understand a person. Friendship is what protects good points from becoming gotcha moments.
The subject for which this approach may be most vital for the modern church may be homosexuality and same-sex attraction (SSA). Yet our approach has tended to be more polemical or political than pastoral and personal.
Churches have articulated their position on a conservative sexual ethic. Churches have re-examined the key biblical texts that are challenged in defense of a progressive sexual ethic. As important as these things are, however, they do not equip everyday Christians to develop meaningful friendships with people who experience same-sex attraction or have embraced a gay identity.
In the absence of relationship, our theology becomes theory.
Many Christians are seeing that the church’s unwillingness to befriend people who experience SSA has blocked us from engaging with the subject of homosexuality on a person-to-person level. We are reticent to engage relationships where it feels probable that there will be awkwardness.
Admittedly, this book is not as “neat” as you might like for it to be. Many tensions will be navigated; maybe not all contradictions will be avoided. However, when it comes to being salt and light for the sake of the gospel, it seems far better to choose possible messiness over guaranteed ineffectiveness.
That means we must realize that it is good for us to have conversations where we don’t know what to say. This is part of the essence of being a growing person. When we’re not having conversations that challenge us to think about new things, we will commit sins either of pride or apathy. We should always be praying that God will bring people into our lives who will provide the opportunity for us to ask new and important questions.
The desire of this book is to be a resource God uses to grow his people into excellent ambassador-friends to their classmates, colleagues, and family members who experience SSA. If this is what you want to do and be, then God will be faithful to complete this work in you regardless of the strengths and weaknesses, insights and oversights of this book (Philippians 1:6). Thank you for taking this journey with me. —Brad Hambrick
This book was not on my radar until a friend came to me and said, “Would you be willing to write a book on how conservative Christians can have gay friends without compromising their own convictions? I think that kind of book is missing and it’s not something we handle effectively in the church. I think you have a tone in dealing with sensitive subjects that could navigate the topic well.” My initial answer was, “Thank you for the encouragement, but I don’t think I’m passionate enough about the subject to write a book on it.” But as I listed to the debates in the Christian blogosphere, I realized my non-passion might be an asset; from my perspective, this is a subject about which we need less debating and more conversation, less antagonism and more friendship.
My greatest prayer for this book, therefore, is that God would use it to equip the church to build bridges of friendship in order to care well for two groups: Christians who experience unwanted same-sex attraction, and non-believers who did not find the fulfillment they hoped in embracing a gay identity. When those conversations are being had in living rooms and coffee shops, maybe it could even change the tone of conversation on social platforms and debate panels. —Brad Hambrick
Brad Hambrick (M.Div., Th.M.) is Pastor of Counseling at The Summit Church in Durham, NC. He also serves as an adjunct professor of biblical counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and as a council member on the Biblical Counseling Coalition. More resources for your church or personal ministry can be found at his site www.bradhambrick.com.
“This is a book the church has desperately needed for some time. It is simply excellent.”
—Danny Akin, President, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
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—Danny Akin, President, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
“To stand on what we believe is clear in Scripture, and to be a friend, at the same time – this book is an important next step for Christian literature on same-sex attraction. It doesn’t simply guide us in wise engagement; it guides us in friendships where there is mutual enjoyment and appreciation. And Brad does this in such a way that he doesn’t cut any theological corners but makes such friendships a necessary expression of our theology.”
—Ed Welch, counselor and faculty member, Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation
“Whenever Jesus encountered a sexual minority, he responded with love and friendship instead of shame. Only there, in the safety of a non-condemning presence, were these image bearers able to engage their wounds, sins and regrets. In Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk, Brad Hambrick helps us see how we, too, can create safe space and belonging for our LGBTQ friends. And why would we do this? So that these friends, too, can encounter the grace and truth of Jesus. I highly recommend this book.”
—Scott Sauls, senior pastor, Christ Presbyterian Church, Nashville; author, Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides
“Let’s face it, in this area the church has at best missed an opportunity and at worst grieved God through our ignorance, fear, or condemnation of not just the sin, but the person struggling. Brad Hambrick has written a much-needed response to the question, how does a Christian interact with love and help someone struggling with same-sex attraction? His book gives us an opportunity to try again, but this time we will be equipped with compassion, biblical helps, and hope. If you struggle with SSA or know someone who does, this book could start a journey toward the light of God’s truth and love that will humble the helper and encourage the struggler.”
—Garrett Higbee, Author of The Uncommon Community: Biblical Soul Care for Small Groups, Board Member of the Biblical Counseling Coalition
“If you are looking for a book that simply equips you to make a friend, love a neighbor, and if God and your friend are willing, see somebody you care about come to Christ, this is it. Winsome it is.”
—Sam R. Williams, Ph.D., Professor of Counseling, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
“Few people have the ability to pack as much content into a book as my friend, Brad Hambrick. The message and content of this book is one which the church desperately needs. All of us need to be better equipped in the area of ministering and be-friending those who struggle with same-sex attraction. Brad’s work is not only comprehensive and biblical, it comes from the heart of a pastor-counselor whose admirable humility in approaching a potentially polarizing topic shines through. This is the book I needed to read, and I trust it will become a go-to resource for you as well.”
—Jonathan Holmes, author, The Company We Keep: In Search of Biblical Friendship; Biblical Counseling Coalition Council Member
“Finally, a practical book that helps us engage people as Jesus would! Brad Hambrick captures the heart of what it means to invite into dialogue and relationship people who you might otherwise see as so unlike you that you may not know how to begin a substantive conversation. Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk teaches the lost art of how to talk with people, draw them out, get to know their story and, therefore, know their heart . . . all of which makes fertile soil for the gospel to take root and flourish!”
—John Freeman, President, Harvest USA; author, Hide or Seek, When Men Get Real with God about Sex
“Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk comes forth with impeccable timing to the evangelical Christian church and modern day culture by providing a pathway for engagement in safe, healing, and equipping conversations. This brief, yet comprehensive and biblically robust book gently confronts the “elephant in the room” while answering questions about friendship, homosexuality, gender identity, and same-sex attraction. I highly recommend it to men, women, students, youth workers, pastors, churches, educators, and leaders as well as anyone looking for answers to this vital topic.”
—Dr. Dwayne R. Bond, Lead Pastor of Wellspring Church; CEO and Founder of Proximus Group
Sample External Reviews
“Timely and urgent….it’s excellent…it will do you—and potentially a lot of other people—an enormous amount of good.” — From a Gospel Coalition review by Sam Allberry, author, Is God Anti-Gay?
“A great starting point. I wish I could have read this book years ago.” — From a review by Evangelical Free Church in America
If we believe that the Gospel addresses all types of sin and sinners, we have a responsibility to listen, then after a time, answer with kindness and biblical discernment. When we listen to people’s stories, and respond with kindness, we move forward much more positively and helpfully than when we stereotype and stigmatize.
Hambrick conveys this message well in his new book about how and why Christians should develop friendships with those dealing with same sex attraction and gay identity. I especially found his definitions of terms very clarifying. His distinction between relationship/communication and debate was also very helpful.
Katie Burdett –
One issue that I have long been passionate about is the way that the church handles interactions with those struggling with same sex attraction (SSA). Brad Hambrick’s new book from Cruciform Press called Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk is a fantastic resource for anyone looking to both remain faithful to Scripture’s call to holiness and yet have an effective care and witness for those around them who are struggling with SSA. This is not a book about the church as a whole, but primarily is a book for individuals who want to know how to honor Christ in their relationships with those who are SSA.
Hambrick begins by addressing many of the problems with the way those in the church have handled the issue of homosexuality: by judging or condemning, isolating themselves from it, or reducing and recategorizing it. The church often errs either on the side of truth-telling or on the side of compassion. There is rarely a biblical balance of love and truth.
By giving clear definitions, many examples, and wise advice, Hambrick addresses many of the fears, obstacles and biases that make Christians afraid to interact well with homosexuals. He helps readers to see their weaknesses in the way they think about SSA and encourages them to think biblically about relating to those who struggle with it. Finally, he gives clear examples of ways to pursue relationships with those experiencing SSA in a way that honors them as people, is faithful to Scripture, and provides many gospel opportunities.
This is a short book, but a very helpful, practical resource for believers who want to live and preach the gospel well in this area.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an impartial review.
Kyle Culbertson –
This is a short book that attempts to cover a massive topic. For the most part, I feel that Brad Hambrick has done a wonderful job approaching this taboo subject. It’s a book that needs to be written, and an awkwardness that needs to be addressed. Christians have for too long been the obvious cultural enemies of people that identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender. This is a travesty, and the situation should be the polar opposite. After all, Jesus Christ Himself not only befriended people that didn’t agree with Him, He died for them. Hambrick devotes most of the book to inviting the reader to consider gay people for what they are: people. He gives insight to the common misunderstandings and stereotypical reactions that are most likely to be the cause of breakdown in communication across the divide. He reiterates that those who experience same-sex attraction need comfort, safety, and friendship just as those who are attracted to the opposite sex do. Perhaps most importantly, Hambrick provides a basis for understanding a lifestyle that is probably very foreign to many readers, making conversations with real people down the line potentially less awkward.
Where I feel that Hambrick fell short in his work is in the focus of the book. He seems to be overly concerned about making friendships with people of differing lifestyles, without offering guidance for where those friendships should lead — back to Jesus Christ. He seems to assume that if we as Christians are simply friends with many people, our lifestyles will be enough to win people over to Christ. That may be the case in some instances, but I don’t see any urgency on Hambrick’s part to share the gospel, or to have difficult discussions beyond “so, tell about your decision to come out as gay.” I completely agree with him that the church has historically been entirely too hostile to the people that need it the most, but I also don’t believe that its primary function is to be a place of complacent acceptance with whatever life choices its members choose to make. Ultimately, a church (and by extension the Christians that make it up) should exist to bring people in from the storm, show them the light of God’s mercy, and move them toward a lifestyle that honors Him, encouraging people to repent from their sins as they go. In this book, I remember only two sentences that addressed how a Christian who experienced same-sex attraction should change his behavior if he wanted to honor God, and they were presented as mere suggestion, not grounded in Scripture.
Overall, I feel this book is a great starting point, and is wonderful reading if you’re willing to be more Christ-like in how you relate to people that are different from you. It just doesn’t go far enough down the path of the friendship the author is advocating we strive for.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from the wonderful people at Cruciform Press in exchange for my unbiased review.
