Gay, celibate and full of love
Former gay activist David Bennett used to hate the church, Christians and the Bible because he believed God hated and condemned him for his sexual orientation.
But after experiencing an unexpected outpouring of God’s love and being filled with the Holy Spirit, he turned to Christ and his bitterness changed to joy. Now, having committed to a life of celibacy, he says the only thing he has lost is the capacity to be lukewarm.
“I’m really loving God as he really is, instead of how I want him to be.” – David Bennett
“If I try to be lukewarm in my faith, I’m stuffed and it’s all too hard,” the fun-loving, ebullient Australian says as he enthusiastically tucks into a pile of Bill Grainger’s famous hotcakes in a London café.
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“But when I’m hot in the sense of my capacity in that relation it’s an amazing joy, it’s incredible.”
As Bennett describes in his new book, A War of Loves, the out-and-proud gay atheist’s life was turned upside down when he found the intense love he had been searching for his whole life – in Jesus. But in his struggle with his sexuality, he continued to support gay marriage until he read a book by celibate gay Christian Wesley Hill.
“At a certain point, you have to say ‘Not my will but yours be done’.” – David Bennett
What ultimately changed his mind, he says, was his love for Christ. “It was kind of a whisper from the Holy Spirit. It was like, if God is always the same as what you think and feel, he’s not really God. I came to this kind of wagering point of ‘Am I going to let God be different to what I think and feel? If I let him be different, then that means my love is real, and I’m really loving him as he really is instead of how I want him to be.’
“At a certain point, you have to say ‘Not my will but yours be done’ – it’s that Gethsemane moment … I had that whole resurrection power experience where I just felt God say, ‘I need you to give me your sexuality’ and I had the faith to say ‘Lord, you’ve given me your body, so I will give you mine.’”
Ironically, straight after making this commitment to celibacy, Bennett fell “head over heels in love with a Frenchman” in Strasbourg, but when the Frenchman came to visit him in Oxford, Bennett was able to explain why he couldn’t act on his feelings.
“I said ‘well, what’s the point of a little bit of sexuality on earth when I could have eternity with you in heaven anyway? And the love we would experience would far outweigh any love we could experience here.’
“What God has really taught me is, by being celibate, I’m serving him and I’m giving myself as a sacred gift.”
“What’s a bit of sexuality compared to that?” – David Bennett
Yet Bennett is honest enough to admit there are times when he longs for a companion, particularly when he feels under attack from gay activists or the devil.
He is blessed with many close friends, who love him as family. But he confesses that he worries what will happen to him when his friends turn 35 and get so involved in their marriages and children that they have no time for him.
Then he chides himself for his lack of trust and reminds himself that Jesus can more than provide.
“I wonder if the question itself is not a little bit insulting to Jesus; it really does lessen who he is – because if he really is the risen Lord of glory that’s come to save the whole creation and us with it, like, he’s Jesus! And I think about the persecuted church and people getting their heads cut off by ISIS and, you know, people being locked in jail every day and Christianity being the most persecuted faith on earth and I’m like ‘what’s a bit of sexuality compared to that?’”
Still, in a culture where everything seems set up for families, and every Christian leader seems to be married, he wishes there was just one Christian leader in Australia who was single.
Bennett wrote A War of Loves while also writing his master’s thesis in analytical and exegetical theology at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, producing 250,000 words in a year and nine months. He is now embarking on a PhD in Oxford.
One of his aims in telling his story, he explains, is to defuse the culture war between the gay community and Christians by enabling each camp to put themselves in each other’s shoes.
“I’m so passionate about that. I absolutely believe that is what is causing the high levels of suicide among the LGBTI Christian community – it’s not the traditional, biblical stance; it’s the constant sense of being torn between two positions and never resolving – because you love Jesus, you love God, but this is such a huge part of your humanity. Our whole society is based around it; every house that’s been built is for it, having kids.”
“I don’t feel like I’m missing out because of that deeper truth of the gospel.” – David Bennett
Another reason he wrote the book was to challenge gay rights activists to support his position on celibacy. He says certain people he really respects in Australia have not wanted to associate with him because of his controversial position on celibacy.
“I wanted to say to the gay community ‘are you just ideologues or are you really gay rights activists? Because if you were gay rights activists, you would want to support my rights as much as the gay couple down the road that wants to go to a church that supports them. Are you willing to represent my rights?’”
But what does he do when he experiences sexual desires?
“The more I’ve lived as celibate, the more I find they become less intense but they’re still there. I was just in a taxi and I looked at a guy on a bike and I was like ‘wow, he’s really attractive,’ and then I just say to God, ‘wow, you did a good job there, you know,’” he says, breaking into laughter.
“The funny thing is that as I’ve lived this life out more, what has become more and more important to me has been the marriage between God and humanity, Jesus and the church; and what I love about the gospel is that when we turn our minds off marriage and into the gospel, marriage takes its proper place and then suddenly everyone is invited to the marriage, the ultimate marriage.
“Any person, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation, is invited to that wedding feast and we simply hold that invitation out. I don’t feel like I’m missing out because of that deeper truth of the gospel.”