Sexuality, Faith and the Art of Conversation (review – and a GIVEAWAY!!)

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Sexuality, Faith and the Art of Conversation

It’s been on my mind for a while now that, whilst there is a place for debate and argument when it comes to the ‘grey’ areas of Christianity, we would do better to find ways of living alongside those who take a different stance to us, rather than relentlessly trying to persuade others to adopt our own viewpoint.

After all, Jesus said, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

Call me a crazy fundamentalist, but I think Jesus had a point. We gain nothing by arguing people into submission. We gain much, however, from conversing with our brothers and sisters, listening to their views and sharing ours. The deep love which can be experienced through relationships where there are differences can be highly attractive to those who observe it.

So I was delighted when I discovered, last year, that Stephen Elmes had written a book which was encouraging just this sort of open conversation on a subject close to my heart – sexuality.

Quite simply, this book is wonderful. The friend who lent it to me offered the proviso, “It won’t give you any answers – just more questions”, but I’m grateful for this.

For eight months of 2014, Baptist pastor Stephen Elmes led a working party in his church to discuss the issue of sexuality, with the aim of ‘considering how a local Baptist church might respond to those who live with same-sex desires and seek to follow Christ’. The results formed the main research vehicle for a dissertation Elmes submitted for a Masters degree in 2015.

This book alternates four strands, woven together to make a whole: summaries of the working party’s discussion, pieces of theological writing by Elmes, true life stories (names changed), and fictional conversations with a non-Christian protagonist ‘Alex’, whose role is to question Elmes’ research methods, and make sure no stone has been left unturned.

I loved a lot of things about this book. The gracious, gentle tone of its author. The compassion and love which flood every chapter. The engaging, ‘storyteller’ style at which Elmes is adept; the book prompts and challenges its readers, but feels easy to read. However, most of all, I liked hearing the reasoning behind those views which are different to my own on this issue. It gave me more understanding, and I hope it will give me more humility and openness when discussing this issue with others in the future. It’s a book all Christians should read.

A slight niggle of mine was that we never got to see the response which Elmes’ working party fed back to their church. Perhaps this was because such a response outside of its proper context could have been easily misinterpreted – and, with such a sensitive subject, this could have far-reaching consequences.

Whatever the reason, it would have been helpful to include some ideas of what a church’s response to those with same-sex attraction could look like. The book ends with ‘to be continued…’ – so perhaps this gives hope that we’ll be reading more from Stephen Elmes in the future! (In fact, I only just noticed that the book’s title bears the heading ‘Part One’, so I would think that a sequel was happily inevitable!)

Yes, perhaps this book won’t give you ‘answers’. But perhaps answers aren’t what we need. Perhaps a deeper awareness of the questions can help to formulate a response which is compassionate, God-centred and Christ-exalting. This book leads you to believe that such a response is possible. I thoroughly recommend it, and you can get a copy here.

But if you’d like to win one, simply comment here on the blog (Facebook/Twitter comments won’t be entered) by 11pm this Thursday, 8th February. I’ll use a random generator to pick a name, and put a copy in the post a.s.a.p. Good luck!

THIS GIVEAWAY HAS NOW CLOSED.

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Disclaimer: All views are my own. I did not receive a free copy of the book in return for this review, and haven’t been bribed in any other way. But if enough people buy this book upon my recommendation, maybe Stephen Elmes will buy me a glass of wine if we ever meet 😉

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37 Comments

  1. Looks good! Possibly a similar book, albeit from a clearly theologically conservative position from America is ‘Do ask, do tell’ by Brad Hambrick. Have read neither unfortunately as between recovering from burnout and childcare I have little spare capacity.

    1. Solidarity. It took me 7.5yrs of parenthood before I found that spare capacity to read…and now, a year in, I’m loving it! I’ve read some fabulous books and it’s so wonderful when someone recommends or lends something to actually be able to read it! So…patience…your time will come!

  2. SOUnds like an interesting read, please include me in the giveaway! I’ve followed up a couple of your other book suggestions and both have been great recommendations. X

  3. I have this book and am still getting through it! I am enjoying it, but for me having a fictional non-Christian protagonist/ dialogue partner was my niggle – the church and Christians already get flack for not listening well to those we are in dialogue with, so it makes me a bit uncomfortable if in this topic and in this otherwise sensitive and nuanced book the ‘alternative’ view is in fact one that the author has written from his own mind. So am thinking about how that affects how seriously I take the ‘dialogue’ element of the book. But I definitely think it is a good contribution to an often polemic discussion.

  4. I am a Grandmother but thoroughly enjoy reading your blog. Already purchased a couple of the books you recommended. I would love to read this one too.

    1. Thank you Lynne! I have a growing number of grandparents amongst my readers and you’re very welcome 🙂 I would be interested to know which of my previous recommendations you have enjoyed as it helps plan my future reviews! Thank you xx

        1. That’s great…two of my favourites from 2017! If you enjoy “My rock My refuge” then I can definitely recommend the Proverbs book (The way of wisdom) which I’m doing through 2018.

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