Dan Hall –
Do ask, do tell is a timely book attempting to ask, really, a timeless question – how do we share the love of God with those who we think to offend God differently than we do. In our modern times, the Church has become a bit of a laughing stock, in part because our sexual ethic, but mainly I think because of our inability to engage openly and honestly without sounding, well, dumb. Do ask, do tell is an attempt to help the Church think better about the topic in the 21st century, not just internally, but with a watching (and disagreeing) world as well.
Brad Hambrick states simply at the beginning of his book that the goal of the book is to “help the church better embody the gospel we proclaim and be the family of God,” and while some may be frustrated by the lack of a polemical stance he takes, but the more I read the more I was captivated by his approach, and found it effective – especially in this context. The point is not to win a debate in our interactions with others, but to simply engage with them.
What I found in this book was less prescriptive than I had originally anticipated, or maybe hoped for. If you’re reading this to find twelve Bible verses to convert your gay friend, or dead theologians or philosophers speaking out against the evils of same-sex attraction, it isn’t here (google it if that’s what you want – you’ll find it). There are no “treatment plans” in the book, no steps set up to help “the gays assimilate” into your already comfortable (and homogenous) church, and so in some ways, the book doesn’t necessarily answer the questions it asks.
But I think this book is important, mainly because it begins a conversation few of us have actually had, or had often. As I read I became more and more convinced that one of the biggest benefits of the book was that it got me thinking, and engaging, and wanting to engage with a more difficult topic I haven’t engaged a lot with. The book doesn’t for an instant suggest that the topic is easy, or that it has all of the answers. Instead of answers, Hambrick suggests that we need to be friends with those around us, both similar and different from us. The beauty of this book is that it guides us through how we might begin while leaving room for us to find out what that means for us in our context.
My biggest critique might be that, at times, I wish that Hambrick had provided a bit more of a foundation, scripturally and doctrinally, for where he lands on homosexuality. Yet I think he knows his audience (primarily the conservative, educated Christian), and so while a basis might have made this a more helpful resource for us to give to others, for those in ministry, those pages would only pad our ego and wasted space.
By far I found the most helpful chapter to be the final one, where he condensed much of the contents of his book into an imaginary conversation, where he invited us to listen in to how he would have a conversation and be a friend to those who might be hurting, and ultimately, how to “help the church better embody the gospel we proclaim and be the family of God.” In this section, Hambrick shows how we can be honest, but kind, and careful, but open, and ultimately, how we might be effective for Christ and loving towards others.
The most striking line of the book was during this mock conversation, where Hambrick remarked that his church was not a “don’t ask, don’t tell” kind of Church; something I think we should all aim at. If Christ is real and the Gospel is true, then sin shouldn’t scare us and sinners shouldn’t offend us nearly as much as they do, especially if we ourselves are sinners too. This is not an easy objective to achieve, but gladly the Gospel was never there to give easy answers.
This is a book that, by the end, I would gladly recommend to any mature Christian, and am glad I have read it myself. Brad Hambrick and Cruciform Press provide the church a great service to the church, and I hope it will circulate widely, for the good of the Church and the Glory of God. Buy this book, and share it with someone you know. Then, start conversations and be real, and trust God to work in ways we cannot.
*I was provided a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, which in no way impacted my opinion of the contents of what was written.
Church is messy. Well, at least it should be. We as Christians are called to go into all the world and make disciples. If our churches are living up to the call of the Great Commission, our churches should be full of all sorts of people who make us uncomfortable. Jesus is in the business of healing the sick and our churches should reflect that. The truth is that we are all sick, but those who have spent their lives living and breathing church (including myself at more times than I’d like to admit) like to read our Bibles, spend time in prayer and song, do our service projects, and pat ourselves on the back for doing church and following the rules.
But that attitude is so very far from the heart cry of Jesus.
Over the last few months, God has been providing teachable moment after teachable moment about this very thing. Last week, my teachable moment came in the form of a free book. I received a copy of “Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: Why and How Christians Should Have Gay Friends” by Brad Hambrick.* Guess what? Just the title made me uncomfortable because I have done a horrible job of it! I have said for years that I believe the church (in general) has done a real disservice to the LGBT community by pushing them away and heaping condemnation on them. Hambrick attempts to address this disservice and to give Christians some basic tools to help them begin to bridge the great chasm we allowed to grow between us. I recommend you pick up a copy. It’s very short, approximately 100 pages, and is a quick read.
He starts with a quick introduction, clarifies the meaning of the terms he chooses to use, encourages the readers to embrace their discomfort and to be open and honest about their inexperience relating meaningfully with those who experience same-sex attraction, explains the importance of getting to know the whole person, and then provides some pointers on having conversations with Christians who experience same-sex attraction and finally, pointers for engaging with non-Christian who experience same-sex attraction.
To be honest, I finished the book with a great deal of regret. I can list only three people I have interacted with and had the knowledge that they experienced same sex attraction. I had only three people and I did not make myself a person that any of them could feel comfortable enough with to share their hearts. How sad that I missed out on my chance to get to know some really amazing people. How sad that I did not share my own brokenness with them. How sad that we did not journey towards God’s grace together. Never again will I knowingly let that opportunity pass me by.
For now I will leave you with some quotations that really touched me. They speak for themselves.
“When it comes to being salt and light for the sake of the gospel, it seems far better to choose possible messiness over guaranteed ineffectiveness.” (16)
“We will never befriend those whose stories we cannot bear hearing.” (23)
“Your willingness to enter a conversation for which you do not have an answer is the only way to authentically engage the experience of the person you are befriending. You don’t end a journey with an answer…” (39)
“It is not ease that strengthens our faith. It is prayerfully studying Scripture while fulfilling God’s mission that grows our faith.” (42)
“We all need the same thing: the grace of God to change our hearts, rearrange our expectations, and redeem our desires. Grace that meets us where we are but does not leave us as we are. Grace that realizes discipleship is a process not an instantaneous event.” (61)
*I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an impartial review.
Meredith Beatty –
When discussing controversial issues, the culture tends to reduce things to black and white. You see it every day on the news shows. People are quickly labeled as liberal or conservative and then their position is ripped to shreds.
As Christians, we want to think we handle things better than the world but regarding the controversial issue of homosexuality, we tend to follow this pattern of labeling and rejecting those who fall into this sin.
Brad Hambrick has written a very valuable book that I believe every Christian should read. He brings much needed clarity to this issue while also challenging his readers to search their own hearts.
The two strengths of the book in my opinion are as follows:
Hambrick breaks down the experience of homosexuality into three categories. Sometimes we reduce people’s experiences to one dimension. But there’s a process in people’s lives and we must understand that in order to form relationships with them. Also, in explaining same sex attraction he helps us understand how there can be sincere Christians in our churches who are suffering in silence. I would bet that a lot of Christians don’t believe this kind of person exists.
All throughout the book, Hambrick stresses our responsibility to be ambassador-friends in the name of Christ. The goal is not to win an argument or engage in debate. The book deftly explains how to have conversations and form friendships with people who experience SSA. There are many hypothetical conversations in the book and opportunities for the reader to interact and take notes.
This book is challenging and will make you think a lot about the kind of friendships you have and don’t have. I highly recommend it.
Disclaimer: in exchange for this impartial review, I was given a free copy of this book.
Michael Cloete –
One of the most pressing issues of our day is that of homosexuality. A moral revolution has taken place literally before our very eyes. This is an issue that has indeed weighed heavily on the church. While some churches have supported and embraced the homosexual revolution (contrary to the teaching of Scripture) the response from many within the church who hold true to Biblical teaching on the matter has been reactionary and reflexive, leading to a strong denunciation of homosexuality, and a subsequent growing animosity towards anyone who is seen to be in support of it.
Enter Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk, authored by Brad Hambrick. The subtitle of the book is “Why and how Christians should have gay friends,” which in itself may be a challenge to many of the more conservatively-minded believers. For a long time, the attitude of many Christians has been to steer as far clear of homosexuality on a whole as possible. The results have unfortunately been very unhelpful, particularly in a climate in which there is a growing acceptance of homosexual behaviour in the world in general. It is this challenge that this book seeks to address. Hambrick sets out to encourage Christians to pursue engagement and dialogue with those struggling with homosexuality as a whole. At the close of his introduction, Hambrick states that “this book is an attempt to prepare God’s people for rich, biblically-informed, gospel-saturated engagement that is both practical and realistic.”
Early on in the book, Hambrick outlines the vocabulary that he goes on to utilise through the book, which vocabulary distinguishes between Same-Sex Attraction (SSA), Gay Identity (GI) and Homosexual Behaviour (HB). He outlines why it is that this distinction in vocabulary is so important to us as Christians, in order that we may be able to meaningfully engage with those struggling with homosexuality. While in a sense I had always understood these distinctions and recognised that they exist, I found the book provided clarity in understanding the distinctions, and helped me to think further on the implications of the different places that a person may be who struggles with SSA.
One of the author’s contentions is that for far too long Christians have been so strong in denouncing homosexuality that they’ve created an environment in which it is exceedingly difficult (if not impossible) for those struggling with SSA to speak about their struggles and to seek support and encouragement from the church in order to deal with their struggle. The world on the other hand has created an environment in which it is safe and acceptable to not only talk about SSA, but to go further into embracing the Gay Identity and engaging in Homosexual Behaviour. The author emphasises the fact if Christians had created an environment of being able to engage on the issue of SSA, and demonstrated support and acceptance to those struggling with SSA, then far fewer may actually have gone the full road to embracing homosexuality as a lifestyle. This really was the greatest challenge for me as a Christian in reading this book.
Having established this vocabulary, the book goes on to explain in more detail the process and stages that the person struggling with SSA goes through, and then gives helpful advice on how to engage with them in light of where they are in their struggle. Throughout the book, the author uses practical examples and scenarios in order to stimulate and encourage the reader to think through how they would respond to a situation. In a number of places in the book, a question is posed to the reader, and he is encouraged to write down a response in order to understand where his current thinking is on the matter. I found that the questions were a good challenge to my “settled” position in my thought patterns, and led me to having to evaluate my thinking and consider that perhaps some adjustment was necessary.
