“Churches have hugely improved pastoral care for same-sex attracted people - and the inclusion of single people”

Andrew Bunt, author of Finding Your Best Identity, calls churches to build a gospel-centered alternative to the 'affirming' narratives on social media: “We need to offer young people a better community offline, where they can be honest and wrestle with their big questions”.

Joel Forster

LONDON · 15 FEBRUARY 2023 · 10:34 CET


The Church of England votes to bless gay unions. Parliaments in the north and south of Europe pass laws to allow legal gender changes without limitation. In the east, further countries legalise same-sex marriage.

As the first homosexual players come out in the top football leagues, the continental music festival gets ready for a new celebration of gender diversity.

Wherever you look, sexual orientation and gender identity issues continue to make headlines across Europe. Meanwhile, the Gen Z get their narrative not so much from large controversial debates but from their daily social media feeds. There, the narrative speaks of freedom, love and affirmation, and an equality that blurs the lines between male and female.

In all of this, what are European churches that look to the Bible as a reference for issues of sexuality and identity doing?

Evangelical Focus asked Andrew Bunt, from the United Kingdom, who has just published Finding Your Best Identity (IVP, 2022). Andrew has same-sex attraction and explains why he believes that the biblical view of sex and human identity is good and liberating.

“Churches have hugely improved pastoral care for same-sex attracted people - and the inclusion of single people”

  Finding Your best Identity, the book written by Andrew Bunt (IVP, 2022).

Question. Let’s start with your personal journey. What gives you hope and joy in publicly speaking out about the decision you have taken to be faithful to God in your sexuality despite your same-sex attraction?

Answer. Ultimately, what brings me joy is Jesus and experiencing the identity he has given me. As should be true for all Christians, there is cost for me in following Jesus. There’s the discomfort that comes from denying myself, taking up my cross and following Jesus. There’s the increasing sense of being an oddity in the wider cultural context, the felt experience of being a stranger and exile. But I experience that cost and the difficulties it can bring in the context of relationship with Jesus and the most wonderful and life-giving identity I could have – I get to know and experience that I am loved, desired, delighted over. The opinions of others don’t ultimately matter. How I’m feeling inside doesn’t ultimately matter. What God says about me is what truly matters. His is the voice I want to listen to.

Q. How do you respond to criticism from those who deeply disagree with you?

A. When criticism comes, there are two things I do. One is to try and soberly ask whether any of it is valid. The temptation is to want to defend oneself or to reject all criticism, but I know I’m not perfect – my theology isn’t perfect, neither is my way of communicating it or living it out. There may be something for me to be challenged by and learn from in the criticism.

The second thing I do, is to remember that criticism, opposition and rejection are normal for Christians. Jesus told us to expect them. And Jesus tells us that we are blessed when opposition comes. With that promise in mind, when criticism comes, I get to choose to listen to what God says about me, not what others say.

Q. Most teenagers and university students in the UK and the rest of Western Europe no longer  debate whether living out and expressing all sexual orientations and gender identities should be “affirmed” or not. How can we re-open these conversations about the good story of the Christian faith, starting with the young Gen Z people in our own local churches?

A. I think we’ve got to embody things in our lives and churches before we try and engage the wider world. We need to be deliberate about becoming church communities where God’s good news on sexuality, marriage, singleness and gender and all lived out faithfully. In a world that struggles to understand how what God says is good, we get to demonstrate that it is through our own lives. This is especially important for the younger generation: they don’t want abstract ideas; they want experienced reality.

“We need to help young people understand that Christians think and live differently than others in all areas of life”

This is one of the reasons why stories and personal testimony are so vital to engaging Gen Z. Young people are being shaped by stories – stories from YouTubers, TikTok stars and other public figures. They are hearing stories that claim to be about freedom and flourishing; we need to be telling our stories of true freedom and flourishing. This generation also highly prize authenticity – we need to be real about our stories, talking about our mistakes and our struggles and how Jesus makes a difference in the midst of them.

We can also highlight the ways that the ‘affirming’ approach of our culture is not truly delivering the freedom and flourishing it has claimed it would. This isn’t hard to see when we consider battles over sex-segregated spaces, the heart-breaking stories of detransitioners, and the increasing recognition, even among secular figures, of the negative impact of the sexual revolution on women. Young people care about justice and wellbeing; there are very good reasons to ask whether the ‘affirming’ approach is delivering on either of those. That can be the starting point to consider whether there is a better story available on identity, sexuality and gender.

