Andy Stanley’s megachurch, North Point, held a conference to equip parents of LGBTQ+ youth and young adults to love and accept their kids, and soon after conservative gatekeepers accused Stanley of abandoning historic Christian doctrine. This episode discusses North Point’s method and asks the question: Is it a blueprint for churches to follow? We consider:
- North Point’s engagement with the LGBTQ+ community for the past 10 years
- an affirming pastor’s perspective on the conference
- will evangelicals handle LGBTQ+ affirmation eventually the way they deal with divorce today
- a Side B perspective on Stanley’s sermon
- “slippery slopes”
I Love My Church (Andy Stanley’s sermon from October 1, 2023)
Nepo babies: what are they and why is Gen Z only just discovering them? (The Guardian)
Two Days Later, World Vision Reverses Policy That Allowed Hiring Of Gays (NPR)
Eugene Peterson authorized biography backs up that ‘yes’ on LGBTQ inclusion (RNS)
Bridget Eileen Rivera
115: My Kid Came Out. What Do I Do Next? with Candice Czubergnat
Victoria bans gay conversion practices after 12-hour debate (The Guardian)
Queering the queer : an exploration of how gay celibate asceticism can renew and inform the role of desire in contemporary Anglican theology by David Bennett
Living in love and faith (Church of England)
Matthew Paul Turner
Zach W. Lambert is the Lead Pastor and founder of Restore Austin, a church in urban Austin, Texas. He is also the co-founder of the Post Evangelical Collective–a group of pastors, artists, and leaders committed to full inclusion, holistic justice, deep and wide formation, a gracious posture, and the Way of Jesus. Additionally, Zach serves on the boards of Restore Houston (a church plant he helped launch), Hub Garage (a non-profit for single moms), the Austin Church Planting Network, and the Multi-Faith Neighbors Network. Connect with Zach on Twitter and Instagram. You can connect with Restore Austin on TikTok and Youtube.
Dr. David Bennett is a visiting theologian at Reality San Francisco, a member of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s College of Evangelists and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Faculty of Theology and Religion. David is a graduand and recently completed his DPhil (2023), entitled ‘Queering the Queer: An Exploration of How Gay Celibate Asceticism Can Renew and Inform the Role of Desire in Contemporary Anglican Theology.’ From Sydney, Australia originally, he has lived in Oxford for the last decade. Author of the memoir, A War of Loves: The Unexpected Story of a Gay Activist Discovering Jesus (Zondervan, 2018). Connect with David on Instagram and Twitter.
Transcript of Devi’s conversation with Zach Lambert
Devi (she/her) (00:02.186)
Zach, welcome to the show. Thanks for being here.
Zach W. Lambert (00:05.41)
Thanks for having me, Devi. I’m so excited to talk.
Devi (she/her) (00:07.842)
Yeah, well, Zach, you’re the pastor of a church in Austin. Your church became an affirming church. How long ago was that?
Zach W. Lambert (00:19.054)
Yeah. So I would say the way that I phrase it is we were planted in February of 2016 is when we launched and, um, we’ve attempted to be an inclusive church, um, around non-discrimination toward LGBTQ plus people, uh, since day one that that’s really, but what we’ve we’re set out to do, it’s been a process of discovering what that means, um, but from a policy perspective, we’ve essentially been affirming the entire time I preached my first kind of, you know, affirming theology sermon in April of 2022, but it wasn’t a surprise to folks.
Devi (she/her) (00:54.354)
Okay. And were you just for the sake of for people who don’t know you, are you with a denomination? Yeah.
Zach W. Lambert (01:05.374)
Yes, so we were, we were a part of the Evangelical Free Church of America for, um, we planted with them initially. Uh, we were kicked out of that denomination about a year and a year, two years in, um, about just a few months into our church’s existence, we went under formal investigation with them around the LGBTQ plus inclusion, um, and then were, uh, formally kicked out and I was defrocked or had my ministry license revoked about two years in.
Devi (she/her) (01:36.258)
Okay. All right. Well, that’s some helpful context. And of your church community, what percent would you say are LGBTQ plus or parents of LGBTQ plus people?
Zach W. Lambert (01:52.39)
I can answer the first question exactly. So we, cause we do an annual survey. Um, and one question we ask is, do you identify as a member of the LGBT plus community? And so, uh, I believe it’s 21%. According to the survey we just did this summer of our church, um, is LGBTQ plus. Uh, it would be hard to quantify, you know, parents, uh, in the same way, like we don’t ask that question, but there would be, we have a lot of parents of LGBTQ plus kids. In fact, I would probably say, you know, I’m, I’m 34.
Devi (she/her) (01:55.691)
Devi (she/her) (01:59.355)
Devi (she/her) (02:16.607)
Zach W. Lambert (02:20.778)
So our church skews, you know, 20s and 30s. But of the people who are in their 50s, 60s, 70s, who come to Restore, a lot of them have LGBTQ plus kids.
Devi (she/her) (02:30.95)
Yeah. Okay. So you really, you get what’s happening at this conference then. Yeah. Okay. All right. So let’s talk about this conference that North Point ran. I think I heard you say in a different podcast that there were about 500 people there or thereabouts. It’s a closed conference, but people were there from all over the United States. It’s called the build as an event for parents of LGBTQ plus children and for ministry leaders looking to discover ways to support parents and LGBTQ plus children in their churches. What was your experience of the conference?
Zach W. Lambert (03:14.206)
Yeah, you know, I went not because I’m a parent of an LGBTQ plus kid. I may be my kids are elementary schoolers, so I’m just not sure yet. But I and not even because I’m a ministry person or a pastor looking to better understand this issue. We’ve had a lot of clarity around this for a long time. I went because we have been connected with the North Point Network back in 2019 and been around Andy for a long time. And.
Devi (she/her) (03:18.835)
Zach W. Lambert (03:43.286)
This just felt like, you know, Andy’s church hosting this thing. I knew a lot of people speaking at the conference. It felt like something that was going to be really big and possibly a major turning point toward inclusion and affirmation inside of American evangelicalism. And it would have ripple effects all over the world. And so that’s honestly why I went, I wanted to be in the room. I wanted to see if it was for real or not. I expected it to be some form of a bait and switch
which is essentially like there are a lot of conferences where it’s like we’re going to try to teach people to be more welcoming and loving toward the LGBTQ plus community. But there is really still an understanding of this is sin. This is wrong. People need to repent of it and live celibate or, you know, even have their orientation changed, leave it behind completely, whatever that looks like, whatever the particular flavor of the people putting on the event is, it still comes from a place of non-affirming theology and
At least some level of discrimination against LGBTQ plus people inside of the church what they can or can’t do So I honestly was expecting it to be some form of that Like how do we just be nicer to queer people but not actually change what we believe or practice? But I was blown away. It was not that From the very first moment. I mean you walk in the door and there are queer people greeting There was a trans woman who shook my hand when I walked in
Devi (she/her) (04:50.664)
Devi (she/her) (05:03.734)
Zach W. Lambert (05:07.986)
every speaker breakout that I went to, every book that was sold there was affirming. And really it was an understanding, it was like an undergirded by affirming theology. So the conference was not an attempt, they made this very explicit to change anybody’s theology. They were not trying to present a biblical case for affirming theology. But they, everything was done with this like, okay, we’ve done it this way and it’s been wrong. And so we need to move toward
full affirmation of our LGBTQ plus kids and queer people in the church in general.
Devi (she/her) (05:43.922)
Yeah, because I think in some ways it’s kind of cutting, I think, for parents in particular, and I guess this is a conference that really was about equipping parents, ultimately, and people working with LGBTQ plus youth. When it comes to relating to your children, in some ways there is no middle ground, right? You’re wanting to love your children.
