A War of Loves -David Bennett

The Christian book world seems to be filling with gay Christian memoirs.  First there was the disappointing and depressing Vicky Beeching’s ‘Undivided’.    This was followed by Jackie Perry’s well written and refreshingly biblical  Gay Girl, Good God . Then we went downhill again with  Jayne Ozanne’s  Just Love –

51IREvl4iwL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Now we come to David Bennet’s newly released book, War of Loves.  The self-description summarises it well:  David Bennett came out to his parents as gay when he was fourteen and entered Sydney’s active gay community a few years later. In A War of Loves, he shares his growing desire as a gay rights activist to see justice for LGBTQI people, his journey through new age religions and French existentialism, and his university years as a postmodernist–before Jesus Christ showed up in his life in a highly unexpected way, leading him down a path he never would have imagined or predicted. David had believed he was disqualified from God’s love until he encountered that for himself in Jesus Christ. In A War of Loves, he recounts his dramatic story, investigates what the Bible teaches about sexuality, and above all demonstrates the profligate, unqualified grace of God.

 

There is a fair bit of controversy about this book.  Bennett chooses to use the LGBT language and to identify as a celibate gay Christian – terminology which gets him into trouble with the ‘progressives’ who don’t like the celibate part, and traditionalists who don’t like the ‘gay’ part.   The book itself is quite extraordinary.  It is well written, profoundly theological and deeply insightful – I learned a great deal.  Bennett challenges many preconceptions – including some of my own.

War of Loves  tells the story of someone on a journey and gives the sense of that journey not yet being complete.  There is also a large amount of personal testimony and experience – some of which is deeply spiritual.  This ‘story’ helps us to understand the experiences and feelings to some degree – but the trouble is when story is placed against story.  Bennett says that God made it clear to him that gay Christians should be celibate.  Ozanne says that God made it clear to her that gay relationships are fine.  Arguing from experience or from ‘God told me’ is always at best secondary.   Thankfully both Bennett and Perry place far more emphasis on God and Scripture.  I find it interesting that both Beeching and Ozanne come from Christian backgrounds and argue for a ‘progressive’ view, whereas Bennet and Perry come from non Christian backgrounds and argue for a more biblical approach.

Overall I loved this book and would highly recommend it.   I was very impressed with how Bennett comes across and would love to meet him.  This impression was only confirmed by listening to him this afternoon on Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable radio show.

The following quotes give a flavour of the book – some of them are insightful and very helpful.

Most of my school friends were agnostics or atheists and were more in touch than the Christian kids. To us, Christianity seemed like a club with narrow, oppressive political values. We aspired to the real freedoms we knew existed beyond it. Privately, I was still captured by what I knew of Jesus and reasoned that he had been the greatest human being in history. But he’d been lost in a human-invented religion that tried to make him into a god.

As I explored Paris with my friends and found myself in the center of Paris’s lively gay community in the Marais district, my heart ached to find love. Surveying the cafés, Jewish delis, and clubs concentrated in what seemed a cosmopolitan utopia, I wished I could stay there forever. Yet in this free, secular space, I sensed an open wound in my heart. My search for God had waned, and a painful desire for romantic love had replaced it.

 

I frequently made it clear that evangelical or conservative Christians were my enemies, and I avoided them in classes or at parties. Whenever I saw Christians handing out free food on campus or huddled in their pathetic Bible study groups, my skin crawled. I hated their constant effort to indoctrinate me with the deluded notion of living forever with a first-century Jewish carpenter.

 

I was a different human being, and it showed. But to my political and gay friends, I was a cultural traitor. I experienced more severe hatred from many of my secular friends than I did before from Christians for being gay. My secular friends assumed things about me that were just as prejudiced, if not more so. Many mocked me. But I knew that before I met Christ, I would have done exactly the same. I could point no finger. I had become the very person I once hated.

 

My yearlong commitment to singleness was up. With a deep internal sigh of relief, I was dating Thomas, a handsome Italian Catholic I’d met online months earlier. He was amazed to meet a born-again Christian who was gay and open to a relationship. But the issue of whether we would be accepted at this church remained.

Even in my church, friendship seemed secondary to romantic love. It seemed like everyone had been reading Jane Austen more than the New Testament, or watching nineties rom-coms more than the work of the Spirit.

