Opinion  |  

How should Christians love the gay community?

Following Jesus more closely is the key

David Bennett is a prime candidate to answer “How should Christians love the gay community?” He describes himself as gay, Christian – and celibate. He challenges the idea that gays are being asked to give up more than anyone else by conservative Christians – but turns the challenge back on the rest of us.

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Bennett spoke to Eternity editor John Sandeman.

David, a traditional gay response to you would be to say “that bloke must be full of self-loathing.

Ooooh, yeah. I understand it. I would have said the same thing before I met Jesus. All I can say is “Check out Jesus.” All I can say is “Look at him.” All I can say is “there was something real that happened to me.” And that is just as clear as day. The joy I have – the life I lead – is defined by him.

Before I became a Christian I really felt that the Christian community was so afraid of the question of homosexuality.

So I would say look at the evidence. The experience I had – don’t just try to push away mine. “I am willing to listen to yours, will you listen to mine?”

I feel that the prejudice and the vitriol that I have received from the LGBTQI community has actually been worse than I did from the church. And I don’t say that lightly, I love the LGBTQI community. But the bitterness and the hurt and the pain – we need to heal from that as a community. We need to move beyond it. We need to not destroy another community out of that.

And what the Christian community has done to us, in many ways, there is no excuse for it. But we can’t fight fire with fire. We have to love the other way as well.

That is one of the reasons I call myself a gay celibate Christian. It is not because I have made homosexuality my identity. It is not because that is the biggest thing that identifies or defines who I am. Jesus Christ is – as you can see.

You did not always feel loved by Christians, did you?

I definitely did not feel loved by Christians. Before I became a Christian I really felt that the Christian community was so afraid of the question of homosexuality. My presence reminded them of this complexity or this difficulty with their own belief system. They did not want to enter into it deeply with me. They preferred to run away from it.

When I talk to Christians they always want to give me their theories about how I am the way I am, instead of valuing my story and my experience and really hearing it.

But there were definitely Christians in my life who were not like that. There was one young gentleman who said to me, “Have you ever heard what grace is?” But I was too angry and frustrated with Christians to listen to him. But he really did attempt to reach me and love me. So I don’t want to broad brush stroke everything as negative.

One’s own personal sexuality is such a profound existential question. So it requires a sensitivity and a profundity for that person to open up [to someone who wants to discuss it with gay person], and for that person to be willing to hear what you have to say.

So that’s what I needed from the Christian community and I did not always find that. And that turned me away from the church.

It made me develop what I would call an “activist mentality” where I would paint the other side as negatively as possible – in order for my reality to be true and right and good.

I don’t want to bring up the plebiscite but I see that same “activist mentality” on both sides.

And I think it is tearing us apart, and it is not bringing us to where Jesus would want us to be – which is a conversation where we can really open our ears and stop looking at the speck in other people’s eyes. And actually examine ourselves before God.

Dialogue with a gay person by a straight Christian – that’s hard isn’t it?

It is very hard, yeah. I think if you have not had that experience [of being same sex attracted] it makes it very difficult to even pretend you know anything about it. When I talk to Christians they always want to give me their theories about how I am the way I am, instead of valuing my story and my experience and really hearing it. I often say to Christians, “Don’t just hear the label ‘gay’ and just see that label.” Let’s not be slapdash and put a stereotype onto each other. I think there needs to be a profound identification with the humanity of the other person. Jesus always did that.

For me [giving up] my sexuality has been a profound part of that process of learning to worship God.

That is why I always liked Jesus even when I was anti the church and anti-Christianity. I just loved the way that Jesus engaged with people who did not fit into the box.

That would always draw me back to him but then I would always feel the kind of irreconcilable conflict with what the church said and what I knew to be true about myself. And that is really hard to understand, I think.

I think it is something that honestly requires God’s grace and help.

That is why we really need a REAL Christian faith. We need to return to really believing in Jesus.

There is a character that oozes out of people who know how to worship God.

If we return to really believing in Jesus, what does that look like?

It looks radically different to the way we are living at the moment as Christians. I think it looks different for every person. But you know it when you see it.

We are all called to different things as Christians. We are all called to different walks; different crosses; different contexts.

But there is a sacrifice; a worship of Jesus – he is worthy of all. For me [giving up] my sexuality has been a profound part of that process of learning to worship God.

For me singing songs in a church, well great I love that. If I can’t sing a song to God well then… that is the easy part. The profound part of worship (and this is what I think we need to come back to) is giving your whole self to God and trusting him with your whole self.

It came to a point where I said that I have to give my whole self to Jesus – and not take it back.

That is where I had to come to with my sexuality.

But not just my sexuality but my whole self. I have not arrived there – I am not saying I am this perfect worshipper of God.

But for me my greatest pleasure, my greatest transcendence, my greatest meaning is that exchange between God and myself.

When I see that in other people I see life. I see this beautiful grace. I see a heart that is soft and receptive to others.  A mind that is open but also has conviction. There is a character that oozes out of people who know how to worship God.

So for me the big thing we need to see in the church is a return to worship. And a breaking down of the factions, a breaking down of disunity, a breaking down of the prejudices in all sorts of denominations – and a unifying into who Christ is and into that worship.

When the Holy Spirit gives you the power to let go of profound things like your sexuality then nothing should really offend you. You can really turn the other cheek. You can really be like Christ, when you have died to yourself. But if you are holding on to yourself you can’t do it. It is not possible.