Zach W. Lambert (05:57.591)
Zach W. Lambert (06:10.583)
Devi (she/her) (06:14.246)
Um, even if you may not disagree, not fully agree with their choices, you’re still wanting to relate to them. Um, and, and whatnot. So Andy Stanley, I think the conference was on the Friday or I can’t, I can’t remember the exact dates, but Thursday, Friday. Okay. And then I think it’s that Sunday that Andy preached a sermon where he outlined sort of what they, what they believe as a church and in it, he, he mentioned he had three things.
Zach W. Lambert (06:28.558)
It was like a Thursday, Friday. Mm-hmm.
Devi (she/her) (06:42.378)
that he said were kind of a biblical sexual ethic. And he just about for one minute, I think of his whole sermon kind of made a point to say, our church still believes that marriage is between a man and a woman. And his three point thing on sexual ethics seemed to indicate that he believed that sex was, the purpose of sex was for marriage. I’m curious what you think of that.
idea that a church can be fully welcoming of LGBTQ plus people, not expecting them to change, that no one is punished for being married to someone of the same sex who are in the church together as a family, you know, maybe with children, but also holding to this idea that marriage is still between a man and a woman. Like, do you think they’re able to do that?
Zach W. Lambert (07:36.478)
Yeah, I mean, two responses to that. The first is Andy used very specific language in that part of the sermon. So he actually said, we believe that the Bible, the biblical marriage is between a man and a woman, which I think opens the door for, but you know, marriage, God can bless all different kinds of marriages even though there’s not a same sex marriage described.
Devi (she/her) (07:43.164)
Zach W. Lambert (08:03.33)
I’m not saying that’s what he’s doing, but I’m saying that he left the door open for that. Preston Sprinkle did a podcast on Andy’s sermon specifically and kind of made the case like he is leaving the door open for affirming theology to be held by him, his elders, his staff and his church. So I think that’s interesting and I don’t know where that’s going to go. But my second point or response to your question is until there are no inherent restrictions for LGBTQ plus people in a
I would not, it would not be a place where I would recommend queer people to go if they asked me. Now, I know some gay married people who, gay and married people who go to North Point and love it and feel safe and at home. But if there was an LGBTQ plus person who was moving from Austin to Atlanta and they were saying, Hey, I want a church like Restore where there’s not going to be any restrictions on me. I could not say that North Point was that church. Now I could say that the conference was that space.
and that the people who put on the conference, in my experience, are fully affirming and create that space. And I would wholeheartedly recommend Embracing The Journey in the conference. But the church itself, specifically if there is a refusal to perform same-sex marriages, or if there is a cap on where LGBTQ plus people can lead inherently just based on their sexuality, sexual orientation, gender identity, I find that to be problematic and not fully safe and inclusive. Anytime there’s just inherent discrimination based on a character, a piece of who someone is, I find that to be problematic.
Devi (she/her) (09:43.482)
Yeah. OK. Very interesting. Yeah, because I think that’s one of the things I’m very interested in is, I guess, is there… So we know that there are churches that are fully affirming and we know that there are churches that are, well, let’s say an extreme, right? Like, say, John MacArthur, where you can’t even say that you’re gay or, you know, you would use the term same sex attracted or something like that.
Then there are churches that are, I think, what you would call sort of closetedly anti-gay, closetedly anti-gay, if you will. Sorry to use that term that way. But in the sense that, you know, we’re welcoming, we’re loving, but if you come and join our church, like, and you’re gay or married to someone of the same sex, you cannot be in leadership, you can’t lead worship, you can’t lead a small group, you know, all of these things, right? So no, we don’t require you to change, but is there, yeah, is there a place for churches to exist as saying we believe sex is for marriage between a man and a woman and people can be here fully as they are? Do you think that church exists?
Zach W. Lambert (10:57.974)
Oh, that’s a great question. I don’t know. I’ve never seen it. I would say that every church that I know that has taken a step toward what’s often called like a third way, Devi, you know, like it’s like, you know, people can, like we still believe that marriage is between a man and a woman and we still believe that sex is reserved for marriage, but we are leaving behind kind of like, you know, queer people can’t be youth leaders or sing and you know, whatever.
I would say all of them that I know have eventually moved toward removing the last set of restrictions on LGBTQ plus people, or they have a leadership change and go back the other way. But I have never seen any of them stay in that place for very long. It seems to be a natural movement on the progression. And I’ll be candid. That’s my hope with North Point. My hope is that this is a movement toward full inclusion and affirmation for the church to where they’ll say.
Um, because I think you can say, yeah, there’s not a same sex marriage depicted in the Bible. Um, but there’s also, there’s not a lot of stuff depicted in the Bible. And the “biblical marriage” quote unquote is a kind of a junk term in my opinion, because the vast majority of marriages depicted in scripture are either, you know, between one man and many women, um, or between one man and a female child who has purchased through dowry. Right. So, um,
Devi (she/her) (12:18.143)
Zach W. Lambert (12:25.038)
you know, even Mary and Joseph, right. And most scholars think, you know, Joseph was in his mid to late 20s, at least. Mary’s probably 13, 14 and is essentially purchased, you know, through dowry. And that was how this was, you know, done for the most part. Right. And so anyway, I think.
Devi (she/her) (12:39.646)
And that doesn’t necessarily have to mean a bad thing or a bad marriage. I think, like, I mean, absolutely, you know, it’s not like what we would consider to be a great marriage today. But I think that’s the expected way that women and children are taken care of in that society, right? Yeah. Sure.
Zach W. Lambert (12:43.803)
Zach W. Lambert (12:54.942)
Right, exactly. In this totalitarian patriarchy, yes, that’s what existed. Yeah, you know, but I think the greater point is, to me at least, not that, okay, this is the prescription for marriage, that it should either be polygamous or that it should be based on dowry, but that God interacts with marriage through the way that cultures interact with marriage, right, and is always calling us toward higher levels of sacrificial love and care for each other and support and all of that stuff.
And God’s been doing that since the beginning of time. So anyway, all that being said, I’m not sure if a church can exist that keeps that kind of third-way posture forever and I do think there would be some LGBTQ plus people who would say, you know that that’s enough for me I’m good with that. I know that my marriage is recognized even if I came here
Devi (she/her) (13:45.525)
Zach W. Lambert (13:50.754)
And I couldn’t get married here. I know they’d be fine with me getting married somewhere else and coming back. I know that I can’t ever be an elder or a preacher or something like that, but I don’t really want to be. And so, yeah, I mean, you know, not to compare apples and oranges, it’s not exactly the same, but there are a number of women who exist in churches that are like that, right? Where they say that women can do essentially everything except be an elder or a pastor and they’re.
Devi (she/her) (14:10.453)
Zach W. Lambert (14:19.474)
okay with that. I don’t think that’s enough. I kind of ascribe to the Fannie Lou Hamer, nobody’s free until everybody’s free thing. And that’s where I hope this is going. But I do know that this is where Andy seems to be right now and where North Point seems to be right now. And I hope that it’s a step toward more freedom, inclusion and affirmation.
Devi (she/her) (14:27.263)
Devi (she/her) (14:40.786)
Yeah, you have written, you have a tweet that I don’t remember when you tweeted this, but I’ve heard you, I’ve seen you talk about this a couple of times, because I think this is really, really important. You talked about the impact of becoming an affirming church and in terms of the loss of income, loss of opportunities and all these.
Can you talk about that? Because I think, I know that this isn’t necessarily everybody’s experience, and I’ll share what I mean by that in a second, but what was it like for you in your denomination, et cetera, to become an affirming church? What was the sort of financial practical implications of that decision?