While I did not agree entirely with every position that the author took on the subject, I did find that on the whole the challenge was necessary and helpful. The church is indeed in need of some adjustment in thinking in terms of engaging those struggling with SSA. This does not amount to an acceptance of Homosexual behaviour as a practice, but merely recognises that everyone in life struggles with sin and temptations in its various forms, and they are all in need of God’s grace and of the support of others within the church in order to respond to that sin and temptation in a God-glorifying manner.
This book is both timely and necessary. It will certainly challenge the thinking on this subject for many within the church, but it is a challenge that I believe is both necessary and helpful. Some will not agree with everything said, but at the very least this book will help Christians to think through their position, and provide helpful suggestions on how to engage those struggling with SSA in a meaningful manner. I would certainly recommend this book as a starting point for our thinking on the subject.
Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an impartial review.
Sam Knight –
Years ago I read a book about a huge controversy in the Christian community. The author said that he intentionally wrote with an “irenic” spirit. Irenic was a new word for me. It means to “aim at peace.” The author of that work failed. Brad Hambrick does not. He writes with clarity (no attempt to dilute truth) and with compassion (every attempt to love those who approach life from a different place). Hambrick’s spirit and his book are truly irenic.
Hambrick makes these early assertions: “In the absence of relationship our theology becomes theory.” And he writes, “People can easily become reduced to a particular orientation or sexual identity rather than being seen as fellow image-bearers of God (emphasis in the original).” And finally he observes, “Unfortunately, truth apart from love is harsh and unlivable. Similarly, love apart from truth sentimental and unhelpful. So is there another way? Can we join together truth and love in our conversations…I believe we can; I believe we should; I believe the church must.”
This book serves the Christian community by providing a common language (look for definitions and explanations); a compelling pattern (friendship); typical barriers to building healthy friendships (the internal barriers discussed at the end of chapter two are golden); compassionate insight on why many people hide their sexual orientation inside the church (of all places the church must invite openness and authenticity); and finally, beyond shaping the atmosphere where grace and truth can meet−Hambrick fills his pages with practical suggestions for healthy conversations that build healthy friendships (Hambrick’s care-filled questions are outstanding).
Hambrick’s book is extremely readable−and incredibly brief for the amount of content the author covers. On this topic, it’s the first one to recommend.
wayne marshall –
Enter Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk, is a book which, has certainly opened up my understanding of the subject and indeed changed my thinking. More than that it has taken away the fear of interacting and dialoguing with those who have issues in this area. I will be honest I am of a conservative persuasion and saw such things as a total no no!
But Brad in this short book begins initially to explore the vocabulary by which we firstly might come to understand the issue and this has been insightful and indeed very helpful. As I was not aware of the differences between Same-Sex Attraction (SSA), Gay Identity (GI) and Homosexual Behaviour (HB). In fact this three-part understanding could be extended to a number of other pressing issues today.
Then secondly Brad provides safe ground through that vocabulary and the clear distinction of those three groups to start to speak to those with whom we may have issue. In order to engage them where they are without being judgmental so that through this interaction love and support may be given to those struggling in this area of sexuality.
The premise of the book is that this is not about winning a theological argument, but winning people for Christ. The book gives practical strategies for engaging people; questions and things to think about in order that a proper interaction can happen. That our dialogue will be unhindered by biases misunderstandings and avoiding any landmines that would otherwise kill the conversation. The author stresses repeatedly of the need to being genuinely interested in the person in their story and understanding how they got to where they are on that three part continuum.
This welcome book has definitely expanded both my understanding and my horizons in regards to this issue and I would happily recommend it to anyone who has an interest in the issue. This short work would be particularly helpful to for elders and those in pastoral situations.
I must acknowledge that I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an impartial review.
Will B. –
A recommended read.
In many ways, a very refreshing book – the honesty of the author regarding the ‘navigating of tensions’ and the possibility of contradictions, the desire of the author that there is real interaction with the book (encouraging the reader to identify their initial responses to things, and to add notes to the margins of the book, etc.), and an approach that seeks clarity of definition and understanding where often there has been confusion.
The desire for the reader to interact with book is a real strength. Frequently, the reader is challenged about thoughts, attitudes, and experiences, as well as being asked to make short written responses within the book. A great approach in my mind, as it works to keep the reader engaged with what they are reading. In practical terms, it helps to make the material in this book more usable, as the reader is encouraged to articulate their own thoughts and understandings (an important step in developing robust, informed viewpoints and behaviours in the church).
It is obvious that the author strongly desires consistency on the part of the church, and that is a challenge that we would do well to heed. In being unable or unwilling to make the distinctions between struggles, temptations and behaviours in regards to homosexuality, the author argues that we are failing to love and counsel certain people within our churches to the same degree that we would love and counsel others (i.e. those who find themselves in non-homosexual struggles and temptations).
Is it a perfect book? No, of course not. There could have been a greater focus on the gospel itself (salt and light is good, but insufficient) and grounding in scripture the reality that our fundamental aim should be honouring God, whatever our struggles and temptations. That said, I would have no hesitation in recommending the book to anyone that would be able to engage with the points and arguments within it.
* I received a free digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.
Marcelino Suarez –
First of all, I loved the book.
I really liked the fact that this brother put all his effort and poured the whole of his heart in writing this wonderful book. It is pretty easy for us to forget we must love our neighbors, be they loving or not, likeable or not, heterosexual or not. That is a command the Lord gave us here on earth, and he perfectly exemplified all he taught throughout his life.
I think what the author tries–and, in my opinion, achieves–to do in this book is show us the world needs our love, not only lectures or rebukes against their sin–be it openly made or remaining secret. They need our compassion, just in the same way we needed–and still need–it as awful sinners before a Holy God. They need to know not only that God hates sin, but also that He, in His mercy, is willing to forgive sin. If the Gospel is to be preached, let it be through our friendships, not only our Facebook posts.
The author is very careful in expressing his sincere ideas about what evangelism on this issue must be like, but he nonetheless is Scripturally firm. People who struggle with SSA must know we are open to be their friends, for it is only through that type of relationship that we can really have a positive and loving influence in their lives. Let us all remember that temptation is not synonymous to sin, but rather a step that may or may not precede it. Let us also examine ourselves, for we are in no way better than them just because our sin is different in nature.
This book impacted me because I live in a country (Mexico) where this issue is increasingly appearing in our society. My church and I need to be prepared, not only to give an answer, but to be friends to people somehow involved with this problem. I totally recommend this book to anyone who would read it, be he a Christian or not, a person with OSA, or with SSA. May God’s grace shine in all of our lives.
I got a free copy of this book in exchange for an impartial review, a review which I am submitting here.
Abraham Delgado –
My wife read me this phrase she saw on FB: “There’s groups of people who feels superior to others: Christians, Vegans, Medicine Students, Exercisers, Street animals Rescuers…”:
Unfortunately, looks like homosexuals feels like that when they are treated by Christians. This book is written with one explicit purpose, close this gap, establish friendship as a way to godly influence our gay friends and neighbors.
The reading was delight, fresh and insightful. Actually, I really like books that push me to think beyond what’s obvious (which is very common when christians speak about homosexuality). And this book really get me into thinking.
Anytime I was reading, I was caught by a phrase or paragraph that let me thinking. For example:
“Be a friend, not a therapist”
“Influence, not leverage”
For me, these are some (not all) of value points in the book:
* Distinction between Same-Sex Attraction (SSA), Gay Identity (GI), Homosexual Behavior (HB)
* Asks some common excuses for not have a meaningful friendship with people who experience SSA.
* “Put on his/her shoes”, or explain the distinct difficulties of experience SSA and asks for comprehension and tolerance.
* Prove christian community with perspective that we have to deal with persons with SSA INSIDE and outside, but as Christ, who was “a friend of sinners”.
* How to have a conversation when the 2 most important things are mantain christian perspective and, at the same time, preserve friendship.
Again, we must read this book as a FRIENDSHIP label. Actually, the author stablish that clearly from beginning.
From a personal view, I realize that we cannot always be friends of all. Historically, christians also have influenced their enemies (not friends) and, therefore, be converted to Christ.
But I also recognize the need of this type of books. Christians need to be WISE when the talk to gay community.
Christians must read books like these.
Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an impartial review.
Mi esposa una vez leyó esta frase en Facebook: “Hay grupos de personas que se creen superiores a las demás: Cristianos, Veganos, Gente que hace Ejercicio, Estudiantes Medicina, Rescatadores de animales de la calle”.
Desafortunádamente, los homosexuales deben sentirse a si cuando son tratados por cristianos. Este libro es escrito con el propósito de cerrar esa brecha y establecer amistades como una manera de influir piadósamente a nuestros amigos y vecinos homosexuales.
La lectura fue ágil, rapida, fresca y amena. Personalmente, me gustan los libros que me ponen a pensar, ir más allá de lo obvio y esterotipado (lo cual es común cuando cristianos hablan de homosexualismo). Este libro es uno de ellos.
Muy seguido, leía y había alguna frase o párrafo que me ponía a pensar. Por ejemplo:
“Se un amigo, no un terapeuta”
“Influir, no “forzar”
Aquí algunos puntos valiosos a considerar (no son todos):
* La distincíon entre atracción al mismo sexo (SSA), identidad gay (GI) y comportamiento homosexual (HB).
* Responder algunas excusas para no tener amistades importantes con personas que experimentan SSA.
* “Ponerte en los zapatos del otro”, o explicarnos las variadas dificultades de aquellos que experimentan SSA y seamos comprensivos y tolerantes.
* Mostrar a la comunidad cristiana que debemos tratar a personas con SSA DENTRO y fuera de la iglesia, pero hacerlo como Cristo, quien era “amigo de pecadores”.
* Como tener una conversación con personas que experimentan SSA, manteniendo los ideales cristianos pero también buscando preservar la amistad.
Insisto, debemos leer este libro con la idea de AMISTAD. El autor lo establece cláramente desde el principio.
Personalmente, confieso que no podemos ser amigos de todos. Incluso en la historia, los cristianos han podido influir a sus enemigos y después ellos se convertían a Cristo.
Pero también reconozco la gran necesidad de libros como estos. Los cristianos debemos ser SABIOS cuando hablamos con integrantes de la comunidad Gay. Todo esto, para ser instrumentos efectivos de Dios para llevarlos a Cristo.
