Maybe you believe that the Bible opposes same-sex sexual relationships. Where in the Bible would you begin to explain your view? Maybe you doubt that the Bible opposes same-sex sexual relationships. Where in the Bible would you begin to build an argument for affirmation? Or maybe you are unsure whether the Bible affirms or opposes same-sex sexual relationships. Where in the Bible would you begin to inquire about the matter?

Whichever position you might find yourself in, Rebecca McLaughlin’s new book will point you to precisely the place in the Bible where you should begin—with the gospel and Jesus. More about that in a bit.

The book, Does the Bible Affirm Same-Sex Sexual Relationships? Examining 10 Claims about Scripture and Sexuality, brings together two recent trends of books by evangelical writers.

One trend is believers who experience same-sex sexual attraction, or self-identify as “gay,” writing first-person accounts about their journeys of faith and sexuality. This trend includes: Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting (2010); Christopher Yuan’s Out of a Far Country (2011); Rosaria Butterfield’s The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (2012); Gregory Coles’s Single, Gay, Christian (2017); Jackie Hill Perry’s Gay Girl, Good God (2018); David Bennett’s A War of Loves (2018); and Rachel Gilson’s Born Again This Way (2020).

These writers, each in their own style, recount their calling to be followers of Jesus and consider how to live and love faithfully and fruitfully according to the gospel. Together, they set forth a spiritual vision of holiness and righteousness that is relevant for every believer and the whole church.

Another trend is scholars and pastors writing popular-level books in an apologetic mode about marriage and sexuality. This trend includes: Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet’s Same-Sex Marriage (2014), Kevin DeYoung’s What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? (2015), Beth Felker Jones’s Faithful (2015), Todd Wilson’s Mere Sexuality (2017), and Preston Sprinkle’s Does the Bible Support Same-Sex Marriage? (2023).

These writers, each with their own approach, answer many of the main arguments marshaled in support of an affirming position on same-sex sexual relationships. Together, they elaborate and defend a theological vision of marriage and sexuality that is true to Scripture and good for the whole church.

Addressing arguments

McLaughlin writes at the confluence of these two trends. Alongside the stories of several friends, she relates vignettes from her personal story of faith and sexuality as a believer who experiences same-sex attraction. Along the way, she weaves these stories with critical examination of claims commonly made in support of same-sex relationships.

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In this manner, McLaughlin’s approach is comparable to that taken by Ed Shaw in his excellent book, Same-Sex Attraction and the Church (2015). By the same token, McLaughlin’s book is set against yet another recent trend of books by evangelical writers: those who appeal to their experiences of same-sex attraction to motivate an affirmative case for same-sex relationships. This trend includes Matthew Vines’s God and the Gay Christian (2014) and Karen Keen’s Scripture, Ethics, and the Possibility of Same-Sex Relationships (2018), whose claims and arguments McLaughlin addresses repeatedly within her own book.

McLaughlin has composed her short book in ten chapters, each running about ten pages and addressing one claim commonly made in support of same-sex sexual relationships. Each chapter follows the same format: McLaughlin introduces the chapter with a story that illustrates how and why the claim in question matters to the ordinary lives of real people; she then carefully lays out the affirming argument, considers reasons one might think it a good argument, and explains why she thinks the argument falls short; and finally, she concludes the chapter by tying the theological argument back to the personal story. I’ll elaborate on the opening and closing chapters, which bracket the book and anchor her overall argument.

The first claim addressed is that Christians should just focus on the gospel of God’s love. The assumption behind the claim is that while the gospel is primary for the church, Christians should regard marriage and sexuality as a secondary issue on which they can “agree to disagree.”

McLaughlin affirms the claim but disputes the assumption. As she writes, “rather than being a distraction from the gospel, God’s design for Christian marriage is a pointer to the gospel.” She recounts the Bible’s grand story of God’s love, from God’s design of human marriage in creation (Gen. 1–2) to God’s reunion with humankind in new creation (Rev. 21–22). God’s original design of marriage—man and woman joined into “one flesh”—is both a prototype for human marriage and a picture of God’s covenant: The prophets and apostles depict God as the bridegroom of Israel and Jesus as the bridegroom of the church.

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Marriage, ultimately, points to God’s love in Jesus, and male-female difference is essential to marriage as a model of Christ and the church. Accordingly, McLaughlin argues, we must take seriously the biblical prohibitions of sexual relationships outside male-female marriage. As a result, we cannot set aside the question of same-sex relationships as a secondary issue.