It came to a point where I said that I have to give my whole self to Jesus – and not take it back.

As a person who has sacrificed something for Jesus, famously your sexuality, has that left you with a sense of hurt or a sense of joy? Or a bit of both?

That is such a good question. What is ironic about having given this up – and I think it is important for people to realise that I did not do this because some law in the Bible told me to. I did it because of the love I received from Jesus.

Tell us more about how you received that Love?

It was almost like a romance. But it transcended even that. As a young gay man looking for a boyfriend, like most young gay men are, I was looking for that “woah! this person loves me”, I have that equal status, they know my heart, they understand my intellect, they care about me and vice versa. I was looking for this reciprocity in someone else. And actually I could not find it.

 I think the Christian life is a wrestle, it is a walk in keeping our first love, in reminding yourself constantly in the laying down of his life on the cross.

That does not mean I did not have great relationships and loving boyfriends. But there was something deeper I was looking for, that nothing in this world could really give me.

It was when I met Jesus – in a pub…

Now people say “how did you meet Jesus in a pub?” Well someone prayed for me and it was in that moment that I received this love. My whole life since that moment has been completely turned upside down.

Trying to describe to you what happened … it was just so beautiful. It was so beyond my capacity to even describe. It was like someone laid their life down for me and said “Here I am. Have me. And will you give me yourself?”

Jesus says the greatest love that we have is when we lay down our lives for our friends. And honestly, I think that is the love that I fail to, but I want to give to the gay community. I want to give to those communities that feel ostracised – I think they need to see that love that lays down their life for their friends. And Jesus gave that to me.

So that is why I am such a passionate evangelist. That is why I want to tell people about Jesus. Because this love is what will satisfy.

It is what everyone is looking for. They might not know it. Clearing away all the debate about homosexuality, at the end of the day this is what people need.

And this is what I needed. And I found it.

The way you can love the gay community is by not being a lukewarm Christian. But by being a Christian that is living in that sacrifice. That grace-motivated sacrifice of the self. If the church was living in more of that then gay people, when we come into church, would not feel like we have this sacrifice being asked of us, hanging over our heads, that no-one else is giving up. So why should we?

It has given me the power not to compromise anything. In Scripture it talks about “Do not forget your first love.” If you have never had a first love, can you really be a Christian?

I don’t know – that is a radical thought that John Wesley talked about, and many of the greats of the Christian faith talked about.

I think the Christian life is a wrestle, it is a walk in keeping our first love, in reminding yourself constantly in the laying down of his life on the cross.

Many people reading will be non-gay, non-celibate, Christians. How can we love the gay community?

First, the way you can love the gay community is by not being a lukewarm Christian. But by being a Christian that is living in that sacrifice. That grace-motivated sacrifice of the self.

If the church was living in more of that then gay people, when we come into church, would not feel like we have this sacrifice being asked of us, hanging over our heads, that no-one else is giving up. So why should we?

The other thing is – on the surface a subtle distinction, but underneath a profound difference – of obedience by faith and obedience by law.

I think any obedience by law is a waste of time. And I think that is what the church has been asking of the gay community. “Just obey it because it says it.” Instead of “Come experience Jesus and know his love and grace, and you will have that relationship to work that out with him.”

I think that should be the church’s response with everything.

We believe in a gospel of grace.

The prodigal son did not actually repent until he was embraced by the father. Until he really experienced the love of the father.

The law does not justify. The law has no power to produce righteousness or good life with God. It is ultimately grace.

That doesn’t mean the law does not show us what is sinful. Or show us how we fail.

But it can not be the way to get there. And I had to learn that.

People need to know it is not law, it is relationship. It is grace.

That was the most profound realisation I had that changed my view on this.

How did you learn it was grace not law?

This was a long journey and for the first three years of my walk with Christ, I absolutely was  a revisionist: “LGBTQI we all need to come into the church and take it over” “gay marriage is fine, scripture does not say anything that profound against it”: I held that view precisely because I thought the law in the Bible was negative. That Leviticus 18 and 20 kills people.

It wasn’t until I was in church one day, and I was going to a few churches that were fine with gay marriage, and a few churches that weren’t, and the Lord impressed upon my heart – he said – “You do not fear me although you love me.”

And [there was] something about the fear of the Lord, which is a weird concept today, it sounds like an old school Christian concept – the Bible says it is the start of all wisdom.

To understand the gospel properly you need to know that God is holy, that he is to be revered, that he is who he is – his nature, what he is like.

That is the fear of the Lord.

So I realised that I loved God but I did not fear him. My love was not real.

It was at that point when I said “Lord, my heart does not fear you.”

I think it is about purity of the heart – what John Wesley and others talked about a lot, the idea that when you fear him, you know who he is, you know his love properly and truly.

That shifted me out of this “I need to obey this law” to “this is grace – this is the power to live a holy life.” A life that is set apart.

That was a very profound journey. I go back to the parable of the prodigal son. Michael Ramsden who runs the organisation I work for, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, talks about how the prodigal son did not actually repent until he was embraced by the father. Until he really experienced the love of the father.

Henri Nouwen, one of my favourite spiritual writers, whole life was turned upside down by that particular story in a painting he saw in Russia – and mine was as well.

It gave me the capacity to give up that old life, and to follow him.

So I would say we have to know who God really is and he is a tender hearted loving father.

But he is also holy.

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