Y reconozco aún más la necesidad en la comunidad hispanoparlante.
Los cristianos debemos leer libros como este.
Nota: Recibí una copia gratis del libro, a cambio de una reseña imparcial
Prabhav NR –
The gospel of Jesus Christ is for all – including people who we are not very comfortable engaging. In the modern era, with the sexual revolution, it is hard to think of somebody more uncomfortable to engage with that people with same sex attraction. How do we bring the gospel and all its demands to people who feel condemned, shamed, persecuted and misunderstood by the church? How do we even start talking to people whose experience we do not understand? What do we tell people whose issues we cannot fix?
Brad Hambrick responds to these questions by suggesting that Christians should start making friends with gay people. He encourages us to reach out in love, humility and courage to people who have different experiences from us. I am encouraged, in reading this book, to make friends, listen to their experiences, learn of their lives and when appropriate speak the gospel into their lives.
I recommend this book highly to anyone thinking of engaging in a personal capacity with people who have different experiences from them – especially people with same sex attraction.
Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an impartial review.
Terry Enns –
In the past year I have read about six books on the topic of homosexuality and Christianity. I have read many more journal and magazine articles and blog posts. I have studied extensively for preaching on the topic in Romans 1, reading somewhere between 15-25 commentaries on the significant passages.
So when I saw that there was another new book on the topic of homosexuality being published by a Christian publisher — Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: Why and How Christians Should Have Gay Friends (by Brad Hambrick, Cruciform Press; $5.99, Kindle edition) — I initially wasn’t interested. But then I read of his premise —
…the aim of this book is friendship. Friendship is the level at which influence can be had, because the dialogue does not seek to represent an agenda but to understand a person. Friendship is what protects good points from becoming gotcha moments. (p. 13)
So I was intrigued. Would reading this book help me in my relationships with those who struggle with SSA (same-sex attraction) and homosexuality? If so, it would fill a particular niche that many other books being written about homosexuality and Scripture have missed.
I have appreciated much of what Brad Hambrick has written on the topic of biblical counseling. His website is filled with helpful resources and biblical direction on a wide variety of topics. I have benefitted often from the resources he has made available there. And I was hopeful the book would similarly prove to be a helpful resource.
The tone of the book is gentle and gracious. Hambrick has obviously interacted with numerous individuals who struggle with SSA and not only is compassionate toward their struggle, but longs for them to know the grace of Christ to free them in and from the struggle.
I also frequently wrote things like, “that’s helpful” in the margin — the book is filled with practical counsel on how to approach relationships with individuals who struggle with SSA. For example:
We will never befriend those whose stories we cannot bear hearing. (p. 23)
…we can’t make someone change. We can’t reason someone to a different sense of attraction. It is impossible to usurp the will of another without becoming sinfully controlling or offensive. (p. 57)
By ascribing excessive explanatory power to SSA, my friend was sabotaging his own desire to resist it. This was something we needed to talk about as friends—not to challenge his experience of SSA or try to decrease his attractions but to comfort his pain without affirming his over-generalized conclusion. (p. 74)
Yet for all the help I have received from Hambrick’s website and in spite of some of the helpful tips that he gave in the book for cultivating relationships, I had three main disappointments with the book.
The most glaring weakness is one I have often had about the biblical counseling movement (of which I am a joyful participant): too often what is labeled as “biblical counseling” is merely good advice, but it is not overtly biblical. I’m sure that many of the principles that Hambrick suggests are rooted in biblical instruction, but he fails to make those connections. This topic was calling for an exposition of many passages in the epistles particularly that demonstrate how the church is to conduct itself with struggling sinners. Particularly in helping church members who struggle with SSA, how is the church to respond? Many passages could have been expounded: Rom. 12, Eph. 5:1ff, and 1 Thess. 5:14-15 come to mind quickly as core passages that would have been helpful. Yet there are no such expositions or explanations.
Read the rest of the (lengthy) review here: http://wordsofgrace.wordpress.com/2016/04/22/book-review-do-ask-do-tell-lets-talk/
Dean Van Farowe –
I went to college in the 1990s, just before the internet era. When I got on campus, I stopped in the library to see where I’d be doing research. I was overwhelmed: so many books, and how was I to find what I needed?
Then on the first day of the class we had a library orientation: we learned the system, the card catalogue, and where to find the listings of journal articles. I breathed a sigh of relief: now I knew how to find what I needed! I was now ready for the first research papers.
Relating to members of the LGBT community is similarly overwhelming for Christ-followers who hold to a traditional understanding of gender and marriage. We want to be true friends, and we don’t want to be judgmental. Yet we believe that biology and anatomy are part of the “givenness of things” (Annie Dillard), and more importantly, that having our identity in Christ is the way to life, not career, family, or sexual orientation. How do we engage in true friendships while still holding to our views? how do we not offend friends in the LGBT community? and how do we minister to them well?
Brad Hambrick’s book on same-sex attraction can have a similar effect as the library orientation: having this book helps us find what we need as we engage our friends in lovingly understanding them and having dialogue with them. I’ll give two examples:
1) Early in the book Hambrick lays out a continuum:
SAME-SEX ATTRACTION ——-> GAY IDENTITY ——-> HOMOSEXUAL BEHAVIOR
He shows how someone who begins at same-sex attraction doesn’t necessarily end up in homosexual behavior. He demystifies gay identity and ties it to real life situations, especially in childhood, that lead towards same-sex attraction, and shows how if we engage people at that time, it helps give them avoid moving down to the other end of the continuum. This continuum gives us what we need to understand our friends.
2) We are ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), says Hambrick, “and central to the role of any good ambassador is understanding the beliefs and positions of the culture or people to which he or she has been assigned. To understand what someone else means by a specific
term and to allow that meaning to stand in the limited context of conversation with them, is not a denial of real truth, but an act of compassion and kindness.” Ambassadors in another culture: another great analogy that helps us understand how to love our LGBT friends.
Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk is a practical tool to understanding the worldview of LGBT friends and how to love them, and in the context of love, to minister to them. I recommend it with 5 stars!
Caveat: I was given this book with the ‘deal’ that I would write a review of it.
Now more than ever, as Christians, we have to be willing to engage with the culture around us in a way that neither compromises or pushes people away. Unfortunately, we have severely dropped the ball in the area of friendships with those who struggle with same sex attraction and homosexuality.
This book is a fantastic resource on how to think through what it might look like to be a Christian and sincerely love our neighbors who identify with the LGBT community. It is not a “how to” manual on winning arguments or converting those who don’t agree with you. Rather, it is a helpful tool in how to be a good friend to someone who is different than you. It starts with open and understanding conversation.
I recommend this for so many in the church today! Even though it was only a little over 100 pages, it brought up many points I had never considered before. I hope more will read it and be challenged to step out of our comfort zones and love the people around us better.
*I received a copy of this book from Cruciform Press in exchange for an honest review.
This book is not a doctrinal discourse on why homosexual behavior is a sin. This book assumes that the reader already believes this but wants to put “feet to faith” and learn how to truly love the sinner and build a valuable friendship. The author focuses primarily on this friendship building process, and some readers may feel disappointed that the “tough conversations” about the gospel and conviction regarding sexual sin aren’t really addressed.
But in today’s everything-goes society, even building friendships can be tough enough when your values don’t align with someone else (especially when the topic is sexual attraction and behavior, which can be so tightly woven into a person’s identity). So in a short book such as this, I found it fair for the author to focus primarily on the friendship process itself.
And in the end, regardless of how strong a friendship you build with someone and how committed you are to convicting them or pointing them to salvation, you don’t actually convict or save. The author drives this point home near the end of the book (p. 99-100): “Remember, it is never our role to change anybody—not their sexual orientation, not their personal beliefs. However noble or sincere we may believe our motives to be, it is wrong to try to do this. You and I cannot change anyone, and we must not act or pretend otherwise. Our role is as ambassadors of a message. We want to share and embody the gospel while showing genuine interest in a friendship, and then to honor the freedom of the other individual to respond as they see fit.”
If you can agree with this framework, I think you will find this book a valuable resource for successfully navigating friendships with those in the LGBT community. The author does an excellent job offering specific suggestions for how Christians can enjoy beautiful friendships without compromising their beliefs.
Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an impartial review.
Janelle Hardy (verified owner) –
Thank you for this book which is the first thing I’ve read on this topic which feels more like the beginning of a conversation rather than a debate. Personally, I was challenged by the reflective parts of the book which suggested I consider what I thought or what I would say before I read the next section. I won’t repeat all that was said in the book or in the reviews above. It was very good.
I was disappointed though because in the section which discussed the false theology many people believe (from the passage in Romans) I expected not just a ‘this-is-not-what-the-Romans-passage-is-saying’, I expected to hear what in fact, the Romans passage is saying. This confused me. I did have my own thoughts, and I have since discussed them with other well-informed, godly and thoughtful Christians who’ve helped me even further, but I felt the book lacks something because of that.
David M. Hodges –
This review originates on the reviewer’s Pious Eye site, where it includes formatting and hyperlinks lacking here. Curious readers may find the original at http://j.mp/DADTrev. Page references herein are to the pdf edition of Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk, ISBN 978-1-941114-11-7.
On one extreme, radical Islamic clerics persuade followers that because homosexual behavior is contrary to God’s will, it is an act of piety to kill “gays,” just as it is to kill Western infidels in general. On the other extreme, Western secularists promote acceptance of homosexual behavior as normal, healthy, and morally right, celebrating it with “gay pride” events, affirming it by lighting up of the White House in “gay pride” rainbow lights, and proclaiming their support for those engaged in it, often (particularly if they are government officials) speaking as though all good Americans share their viewpoint. Extremist secular leaders add to this assertions that any who reject their view are hate-filled bigots, mentally ill phobics, or both, who are creating an environment that encourages violence against “gays.”