The last claim the book addresses is that a God of love cannot be opposed to loving relationships. The assumption behind the claim is that because God is love and “love is love,” God would affirm all varieties of loving relationships—and thus, so should the church.

Again, McLaughlin affirms the claim but disputes the assumption: “The counterpoint to any form of sexual immorality is love. Conversely, any relationship founded on sexual immorality falls short of love.” She cites Jesus, Paul, and John, all of whom clearly and consistently say yes to love in marriage and mandate love of fellow believers, neighbors, and even enemies. Yet with equal clarity and consistency, they say no to sexual immorality in all its variety, including adultery, promiscuity, and same-sex intercourse.

Accordingly, McLaughlin argues, the church should affirm love between brothers and sisters within the Christian family, including believers giving and receiving love in same-sex friendships—but affirm sexual love only within male-female marriage.

In the chapters between, McLaughlin addresses several familiar claims concerning the Bible and same-sex relationships. These include claims about biblical narratives involving same-sex intercourse (Gen. 19), biblical prohibitions of same-sex intercourse (Lev. 18, 20; Rom. 1), biblical terms referring to same-sex intercourse (1 Cor. 6; 1 Tim. 1), and the biblical trajectories concerning slavery and sexuality.

Too many Christians arguing from either side treat such claims, and the related Bible texts, as the place to start the debate and clinch the argument. McLaughlin’s approach puts such claims in their proper place: While necessary to address, they shouldn’t be given the first or last word. Such claims are seen in right perspective when framed within the biblical story of salvation and the biblical picture of marriage woven throughout that story.

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A good place to begin

The book’s major strength is that McLaughlin concludes every chapter by bringing the question, and the reader, back to Jesus. She reminds us again and again how the Bible affirms, centrally, that God’s love for us in Jesus is enough for our salvation and abundant life, now and for eternity. Whether we are married or single, our heart’s deepest desire will be fully and finally satisfied in our relationship to Jesus.

The book is not without shortcomings, however. Its major weakness, in my view, is that McLaughlin mentions but does not emphasize procreation in presenting the biblical picture of marriage. This seems an obvious deficiency: Genesis explicitly testifies to God’s procreative purpose in marriage (1:28); Jesus implicitly affirms this purpose as well as the male-female form of marriage (Matt. 22:23–33; Luke 20:27–40)­­­; and the prophets employ procreative imagery in the marital image of God’s covenant (see Ezek. 16).

Granted, emphasizing procreation inevitably prompts sensitive pastoral questions (What about infertility? Contraception? Reproductive technologies?) that cannot be adequately addressed in a short book. Yet we should not avoid discussing the procreative purpose of marriage when debating the question of same-sex relationships for this reason: The increasing acceptance of intentionally nonprocreative marriage among Christians has contributed significantly to shifting opinion within the church toward affirming same-sex relationships.

Still, McLaughlin’s book is commendable, not only for her capable defense of biblical teaching but also for her winsome presentation of that defense. She acknowledges the truths she finds in affirming arguments while avoiding fallacious arguments to make her own case. She refuses to either overstate arguments that favor her own view or to qualify conclusions that she knows will be unpopular with some readers.

Throughout the book, she critiques opposing viewpoints with an irenic tone, showing care and charity for authors with whom she disagrees and for readers who might disagree with her. She respects her readers as reasoners, appealing to experience to preface her examination of each claim but not to drive her arguments or determine her conclusions.

McLaughlin writes in an accessible style that makes this book suitable for a broad range of readers. It would work well for small groups or Sunday school classes, or in high school, college, and seminary classrooms as a supplement to primary course texts.

Regardless of your starting position on questions of sexuality, McLaughlin’s book is a good place to begin examining it in light of Scripture. Every believer and seeker will find something to learn.

Darrin W. Snyder Belousek is the author of Marriage, Scripture, and the Church: Theological Discernment on the Question of Same-Sex Union.

Does the Bible Affirm Same-Sex Relationships? Examining 10 Claims about Scripture and Sexuality (Biblical response to lgbtq+, homosexuality)
Our Rating
4 Stars - Excellent
Book Title
Does the Bible Affirm Same-Sex Relationships? Examining 10 Claims about Scripture and Sexuality (Biblical response to lgbtq+, homosexuality)
The Good Book Company
Release Date
May 1, 2024
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