Zach W. Lambert (15:24.99)
Yeah. I think it’s, you have to start with this understanding that when churches move toward inclusion and affirmation around LGBTQ plus folks and theology and policy, the most common kind of rebuke from more conservative folks is you’re just caving to culture. Um, and the truth is, uh, if I was going to be someone who caved to culture, the culture that I was in with the evangelical church,
Devi (she/her) (15:43.85)
Zach W. Lambert (15:54.218)
I would have caved the other way, right? Because every piece of the culture that I came out of was pretty univocal around what LGBTQ plus theology and practice should be. And we went the other way, right? So it was not a caving to the culture we were a part of at all. And there were massive ramifications for it. The truth is that for the most part in, I’ll speak to my context in America, specifically in the white evangelical world,
The conservative folks have the money when it comes to denominations and planting churches and things like that. So if you are attempting to plant an inclusive or affirming church, it’s very difficult to get financial support. We were a church that, you know, was able to get some initial financial support and then lost quite a bit of it when, when we were kind of like recognized as affirming. Again, I don’t think we really changed anything that we were attempting to do, but our first baptism service included some queer folks, our first kid dedication service had same sex couples dedicating their kids. And that’s when we started to get in trouble was kind of the practice of that. So we started losing, you know, funding support. I was told numerous times by denominational leaders and friends within our denomination and other networks that I was not a Christian anymore, that I was going to hell, that our whole church was going to hell. And so there is financial cost. There is relational cost.
Devi (she/her) (16:58.945)
Zach W. Lambert (17:21.906)
Um, they, I went from kind of like speaking at a bunch of like, you know conferences and networking events for a lot of these networks To you know being disinvited from everything. Um, so there’s those kinds of costs as well Um, there is tremendous cost and I would say Anecdotally, I know this from I work with an organization called the Post-Evangelical collective. That’s a lot of inclusive affirming justice center Jesus-focused churches all around the country and around the world and um
A lot of us have stories of similar things. A good friend of mine here in just south of Austin was a part of denomination, went through a process, became affirming and they were immediately, their building was taken away. They lost three quarters of their membership because the denomination essentially told all the members that if they stayed, they were apostate. And within a couple of years, the church had to close. And so that story is not uncommon. People are very much pushed to recant and you see this on a larger scale with like World Vision if you remember what happened with that about ten years ago. Yeah So, you know it happened with Eugene Peterson when he in that interview with Jonathan Merritt said he would marry his gay Grandchild and then life. We said we’re pulling all your stuff and then a week later He released a statement through a PR firm that said that was a mistake. I didn’t really mean it You know World Vision capitulated two days later
Devi (she/her) (18:24.151)
Mm. Oh I do. I do, absolutely.
Devi (she/her) (18:33.568)
Devi (she/her) (18:44.154)
Yeah, I mean, I think. Yeah, yeah, definitely the world vision. I think the Eugene Peterson one is a little trickier because he was in sort of early stages of dementia during that conversation. And one of the interesting there was some interesting writing that came out of anyway. But yeah, I think I yes, I think there’s no question to me that in the United States, who holds the money is definitely white conservatives, at least for now.
Zach W. Lambert (18:59.586)
Devi (she/her) (19:12.466)
let’s see how that changes, you know, moving forward as they start to die and leave their inheritance onto their progeny. So, but it’s interesting because, you know, here in Australia and in the UK, it’s, I think certain churches face very much the opposite situation, which is that, like, if the Anglican church moves toward inclusion, full inclusion, it’s churches that are not affirming that we’ll lose their buildings.
lose their funding, lose everything when they leave. And I’m sure there are other denominations that it’s the same. So yeah, I don’t think it’s as, it’s not so straightforward outside the United States, although certainly I think probably in the United States, what you’re saying is pretty accurate. Yeah, I…
Zach W. Lambert (19:51.052)
Devi (she/her) (20:01.078)
lost my train of thought. Hang on. Where was I going with that?
Zach W. Lambert (20:03.095)
Devi (she/her) (20:12.831)
In your experience leading a church, how long, so you would say sort of 2016, you’ve been affirming, even though not officially affirming, but kind of as a church.
Zach W. Lambert (20:23.582)
Yeah, so I guess what we would do is differentiate between affirming theology and affirming practice. And so even what we would say today is we’re not asking for every single person in our church to have theological or ideological uniformity about this or anything else. That seems unreasonable and unrealistic, but it also, if somebody is on a journey moving know, they’re deconstructing and reconstructing their faith. They are hopefully moving toward more freedom and inclusion for all people. I think the, you know, the worst strategy is to essentially yell at them for changing a little bit because they haven’t changed a lot, you know? Um, and I see this a lot in, you know, some more progressive spaces where somebody who’s been affirming for five minutes is yelling at everybody who’s not yet affirming. Um, and you know, I, I get it. I get the, Hey, time’s up.
You know, kids are dying. I get that. I’m like obviously a hundred percent on board that I want change to happen now. But I think the issue of, okay, you’ve been affirming. Yeah. For five minutes now, like everybody else who isn’t is a bigot. Um, because, and, but you were a bigot five minutes ago. Uh, I just think that’s not a great strategy for helping people move toward inclusion and affirmation. And so for our church, we have been affirming and practice from the very beginning. We’ve never had any kind of discriminatory policies against LGBTQ plus people. But as far as, you know, like teaching affirming theology, I would say that that’s come at different points for different people, leaders, pastors, church members, things like that.
Devi (she/her) (22:09.606)
Yeah. So Zach, I’m sure you know people who are side B Christians who believe that God has called them to a life of celibacy, but not just that God has called them to a life of celibacy, that the Bible teaches that celibacy is an expectation for everybody, actually, I guess, except for the people who get married, who are opposite sex, you know, attracted or whatever.
What would you say to somebody who says your affirming theology is excluding me as a side B Christian?
Zach W. Lambert (22:46.066)
Yeah, um, I mean honestly we have some side B people at Restore so I would say You know there they would not feel excluded by my theology on this um I think that there are people who feel called to celibacy gay people straight people all in between and I would never say to them You are wrong. You have misunderstood the bible. You have misunderstood the holy spirit Occasionally I have said if they’re dealing with some really significant depression trauma things like that. I’ve said, you know, or do you have you ever explored a different avenue for this, right? Talk about scripture and things like that, but I would never You know go and tell them like this is sinful. You’re not following God You’re misinterpreting the Bible unless they started putting that on other people That’s where I think the problem comes in and so I have no problem with you know, individual side B
Christians who practice celibacy because they feel personally called to that But I have a significant problem with side B Christians who would say you cannot be LGBTQ plus and Non-celibate if you really want to follow Jesus That’s where I think there’s some serious problems with side B theology and practice overall but on a personal level You know, it is what it is Bridget Eileen Rivera, right? His practices I don’t think she’d call herself side B, but she practices celibacy
Devi (she/her) (24:08.883)
Zach W. Lambert (24:12.886)
Um, and you know, but she’s very clear about that is not what she’s attempting to prescribe for anyone else at all. Um, and I have a lot of respect for her and she does that because she still fights for equality and inclusion and affirmation for other folks. So I think there’s a way to do it. That’s actually really beautiful.
Devi (she/her) (24:37.93)
We had Candice Czubernat on last year talking about what to do when your child comes out to you. And she was recommending Embracing the Journey as a resource to parents. Have you recommended it to people in your church or have parents in your church used it or people outside your church? How have you seen it? Yeah.
Zach W. Lambert (25:00.522)
No, not specifically yet. As of attending the conference, I would feel good about recommending it now. And I have said to a few parents since then, hey, I think you might want to check this out. I would say most parents in our church are not dealing with when their child comes out calling them an abomination or kicking them out of their family or things like that, right? That’s just not really like the people that we have.