Bible-believing Christians reject both extremes. Called to do all they can (short of sinning) to remain at peace with others (Romans 12:18), to obey the laws of their nations (whenever they can do so without committing sin) (Titus 3:1, Romans 13:1-5), and to act with benevolence toward (seeking what is best for, most in the true interests of) even those hostile toward God, God’s truth, and God’s people (Matthew 5:43-5, 2 Timothy 2:24-6), Bible believers condemn and oppose the murder-as-Islamic-piety extreme, as they condemn and oppose any lawless killing, whatever its alleged justification. Recognizing, however, that homosexual behavior is contrary to God’s will and to nature as he designed it (Romans 1:26-7), and that nations that promote and celebrate it cannot expect good results (Leviticus 18:22-4; Psalm 2:10-12), they know their duty is to warn those engaged in homosexuality, and the nations that celebrate them, that they are in danger (Ezekiel 33:2-6), and to tell them of God’s gracious provision for the deliverance of all among them who will repent (Matthew 26:19; Luke 24:46-7; John 3:16; Acts 17:30-1; Ezekiel 18:32; II Peter 3:9).
Lacking the one-dimensional simplicity of both radical Islam and extremist secularism, the Christian’s joint affirmation of Scripture-revealed morality and of Christ-exemplified benevolence toward its violators can seem difficult to promote and apply. Given this, Bible believers are certainly in need of sound books that combine the benevolence of Christ with uncompromising affirmation of Scripture’s moral precepts and principles.
Brad Hambrick’s Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk seeks to be such a book. I don’t think it entirely succeeds. In places, it seems to move past Christian benevolence into a live-and-let-live don’t-force-your-views-on-others realm that derives more from postmodern American culture with its libertarian tendencies than from Scripture. And it has numerous other defects, some of which I will discuss, due either to such misjudgment of what constitutes true Christian benevolence, to too-superficial discussion made unavoidable by the publisher’s goal “to keep it simple” and to “publish short, clear…books” that “are easy to read” and tend to run about 100 pages (6), or to other causes (such as failure to take variation in Christians’ personality types sufficiently into account when offering advice).
In spite of this, Hambrick’s understanding of biblical sexual ethics seems sound overall, and his practical suggestions do contain much that could prove useful to Bible believers reaching out to those who admit to experiencing same-sex attraction or who identify themselves as “homosexual” or “gay.” (I try to put these terms in quotation marks whenever they are used as descriptors of persons, of identity, because such usage is misguided and lacks biblical warrant.) So, I’ll note some of its more positive and useful content below. In order to end on a positive note, however, I’ll cover some of its noteworthy defects first.
“First,” that is, after two asides. The first aside helps explain my interest in Do Ask, Do Tell…. In this book, Hambrick addresses the question of how Christians should interact with those who admit to experiencing same-sex attraction, or who self-identify as “gay.” This shouldn’t be confused with the separate question of what sort of legal and cultural environment Christians should support, meaning what laws they should try to pass and what cultural attitudes they should hope to make more prevalent. Hambrick thinks the legal-environment question relatively unimportant (15). I, in contrast, think it very important. My sense of its importance has led me to make some effort to discern how God-mandated, Jesus-exemplified Christian benevolence might be relevant to the legal environment. As you might know, there are Christians today (granted they are a small minority) who think that Bible-compliant law requires enforcement by modern governments of the penalties God imposed upon sexual sins in Old Testament Israel (key words: Theonomy, Christian Reconstruction). In the case of both homosexuality and adultery, this would mean execution (Leviticus 20:10,13). Though I respect those who hold this view for elevating God’s own words in Scripture above their feelings and the currents of American culture, the view doesn’t strike me as compatible with Christian benevolence. (Non-capital sodomy laws might be a different matter, since, some might argue, an environment outlawing homosexual activity would ultimately be better for those experiencing same-sex attraction than an all-permissive libertarian one. Supporters of such laws might ask, “Would not such laws deter many from indulging homosexual impulses, even motivate them to seek guidance and help from others in resisting and overcoming, as well as understanding, such impulses?”)
My thinking on this is fundamentally what is was back in 2013, when I reviewed a book that favored enforcement of Old Testament penalties against homosexual behavior (Pious Eye site, “Swanson’s Apostate: Merits Reading, Could Be Better,” “Problem Content 3: Whom Would Jesus Execute?” subheading, posted 23 September 2013, verified available 23 May 2016). My continued assurance that the laws of Moses imposed penalties on sexual sins harsher than we are expected to impose today owes much to John 8:3-11, where God in the flesh permits “go and sin no more” repentance in place of the Old Testament penalty for adultery. (Since those who accept mainstream textual criticism reject this passage, I’m once again glad I hold to the Received Text. Of course, even in the Old Testament, God freely imposed different punishments than those he handed down to Moses [2 Samuel 12], so his leniency as Christ may not imply all I’d like it to imply.) That there are Christians today who think sexual sins punished by death in the Old Testament should be punished by death today perhaps did more to interest me in a book aiming to help Christians reach out in benevolence to those inclined toward, or who have already indulged in, one such sin. Were no Bible believer today advocating capital punishment for sexual sins, I might not have requested a free pdf of Do Ask, Do Tell…, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. (Unbiased, that is, by my receipt of the free copy. Any review written by a human being will, of course, be biased in one way or another.)
(It occurs to me that some readers might find my talk of “benevolence” rather than “love” off-putting. In the debate over sexual ethics, however, the term “love” has been badly abused. For instance, the terrorist who attacked the “gay” nightclub in Orlando was said by many to have thought it permissible to kill people because of whom they “loved.” And no doubt you’ve seen the “love wins” signs in images of various “gay” events, such as those celebrating the Supreme Court’s imposition of homosexual “marriage” on all American states. As well, use of “love” when speaking of carnal heterosexual indulgence, regardless of marriage context or procreational intent, has been well establish for many years. Though importing the Greek term “agape” and specifying “selfless love” are more popular alternatives, “benevolence” seems to me more clear and precise.)
The second aside provides some useful background information and illuminates my starting perspective. You’ll recall that in an earlier parenthetical I said of the terms “gay” and “homosexual” that “I try to put these terms in quotation marks whenever they are used as descriptors of persons, of identity, because such usage is misguided and lacks biblical warrant.” Reflecting on some news a while back, I wrote this: “Insofar as they act in accordance with Scripture, Christians do not reject anyone because of ‘orientation’ (desire, inclination)….In fact, biblical Christians only reject persons when, by persistent refusal to repent and open hostility to the gospel, they make it impossible to reject their behavior (actions indulging sinful inclinations) without also rejecting them” (Pious Eye site, “A Month that Will Live in Infamy: October 2014 (Reflection on News in My Local Paper),” posted 31 October 2014, verified available 23 May 2016). In choosing this wording, I was objecting to the practice of applying these “orientation” labels to people as though “sexual orientation” were an inborn trait fundamental to identity. I learned more recently that what I was objecting to is called “orientation essentialism” (Michael W. Hannon, “Against Heterosexuality,” First Things site, March 2014, online document discovered 01 May 2016, verified still available 23 May 2016). I don’t endorse every assertion in Hannon’s article. For example, unlike Hannon, I still think “homosexual” and “heterosexual,” and “homosexuality” and “heterosexuality,” are apt labels for behaviors and the inclinations that motivate them. I do endorse its rejection of orientation essentialism, however, and so share its opposition to use of the labels “homosexual” and “heterosexual” to describe people. I must agree with Hannon when he writes, “The role of the champion of Christian chastity today…is to dissociate the Church from the false absolutism of identity based on erotic tendency, and to rediscover our own anthropological foundation for traditional moral maxims.” For Bible-believing Christians, of course, the “anthropological foundation” to be looked to is all that Scripture has to say about human beings as created in the image of God and fallen into sin.
Opening asides aside, on to a closer look at Hambrick’s book, which he dedicates to “those who have felt that their experience of same-sex attraction has left them isolated within or from the Body of Christ” (1). This brief book’s layout is as follows: it begins with an introduction titled “Please Don’t Skip Me” (7-11), ends (if one disregards the “More books from…” advertising) with a few pages of endnotes (123-5), and organizes its core content into the following six chapters: (1) “Beyond the Us-Them Divide” (13-29), (2) “Comfortable Being Uncomfortable” (31-45), (3) “Learning about the Experience of SSA” (47-62), (4) “Getting to Know a Christian Experiencing SSA: Key Markers on the Journey” (63-80), (5) “Getting to Know a Non-Christian Experiencing SSA: Winning an Argument vs. Influencing a Friend” (81-100), and (6) “Navigating Difficult Conversations” (101-22). The “SSA” in the third chapter’s title stands for “same-sex attraction.” For whatever reason, perhaps to meet a Cruciform Press word or character limit, Hambrick uses initialisms instead of full phrases. Other initialisms he adopts include “OSA” for “opposite-sex attraction,” “GI” for “gay identity,” and “HB” for “homosexual behavior.” (Those professing to experience no sexual attractions, who typically self-identify as “asexual,” may be disappointed that they are not mentioned. Given that the “NSA” initialism in already prominent, the lack of mention may be for the best. Those self-identifying as “bisexual” might also be disappointed, since Do Ask, Do Tell… seems generally to assume individuals are either opposite-sex attracted or same-sex attracted.) Though I certainly empathize with Hambrick if he adopted these initialisms to meet a word or character limit, I have to admit I don’t care for them and would have been much happier had he used the full phrases throughout.
ON THE NEGATIVE SIDE
I’ll be honest: there are many things I dislike about this little book. Some of what I dislike are minor annoyances. The initialisms just mentioned are one example. Adoption of a couple vogue English usage conventions is another. For example, the book adopts the vogue whom-less usage that jettisons separate subjective and objective cases. This usage may be the inevitable future of English, but the loss of precision still makes me sad. This usage, at least, it adopts consistently.
It also follows the increasingly popular practice of using third-person-plural pronouns (“they,” “them,” “their”) as generic third-person singulars (according to which A PERSON must watch THEIR usage). This too may be English’s future, since, though illogical, it feels natural (even irresistible) to most, has long been prevalent in spoken and informal usage, and reads better than “he or she, “him or her,” and “his or her.” But the progressive loss from English of unambiguously plural third-person pronouns signals another lamentable loss of precision. Like the earlier loss of unambiguously plural second-person pronouns (“ye,” “you,” and “your,” contrasting with singular “thou,” “thee,” and “thine”), it may be inevitable, but it’s still sad. As well, Do Ask, Do Tell… adopts this plurals-for-singulars convention inconsistently, even using contradictory variants on the same page (80, for example).
