John Stott on Identity

John Stott on Identity

It’s a daunting privilege for any scholar to be asked to interact personally and editorially with the work of so distinguished and justly admired a figure as John Stott. In my case, there was an additional reason why it felt especially so. As a new Christian, I came to realise in my late teens that I was gay; and, not quite ready to tell anyone else yet, I wanted to know what my new-found faith said about my sexuality. Almost at random in a local Christian bookshop, I picked up a copy of Authentic Christianity, an anthology of Stott’s writings covering a wide variety of topics[1]. I looked up homosexuality, and found an excerpt which I now know to be from the chapter on same-sex relationships in Stott’s book Issues Facing Christians Today, which forms the basis for this book. Here is what I read[2]

We are all human beings. That is to say, there is no such phenomenon as “a homosexual”. There are only people, human persons, made in the image and likeness of God, yet fallen … However strongly we may disapprove of homosexual practices, we have no liberty to dehumanise those who engage in them.

There was a further excerpt, from another publication, as follows[3]

Acceptance … of a same-sex partnership rests on the assumption that sexual intercourse is “psychologically necessary” … Christians must surely reply that it is a lie … Authentic human fulfilment is possible without sexual experience … Jesus himself, though unmarried, was perfect in his humanness. Same-sex friendships should of course be encouraged, which may be close, deep and affectionate. But sexual union, the “one flesh” mystery, belongs to heterosexual marriage alone.

Although I still had lots of thinking and studying ahead of me, it was so helpful that the first Christian thing I ever read on the subject was clear that my identity is in Christ and not my sexuality, that my sexuality was no more fallen than anyone else’s, that I am made in the image of God and that my sexuality does not undermine that, and that sex is not necessary for fulfilment. Above all, Stott pointed me to the example of Jesus and the fact that my sexuality by no means implied that I would be lonely, but that I could experience deep, close and affectionate friendship—which, as I later discovered, John Stott’s own personal example so visibly demonstrated. Even in these brief excerpts, there was so much that was affirming of me personally, and yet that was wonderfully Christ-centred. Even as a new Christian, I could tell they had the ring of authentic Christianity. It was so helpful that it was in this personally affirming and Christ-centred context that I encountered not only the teaching that same-sex sexual practice is not a legitimate option for Christians, even in a loving and committed relationship, but also the rationale for such a belief: namely that sex belongs to marriage between a woman and a man as the means of joining them as “one flesh”. I thank God for John Stott’s warm and compassionate tone, for his conviction and clear explanation, and for the fact that Authentic Christianity was the book that came into my hands that day!

This article by Sean Doherty, is from his editor’s preface to Same-Sex Relationships by John Stott. Published by The Good Book Company, this book represents a balanced and biblical approach to this topic.

[1] Authentic Christianity: From the Writings of John Stott. Chosen and introduced by Timothy Dudley-Smith. (IVP, 1995).

[2] Ibid., p. 374

[3] Ibid., pp. 374-5

Sean Doherty

Sean Doherty

Principal, Trinity College, Bristol, UK

Author, teacher and educator, Sean is married to Gaby and they have four children. He was a founder of Living Out and, along with his family is called to live and worship in social housing estates. He has been a member of the General Synod and the Mission and Public Affairs Council of the Church of England.

His research interests include economic ethics (especially Christian responses to capitalism), sexual ethics and issues of gender justice, and charismatic theology and practice.

Same Sex Relationships