Devi (she/her) (25:24.747)
Zach W. Lambert (25:30.35)
So it would be less dire to recommend them to an organization like Embracing the Journey. But all that to say, I would feel good about endorsing, not endorsing, but recommending them, any parents in the same way to Embracing the Journey because I saw it firsthand for two days and it was pretty amazing.
Devi (she/her) (25:53.994)
Yeah, yeah, very, very interesting. I think for you, when you think about the future of an evangelicalism, do you think, I think there are a lot of people who listen to this show who are probably, let’s say, unwilling to move on theology about marriage. But they’re also wondering,
I think the feeling that I get when I hear them, when I listen to them, is they want a church that anybody can walk into, be themselves and be comfortable, keeping in mind that all of us are expected to change in the context of a journey of walking toward Jesus, right? A long obedience in the same direction. That’s Eugene Peterson’s book title. But this idea that all of us
Have the X like there’s the expectation on all of us that being known by God Being loved by Jesus being transformed by the Holy Spirit. There’s the expectation that all of us are going to change
Zach W. Lambert (27:03.979)
Devi (she/her) (27:06.686)
What would you say to a Christian like that who is like, look, I’ve read the books, I’ve heard the arguments, I am unconvinced that the Bible says, that the Bible is some kind of manual for sex positivity. What would you say to them?
Zach W. Lambert (27:26.174)
Well, I mean, first of all, if they phrase it that way, I would say that I don’t think the Bible is a manual for sex positivity either. And I have some concerns that I’ve been pretty vocal about with the sex positive movement. And so, but I would say, I think that there is a way for us to move toward full unrestricted inclusion for LGBTQ plus people in the church without requiring you to
Devi (she/her) (27:31.91)
Zach W. Lambert (27:56.182)
You know, find a passage in the Bible that says same sex marriage is okay. Um, and here’s, here’s where I think that here’s why, why I believe that when it comes to divorce in the church, right? Bible talks significantly more about divorce than it does about LGBTQ plus people or relationships, and it’s not univocal about that. There are various, uh, biblical authors with different opinions about divorce. Uh, Jesus gets asked about it because it was a Matthew 19, because it was a disputable understanding.
Um, and, uh, you know, Jesus had some comments about it. Um, seemingly it seems like Jesus, uh, even puts less accommodations on, uh, when divorce is okay. And in my opinion, feeling like he seemingly completely condemns remarriage, um, after divorce as like kind of a permanent state of adultery. And so there’s a lot of, a lot of texts in scripture that speak to divorce and remarriage.
Now, a hundred years ago in the evangelical American church or kind of, you know, just your average Protestant American church, um, the, if, if two people got divorced, they were both pretty much out of the church, right? Like that was, that was a pretty big deal. They were done now, maybe 60, 70 years ago. If one was really offensive and the other one wasn’t, maybe the non-offensive one could stay, but the other one had to go, um, now maybe 30 years ago.
Maybe both could stay at church or at a church, but certainly we couldn’t get remarried to anybody except back together for the people that got divorced. But now in most of your average American evangelical churches that are not like super conservative, like John MacArthur or something like that, they would make accommodations for divorced and remarried people, right? They would say,
Devi (she/her) (29:40.401)
Zach W. Lambert (29:47.218)
And most of them would have no restrictions on people that are divorced or remarried for getting married again, for leadership, eldership, teaching, anything like that. There’s a lot of pastors that are divorced and remarried in evangelical churches. That’s right. Exactly. And so his father, yeah. So we have made significant accommodations there, even though we might look at someone else and say, you know what? I don’t know if I would have gotten divorced in their situation. I don’t know if I would have gotten remarried in their situation.
Devi (she/her) (29:59.27)
Andy Stanley is parents. Andy Stanley is father, yeah.
Zach W. Lambert (30:16.61)
But just because they chose a different path and maybe they felt like they had justification biblically or from the spirit to do so, that doesn’t mean that I think they should be discriminated against in the church and not be able to be full participants in everything that we practice as a faith community. So we’ve done that. We’re there essentially for the most part with divorce and remarriage in the vast majority of evangelical churches. I believe that we can get there with LGBTQ plus folks too. And to look at somebody and say, you know what, if I was gay,
I don’t know, I think I might be celibate. But just because somebody has chosen to not be celibate and enter into a same-sex relationship does not mean that they should be discriminated against in the church and not be full participants in everything that our faith community has to offer. And so I guess that would be my response to people who asked the question the way that you asked it of is there a way to still hold to some kind of, what traditional sexual ethic or whatever you might call it, and not.
actively discriminate against LGBTQ plus people in an ecclesiological or church context. I think that is the model for how that’s done.
Devi (she/her) (31:23.134)
Yeah, yeah, because I think, yeah, I think the divorce one is a really good example. I guess, yeah, I think in some ways what churches are going to have to discern and decide moving forward is what is going to be secondary, right? Like what’s primary and what’s secondary. And I’m wondering increasingly if this is going to be one of those things, if it can become, can it become a secondary issue inside churches?
Zach W. Lambert (31:46.826)
Yeah, you totally agree. And you know, what’s funny is that I would say if you’d asked me this five years ago, do I think it’s moving toward becoming that secondary issue? I would have said, absolutely. Like I see that happening a lot. But fast forward to today, because anti-LGBTQ plus rhetoric and policies in America have become so politically expedient for the right. I would say we’re in a worse spot to move this toward a secondary issue.
And to reverse the whole caving to culture argument, I would say that a whole lot of people in more conservative and right-wing evangelical church contexts have become more anti-LGBTQ Like the university that I went to in undergrad as a Christian University. They just did an anti-LGBTQ Policy over the last couple of years and you’re seeing that more and more in churches and Christian organizations and higher education People feeling the pressure
to move actually away from being more accommodating or having it be secondary and move toward an elevation of this to primary status because of the way that culture is interacting with this community.
Devi (she/her) (32:57.006)
Yeah, yeah, that is very interesting. And, and in that sense, that’s very, again, unique to the United States. I feel like for us here in Australia, I mean, in my in my state, after our anti conversion bills were passed, we’re not even allowed to pray with LGBTQ person.
Zach W. Lambert (33:06.454)
Devi (she/her) (33:22.43)
Like if that person asked us to pray that their orientation would change, we wouldn’t be allowed to do that. Yeah, yeah. Like if the queer person asked for that prayer, like we would have to say, sorry, let me pray for you differently. So yeah, yeah. It’s a very different climate,
Transcript of Devi’s interview with David Bennett
Devi (she/her) (00:00.945)
Well, David, welcome. It is great to talk to you after following you on Instagram for a long time.
David Bennett (00:08.558)
It’s wonderful. Yeah. In fact, I was casting my memory back to when you first sent me an email and it’s nice to kind of jump on now. So thank you for having me.
Devi (she/her) (00:17.473)
Yes, it is. It’s exciting. I want to start by asking you to give our listeners just some context for who you are. You’re an Australian, but you’re in England. You’re a gay man and a side B Christian. Give people some context for where that comes from and how you got here.
