Herald of the Good News

Over a lunch last summer, a new friend and I discovered that we had a mutual friend in David Bennett, a current doctoral student at Oxford and a fellow at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. I have known David for a few years as a thoughtful writer and a delightfully larger-than-life personality. He has written powerfully about his conversion from atheism — he worked as a non-religious gay activist in his native Australia before migrating to the UK — to Christianity. And, as someone who accepts the historic Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality, David has also written movingly about his calling to a life of celibacy and the way he tries to live out that calling in community.

As we swapped anecdotes about David, my new friend paused and said, “At heart, David is an evangelist.” I immediately nodded. Although David is many things (a catholic reader, a charismatic “prayer warrior,” an enthusiastic host and friend-maker), he is, above all, someone who loves those who don’t (yet) love Jesus. He is, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, a herald of the good news. He wants you to know that Jesus has invaded his life — and can transform yours too.

His conversion memoir, A War of Loves: The Unexpected Story of a Gay Activist Discovering Jesus, releases today, and I hope you’ll consider reading it. Here is what I wrote for the back cover:

Imagine a gay comedian like Stephen Fry writing a conversion memoir like C. S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy or Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy, and you’ll have some idea of the laughter and the tears that await you in these exuberant, aching, Jesus-obsessed pages. David Bennett has found that, far from eliminating his love for men, Christ’s call to take up his cross and follow the path of celibacy has led him deeper into love. David’s story of embracing that call is disarming, captivating, and — most of all — hope-giving.

I mean that endorsement, and I hope it might entice you to pick up the book.

And congratulations to you, David, on your pub day!

9 thoughts on “Herald of the Good News

  1. Thanks for the book recommendation. That said, I wonder whether there will come a time when gay Christians can dispense with having to identify themselves “as someone who accepts the historic Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality.” I hate that phrase, primarily because we don’t ask heterosexual people to take a position on such things. In that way, we suggest that there is some inherent superiority to heterosexuality versus non-heterosexuality. Sure, a number of Christians hold to such views. But I don’t see where Scripture promotes this kind of neo-Freudian heterosexism. Moreover, empirical studies show that fewer than half of all men, and even fewer women, are exclusively heterosexual in their experience of human attraction.

    • I would follow up my comment by noting that I agree that Scripture generally disapproves of same-sex sex acts. And the Christian Church has historically viewed that disapproval as setting a normative ethical standard for Christians. And I believe that the weight of the evidence favors that approach.

      But that’s not where things end. Scripture also generally disapproves of all forms of recreational sex, namely sex acts carried out in the absence of procreative intent. And the Christian Church, with some exceptions, has historically viewed that disapproval as setting a normative ethical standard. Paul’s reference to “natural” sex acts is likely a reference to sex acts that serve the natural intent of sex, which is procreation. Contrary to what Denny Burk, Andrew Walker, and other CBMW frat bros would have you believe, Paul wasn’t peering 1800 years into the future and telegraphing the invention of heterosexuality by Freudian social theorists.

      So, that’s where the rub lies for me. I also write as someone who’s asexual (but who was twice forced into reparative therapy by churches that bought into the corrupt new-Freudian theology of CBMW). Over the course of the past century, the Christian Church in the West has gradually jettisoned the Pauline prohibition against opposite-sex recreational sex (as long as it doesn’t involve marital infidelity). Call it the Hallmark effect. This is an issue on which the Church simply jettisoned a 1900-year-old tradition because it was no longer popular in an era when people had come to abandon a Christian view of marriage in favor of one that views marriage primarily as a testament to one’s romantic and sexual desires. The Church has covered its tracks by redefining “natural” to refer to the newly invented concept of heterosexuality instead of to procreaive intent.

      Facially, I have no objection to gay Christians electing to point out that they abide by a sexual ethic consistent with what the Church has promulgated historically. My objection arises from context. In particular, it seems to be that this comment is often made to deflect criticism from certain conservative white evangelicals who, themselves, have tossed aside 1900 years Christian teaching on sexuality to embrace a view of sexuality that Abigail Rine, writing for First Things, rightly called a “sex romp” view of sexuality. White evangelical proponents of the marital sex romp, such as the frat bros at CBMW, have little more moral credibility to question the sex lives of gay Christians than Harvey Weinstein.

      What CBMW and ERLC promote is a false gospel. It is a gospel of middle-class, suburban, white familialism that, aside from borrowing some trappings from historic Christianity, bears little resemblance to the teachings of Christ and the apostles. So, it irritates me when people conduct themselves in ways that suggest that these false shepherds’ moral judgments matter in any kind of eschatological sense. They are snake oil salesmen, and it’s time that we consistently treated them for what they are.