Among defects that are more than minor annoyances, I would have to include Hambrick’s evident belief that our nation’s attitude toward homosexuality, not only permissive but increasingly celebratory, poses no danger to the nation’s future nor to the potential for a future revival among its Christian people (15). His related belief that emotional stories of bad experiences (Alan Turing’s conviction for homosexual activity under British sodomy laws of his day) should influence law (31-2) also concerns me, not because I think restoration of sodomy laws is a good idea (I’m undecided), but because even the most just laws can produce cases that will strike many as tragic: principles, not feelings, must be the basis of law, though the extent to which feelings may properly influence application of just laws can be debated. I admit I prefer (sometimes with reservations) a legal order where personal liberty reigns in the realm of private consensual activity, provided that legal order does not limit freedom of believers to condemn and oppose openly and publicly such activity (in speech and writing, not with force), and to opt out of all involvement with or assistance of such activities, I must also admit that this is simply a bias of mine that may not be well grounded in Scripture, that may owe more to my American upbringing than to a fair appraisal of all that Scripture says on the subject. Scripture does, after all, indicate that the laws God gave Israel through Moses were, compared to laws of other nations, uniquely correct and praiseworthy (Deuteronomy 4:8). And these laws did require punishment of acts committed by “consenting adults,” though the requirement of witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15) would have meant no activities kept private would be punished.
I should perhaps also note that, like many Christians trying to combine the American bias toward liberty with all the Bible says on various subjects, I have not been perfectly consistent. Though private property rights would seem to require that private companies be free to adopt whatever foolish and dangerous “transgender” bathroom policies they like, I have joined socially conservative groups in supporting a state whose lawmakers have decided that safety and recognition of natural gender are more important than private companies’ property rights. As well, since rights are given by God, I have noted that one cannot have a “right” to what is against God and nature, so that it is appropriate to refuse by law to call homosexual unions “marriage” and to deny same-sex unions legal privileges granted to opposite-sex (real) marriages. On the same rights-are-God-given basis, I also think that, rather than being added to insurance plans, “gender reassignment” surgery should be made illegal. So, though I would have been happier had Hambrick not revealed his own biases in law and politics, my own inconsistencies require that I not judge Hambrick’s legal and political biases too harshly, at least not until my own views more perfectly comport with one another.
In his first chapter, “Beyond the Us-Them Divide,” Hambrick emphasizes that this “is a book about individual Christians learning to form better friendships with…[various acquaintances] who experience same-sex attraction or embrace a gay identity,” not a book about church outreach to “the gay community” (13-4). He wishes to discourage an approach to relationships with such acquaintances that suggests “that from the Christian perspective the only two possible outcomes in such a relationship are conversion on the other person’s part or compromise on our part,” since such an approach “will make it very hard for us to develop an authentic relationship of trust” with them (14). He also notes his disagreement with those who think (as I do) that the “moral-political issues surrounding homosexuality” are matters of high importance to America’s future and the future of her churches, then launches into a discussion of “heterosexual privilege” as an example of the “built-in advantage” possessed by “Any member of a majority culture” (15). This discussion may strike some readers as too politically correct to permit further reading. For my part, I just wrote “groan” in the margin and moved on. That’s not quite accurate. I also wrote the following: “Bible-believing no-sex-outside-of-marriage ‘heterosexuals’ are not part of this contemporary majority culture.” Because he does not experience same-sex attraction, however, Hambrick thinks he is a privileged member of this majority culture, and that he must “weigh [his] words accordingly” to avoid stepping on minority toes.
Hambrick also notes that his experience of issues related to same-sex attraction and homosexuality has been acquired through his work as a pastoral counselor, mainly with male counselees. This counseling background is significant. One can tell from Do Ask, Do Tell… that Hambrick lives in that empathetic emotional space where people who take most naturally to counseling tend to live. This makes for a type of book that will be most appreciated by (and useful to) persons residing in that same space. I, however, live in a very different space. Intellectual and moral analysis and, to a lesser degree, activism guided by the findings of such analysis, is what I’m about. Touchy-feely emotional stuff, including Hambrick’s calls to “have fun together” (79) with all the same-sex-attracted and “gay” friends I’m supposed to make–not my thing. My idea of a friend is someone with whom I share common convictions and can, because of this, join in pursuit of common causes. I can’t recall ever having considered “a friend” someone whose convictions differed greatly (differed in fundamental, foundational ways) from my own. Given what a different space I live in from Hambrick’s, I have to admit I’ve struggled to process this little book, setting it aside for extended periods (hence the long-ago date that I verified availability of some online references). Others in my space may have similar difficulty. Though I will certainly strive to live peaceably and interact cordially with persons whose convictions differ from my own (Romans 12:18), and though I would not end a common-convictions friendship because a friend’s vexing and hated temptations included same-sex attraction, I can’t see myself calling an active and unrepentant homosexual my “friend” (Amos 3:3). “Civil, benevolent acquaintance” seems the best I’ll be able to do in such cases. Hambrick’s failure to take into account the different emotional spaces, or the differing personality types, of potential readers seems one of Do Ask, Do Tell…’s important weaknesses.
Though Hambrick’s understanding of biblical sexual morality seems sound overall, as I’ve noted, he does seem to let counselor’s bias or American culture influence his understanding in places. While introducing the initialisms I’ve already complained about, Hambrick also explains what he means by his chosen terminology. When explaining his use of “homosexual behavior,” after rightly noting it is a choice for which choosers are morally responsible, he decides to add the following: “We must realize that looking at gay porn is not ‘dirtier’ than looking at straight porn….Extra-marital sex is equally wrong regardless of the gender-pairing” (20). He offers no biblical justification for this assertion. He seems to be relying on an assumption widespread among contemporary evangelicals that every sin is equally bad in God’s sight; hence he emphasizes in a note that he doesn’t condone the “sizing of sin” (123). At the same time, he thinks that “looking at child porn” is far more “consequential” than looking at the “gay” and “straight” varieties. Rather than seeing different acts as more bad as they become more perverse, meaning more out of accord with God’s will and the corresponding design reflected in nature (so that, for example, child molestation would be worse than consensual homosexuality which would be worse than consensual heterosexuality), Hambrick seems to import a secular standard that deems all acts of “consenting adults” morally equal.
Hambrick’s portrayal of homosexual activity as no more sinful or perverse than natural sex sinfully pursued outside of marriage doesn’t seem credible in light of Scripture. Adultery was a capital crime under Moses, true, but it was not portrayed as the same land-defiling abomination that homosexual activity was. God did not rain down fire on Sodom and Gomorrah because of widespread adultery, after all. In a decaying society where, if unavoidable popular culture is any indication, heterosexuality typically includes a range of perverse non-procreative activities matching what is for homosexuals the only “sex” possible, the degree to which homosexuality goes more against nature than unmarried or extramarital heterosexuality may be less than it would be if heterosexuality were properly limited to its intended context (marriage) and purpose (procreation, with the secondary benefit of solidifying the marriage bond). (Interestingly, Hannon notes that the term “heterosexuality” was initially used only for those heterosexual activities contrary to sexuality’s purpose.) Still, partner choice cannot be treated as morally irrelevant, since God’s design, in addition to requiring marriage, monogamy, and proper purpose, permits only an opposite-sex partner.
I don’t raise this issue to justify or encourage a judgmental spirit, much less to discourage readers from heeding Hambrick’s call to reach out to those with this particular sin problem. The proper attitude for all of us who believe the Bible is to treat our own sinful inclinations, and the resulting sinful actions, as the ones most worthy of our condemnation and most demanding of our attention (Matthew 7:5). Still, we need to train ourselves to think biblically about sins in general. One way to do this is to disabuse ourselves of the scripturally groundless belief that every sin is equal in the eyes of God, whether theft of a pencil, stealing of a car, heterosexual fornication, heterosexual adultery, homosexual activity, bestiality, or murder. True, even the most minor sin is infinitely more sin than our perfectly holy and just God could tolerate had he not himself atoned for it on his people’s behalf. But some sins are indeed minor compared to others, some especially severe. To think otherwise is to reject all that one’s God-given moral sense should make obvious. Homosexual activity, as is clear wherever such activity is mentioned in Scripture, is among the “especially severe” sins.
Hambrick’s counselor’s bias stands out even more when he explains what he means by “same-sex attraction.” He says it “is simply the experience of realizing that you find members of the same gender attractive to the point that you are aroused and romantically captivated. This experience,” he adds, “is usually not chosen.” He then adds this: “Think about it: if you experience opposite-sex attraction, when did you choose this preference?” (18) Though “same-sex attraction” seems appropriate terminology (at least initially), Hambrick’s definition and “Think about it” don’t entirely work for me. The odd wording of his definition, which identifies same-sex attraction as “the experience of” finding attractive, whether than as that state of being attracted, is exceedingly strange, and it doesn’t fit with mentions throughout the book of persons who “experience same-sex attraction”: they experience experiencing attraction to persons of the same-sex? This ill-advised tacking-on of “the experience of,” along with the highly subjective “Think about it,” seem motivated by Hambrick’s effort to fit his assertions to what the same-sex-attracted he’s counseled have told him of their own understandings (interpretations) of their experiences.
The thinking behind this effort becomes most clear in Do Ask, Do Tell…’s third chapter, which focuses upon certain things Hambrick has found commonly experienced by most same-sex-attracted persons he’s dealt with or read about. In this chapter, Hambrick writes, “based on my counseling experience, study, and conversations with other pastors and counselors, I’m convinced that most…of those who struggle with [same-sex attraction] did not choose this preference” (54). Later in the same chapter, he emphasizes that “we need to understand that [same-sex attraction] is not primarily about sex.” A bit later he adds this: “Indeed, I have often heard [same-sex-attraction] strugglers emphasize, ‘It’s not really about who[m] I want to have sex with.’ Sexual attraction certainly plays a role in [same-sex attraction], but it’s not typically a primary focus” (59).