David Bennett (00:38.094)
Yeah, so they’re all fascinating parts of my story. I think for me, it was coming from a really non Christian, agnostic atheist background as a young teenager coming out in Sydney, you know, which is the second largest gay capital in the world. So now I’m in San Francisco doing theological residency. So I’ve got two gay capitals. But then having a kind of more charismatic, radical, you know, Pauline style conversion experience in a pub in the gay quarter of Sydney, prayed for by a creative filmmaker who knew the Holy Spirit and just encountering the presence and reality of the triune God in that pub. It just, Surry Hills near Oxford Street. And so that was like a radical change for me. And I wasn’t looking for God at all. I mean, I totally dismissed that idea that was this kind of cartoon.
cut out in my head from, you know, really good news Bible as a 14 year old, you know, in a Christian school. That was all kind of gone for me, but I was looking for love and I found that God was love in that moment. So it’s been a long journey then from there to well, what does that mean as a queer person? How do I interact with scriptural truth, the tradition of the Christian church? uh, and integrate that with my experiences as a gay man. And being a bit in the kind of like Twilight Zone, I always say in my talks, I was woke before work was woke. And I don’t mean that in a snide way, like, you know, in a kind of like, I knew that I was in that before it became popular. So when people are talking about like deconstruction and sexual ethics and all of this, it’s as if I was kind of put in it just in advance kind of presciently in my story. And then eventually, after some experiences in Strasbourg, France, and meeting a celibate missionary woman in France, seeing the beautiful gift of celibacy, and also having like a heart transformation, where I was like, I actually just want to let go of control. And I want to let God speak to me through scripture without trying to control scripture. I, yeah, I just came to the conclusion that God was calling me to give him my homosexuality and to let him inform it towards holiness. And that led to a side B conclusion about my own sexuality. But I’ve really grown, like in how I understand that, I would say, still from very similar endpoints, ethically, but the way I get there has grown massively. I did finish my doctorate at the University of Oxford where I lived for 10 years, called Queering the Queer, which is an exploration of like the queerness of gay celibacy because gay celibacy is very queer, actually. So yeah, that’s my background. in some context to those kind of labels, if you like.
Devi (she/her) (03:40.409)
Yeah, thank you. That’s really helpful. And I think this is what is kind of interesting for me after following you for a long time that I have picked up on is that you really, there is a very thin slice of ground on which you belong, I guess, in this conversation. Because people who are affirming don’t accept some of your conclusions. But people who are conservative don’t accept
maybe even more of your conclusions.
David Bennett (04:12.91)
Oh, I would absolutely say that the vast majority of unfortunate attack and pain and wounding and trauma for me as a queer person has come from conservative Christians, by and large, particularly Trump American evangelicals who want to kind of cut truth in half all the time, rather than actually see the full theological substratum.
that is needed to be embraced to really make the church a place of flourishing for queer people. And so that’s, I think my passion has been yes, I’m taking this ethic because that’s what I think is clear in my conscience and before God. But that doesn’t mean there’s not a whole bunch of work that needs to be done and idolatry that needs to be stripped. And I do of course have criticisms of more progressive side of things.
Devi (she/her) (05:11.137)
David Bennett (05:12.014)
Um, you know, it’s not just conservatives, but my message, you know, when I just came back from a tour in Germany and Switzerland, you know, preaching was the tension in Romans one to three is radical inclusion and radical holiness. That’s what Paul is affirming in Christ and that some are trying to, uh, sinfully and pridefully deny radical inclusion, um, through justification by faith. And some are trying to deny radical holiness.
by undermining the truth of the law, the created order. So I wanna live in that radical queer tension beyond all of it. Maybe I can’t get there. It’s only by grace and I’m on a journey myself, but that’s where I wanna go. That’s my destination, the city of God, not city of earth. So yeah, that’s the kind of the focus.
Devi (she/her) (06:04.419)
Yeah. Yeah, no, that’s really helpful. I think this is one thing straight people often do not appreciate enough about this conversation is we really tend to think of it as like, because I think straight people experience the stress and I’ll use quotes there for stress, okay? Like it’s very basic what we…
Anyway, the stress of being like, well, what are we? What are we? Are we affirming of gay, like, can gay people get married or should they be celibate? And that’s kind of how we think of it, is just in these sort of binaries when I think your story reveals that it’s actually a lot more complicated because so much of the language you use, so much of what you believe, other than in some ways the conclusions, I think there is a lot.
Well, you’re just a very unusual thinker. Like your work is very unusual, I think.
Devi (she/her) (11:03.025)
Yeah, maybe tell people a little bit about the context you were speaking about, the political issues in the Anglican Church in England. I just say that because in my conversation with Zach, which people would have just listened to, one of the things that I reflected on is that there is such a different political climate in the United States toward LGBTQ plus people. And therefore, cannibalized American Christians, or the other way around, whatever. Um, there is, there is, I think I can understand why LGBTQ plus people are really backed into a corner in the United States because they are. But I think for Christians in Australia and England, it is very different. It’s a little bit of a different story, right? And as far as what’s happening in the Anglican church right now, maybe give some of the political context and the discussions around same-sex relationships inside the Anglican church.
David Bennett (13:55.374)
Yes. Well, there’s incredibly complex context of like Anglican communion internationally. You have some quite homophobic views in the more African conservative regions that are really difficult and quite traumatic. Then you have, you have in the Western world, like America, et cetera, where the Episcopalians split and ACNA, Anglican Church in North America was formed. You have debates internally within ACNA that also have been very traumatic because they were controlled by the trauma that Episcopalians created towards ACNA. And then Episcopalians have their own story of their kind of feeling persecuted by the more ACNA element. And then you come to the UK, and British religious history is very much about finding a via media.
Devi (she/her) (14:54.654)
David Bennett (15:11.47)
you know, Americans split off into all these different groups and have their space. But in the UK, it’s much more, let’s be, let’s hold together. Let’s be one. But as NT Wright and I have discussed, you know, he says, it’s really easy to be one when you have no holiness and it’s really easy to be holy when you have no unity. And so it’s that I think in the UK, yeah. And I think in the UK, it’s like they’re trying to find a way through where we can keep our holiness.
Devi (she/her) (15:19.678)
Devi (she/her) (15:31.577)
David Bennett (15:41.07)
and our unity. And I admire that, but it feels very much like there’s a deeper political rot inside towards liberalism, and that the more evangelical side, like myself, is just an annoying thing that they have to tolerate on their way to being liberal. And I think that has been very damaging to me personally, if that makes sense.
Devi (she/her) (16:01.254)
Yeah. And you, you. And you mean that specifically about the topic of gay marriage. So I think, I can’t remember the exact thing that happened last year about, but the Church of England moved a little bit toward affirming without becoming fully affirming to bless same sex marriages.
David Bennett (16:25.678)
Yeah, I think that. Yeah, so I think what you can read it in multiple ways and different bishops mean different things. I think that’s what makes it really hard. Is there a bishops who are more orthodox saying we can’t just stay where we are, we can’t just say marriage to a man or woman deal with it. Like we have to actually love and care for queer people that disagree with us. And I really resonate with that. And if that was is what was happening, centrally, I would be very for the process.
So there’s a thing called living in love and faith, which was a long listening process to all the different views within the Church of England, a booklet that was produced, a website, go look it up. Then there’s prayers of love and faith, prayers were put forward in the general synod and not passed by the majority that it needed to become doctrine, but only by the majority that it needed to become suggested as a practice that doesn’t hold doctrinally. So at the moment, they’re putting forward prayers that don’t bless the union itself.
but bless the people in the union. And part of me thinks that sounds great. Another part of me thinks, how is that actually possible? Like if I was a queer person, I’d just be annoyed with that. I wouldn’t want, you know, I’d want the full thing or nothing, you know? It’s a very difficult kind of, via media, but that is the history of, you know, the UK. And there’s something that I love about that system that you don’t get elsewhere and that I wanna stand with it. I don’t wanna leave it.
Devi (she/her) (17:37.307)
David Bennett (17:50.318)
but equally it’s extremely painful, constantly giving to that process. So that’s to explain a little bit of my view. And I don’t wanna be in a church with people that just agree with me all the time, but at the same time, the church is called to oneness of mind and a clear sound doctrine, and it can’t have a unity if it’s not clear on those things, like if holiness is compromised. So I think I’m really hoping the Church of England can thread through to keep its doctrinal clarity.
but have a really accommodating, loving space for people who disagree.
