Alistair Begg talks to the CI on LGBT issues and ‘conversion therapy’
Respected Scottish preacher Alistair Begg, who has pastored Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio since 1983, recently sat down with Institute Deputy Director Simon Calvert to discuss how we should respond to attacks on biblical teaching in the form of so-called ‘conversion therapy’ bans.
‘Pastors have to figure this out’
As you’d expect, Begg focused particularly on the role of preachers in preparing their congregations for life in the real world.
“Part of the problem”, he said, “is that the kind of sound bites that come out in relationship to [LGBT issues] often have a little bit too much vitriol in them. Not many evidences of a sort of compassionate response, such as would be part and parcel of the life of the Lord Jesus, for example.
“So I think, first of all, pastors have to figure this out. We have to be instructing our congregation because the congregation is going out into the mainstream of life. They are having the conversations every day.”
He added that part of his role is to equip his congregation to know what the Bible teaches about these issues so that when they are challenged, they can respond in a faithful way, not only with words, but with their actions.
addressing the issue with forcefulness doesn’t mean we can’t address the person with gentleness
Of course, activists claim biblical teaching is inherently ‘coercive’, but Calvert put it to Begg that coercion is sinful and does not characterise faithful Christian ministry.
“No, it actually doesn’t,” he agreed, “and again, when we go to the example of Jesus in a different context, but when he meets the woman at the well, he doesn’t begin by addressing the fact that she’s been married five times and that she’s living with somebody that comes up in the course of what is essentially a fairly casual and interesting conversation that begins with ‘May I have a glass of water, please?’
“The people that are coming in to visit with pastors … are aware of the fact that they’re in need of help, that they have questions that they don’t have answers to. The ministry of Jesus is to bring about transformation and the transformation that comes about is through the Gospel, not through the heavy handedness of those who are supposed to be the proponents of the Gospel.”
He said some activists deliberately accuse churches of coercion simply because they are trying to undermine the biblical worldview: “If you say something enough times and forcibly and with apparently people of note affirming it… then people are tempted just to say, well, I guess that must be right.”
He added: “We have to address that issue. But addressing the issue with forcefulness doesn’t mean we can’t address the person with gentleness.
“And so I want to distinguish between these things. I mean, I have very clear views about what the Bible says about all kinds of things. But when my next door neighbour is gay and I have a conversation with him, I’m not offloading on him all this material. I’m starting from where he is.”
‘Encouraging and enabling our people’
Begg highlighted the difficulty of communicating with people with such diametrically opposed views. He cited a US group which says that all children are “born perfect”. This clearly conflicts with the scriptural view that all human beings are sinful. He said Christians need to try and find common ground without compromising on their biblical beliefs.
“Christians need to be gracious. They need to be contending without being contentious. And again, I think a lot of it starts in the pulpit …we have a responsibility to edify the saints so that they can do the works of ministry and the works of ministry unfold from the scriptures.”
Referring to the letter to the Scottish Government signed by 20 church leaders, the pastor added: “I’m glad my friends in Scotland have written this letter. And if I were there, I think I probably would have signed it, too.”
“I’m glad my friends in Scotland have written this letter. And if I were there, I think I probably would have signed it, too.”
Begg also urged Christians to engage with these issues on a personal level, and to communicate compassionately, as Jesus did.
“The temptation over here, I think, is to politicise the thing to such a degree that any kind of biblical theological convictions have virtually been lost sight of.
“So what are we to do as Christians? Well, we’re to be like Christ, who was prepared to be very straightforward. He had no struggle with religious hypocrites. He was not prepared to capitulate to that which denied the truth.
“And yet at the same time, he was tender, he was approachable, he was meek, he was lowly in heart. And he was able to say to people, ‘Why don’t you come to me? We could have a conversation about this.’ That’s what we need to be encouraging and enabling our people to do.”
‘Good models in the culture’
A broad, far-reaching conversion therapy ban would undoubtedly interfere with the ordinary work of churches. That’s what activists want it to do. But when Calvert asked Begg what he would do if faithful preaching was caught by a ban, his answer was unambiguous.
“Well, I think that would be absolutely straightforward. You know, the exemption clause, if you like, ‘judge for yourselves whether it is right for us to pay attention to you or to obey God’ – we don’t want to be calling that out every 15 minutes, but in an instance such as that, it wouldn’t even be a question for me.
“I mean, I’m facing that right now in many ways because the material that I’ve just done in the second half of Romans 1 goes out on the airwaves. And I’m amazed – or perhaps disappointed – that it hasn’t actually reached into the realm about which we are talking. And we’ve been protected from that. But I’m of the conviction that eventually, unless this thing turns around some pastor – and hopefully it will be a sensible soul – will end up having to go to jail for violating the commands of the State.
“And of course, the Scots, as you know, have a very long history of doing that, especially against kings and authorities and it’s not always desirable, but nevertheless, no, it’s not controversial to me. It’s not even a question. The Bible is the Bible. We have to be prepared to say … your sexual biological framework is unalterable as given by God.
It’s not controversial to me. It’s not even a question. The Bible is the Bible.
“You say that the children are born perfect. We say that the Bible says the folly is bound up in the heart of a child. Therefore, I wouldn’t be surprised when teenagers come to me with all kinds of ideas, all kinds of complexities, all kinds of fears and failures compounded by the social media and so on. And we want to be able to speak with tenderness and yet with great clarity.
“And that’s what they’re looking for … the agenda on the other side … is invasive in social media and through media in general.
“And the Christian voice, which is then characterized as being vitriolic and unkind. We need some good models in the culture where people say, well, I know he holds those views or I know she holds those views, but he’s actually a really decent soul”.