 

As he spoke, the Holy Spirit convicted me that I needed to trust God’s authoritative words. Tears poured down my cheeks. I realized I had sat in judgment above Scripture, never really appreciating its preciousness. I had never been willing to submit to it. I could no longer claim to love Jesus without really knowing his words and choosing to live according to them.

For more than thirty years, Merrie had dedicated her life to bringing the gospel to her beloved France, quietly making disciples among students and other people often left on the margins by the church. She even told me about a brief discussion in Rome her Christian friend had with none other than my onetime hero, Jean-Paul Sartre, shortly before he died. Sartre ended the conversation saying, “I’m not far from where you are with Jesus.” 

 

After I returned, my questions about biblical interpretation resurfaced. I saw now (Don Carson’s voice ringing in my mind) that much of my reading of Scripture had simply been interpreting it as saying what I wanted it to say—putting myself above the text. Besides studying the context and using reason as I read God’s Word, there was also a relational aspect. I needed to have a healthy respect, a fear of the Lord. That relationship would put God’s view above my own.

 

During my time as an activist, we frequently used the famous slogan “Love is love” while fighting the orthodox Christian definition of marriage. Love, as we defined it, was our highest ideal and our sacred entity. That, in our minds, settled the issue. But while our slogan was popular, it was shallow at best. “Love is love” doesn’t mean that much semantically, and it provides no definition of what love actually is. Nor can it differentiate between the various kinds of human love and desire.

Love, I have come to learn, is not God. Flip that. God is love. The God revealed in Jesus Christ is the definition of love.

 

Those with the traditional view, on the other hand, maintain that same-sex marriage and sex acts are not permissible. When charitably understood, the traditional or orthodox view has nothing to do with homophobia or denying the equality or rights of LGBTQI people; it is simply a different vision of human sexuality and its purpose in marriage. It comes from a richness of belief, not a poverty of perspective. It’s just not as simple as affirming or non-affirming.

 

Unless we learn how to accept others without affirming everything, we have lost the art of conversation, because we’re suppressing our honest opinions. We can accept and affirm people without agreeing with and affirming all of their desires or beliefs or accepting their actions.

 

When we come to Christ, the crucial question is what to do with our identity. The things that make up our identity are fundamental to our nature. They are what we’re known for and validated for. Atheist David Foster Wallace once said, “In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshiping. Everybody worships.”36 Whatever we worship shapes our identity. It could be sexuality, vocation, family, or gender. Whatever it might be, we were made to cleave to God for identity and meaning. Oliver O’Donovan, former Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Oxford University, states, “If Christianity has a saving message to speak to human beings, it must surely be, ‘You may be free from the constraints of your identities.’ ”

When Jesus Christ is relegated to a hobby for middle-class families and not allowed to be the Lord of our entire lives, we are bound to destroy the witness of his gospel.

I came to see that God had covered me with the hem of his garment and pledged his covenant love to me as part of his bride, the church. He said to me, David, you are not ultimately celibate, gay, or any of these titles or labels. While they are part of your reality now, the ultimate reality is that you are betrothed to me. My love is your true identity. While I still use the words gay and celibate to describe myself, what ultimately defines me is God’s overshadowing covenant love. And he invites all people, including those like me, into this same holy, covering relationship.

 

Instead of creating a safe place for people like LGBTQI Christians to share, we tend to react from fear, not from the security of the gospel. God wants all people everywhere to turn from their ways in order to know him. He wants us all to adopt an entirely different view of meaning, transcendence, and worship. Can you imagine how healing it would be for the church to acknowledge that it is just as broken and sinful as the gay community? Can you imagine the power in store if Christians were to humbly repent of hypocrisy before expecting others to repent?

14 thoughts on “A War of Loves -David Bennett

  1. I would highly recommend the recent post by Douglas Wilson on DougWils.com called Sexual Imbecility for Imbeciles. While I appreciate the intention behind the conciliatory tone of Mr. Bennet’s book, it is also time for unequivocal confrontation with where the sexual confusion of our day leads, and what fallen humanity really lusts for. As Wilson says, what we really lust for is autonomy. Unfortunately for that misplaced lust, God’s design is that we lust for Him. As Mr. Bennet understands, everyone is looking to be loved, but only God is love. Only lust will be found apart from God.

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    1. Thank you for this comment. Even those who stand firm against the current sexual madness of society are still too conciliatory towards sin (we never hear that word now do we?). The fact that such a book even needs to be written shows how far we have drifted from a godly society.