I trust at least this in the Church of England, because the bishops haven’t been awfully clear and that’s part of like the trauma is you’re trying to interpret what’s happening and you can never really quite know. So I don’t know. what we’re trying to do is hold that space. And I, I’m more, I would prefer that whole space. than the other two options, if that makes sense. So it’s just so hard that, like I can’t get myself into the abstract space of a straight person. It’s just not possible. I have to react. I have to say what I said because that’s what it does to me. And I understand for side A people, they have a similar process and we just try to hold each other and not attack each other. But there are some more boomer people who are more into the attack and the culture war in the Church of England. And that is really, really hard. But I think my- our generation is like a little bit more, let’s not culture war. So that’s the state of things.
Devi (she/her) (22:33.965)
Yeah. When you say I want to hold the line or hold the space, what do you mean by that? Like, what does that actually look like?
David Bennett (22:45.646)
Well, I think if I wasn’t in the Church of England, and I was in a slightly different ecclesiological place, where, you know, it leans more towards doctrinal clarity, or it’s more of like, you know, has a different makeup, I think that’s the history of the Church of England is so much it was like a reformed Protestant Church, it’s a reformed Protestant Church, but it has Catholics in it, you know, that totally disagree with the reparation. And then you have, you know, liberals who disagree with even
Devi (she/her) (23:09.886)
David Bennett (23:12.974)
evangelical conservatives and new evangelicals that are deconstructing and everyone’s together and everyone goes forward together and you just learn to do that. And I don’t know, there’s something about that that I want to stand by, but I think if you lose the doctrinal clarity it falls apart. You can’t find the via media again. Like the thing that allows you to find that third way is that you have truth and grace together. So yeah.
That’s what I think I mean, hold the space, is I don’t want to run away and create a whole other church, ACNA style or Episcopalian style. That’s like a very American way of dealing with conflict. I want to see what it would look like for the Church of England to face that diversity within it, while still remaining Orthodox. Yeah.
Devi (she/her) (23:48.661)
Devi (she/her) (24:02.561)
Andy Stanley had this conference, a parenting, really it’s a parenting conference to equip parents of LGBTQ plus young people. And in sort of the subsequent, I don’t know what the word is, I wouldn’t necessarily call it backlash, but in the subsequent drama after he preached a sermon on the Sunday, October 1, basically,
talking about him and his church’s position. What do you make of that?
David Bennett (25:30.094)
Yes. So in one sense, I really love Andy Stanley’s approach. It’s very similar to my own. Actually, and I was really relieved to see a lot of what he did. And actually, I emailed you and said, I’m actually not sure. I think he might’ve changed his view of marriage. I’m not, but he hadn’t, which I was actually really like pleasantly surprised and grateful to him for that. That’s almost like a side B tension, you know, that he’s inhabiting. But, and I think two things, one, if it’s parents,
Devi (she/her) (25:47.354)
David Bennett (25:59.502)
You know, the one thing that really does cause LGBTQI plus suicidality is when parents turn away from their gay kids. It is the number one thing we must target. You know, everyone’s like gay conversion therapy and I’m like, yeah, that’s really bad too. But the number one thing is this rejection that parents throw towards their kids because of their incapacity to understand how to love inattention.
Devi (she/her) (26:08.479)
Devi (she/her) (26:27.177)
David Bennett (26:27.342)
And so for Andy Stanley to stand up and say, there is a tension here. I’m not gonna compromise that tension. And parents, we want your kids to come here and belong. I think that’s really beautiful. And I would commend that. And that should be the priority of all ministries with young people. Not to force a view on them, but to give them the education they need to make an informed decision before God.
Devi (she/her) (26:49.205)
David Bennett (26:54.542)
in themselves and that when they make that decision, they’re not rejected, whatever it looks like. Now that’s a hard thing to do, because you have people who want to hijack that and tell kids how they should live because of their activistic mentalities. And I think that’s really dangerous. I think kids need a space where they can be safe to question. So that’s, I think, a really important thing to say as a preamble. And then…
Devi (she/her) (26:58.783)
Devi (she/her) (27:08.136)
David Bennett (27:25.166)
The problem I think I do have with Andy Stanley’s teaching would be that like, where is his involvement of a side B voice? He had Julia Sadusky, who’s a wonderful researcher on celibate gay Christians with, um, you know, uh, Mark Yarhouse’s center at Wheaton. And I loved that he brought her. I thought that’s great, but he brought so many side A voices and platformed them and then gave like very little platform to side B, like where was Revoice and where were these other things? And again, it’s almost like you’re blind to the fact there are all these queer gay people living in the tension you wanna command. And why are you not commending them in that process? So it was great to see Julie, like I’m not ultimately criticizing, I’m just saying there’s a lack of contextualization, I think in Andy Stanley’s approach. I also would say there’s something missing preaching the truth of marriage between a man and a woman. How I approach that is there’s a truth in the law and created order that marriage is between a man and a woman. But how we use that truth is extremely important. What Paul was objecting to in Romans 1-3 was the use of the law to stop the inclusion of Jesus’ greater righteousness.
And he defends people outside of the law, outside the limits of the law, like queer people, and says, actually, you who judge them with the law, you are actually more worthy of condemnation and judgment. And then he says in Romans three, all fall short of the glory of God. So there’s a defense of queer people, there’s a defense of gay people in light of the truth that he created order and law. And that’s a really hard thing to get your head around. You need to really study Paul to get it, but that’s the gospel.
Devi (she/her) (28:49.781)
Devi (she/her) (28:57.121)
David Bennett (29:13.838)
Like that’s what Paul preached. That’s what comes out once Jesus fulfills the law. And that’s the foundation of gay rights. That there is this defense of people outside the righteousness of the law. Eunuchs, you know, women and how they were treated, you know, not that they’re outside the law, but you know what I mean? These kind of questionable categories suddenly become the inheritors of this new grace and this greater righteousness in Jesus Christ. So I’m really passionate about that side of it being preached alongside the affirmation of the truth of the law.
So Paul is saying the law is not a license to condemn, but grace is not a license to sin. And he’s trying to hold the church in that tension. And so that’s, I think, where Andy Stanley could go next, if he really wants to go deeper. But I think he’s kind of creating this as a preamble to release tension in his own congregation. And you know, I do commend him for holding that tension. I just had some questions around like, why is there no side B representation?
Some people would object to him giving like platform to side a voices. I personally think it’s really important to listen to side a stories, side a reasoning. If you are side B, so that you can actually be sharpened and, you know, really go deeper into the gospel. Sometimes it can be a gift to us as people are more neo-orthodox about our sexual ethics. So there are some of my initial thoughts that you have, comments on that or if you want to press anything.
Devi (she/her) (30:40.841)
Yeah, no. Well, I think there was a post you wrote in July that I just loved so much, that I think is so important to this conversation. So here’s what you said. People talk about being side B as a slippery slope to being liberal. Can’t other positions be a slippery slope to idolatrous middle-class nationalism, bigotry, white blindness, homophobia, and transphobia, leadership abuse, misogyny, and a phariseism. I’m not sure if I said that right. No one has time for. This is a straw man, pure and simple. So a lot of people are saying like Al Mohler, Sam Allbery, others are saying that what Andy Stanley did is a slippery slope towards becoming liberal. I think they fully expect that North Point is going to become an affirming church in a few years. That’s, I think.
the tone, the feeling that I got from reading what they said. But I think what you’re saying here is that other positions are a slippery slope to other things. And we accept that slippery slope every single day. So I want you to talk about that, because that is so real.