Q. On social media (especially when it comes to entertainment), the whole transgender-genderqueer wave is very visible and established. Any view of human identity and sexuality following the Bible or Christianity is discarded as “harmful” or “bigoted”. What can be done on social media?

A. We first have to make sure we aren’t saying stuff which is “harmful” or “bigoted”. Sadly, Christians are still sometimes guilty of handling the topics of identity, sexuality and gender very badly. And we all know that many of us find it easier to say things on social media that we would never say in-person, or at least never in that way. We need to be careful what we say online and how we say it.

In our own engagement on social media, we can set a better example. Treating people well, sharing our stories that embody God’s better story.

But on the whole, I think we need to fight this battle offline, in two ways. One is in helping young people to understand the dangers of allowing online media to form us so significantly and helping them to learn to be inquisitive and critical with the ideas with which they engage. When working with Christian young people, this includes helping them understand that Christians think and live differently than others in all areas of life. Our starting assumption should be that there will be lots online that isn’t true or helpful. And then second, we need to offer young people a better form of community offline, a context in which they can be honest, share their experiences and wrestle with their big questions, such that they aren’t left feeling the online world is the only context in which they can do that.

Q. At Living Out, you were pioneers in helping the church understand that there are people in our congregations who are trying to sort out their own sexual orientation. Are you satisfied with how Christian communities have reflected on this issue and its complexities when it comes to pastoral care?

A. In the context with which I am most familiar (UK evangelical churches), I think we have made huge progress. I am just young enough to have been one of the primary beneficiaries of this. I was in my very early 20s when Living Out launched and the courageous work of the founders, along with others who had gone ahead of them (for example, Vaughan Roberts and Wesley Hill), gave young people like me examples to look up to and real-life proof that faithfulness to Jesus is possible as someone who is attracted to people of the same sex. They also helped churches begin to have much better understandings of sexuality and, perhaps most significantly in practical terms, singleness. I think pastoral care for same-sex attracted people and the inclusion and honouring of single people has improved hugely.

“Pray that those who have been hurt or let down by the sexual revolution and its false promises would find the church to be a place of welcome and hope”

But of course, there’s certainly still room for growth. In the UK, the conversation around sexuality and pastoral care has become much more complicated as more churches have turned away from the traditional Christian teaching. The culture also continues to change at a fast pace, presenting new challenges for us to engage with. And there are certainly still areas of the church where there is a discomfort in acknowledging the reality of people like me as followers of Jesus and where marriage and nuclear family as still believed and presented to be the goal for Christians. We need to continue to work hard to uphold the goodness of marriage as defined in the Bible, while also affirming the goodness of singleness and making it plausible for single people to enjoy the gift God has given them.

Q. Tell us about your book. For what kind of people did you write it? And what idea do you hope to communicate?

A. One of the key ideas behind Finding Your Best Identity is that we need to think not just about identity, but about identity formation. We can’t really answer the question “Who am I?” until we’ve answered the question, “How do I find who I am?”. Too many of us have not thought about that latter question and so inadvertently go along with the approaches of our culture rather than the approach of the Bible.

This is seen in the sexuality and gender conversation. Many Christians wonder, “How God could ask a gay or trans person to deny who they really are?”. Behind that question is an unexamined assumption about who we really are. The same assumption is present in the culture around us. If we want to hold on to biblical truth and we want to engage well on these topics with the world around us, we need to think about identity formation, so the book is for anyone who cares about these topics.

But we also see the fruit of a failure to think about identity formation more broadly. Lots of Christians know who God says they are but don’t experience the goodness of that identity. You could say we know it in our heads but not our hearts. Thinking about identity formation helps us bridge that gap. For this reason, I hope the book will be useful to any Christian – both for our own walk with Jesus and our engagement with the world around us.

Q. Finally, how could we best pray for the church in Europe as it grapples with what the Bible and culture say about sexuality and human identity?

A. Pray that we would be like Jesus – full of grace and truth.

Pray that we would be full of grace, thoroughly saturated in and shaped by the gospel, offering the radical welcome of Jesus and extending his love to all people. Pray that those who have been hurt or let down by the sexual revolution and its false promises would find the church to be a place of welcome and hope.

Pray that we would be full of truth, confident in the goodness of what God says and able to communicate it in ways that are faithful and compelling. Pray that as the wider culture of our countries drifts further from Christian understandings and as Christian belief is viewed more and more negatively, we can continue to believe, embody and communicate well what God says.

Published in: Evangelical Focus - europe - “Churches have hugely improved pastoral care for same-sex attracted people - and the inclusion of single people”

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