This is painful to read because, fundamentally, it’s nonsense. I respect that persons who experience same-sex attraction have all sorts of non-sexual emotions and impulses that they think are essential parts of their same-sex attraction. Biblically speaking, though, the sin to be focused on and avoided is sexual activity with members of one’s own sex. No matter how much one is drawn or “attracted” to people of one’s own sex, if the “attraction” includes no sexual interest, it isn’t “same-sex attraction” in the sense in which that terminology should be used to discuss those tempted toward, or already involved in, homosexuality. No matter how much a male feels “alienated or isolated from male peers,” no matter how strong his “desire to be liked and to belong” (60), one shouldn’t say he’s struggling with same-sex attraction until he experiences attraction TO SEX WITH the same sex. Hambrick’s desire to fit his thinking to same-sex-attracted counselees’ interpretations of their experiences may show praiseworthy empathy, but it strikes me as unhelpful if our goal is to make God’s perspective as expressed in Scripture clear. Hannon’s remarks may be pertinent here: “The Bible never called [homosexual orientation] an abomination. Leviticus predates any conception of sexual orientation by a couple of millennia at least. What the Scriptures condemn is [homosexual behavior], regardless of who commits it or why” (“Against Heterosexuality”). (My bracketed emendations in the preceding fit Hannon’s insight to this review’s terminology: where I’ve inserted “homosexual orientation,” Hannon says “homosexuality,” and where I’ve inserted “homosexual behavior,” Hannon says “sodomy.” Since “sodomy” in current usage can refer to certain non-procreative heterosexual activities, in addition to homosexuality and bestiality, Hannon may have in mind more than just homosexual behavior, though that is certainly included. As well, given Hannon’s use of “homosexuality” here to mean “homosexual orientation,” I should note that in my usage “homosexuality” most often means “homosexual behavior [activity],” though I might use it in some contexts to mean “homosexual inclination [orientation].” I’ll try always to use more precise terminology when the meaning of “homosexuality” isn’t clear from context.) Hambrick confirms this behavior-not-inclination-condemned understanding of Leviticus (19).
Hambrick’s it’s-not-mainly-about-sex construal of “same-sex attraction” suggests, additionally, that even the “same-sex attraction” terminology may not be sufficiently precise to avoid confusion (hence my earlier “at least initially” parenthetical on its appropriateness). After all, discounting Freud’s perverse understanding of human nature, most “attraction” is not attraction to sexual activity, but, as already noted, sexual activity is the focus of biblical condemnation of behaviors today characteristic of “gays.” In light of this criticism, it may be that Hambrick, and various same-sex-attracted persons whose experiences (more precisely, whose interpretations of their experiences) inform Hambrick’s perspective, have been misled by the terminology itself. Would “same-sex sexual attraction” be too ponderous a replacement? Whether it would be or not, I will always use “same-sex attraction” in the sense of “same-sex sexual attraction,” rather than in Hambrick’s sometimes confused sense that includes non-sexual “attraction” and hangs entirely on subjective appraisals of experience.
Since my survey of Do Ask, Do Tell…’s noteworthy defects skipped from the book’s first to its third chapter, I suppose I should also discuss the most memorable defect of its second chapter. A fair amount of this stumbling-block-removal chapter focuses on a “misguided interpretation of Romans 1:24-7” that Hambrick believes “undergirds much of the internal resistance that Christians experience when it comes to the idea of having gay friends” (34-5). He says that “many well-intentioned Christians” hold to this interpretation, as would have to be the case were the interpretation to have the broad influence Hambrick thinks it does. The interpretation applies the passage to a progression of sin in individual lives, concluding that same-sex attraction “only happens when someone persistently pursues heterosexual sex outside of marriage,” after which, “In some…cases, God then judges that person by allowing his or her sexual interests to become homosexual in nature.” This creates what Hambrick calls a “‘progressive sexual depravity’ model” (35). Since this is the first I’ve heard of this interpretation, and since this individualized reading has never occurred to me when reading the passage, I’m surprised to learn it’s common and influential. Though it is clear from the passage that homosexual activity is unnatural and perverse in a way that heterosexual activity is not (verses 26-7), it seems clear from the context that the passage describes unbelieving (specifically, pagan Roman) culture corporately, highlighting the culture-wide descent into the most extreme and perverse sins, the sins most profoundly against nature as God planned and created it, that results when a culture rejects worship of the true God (verses 22-23). The idea of a “Romans 1 road to homosexuality” (37, emphasis removed) for individuals seems so wholly alien to the passage that I’m finding it hard to believe that the idea is as widely believed and influential as Hambrick claims.
I’m also disappointed that the culture-wide, corporate reading that has always struck me as most natural, in fact obvious, isn’t even suggested by Hambrick. Instead, he only proposes that “in a Roman context, where worship practices for the various gods involved many immoral sexual rituals, this path to [same-sex attraction] would have been relatively common. In our day…” other factors are at play and a different path dominates. As if this missing-of-the-point were not bad enough, Hambrick has to add the sort of flippant statement persons who fail to respect Scripture as highly as they should so often resort to: “It is wise to remember that the Bible’s clearest passage on a subject is not always its most pertinent. If that were the case, then the main thing the Bible would say to women is to submit and wear a hat, and the main thing the Bible would say about greeting guests at church is ‘pucker up'” (37). Any faithful Bible believer is going to find this disrespectful tone and flippancy irritating. If you’re going to bring up contested interpretive questions where certain readings make people uncomfortable, you’d best be planning to discuss them at length and explain why you take the interpretive positions you do. Simply mocking what you think would be the implications of some of “the Bible’s clearest passage[s]” makes you look like a full-of-yourself mocker of the Sacred Text who doesn’t take the Bible or its Author, much less those faithful to it and him, seriously. When someone publishing a work meant to instruct Christians shows more willingness to empathize with those engaged in homosexuality than with those who (for instance) think 1 Corinthians 11:3-10 requires women to wear head coverings in church, something is very wrong.
In passing, I might note that Matthew Henry seems to have found the culture-wide interpretation as obvious as I do. He opens his discussion of Romans 1:19-32 by stating, “In this last part of the chapter the apostle applies what he had said particularly to the Gentile world.” He later adds these remarks: “The crying iniquity of Sodom and Gomorrah, for which God rained hell from heaven upon them, became not only commonly practiced, but avowed, in the pagan nations” (Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible, public domain, Sword Module MHC version 1.6 for Xiphos Bible software; spelling of “practiced” modified). Since the only thing that made the Jews non-Gentiles was God’s selection of them from the mass of humankind (Deuteronomy 7:6), and his giving of faith to a representative portion of them (Romans 2:28-9, Ephesians 2:9), it seems legitimate to take this discussion of “the Gentile world” and “the pagan nations” as applicable to unbelieving cultures generally, and so as broadly indicative of the dangers of unbelief. Unbelieving rejection of the true God is the cause of culture-wide descent into increasingly unnatural sexual sin: “God gave them up,” Henry writes, “in a way of righteous judgment, as the just punishment of their idolatry–taking off the bridle of restraining grace–leaving them to themselves–letting them alone; for his grace is his own, he is debtor to no man, he may give or withhold his grace at pleasure” (Ibid.). (On the subject of Matthew Henry, curious readers may find his discussion of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 helpful in making sense of the “because of the angels” in verse 10, which many think obscure. There Henry lays out two potential interpretations, one of which seems most natural in the context of the the New Testament. This behave-properly-because-God’s-good-angels-are-watching interpretation, which makes me think of Proverbs 15:3, seems quite clear if one comes to the text without the prior assumption that this whole passage is impossible to understand without specialized knowledge of relevant historical and cultural information. Modern commentators, in light of such specialized knowledge, no doubt suggest a range of other alleged possibilities that would never occur to anyone reading Scripture alone.)
In summary, then, I would never try to defend applying this passage to individuals, and I’m shocked to learn that anyone reads it that way. In terms of the culture-wide, corporate reading that I find most natural, the reality that homosexual activity really is worse than heterosexual fornication and adultery seems clear from the passage, as it is clear from the portrayal of God’s attitude toward homosexuality throughout Scripture. When a culture has reached the depths of unbelieving depravity, as Rome had done (or was well into the process of doing), and as ours seems determined to do, the most extreme, perverse, and unnatural of sins grow in prevalence. Sins prevalent in a culture are available to all; lesser “gateway sins” are not needed. There is thus no need to speculate about the differing paths of individuals into homosexual sin in ancient Rome and modern America, because the passage at issue isn’t talking about how individuals progress into this abominable sin, but about how whole cultures do so. Individual sinners now, as then, may choose any path their desperately wicked hearts prefer.
Chapters four through six of Do Ask, Do Tell… contain Hambrick’s most specific how-to advice. Were I to take into account all my notes, markings, and marginal “Ugh!”s and “groan”s in these chapters, I might well write a review longer than Do Ask, Do Tell… itself. I won’t do that. Since I’ve already noted what seem to me the book’s greatest defects, I won’t discuss much that troubles me in these final chapters. I’ll only note that Hambrick seems to me to let his own feelings about what is “constructive” or “helpful” or “likely to succeed” make him miss a truth that to me seems obvious: to always forthrightly honor God’s truth as God has given one to understand it, by stating it clearly and without compromise, is a Christian’s duty. Truth telling and (civil) debate are not things to be eschewed in favor of more “helpful” and “constructive” (non-“offensive”) feelings-centered conversations about subjective experiences. God might indeed call some people, such as Hambrick, to focus more upon the latter than the former, but this doesn’t mean he does not call others to simply proclaim his truth, debate in defense of it, and try to make clear how it applies to all areas of life and thought.
Though Hambrick at one point seems to grant that involvement in “the public square of open debate” has at least some value (72), his dislike for debate, and for proclamation of God’s truth outside established friendships, is evident throughout the book. He grants in one place that debate “has a valuable place,” though (in his opinion) “not as a way to build friendship” (81). (The claim that civil debate has no value in friendship building is something those familiar with friendly iron-sharpening-iron debates [Proverbs 27:17] won’t find credible.) But a short while later he associates “debate mode” with a sinful desire to manipulate (84-5), then goes on to make a list of undesirable “Debate-Oriented Focal Points” versus desirable “Conversation-Oriented Focal Points” (86-7). I can’t help but think Hambrick’s personality type and counselor’s calling have (again) made him unduly biased. This particular sort of bias, perhaps a manifestation of what some call the “feminization” of church life, has made some of us feel very out of place in contemporary churches, just as it has made me feel out of place reading this book. If Hambrick can so accommodate even those who actively practice homosexuality in his outreach, why is he unable to accommodate faithful Christians whose personalties and emotions don’t square with his own?
