Loving My LGBT Neighbor by Glenn T. Stanton
Glenn T. Stanton's book Loving My LGBT Neighbor: Being Friends in Grace and Truth (Moody Publishers, 2014) is an accessible read written predominantly for conservatively-minded Christians that encourages the reader to ask good questions. It challenges the reader to reassess potential presuppositions through the pursuit of genuine friendships with our LGBT neighbors. Stanton's book is an excellent dialogue-starter that can uniquely reach one of the toughest Christian audiences on issues of sexuality. In that sense, Stanton is to be genuinely lauded and his book highly commended to conservative audiences. However, it does not provide robust, well-constructed, and well-argued frameworks for how to deal more comprehensively with the tensions and complexities we face as divided Christians in our engagement with sexual diversity in the church and in culture.
What can I affirm?
It is worth mentioning outright the significant legwork Stanton put in to reach out to his own LGBT neighbors, both individually and institutionally. Given the starkly conservative Christian environments in which Stanton likely regularly finds himself, I laud him without hesitation for his relational efforts and for writing this book. No doubt it takes a lot of gumption for a leader at Focus on the Family—an organization with a reputation as a flagship of conservative evangelical Christianity—to challenge the way evangelical Christians engage (or ignore) those who identify as LGBT. Stanton demonstrates a level of humility and graciousness not often seen within the bounds of the conservative evangelical bubble in America, and his jovial, lighthearted tone goes a long way.
Significantly, Stanton emphasizes some basic yet important points with regard to relational dealings of conservatively-minded Christians with their LGBT neighbors. He persistently reminds the reader to level the playing field in terms of recognizing one's own sinfulness prior to those of others. He also helpfully addresses prejudicial views of LGBT people compared to those with whom Christians may also disagree, yet inconsistently remain in more agreeable relationship with. Why do we fear our LGBT neighbor more than others?
If all Christians, at minimum, lived into the list of "non-negotiables for evangelicals toward same-sex-attracted people" that Stanton lays out, his book would have accomplished more among conservative Christians than any high-minded academic treatise on conservative sexuality out there. Also reflected in this list—and seemingly his overarching point throughout the entirety of his book—is the exhortation to conservative Christians to personally get to know those with whom they disagree—particularly LGBT people—and to offer genuine friendship to them.
I also commend his chapter on "Folks Who Are Getting It Right" to any reader looking for compelling and interesting case studies at familial, ecclesial, and corporate levels of engagement. These case studies reflect Stanton's strong point, namely the many experiences he has had and the many relationships he has built in his endeavor to learn how to love his LGBT neighbors. His desire and ability to forge relationships with those with whom he disagrees on matters of sexuality lend credence to his words, specifically regarding such relationships.
The more liberally-minded reader may be tempted to write this book off, given how basic the relational exhortations Stanton sets forth. However, I would urge such a reader to recognize what a unique opportunity Stanton has to speak to and challenge those whom would otherwise never consider the validity of such basic urgings from anyone other than a deeply conservative individual. Though not strict allies in the sense of standing for more comprehensive human rights, Stanton and the people at Focus on the Family are truly unlikely allies at least in attempting to defuse the unhelpful fears that pervade conservative Christian environments with respect to LGBT people. This is no small feat and is not to be minimized.
What can I not affirm?
That said, it is still necessary to forewarn the reader of a number of weaknesses that largely stem from Stanton reaching far beyond his expertise and knowledge—a longstanding offense of Focus on the Family. As much as Stanton mentions the importance of nuance and understanding, he still demonstrates a somewhat myopic experience of engaging people and conversations around issues of sexual diversity. Perhaps demonstrated by his scant footnotes and lack of a bibliography, even Stanton's more technical points seem to be based more anecdotally than anything else.
I found Stanton's weakest chapter to be "Sex: What Is It that God Says?" in which he attempts to provide a biblical case for traditional Christian views of sexuality. I'm always a bit suspicious of words like "clearly" or "unmistakably." It simply demonstrates that the argument presented is not clear enough in and of itself and therefore relies on helping words to convince one's audience. For all his talk of "hermeneutics" and "exegesis," Stanton seems unfamiliar with the most reputable conservative and liberal scholarship on matters of marriage and sexuality. Ironically, as he recognizes some of the "reductionist" argumentation among liberal scholars, he demonstrates having done little if any exegetical work on the Genesis and homosexuality passages himself, and he does rather questionable hermeneutics that even reputable conservative biblical scholars would hope to amend.
If you are looking for accurate, reliable conservative scholarship on the matter of traditional heterosexual marriage, this is not the book for you. Stanton would have done the traditional Christian views on marriage and sexuality more justice had he simply given bibliographic references to other scholars instead.
The final chapters of Stanton's book read hastier and increasingly imprecise, as if he tired of the endeavor he began. His argumentation pinballs back and forth between hastily treated scripture, his own view of "common" sense, and "manners." Chapter 7 is particularly problematic given Stanton's inconsistent views on "human rights" and inconsistent anecdotal argumentation, finally spiraling into a deeply ignorant and insensitive treatment of how to navigate issues around transgender youth.
Generally, Stanton should have limited his book to communicating his relational convictions. The overall paucity of referenced material given the stark claims he makes in several technical fields of study (from biblical to theological to sociological to psychological) make it a rather precarious read. By the end, I didn't believe much he had to say, though I still appreciated his relational exhortations.
In sum, this book is a great resource for deeply conservative Christians who need no convincing with respect to the correctness of conservative views on sexuality but who want to be challenged on some tacit or overt assumptions they have made about their "LGBT neighbors." To such individuals, I highly commend this book as an excellent resource. As a generally conservative Christian myself—but one who has done a fair amount of study with respect to marriage and taken a more liberal stance on same-sex marriage—I am still deeply grateful for this book and believe it is a very important resource for evangelical Christians at large.
Kathy Kwon is an M.Div. alum of Regent College in Vancouver, BC, where she studied historical theologies of the moral significance of sexual difference. She enjoys running around in circles, singing praises to the Lord, riding motorcycles, and disguising her cynicism as "idealism" and "realism." She blogs at BonnesConneries.