  2. For my own clarity can you expand what ‘asexual’ means to you. Is it synonymous with ‘celibate’ or ‘chaste’? Does it mean then no sex drive? Does it mean no masturbation because followers of Jesus disagree regarding all of this.

    • There are books on it, and a whole website devoted to it (asexuality.org). It basically means that I experience no primary sexual attraction to anyone.

      Its occurrence is alleged to be as low as 1-2% of the population. But there’s a certain invisibility to it because most of us opt for social arrangements that outwardly look heteronormative. And because many of us can develop sexual attractions secondarily in response to emotional or intellectual attraction, it’s generally possible to have a somewhat normal sex life (if that’s something your partner wants). So, many of us identify as straight, just out of simplicity.

      Outwardly, my social existence looks like that of any other straight guy. I also work as a lawyer and a business development executive in the biotech space. I find that a large number of people in my world are similar. After all, the occurrence of asexuality correlates positively with IQ. In my line of work, I rarely interact with people with IQs below 130-135. I’d guess that about half of all guys in my social and professional circle are similar to me.

      That said, I grew up in a conservative evangelical church environment that was heavily influenced by the CBMW ideology. While growing up, I was twice referred to something akin to reparative therapy. When I was in college, my pastor intervened to break up my engagement by threatening my fiancée and I with church discipline if we proceeded to get married without my being cured of my lack of heterosexuality. About a year later, the same church threatened me with church discipline again, as the pastors went to a CBMW conference and decided that heterosexuality was necessary for salvation. I resigned my membership, but was nevertheless placed under discipline by the church.

      Due to these experiences, my life story overlaps some with that of gay Christians who grew up within the heterosexist world of white American evangelicalism, especially the corners of it influenced by the garbage that comes out of CBMW, ERLC, and like organizations.

      • I’ll follow up by noting that it wasn’t apparent to me right away that I was asexual. In fact, had I not grown up in the heterosexuality-obsessed (or, more accurately, homophobia-obsessed) culture of white evangelicalism, I probably would have married a woman, had a kid or two, and adopted a fairly typical existence. I would have thought that I was straight because there was no reason for me to think otherwise. I had to come to terms with the fact that I was different because that difference mattered within the hellhole of a social environment in which I spent the decade or so following puberty. I actually thought that I must be gay because that was the only plausible alternative of which I was aware. So, I came out as gay, and quickly realized that I was as different from gay people as from straight people. A Christian psychologist suggested that I look into asexuality. I did, and it described what I experienced perfectly.

        I think it’s getting more visibility now because of the clustering of high-IQ people in certain metropolitan areas. I live in Chicago, but spend a fair bit of time in Boston. I don’t know the actual numbers, but it feels like Boston has 10x the number of asexuals as Chicago. For that reason, I’ve decided to move to Boston. I’m just weary of trying to explain asexuality to people I meet in Chicago.

  3. Thanks for that personal answer to my query Evan773. I am a physician counselling mostly men with sexual issues. I’m familiar with that website yet find it highly nuanced viz. celibacy does not necessarily mean voluntarily giving up sex. Some would say that means chastity. Many celibates describe themselves as asexual because they have no sex drive and never masturbate and some of them even no ‘wet dreams’! Somehow I think Jesus was like that, but I may be wrong.
    The distinction between HSDD and asexuality is moot. There is much we don’t understand. Some of these low/no libido guys have low T and T patches do wonders to allow them to marry and have a family. With only ~1% asexual dealing with loneliness is big for guys not wanting to be alone as find a compatible asexual partner is rare.

    • I wouldn’t expect the website to address celibacy, as celibacy represents a voluntary choice. Moreover, I doubt that most asexuals are celibate, even though they may be able to go for years without having sex.

      I also question whether decline in testosterone levels isn’t a natural phenomenon that’s a healthy part of aging, as the decline correlates well with female menopause. The Christian West tends to reduce masculinity to sexuality, which is what drives people to seek medication. That said, my testosterone levels are normal. Incidentally, my progesterone levels are much higher than those of average guys. That’s also true for several of my friends who identify as asexual.

      Testosterone levels can also decline due to oxidative stress. I restrict my calories, eat healthy, and try to keep my BMI at around 19-20. I’m in key mid-40s, and can still easily pass for late-20s or early 30s. I’ve noticed too that a number of other asexual guys look very young, and also gravitate towards ascetic lifestyles.

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