ON THE POSITIVE SIDE
In his introduction, Hambrick explains Do Ask, Do Tell…’s purpose. He believes that “the church has yet to articulate a wise and biblical way to move toward those in our churches and communities who struggle with same-sex attraction” (8). Though churches “have articulated their position on a conservative sexual ethic” and have responded to challenges from those advocating “a progressive sexual ethic,” tasks he grants are important, Hambrick holds that this clarification and defense of biblical sexual ethics “does not equip everyday Christians to develop meaningful friendships with people who experience same-sex attraction or have embraced a gay identity” (8). While granting that “love apart from truth is sentimental and unhelpful,” Hambrick maintains that “truth apart from love is harsh and unlivable,” and so he offers Do Ask, Do Tell… as “an attempt to prepare God’s people for rich, biblically-informed, gospel-saturated engagement that is both practical and realistic” (11).
Hambrick believes that Christians “should seek meaningful friendships with those who experience same-sex attraction” (16), and that enabling this requires that churches not create “a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ climate” (17). He also believes that adopting and using a common vocabulary within the church will help the process along. The three terms he adopts, meant to describe, respectively, the disposition, the identity, and the behavior that a same-sex-attracted individual can progress through, have already been noted: same-sex attraction, gay identity, and homosexual behavior (18-20). (As I have, the reader has probably encountered some of this terminology before; it isn’t original to Hambrick.) On the second of these, Hambrick writes, “Not everyone who experiences [same-sex attraction] has to identify as gay. Identity is a choice, one that should be made based on more factors than the persistence of a particular attraction” (20). This is sound, and it accords well with Hannon’s and my rejection of orientation essentialism. On the third of these, homosexual behavior, Hambrick says, “This is the choice to engage in sexual practices with or stimulated by a member of the same gender….a matter of choice and, therefore, the moral responsibility of the chooser” (20). This too is sound. (Note also how Hambrick uses “gender” as a synonym for biological sex. In addition to being sound, this word choice is especially laudable because it will displease the politically correct.)
Hambrick thinks that same-sex attraction (at least the “unwanted” variety) should be labeled suffering rather than sin. Suffering, he states, is “something for which we should not feel a perpetual sense of condemnation, because it is primarily the result of living in a broken world which adversely” affects us. “True suffering,” he adds, “is not sin” (19). Persons experiencing same-sex attraction are not guilty of sin until they indulge the attraction, since the attraction is an aspect of their brokenness (fallen state), a source of suffering, not itself sin.
This is an appealing way of understanding sinful inclinations, and I’d like to believe it is correct. It certainly is easier to live with. However, an argument might be made that Scripture holds people morally culpable for their wrong desires, even without claiming that they possess conscious knowledge of ever having chosen to have wrong desires rather than right ones. The Bible teaches that the human heart is not merely “broken” in the morally neutral sense of dooming all people to suffer some wrong desires, but broken in a way that makes it “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). “Deceitful” and “wicked” are terms of moral culpability, not of guiltless suffering. Could it be that not just wrong actions but wrong desires, even when unindulged, are sins? I realize our ought-implies-can Pelagian culture finds this idea distasteful, and I admit to finding it very unpleasant myself, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
Moreover, the deceitful wickedness of the human heart is so profound that none but God can know what that metaphorical spiritual organ is up to (Jeremiah 17:9-10), meaning that we really can’t trust that our desires and motives are what we think they are. If this is so, then reflection upon our own feelings and inclinations as we experience them, and on what others tell us about their feelings and inclinations as they experience them, is not an effective way to understand the nature, breadth, and depth of our sinfulness and the unique set of sins that most beset each of us. If the human heart is deceitful and wicked in such as way as to make it impossible for us to know rightly our own depravity, if only the mirror of Scripture can make it known to us, and then only through a long course of study and progressive sanctification under the Spirit’s guidance (James 1:23-5), then perhaps Hambrick is too willing to grant that what the same-sex attracted tell him about their experiences, and about what they would prefer, can be assumed accurate. Scripture, to the contrary, seems to indicate that no sinner can be trusted to accurately portray his sinfulness because no sinner accurately knows his sinfulness.
In spite of all this, I still judge the suffering-sin distinction a useful one. It certainly has validity at the level of conscious human awareness and experience, whether or not some of what we experience as suffering is in fact sin about which we have suppressed the truth (Romans 1:18) so effectively as to be consciously unaware of having done so. Since the suffering-not-sin hypothesis is at least plausible, and seems to square with the subjective impressions of same-sex-attracted persons with whom Hambrick has interacted, it may be worth adopting as a working assumption when interacting with the same-sex attracted.
Hambrick’s stumbling-block-removal chapter, which I criticized earlier, is not without worthwhile content. The “Doesn’t the Bible say not to associate with sinners?” section (43-5) is especially sound, and most of the chapter’s content, excepting the Romans-road-to-homosexuality discussion, is unobjectionable and could be helpful to some readers.
I’ve already noted reservations I have about how Hambrick bases his thinking on the experiences of the same-sex-attracted as the same-sex-attracted interpret them. His third chapter (47-62), which, as I’ve noted, focuses upon certain things he’s found commonly experienced among same-sex-attracted persons, still merits (critical) reading by those trying to better understand their same-sex-attracted acquaintances. In addition to the “it’s not primarily about sex” and “it isn’t chosen” ideas already discussed, the chapter discusses the prevalent experience the same-sex-attracted have of needing to keep their attraction secret. Though I can’t help wanting to push back against much in this very touchy-feely chapter (not all “political and ethical” discourse is “sloganeering” , for example), Hambrick does emphasize exactly the right truths at times: “Let’s talk in a way that reveals we all need the same thing: the grace of God to change our hearts, rearrange our expectation, and redeem our desires” and “without the gospel we are–all of us–dead in our sins and wayward desires” (61). Quite so.
Hambrick’s laudable goal in Do Ask, Do Tell…, to show individual Christians how to reach out effectively to individuals experiencing same-sex attraction, provides its most specific how-to advice in chapters four through six, as I’ve noted. Perhaps because focused on practical interaction specifics more than on doctrine and theory, these chapters contain more positive content than those preceding them. (I’ve found that counselors typically show much greater aptitude for practical matters than for matters of theory and principle, much as we who are more focused on theory and principle can be deficient in practical matters.) Though persons more in my emotional space than Hambrick’s, or who are more in my doctrinal or political spaces than Hambrick’s, are sure to find much in these chapters irritating, and to think much of it doubtful or wrong, there is probably enough sound and useful material to make the unpleasant reading worthwhile. I’ll here focus on highlighting some of this positive content. Since the basic focus of each chapter is evident from its title, and since I’ve noted the titles above, I won’t summarize each chapter, only point to positive content within.
Though his description of the five “milestones” he’s found common to the personal stories of the same-sex-attracted is full of the sort of subjective and emotional stuff I find irritating or hard to process, it is certainly true that one-on-one conversations will be more easily navigated if one gains an understanding of these milestones as the same-sex-attracted understand them, even if one believes that understanding may err. For your reference, the milestones discussed are these: initial experience of same-sex attraction (66-8); behavior in response to same-sex attraction (that is, behaviors exploring or experimentally indulging the attraction, but not to the point of establishing a same-sex sexual or “romantic” relationship) (69-71), asking and seeking to answer the question of identity (71-4), disclosing to one or more others that one experiences same-sex attraction (74-6), and establishing a same-sex (“romantic,” i.e., sexual) relationship (76-9). Some worthwhile statements in the course of this discussion include these: “The risk factor for God’s rejection is not primarily our sin but our attitude toward our sin. The refusal to repent…is a very dangerous place before God” (70-1); “Tragically, because of a widespread misunderstanding about the distinction between same-sex attraction and gay identity…, people often feel they must hide their [same-sex attraction] until they have the courage to ‘come out’ [commit to gay identity and the behaviors that go with it]” (75).
Also worthwhile is Hambrick’s description of the “four levels at which a topic can be discussed,” which levels, perspectives, or aspects of focus include facts (89-91), definitions (91-5), values (95-7), and action steps (97-9). Hypercritical sort that I am, I could fault Hambrick’s treatment in places, as I have in my marginal notes, but I agree with him that understanding which of these levels you and an interlocutor are discussing, and working to ensure both parties are discussing the same level at the same time, is valuable. Some worthwhile statements here include these: “a key gospel fact certainly worth discussing is the reality of God as creator–and the clear implication that creation, therefore, has a designed intent,” and that if that intent “does not include [same-sex attraction],” then it follows that same-sex attraction “is a product of the fall” that, “Like so many other areas of human nature,…represents a diversion from a natural disposition to one that is unnatural” (91); “gospel conversations at the Definitions level ultimately must focus on…whether God, as creator, gets to define the acceptable and unacceptable uses of everything he has made, including sex. Agreement here is the prerequisite for productive conversation at the Values and Action levels” (94); “Remember also that celibacy is not failure. It is, rather, the gift for which few volunteer” (99).
Finally, though most of Hambrick’s answers to hypothetical conversation partners seem very unnatural to me (perhaps due, again, to my residence in a different emotional space), and sometimes take for granted contemporary American values with no clear biblical justification (“This is an attempt to be an ‘openly Christian friend’ who neither hides nor imposes [his] personal beliefs. It tries to broaden the discussion to include suffering as well as sin, and recognizes how personal beliefs should never be imposed on others” ), they do have value, and most of the doctrinal statements in them are sound. (Note, by the way, that Hambrick’s American-values assertion that “personal beliefs should never be imposed on others,” in addition to allowing God’s own truth to be relegated to the “personal beliefs” realm, fails to explain what is meant by “imposed.” Since simply asserting views that others find disagreeable is now considered “hate speech” by some, this lack of explanation is dangerous.) A couple noteworthy statements are these: “I am a Christian. Among other things, that means I believe God created the world and had a design, an intention, for everything he created….I believe that when our bodies and souls resist God’s design this is sometimes sin…and sometimes suffering….But when we live outside God’s design, it always creates temptation and confusion” (105); “there is benefit to distinguishing between experience, identity, and behavior. ‘Same-sex attraction’ is an experience. ‘Gay’ is a matter of identity, and in many cases that identity implies various forms of physical affection, which are obviously behaviors” (111), which nicely encapsulates a fundamental categorization employed by Do Ask, Do Tell….
Overall, then, in light of such worthwhile material as the book contains, and in recognition of Hambrick’s commendable motivation for writing it, I can give this a mild recommendation for readers willing to read it carefully and critically in order to apply it selectively.