David Bennett (31:57.262)
Thank you for quoting that because I’m trying to give language to the real in my post. So thank you for loving the real, you know, and I think that’s what this is about, the real. I mean, Side B is about a whole bunch of people who are really trying to find a way to flourish in the Orthodox ethics. And I find it just so infuriating that people who hold some more of the kind of biblical, traditionalist view keep
like persecuting us. It doesn’t make any sense. And what that persecution does is create the slippery slope, actually. I would say the number one reason people leave Side B would be because they’ve been hurt by another Orthodox person that’s being a Pharisee. And they go, I’m done. I can’t be around these people. I’m just, I’m traumatized. I’m exhausted. I’ve tried to give myself. And look, the church has betrayed me yet again. I’m gone.
Devi (she/her) (32:47.381)
David Bennett (32:56.11)
I can’t be around these people. Or it’s that they’ve read some other perspective, they’re still wrestling, they think, oh, I’m not sure I can keep this up. I’m in a bad aestheticism. I’m motivated by kind of self-repression. I need to get out of this. That’s like a snap response, you know? And actually, I would prefer someone to become side A for a time, you know? And wrestle and be real before God, than just like hate themselves and be really in a bad place with side B. I’m more interested in the person than their position. And what I often find just so sickening about a lot of the discourse from other sides is it’s more about the person adopting the position and caring for the person. So yeah, that doesn’t mean I approve of, you know, people leaving truth.
Devi (she/her) (33:25.022)
David Bennett (33:54.03)
But there’s usually a whole genealogy and a deep, you know, complex story behind why, and just hating them and adding to the pile doesn’t do anything good. You need to love people across that difference. And I think side B people do that in a much better way than I’ve seen in, you know, the other discourses like being X gay or being more side Y like, some people like Rosaria Butterfield or Sam Allbery. Although,
Sam can be probably of all those groups, the nicest, if that makes sense. Um, I think what I struggle with is the straight pleasing element of those discourses that they’re made to make life really easy for straight people to just go, Oh, this is great. The Bible says this gay people should just be celibate. And I’m like, no, that all human beings who become Christian need to learn to be celibate. Like that’s That’s the basic entry point of being whole in Christ. And then in the Corinthian church, Paul comes in and says, you’re all crazy, you’re so immoral and so immature. I’m just gonna give this concession if you’re burning, get married. But that’s not normal. And we’ve made that normal. You know, it’s actually about becoming whole and shalom, peace and learning deep and good intimacy that’s safe and not always fearing it going wrong. And when it goes wrong, learning to repent quickly and move forward. You know, like,
Devi (she/her) (35:56.597)
Yeah, well, I think what you’re getting at though here is ultimately what underlies all of this is evangelicals are fine with slippery slopes in a lot of directions, except for affirmative theology. That’s the one slippery slope to end them all, if you will, because I think the reality is that we don’t want to lay a yoke.
on straight people in the church. We don’t wanna burden them with saying, your middle-class nationalism is a problem. This is a discipleship issue and it needs to change, right? We don’t want you to deal with your homophobia, your transphobia. I’m just reading, like I’m using the terms that you use in your post, your misogyny, your bigotry, all of these different things. Like these are slippery slopes that lead to destruction.
David Bennett (36:37.262)
David Bennett (36:45.934)
Devi (she/her) (36:53.525)
You know, that passage in whatever that passage is that lists all these different sins that are condemned to hell, like gossip is one of those sins. It includes homosexuality, which I mean, this is one of the line, you know, one of the verse, the clobber verses that evangelicals love to use. But I can’t think of a church I’ve been in where people don’t gossip. Every church I’ve been in has people who gossip. So are they going to hell too? Like we don’t equally apply, I think, what…
what the Bible says. I want you to talk about that as someone who is trying to live in this tension. What is it like for you to watch churches be fined with slippery slopes toward idolatrous middle-class nationalism, bigotry, et cetera, while saying that what you believe is threatening?
David Bennett (37:22.958)
I’ve seen so many abuses of biblical truth and so little of the righteous thing, of the good thing. So like even in upholding differences between men and women, for instance, like there might be some differences, those differences are then used to exclude women and, and oppress women. You know, no one talks about in the church, then the fact that like Mary Magdalene announced the resurrection and how this moment in the garden is an undoing of the Genesis three curse. Like it is huge. And to a Jewish mind that is very clear. She is like the Eve that is now being freed from being ruled over by Adam and desiring Adam. And now the new Adam has come and she’s being freed finally through the seed of Eve. And like, why are we not preaching this? Like it’s there and it’s so deep.
Devi (she/her) (38:35.157)
David Bennett (38:42.926)
I’m just so done with the slippery slopes to either side, I’m like, let’s hold in the tension of what scripture says, you know, and so that happens with race, I’ve seen, you know, all sorts of things with that. And it’s like facing colonialism, like facing the fact that a lot of our political systems, you know, in the West that have come from Christianity have been a ripoff of Christianity, not the real thing, not what it’s really saying.
I, you know, slavery is the same thing, you know, homosexuality, the same thing. And, you know, transphobia, that’s a really interesting one because we should be expecting bodies to have these kinds of dysphoria because we believe that the creation is subject to a kind of frustration and decay and actually some of that frustration is a gift. Like the fact that trans people, like my body is not what it’s supposed to be. We should be going like, yeah, we know. Like.
Devi (she/her) (39:52.658)
David Bennett (40:07.918)
course, you know, we live between creation, full and redemption. Yeah, welcome to the club. Come live a sacramental life where we’ve grown in the tension together. And thank you for the gift of the fact you’re reminding us that there is this glorious resurrection coming and that these things will one day resolve but we also have to live in the tension of what we’ve been given and we don’t get to choose that. And so this comes back to Andy Stanley, basically.
Devi (she/her) (40:07.919)
David Bennett (40:34.862)
Why I think sexuality and gender are questions that aren’t just ethical, they are theodicy based questions. And that means we can have a generosity when the person we’re encountering is making decisions which we believe are not right, ultimately, not ethical, ultimately, we can still say but they’re wrestling with the mystery of evil suffering, having a different order, you know, a different ordering of desire that doesn’t chime with the created order.
which means that they can’t just enter marriage easily if they wanted to, which is like incredibly hard. Or they have a body and a mentative kind of loop that is telling them they’re the other sex to what their body is. And wow, imagine what that would be like. But also when I look at those realities, I get excited, because what we see in scripture is in those realities, the glory of God is revealed. Like it’s not in spite of those difficulties. It’s not in spite of the fall.
Devi (she/her) (41:28.457)
David Bennett (41:32.718)
It’s actually through the fall, through the cross, through the difficulty that the glory of God manifests. So always say to the church, put your cross glasses on, put the lens of the cross on and get excited for the glory. And I’m not a final product on that. I’m working on that. I’m a disciple too.
Devi (she/her) (41:46.718)
Devi (she/her) (41:59.69)
David Bennett (42:01.038)
But that’s the goal, that’s the destination, and all these other compromises that I keep seeing rehashed to make things simple, apparently. Make it simple, just give me three points in a sermon. Like, no, it’s about learning how to see the world in a radically new way. This is about an inner transformation of being in Christ. This is, as much as we can have three points, we have to be so careful we’re not constructing these laws that make life easy for us, but a hell for others.
Devi (she/her) (42:29.773)
Yeah. Yeah, that’s very powerful. David, I thank you. Thank you for that. There are people who will say that what you believe about, let’s say specifically about gay people, they will say that Andy has not gone far enough and that to be fully affirming.
accepting, inclusive, you know, all of those words, but fully affirming in the sense of marriage is for gay people. I think they would say this is the only way for gay people to thrive in the church. What would you say to that?