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      1. I live in Spokane Washington, and Doug Wilson lives in Moscow Idaho but is famous nationally in the same way as pastor Robertson seems to be known in Scotland. Conciliatory has it’s place, I suppose, but not at the expense of truth.

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  2. It should be a matter of deep shame that this book is considered controversial by some. I was angered to read a review condemning him for still saying he is gay.

    This guy has given up any chance for romantic love, a life partner and a family for his faith. People who have given up very little for theirs should show him respect.

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  3. Just a few observations.
    Quote: “…terminology which gets him into trouble with the ‘progressives’ who don’t like the celibate part, and traditionalists who don’t like the ‘gay’ part.”
    That seems to me a clear indication that he is exactly in the right. Being shot at from both sides of a polarised dispute is in my view the indication of the high likelihood of an accurate understanding of the situation. The same thing happens in the case of the transsexual debate. Those who hold – in my view rightly – to the ‘Disability Framework’ as identified by Yarhouse in his book ‘Understanding Gender Dysphoria’ (which framework I hope to summarise accurately as: God may have made clear binary male and female in the perfect Garden of Eden, but Nature nowadays doesn’t) are shot at from both sides – by the conservatives holding to the ‘Integrity Framework’ (God made male and female, end of.) and by the ‘progressives’ holding to the ‘Diversity Framework’ (there is no such thing as binary male and female, all possible variations of sexuality are to be affirmed).

    Quote: “I find it interesting that both Beeching and Ozanne come from Christian backgrounds and argue for a ‘progressive’ view, whereas Bennet[t] and Perry come from non Christian backgrounds and argue for a more biblical approach.” Yes, very interesting indeed.

    Quote [Bennett]: “I experienced more severe hatred from many of my secular friends than I did before from Christians for being gay.” That could be trumpeted from the rooftops. LGBT activists accuse those who oppose them of being hateful and homophobic, but look what happens when one of their group changes sides.

    Quote [Bennett]: “I realized I had sat in judgment above Scripture…” “…much of my reading of Scripture had simply been interpreting it as saying what I wanted it to say—putting myself above the text.” This is just so common. I would suggest that anyone who criticises the validity of Scripture has made themselves a judge superior to God’s word, and thus superior to God Himself, and has therefore broken the first of the Ten Commandments.

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    1. I could speculate on the causes of differences between Bennet and Beeching/Ozanne.

      Most obviously Beeching/Ozanne are much older and have been part of churches for far longer than Bennet. When they were his age, they were far more conservative in their beliefs than he is.

      I think there are two big drivers of gay Christians believing that it is OK for them to be in a relationship and even marry. First is experience of Christian hypocrisy when it comes to sex. Both women recount in their books how they experienced sexual abuse from male priests – Beeching was molested and Ozanne was raped. It can be hard to take a prohibition on relationships seriously when it is being promoted by the very same leaders who have turned a blind eye to sexual assault. It’s hard to believe that they must be single forever but everyone else can have multiple marriages and affairs.

      The second is that many churches are not making room for celibate gay people. They are either simply not providing any support for celibacy (a tough journey in a society and church obsessed with relationships) or they are condemning celibate gay people for being gay, as some have done to Bennet. If you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t then you may as well seek happiness.

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  4. 1 Comparisons:
    1.1 David wrote this: “I find it interesting that both Beeching and Ozanne come from Christian backgrounds and argue for a ‘progressive’ view, whereas Bennet and Perry come from non Christian backgrounds and argue for a more biblical approach. ”
    1.2 I’d suggest that this difference is significant: for Bennett and Perry salvation is causation, salvation is transforms. Conversion to Christ transformed their SSA.
    1.3 With Beeching and Ozanne there is a movement in a different direction, which they ascribe, if I’ve read the reviews correctly ,to a correlation with being raised in church. While not being a direct cause of SSA, they both seem to seek a change in church rather than themselves. In their SSA they seek to transform the church.

    2 Identity:
    2.1 I’d suggest that Bennett’s true identity is in union with Christ. After all he quotes this from O’Donovan: “If Christianity has a saving message to speak to human beings, it must surely be, ‘You may be free from the constraints of your identities.’ ”
    Furthermore he writes: “I came to see that God had covered me with the hem of his garment and pledged his covenant love to me as part of his bride, the church. He said to me, David, you are not ultimately celibate, gay, or any of these titles or labels. While they are part of your reality now, the ultimate reality is that you are betrothed to me. My love is your true identity.”
    2.2 Many Christians do not get their true identity, security, safety, acceptance, significance from Christ. It may be from their church, house, possessions, income, being a pastor, leader, director, their theology, career, qualifications, such as PhD, marital status, children, family, any which way but Christ. Just look at Christian blog sites which are replete with authority self- referencing.
    Whereas we all come to Christ, or rather he comes to us , without any merit at all on our part.
    2.3 Or, as Bennett says, “When Jesus Christ is relegated to a hobby for middle-class families and not allowed to be the Lord of our entire lives, we are bound to destroy the witness of his gospel”.

