A Biblically-based Obedience
by Baptist minister Steve Latham
I am the Senior Pastor of Kings Cross Baptist Church in central London. I have been a Baptist Minister since 1987, and in wider ministry since 1981. I had no church background, growing up; my parents are (still) both atheists. I was converted to faith in Christ at age 17, through a small Independent Methodist Church in Lancashire. That denomination does not have a set-apart 'minster caste', so they are amused that I have become one. All my ministry has been in London: committed to urban mission, social concern, women in leadership, and racial justice.
I’ve been invited to contribute to the listening exercise of the BU, in relation to human sexuality. As the aim of this webpage is not to rehash the arguments, I will limit my remarks to an account of my own experience and ministry.
When I was a teenager, I was somewhat sexually 'confused', and acted out in a variety of ways. At that time, there was little awareness of sexuality in the place I lived, and I did not discuss it with anyone. Only in my twenties was I able to realise that I experienced attraction to men, as well as women.
At that time, I accepted the Bible’s teaching that such relationships were not God’s model for human sexuality. I have remained committed to that position ever since, although I still wrestle with the pain it causes. So I have been prompted to regularly re-examine it, and read widely on all sides of the debate, including secular queer literature, as the situation has changed and acceptance of gay relationships has increased.
In my late twenties, I got married, to a woman; and we talked about my sexual issues before committing to each other. While I realise that not all same-sex attracted people are able, nor should they, get married to someone from the opposite sex, this has been the path for us both, and we have been very happy. People actually use a variety of terms to talk about their sexual orientation and identity. For myself, I choose the label 'same-sex attracted', because I have never been involved sexually or romantically with another man, and so it would appear dishonest of me to adopt the label of 'gay' or 'LGBTQ'. Nevertheless, I realise that others, adopting a similar theological position, may use other markers of identity.
I have pastored three Churches, and in in each one I have made known my sexual orientation. I did this firstly for self-protection: many who choose obedience to Biblical teaching are afraid to be open about this, for fear of rejection by homophobic Christians, so I considered openness to be my best form of defence. Secondly, this stance has given me more opportunities to minister to people with same-sex attraction, whatever theological position they adopt.
Pastoral care is weak for people with same-sex attraction, whatever stance they take. Many conservative churches are too embarrassed about sex to discuss homosexuality openly, and fear division in their fellowship. Liberal churches are also unable to offer helpful pastoral care to those committed to Biblical obedience, because they do not see the need for us to maintain our moral resolve at all. I know some whose stance was weakened by their membership of churches, which were either affirming or undecided.
However, within conservative churches, there is a damaging culture of silence. Even those committed to celibacy often feel vulnerable, and keep their identity secret. Sometimes this is because ill-informed advice amounts to recommending marriage, or wearing rugby shirts (!) as a 'cure'. While, sometimes, they are ostracised and even told to leave. This is especially true for teens, who are coming to terms with their identity in all areas, and frequently find nobody in church with whom to talk. Hence the high incidence of mental illness among gay young people. We need to encourage greater openness about sex and sexuality in our congregations, to avoid the hurt and shame which have affected too many.
Personally, I have experienced overall acceptance in my churches. However, some ultra-conservative believers have left, because they could not accept that after conversion someone could still have these feelings: they thought salvation should or would automatically entail immediate transformation. For me, those attractions have never completely gone away, though they are more muted these days. I believe it is one expression of our fallen human condition, requiring an ongoing spiritual battle against temptation and for sanctification, such that all Christians experience in one area of their life or another.
I share my story because I want to provide an example of a contented and thriving personal and spiritual life in someone who chooses this path of Biblical obedience, when many voices seem to deny that it is possible for anyone who experiences same-sex attraction. I’ve never prayed for my sexual orientation to change, I believe God accepts me as I am; nor have I prayed for someone else’s to alter. In addition, I do not practise so-called conversion therapy. I don’t I believe it is successful, and some versions are positively abusive.
In all the churches I have pastored, there have been people with a variety of sexual orientations, and I have always endeavoured to demonstrate Christ’s acceptance and inclusion to them, and to those outside the church, with whom I have come into contact. I have also encouraged and taught my congregations to do the same. Indeed, I have deliberately gone out my way to build such relationships, including with a nearby affirming church.
In recent years, I have also become involved in True Freedom Trust, which provides pastoral support for people who experience same-sex attraction; with them, I run a support group in London. Another helpful group is Living Out. Both provide useful resources and advice to people with same-sex attraction, and their families.
As the debate has moved on, and acceptance of gay people has grown, including within churches, this has brought many gains. Nevertheless, there remains much still to be done concerning discrimination and violence against LGBTQ people. However, I and others who follow the same path, have also felt increasingly isolated. We seem to get criticism from both sides: from ultra-conservatives who don’t think we should feel what we do, and liberals who think our position causes actual harm to others.
I have talked with younger people, who feel that the concern expressed for LGBTQ people experiencing marginalisation in churches seems rarely to be extended to those of us who freely choose Biblical obedience, and actually operate within the Baptist Union policy on this. This is so on a personal level, but also ministerially: as a result, I and others are actively wondering whether the BU can be spiritual home for us, as there seems to be no vocal or practical support for our position. Perhaps this listening exercise may help our Baptist sisters and brothers understand our feelings.