A Review of “Same-Sex Attraction and the Church” by Ed Shaw

SSA Shaw“We have a plausibility issue,” says Ed Shaw (21). The shift in opinions on gay marriage is not fundamentally an issue of Biblical exegesis; it’s an issue of practical plausibility. Asking those men and women among us who struggle with a same-sex attraction to hold to the traditional Christian ethic on sex – particularly that part about lifelong celibacy – seems unreasonable to many. The unreasonableness of this demand is owing in large part, says Shaw, to the church’s failures. In Same-Sex Attraction and the Church, Shaw unpacks nine missteps that the church needs to correct to rebuild the plausibility of the celibate lifestyle. This is the best book available on helping the church minister more intentionally to those struggling with a same-sex attraction.

The book is built around the nine missteps that Shaw believes the church has taken. Each missteps shows some level of corporate culpability in our current plausibility problem. Understanding these missteps is crucial; in fact understanding our overall responsibility to those with a same-sex attraction is crucial. Shaw writes:

The life to which same-sex attracted Christians are called will only seem possible if we all help in the rebuilding of that plausibility structure, by recognizing and recalibrating our churches in the light of the missteps that the rest of this book will describe. Without a joint effort we won’t ever succeed. (28)

In fact he’s even more pointed than this. He adds:

You see when a same-sex attracted Christian embraces a gay identity and lifestyle, we need to recognize that it might be, to some extent, not just their fault but ours too. (29)

As Shaw sees it, the church has failed to make lifelong celibacy and a commitment to the Bible’s sexual ethic plausible. He explains how, by looking at these nine missteps.

At one level each of the nine missteps are lies that the church has bought into. Lies like “your identity is your sexuality,” or “if it makes you happy, it must be right.” Some readers may be inclined to think that such lies are really only found in the culture, not in the church. “We are those who fight the lies.” Shaw does a commendable job, however, of showing that we have actually been more influenced by the culture than we might realize. So, for example he notes how both divorce and love of money are commonplace in the church today. “Today’s ruling authority is our short-term happiness – both outside and inside the church,” he says (63). We have bought into many of these lies.

He points to a host of related ideas throughout the book that need to be addressed by the church at large. The evangelical church has made an idol out of marriage, we have reduced intimacy to sex and negated the value of friendships, we have equated heterosexuality with godliness, and we have shied away from suffering of any kind. In each chapter Shaw explains how these missteps contribute to a comprehensive undermining of the lifestyle to which we, as Bible-believing Christians, are calling the same-sex attracted among us. We are doing them a tremendous disservice and helping to drive them into the open arms of a culture that encourages them to fully embrace all their desires, even the sinful ones.

For Shaw this is not just a theoretical issue, it’s a personal one. This book is incredibly honest about the temptations of a same-sex attracted Christian. Shaw writes as a single man who experiences these temptations and the frustrations of being part of a church that has not always encouraged him to follow God’s model of sexual purity. He takes aim at both the left and the right for the ways that they have failed to support him. The one side encourages him simply to indulge in his desires, and the other just keeps saying “no,” but with nothing more positive to offer. Shaw’s experiences and history in the church lend themselves well to helping us think through this crucial issue, we need to listen.

I loved this book. I cannot give it enough high praise. As a pastor, a counselor, and a church member I can think of no other book that is more important for the church to read today! It is sensitive, direct, practically-oriented, fresh, and thought-provoking. Each chapter ends with a question worthy of church-wide discussion. It would be useful in small groups, Sunday School classes, or leadership teams. This issue will be a defining one for the 21st century church, we need to continue to wrestle with it and what it means for the members of our churches. I highly commend Same-Sex Attraction and the Church to all believers.


* Note: This book was sent to me by the publisher prior to its release. Interested readers may pre-order the book now before its December release.


  1. […] already reviewed the book, but I absolutely loved reading this monograph this month. It was fresh, insightful, and […]

  2. […] 2. Same-Sex Attraction and the Church  by Ed Shaw […]

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