    3 Those who criticise Bennett for identifying as gay (he may gain a listening ear from gay people, especially outside the church) may take cognisance of :
    “1 Corinthians 9:19-23 ESV
    For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”
    4 Broken and sinful
    4.1 From Bennett, “Can you imagine how healing it would be for the church to acknowledge that it is just as broken and sinful as the gay community?”
    4.2 How much acknowledgement is there in the church?
    4.3 Gay community within the church? I’m not sure how much acknowledgement there is within the church(eg from Beaching and Ozanne). The opposite exists, with Pride being celebrated and flag waving. From other, liberal voices, who agitate for inclusion, I’ve yet to come across such an acknowledgement, of sinful sexual practices. They are flat-out denied while at the same scripture is tortured and contorted to justify sinful practice, and to shred orthopraxy.

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    1. I have read Ozanne and Beeching, but not yet Bennet.

      1.3 Much of Ozannes book is about her attempts and other people’s attempts to change her straight and she ended up in hospital twice. It simply is not the case that she didn’t try to change. Likewise Beeching recounts how she underwent an exorcism as a child in an attempt to make her straight and how that continued to effect her. At one of her lowest points she nearly steps in front of a train because she is so desperate. Churches that are pushing people into these harmful activities need to change and understand that, for most people at least, orientation is fixed.

      2/3 As I said I have not read Bennets book, but I am pretty confident that he isn’t using “gay” as a label, but to mean that he experiences attraction only to the same sex. Gay isn’t an identity but an objective description of a physical and mental characteristic. I completely applaud you for turning to scripture when thinking about this. Paul also identified as the chief of sinners. It is simply anti biblical to claim that it is somehow a sin to “identify” as gay.

      4. I think churches vary. In most churches there is still no acknowledgement that gay people even exist. In some they are the enemy of God. In some they are equals even if they are in relationships. The oft quoted event at Guildford was a deliberate attempt at inclusion. Churches which include people in same sex relationships would not consider those relationships to be sinful, which is why they don’t acknowledge them as sinful. Churches which consider same sex relationships would not welcome same sex couples. An issue which still needs to be resolved, is how such churches treat gay people who are not in a relationship. I hope Bennets book goes some way to convincing them they need to be more inclusive of single gay people.

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      1. “In most churches there is still no acknowledgement that gay people even exist”? You must inhabit a very different world from me! I don’t know a single church that denies that gay people exist.

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      2. Sorry to clarify

        I meant that in most churches there is no acknowledgement that gay people might be current or future congregants of the church.

        Clearly given the fact that Bennets book is a “controversial” one, there are still a lot of Christian leaders who deny the existence of people with unchosen lifelong exclusive attraction to the same sex, but I was making a point about a lack of inclusion, rather than willful ignorance.

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  5. Sorry David – I cannot agree with you on this one. I do not believe the book is profoundly theological as you state. I will leave it to Andrew T Walker, writing for The Gospel Coalition to say it so much better than me. You can see it here https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/reviews/war-loves/

    Walker’s commentary seems to nail both what is very good about Bennett’s book, together with what Christians need to be concerned about and to watch carefully.

    We seem so bowled over with the thought that a homosexual Christian decides to live celibately that we are all gushing over it – seemingly so grateful that someone would dare to be so bold as to follow the Lord. I imagine that a similar book by a straight Christian who decides to live celibately would not gather even so much as a raised eyebrow!

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    1. Lots and lots of gay people don’t have sex and/or relationships. There is nothing remarkable in that.

      I think it’s very disturbing that certain Christian leaders are still attempting to deny that some people are actually gay and that this is not a chosen identity or an excuse for hedonism.

      It further disturbs me that such individuals are so easily able to condemn people like David Bennet when he has given up far more for his faith than they ever will. To be acceptable to them he has to lie about his orientation. I’m glad he is choosing to be honest and ignore the shrill voices.

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