Author Andrew T. Walker recently reviewed a newly published book for The Gospel Coalition. It’s called War of Loves by David Bennett, and while Walker extols Bennett’s ability to keep with Christian orthodoxy regarding homosexuality, he derided Bennett for not coming down hard enough on those who believe it’s possible to be a “gay Christian” (even a celibate one).
I want to state the value of the War of Loves up front. David Bennett is a friendly acquaintance, and I appreciate his testimony and faithfulness to Jesus. He’s a brother in Christ. What’s more, Bennett has gone public with a costly narrative. It’s no easy task, in our polarized age, to tell of a gay activist’s conversion to Christianity — and become a Christian apologist at that. I’m grateful that Bennett’s story exists for others in similar situations. The church needs a multitude of stories showing that discipleship and biblical authority aren’t a self-imposed prison. Bennett’s narrative is a stunning foray into the freedom one can experience when captivated by God’s love in Christ.
Second, Bennett’s intellectual honesty shines through. At his conversion, he wanted to find a way to believe that gay relationships were reconcilable with Christianity. But he found the hermeneutical gymnastics of progressive Christianity unsatisfying. We should sincerely applaud Bennett for rejecting revisionist interpretations that supplant orthodoxy in the interest of self-justification.
That’s the buildup before the criticism.
It’s interesting that Walker calls Bennett’s story “a costly narrative.” Such a term indicates that Walker believes all of American society has fully embraced the gay “lifestyle,” and life for the LGBTQ community is just peachy now. We know with 100% certainty that that is untrue. While some parts of the country are more gay-friendly than others, homophobia is still the default setting for most churches, pastors, and some administrations that can go unnamed. Society has a long way to go still in the journey toward full equality and inclusion. And becoming a Christian, no matter how strong the persecution narrative may be, is still a relatively simple thing to do. (You don’t see a lot of homeless kids who were kicked out by their parents for loving Jesus too much.) But from Walker’s perspective, even the slightest step in the direction of being a gay Christian reveals a rejection of orthodox teachings.
Furthermore, let’s not forget how many Christians, gay and straight alike, find conservative readings of anti-gay “clobber passages” equally unsatisfying. It is possible to make a biblical case for both narratives — just as it’s possible to make a biblical case for and against slavery.
At the same time, there are significant problems with some of Bennett’s arguments, the kind that make it difficult to endorse the book without major qualifiers. Left unchallenged, my concern is that an otherwise helpful book could induce further confusion when the church needs clarity.
First, like the Revoice controversy that swelled last summer, Bennett attempts to retain some redeemable aspect to his experience with same-sex attraction. You might hear this called “celibate gay Christianity” or Side B Christianity. While I want to be respectful of Christian brothers and sisters who hold orthodox beliefs about the immorality of same-sex sex acts, it’s wholly problematic to hold on to any iota of an identity that Scripture considers sin. The notion of “identity” used in these debates is itself problematic language, since it is so subjectively defined.
We don’t attach other modifiers to our Christian faith when the modifier in question originates with sin or natures that are the product of the fall. We should no more endorse “gay Christianity” or “gay identity” than we should alcoholic Christianity, racist Christianity, or slanderous Christianity. We ought not modify our Christian walk with attributes born of fallen desires. When an individual comes to Christ — while their sin nature still awaits full redemption — they are dead to sin’s authority.
That’s assuming, of course, that one considers homosexuality to be sinful in the first place. There is plenty of scholarly work out there suggesting that this interpretation is based on cultural bias more so than strict moral binaries.
It’s also incredibly unfair, if not cruel, to lump homosexuality in with alcoholism and racism. You choose to be racist. Alcoholism objective hurts people. Homosexuality isn’t a choice nor does it hurt anyone. Much to Walker’s dismay, I’m sure, sexual orientation is so woven into our psyches that it cannot be prayed away. You either come to terms with it… or repress it.
Walker follows an unfortunate and historical trend of Christians who want to use what he calls “the spirit of the age” to define Christianity as a whole. If you were a Christian in the 1800s and didn’t like slavery, you weren’t a “True Christian” — even though the message of the Gospel is much bigger than that. Similarly, if you’re a Christian in the 21st century and think being gay is perfectly fine, you’re not a “True Christian” either. The same has also been said about those who rejected a flat earth and literal six-day creation.
Where does it end?
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