David Bennett (43:19.534)
so much. The first thing I’ll say is if there’s no difference for same sex desire, if same sex desire is not related to the created order differently, I don’t have any queerness. You’re denying my queerness. So if you just want to make marriage equal, then I’m not different. There is nothing queer about me. I’m just like straight people. Sociologically in my experience, I’m not. Yes. But you’re not, you’re essentially removing my difference actually. Um, that’s, that’s, that’s a hard one to get your head around. Second one is, to go before Jesus, the Holy One of Israel, like the greatest righteousness that there is. And I have to give an account for how I live these things out. Are you telling me that you know for sure gay marriage is okay? Actually. Because if you’re not, and you send me before that throne…
My gosh, I don’t want to be you on that day. I do not. They’ll be graced for me because it’s really hard. But for you, I’m more concerned for you if you’re not queer or gay. And I think like, I do not understand this constant desire for allyship that’s superficial. I want real allyship that goes, yeah, if I was in your situation, I might be side B too. But I feel more side A because I just want to love gay people. I’m like, I totally get that. Yes, but please don’t like trivialize this and say, oh, there’s no reason you would ever be side B. You know, I think that’s my real frustration with this. And I was like, it’s not going far enough. I think going far is actually entering into that deeper place. Side A is not the destination, you know, I don’t think it is. And side B has its issues. It’s not perfect. And we’re, we’re journeying to, there’s something beyond that Jesus wants us to get to.
And I don’t really know what it is, but I think it’s really beautiful. And I think it will look a lot like side B as side B is. And I don’t think it will compromise marriage between a man and a woman, but it will give this like generous space of the gospel that Paul preached. You know, that defended sinners against the condemnation of the law. So that’s what I’m aiming for. But this idea of we just need to get to side A and finally, everything will be fine. I mean, that, that to me is just strange. You know, I understand that you think, okay, yes, this will mean gay people can flourish and have their marriages and be loved and embraced, and I get that side of it. But the spiritual theological reality, it just doesn’t work for me.
Devi (she/her) (46:02.857)
Yeah. Yeah, and I think, again, I think the side a response to that might be, we love celibate people. We have celibate, side B people in our churches. And we have no problem with celibacy, that people discern on their own and follow on their own. Just don’t impose that celibacy on everybody.
David Bennett (46:24.046)
Yeah, and I think for me, the problem with that response is first of all, it understands side B in a really defunct way, which has already been shared, which is the idea that like gay people won’t necessarily be celibate. No, I mean, there’s mixed orientation marriages, there’s covenanted, vowed life. There’s all sorts of other ways of living that aren’t just being celibate. But also, we are first and foremost martyrs.
Devi (she/her) (46:38.229)
David Bennett (46:52.462)
we carry across that is a form of martyrdom. We don’t get to choose martyrdom, that’s what makes it martyrdom, you know? And I argued in my thesis that gay celibacy, whilst I don’t think it’s an ultimate fully fledged martyrdom, it has a martyrdom like element that’s not like straight celibacy. And I’ve been persecuted by certain pundits that I will not name, but who disagree with me about there’s any difference between gay and straight celibacy. And I’m like, of course there is.
because in gay celibacy, you have a different configuration of desire to the created order. That means you could never have a legitimate expression of that desire sexually, maritaly. And that’s a huge grief that I don’t wanna shirk. But I also think just trying to get rid of that and get out of the tension, to me that’s not gospel faithfulness. The gospel invites you to live faithfully in the tensions.
And so that’s where I ultimately disagree is I think you’re trying to get out of the tension to be side A or Side X and Y just come live in the tension and that Jesus will give you the grace to live in that in a way that you’re Flourishing and not actually harming yourself so we need to make a really big distinction between self denial that leads to fullness and Self denial that is stoical and harming and we need to know the difference between those two Because Christ calls us to the self denial that leads us to flourishing
Devi (she/her) (48:17.665)
Okay, what is the difference then? What would you say is the difference between the two?
David Bennett (48:23.822)
Well, this is what I want to write my next book on, which is going to be called, Love’s Ascent. And Augustine talks about, I think, Confessions 4, he says, “do you not know you prideful one that you must first descend to ascend? That you know that God first descended to ascend?” So there’s a sense in which you need to give up your life, let go of control of your life to gain it back again in a righteous way.
Devi (she/her) (48:26.634)
David Bennett (48:54.158)
And that’s what I had to do with my homosexuality. That’s what you have to do with everything, money, relationships. We need to first let go of control. And one of the things I’m worried about inside A discourse is that there’s a defense against that. Because of the theodicy problem of same-sex desire, and I understand that, it’s like, well, I shouldn’t have to be expected to do that because this is all so complex and hard. And I’m like, I understand that anger, but I think we’re called deeper to say, here is myself fully, even the really difficult wrestles, I don’t understand why you don’t. You’ve allowed this God, but I trust you with it and I’ll give it to you and I let you make it a source of life. And then he fills it with a fullness and a joy. And I think that’s one of the things people always say to me is that you’re full of so much joy. I want that joy. And I was like, yeah, it comes from giving myself to God. And knowing that one day, even imperfectly, I did live in a direction that I think is towards faithfulness, even if I can’t do it and it’s by his grace. So that is what I think it looks like. But there’s so much more to say. One thing I say, it’s just a short quip, is I only fast to feast. Like I’m only giving this up because I’m going to be more radically included in its eventual transformation. So I’m excluded from one created good. It’s true because of the fall. Not because God is a cruel tyrant.
Devi (she/her) (50:11.594)
David Bennett (50:22.478)
but because there is a complex reality where human sin and death and cosmic evil has all gotten together and now I have this body with this particular way of, you know, being oriented. And that means I’m excluded from one created good, but only in Christ so that I’m more radically included in its eventual transformation in the resurrection. So I’m going to receive this name better than sons and daughters like the eunuch in Isaiah 56. I’ve got this fullness coming in me in the resurrection. I want to make my life as much of a place, a site for that resurrection fullness so people can know it, people can see it in me. And on the surface I might look like a crazy man who’s repressing himself, has internalized homophobia, is like needs to blah blah, but that’s not what I am. That’s what people project onto me. Or at least if I am that I’m trying to repent from it. You know, that is, there’s this deeper way. So that, I hope I’ve been able to reflect that in my language. It’s really hard stuff to describe.
Devi (she/her) (51:22.417)
Yeah. Look, there are so many directions I want to go into now. I’ll just, I’ll follow that up with, I can’t help but think that your own history and your story can help here because I think it is so hard for people, for LGBTQ plus people who are raised in the constraints of white with just so much of that internalized, it’s not even internalized. I mean, the homophobia was internal, external, everywhere. I was reading, you know, Matthew, I think it’s Matthew Paul Turner. He was married, he had three kids, and then he’s, they have a beautiful story of divorcing and he’s a gay man. And, but he writes in a sub stack about how he’s completely estranged from his entire biological family, right? They won’t talk to him. And he talks about, the homophobia he grew up with and how he knew, you know, his whole life that like coming out to his family would just be the most terrifying thing ever, right? Whereas it seems like you grew up in a very different environment, right? And your queerness was celebrated when you came out and whatnot. And I almost can’t help but think like, is it easier to walk into a side B life because you were never condemned by the people who loved you the most.
David Bennett (52:56.782)
Yeah, I think that’s a really beautiful putting your finger on the thing I was talking about with parents and family. This is really huge for people’s psychology. We’re not just theological ethicists. I am. But psychology matters as well, you know, and so much. And I don’t want to cheapen that. I think it’s such an important element. choose their ethics far more because of these psychological experiences of pain trauma than they do because of theological ethics. Now that means I do think we still need theological ethics, we can’t just throw that out. But what is more determinative, like you know, Blaise Pascal says, the heart has reasons of which reason knows nothing. And I think those reasons of the heart really matter, and are things that we keep missing when we over-moralize this question.
Devi (she/her) (53:34.881)
David Bennett (53:54.126)
I remember my side-A friend in St. Andrews who was doing her PhD on Karl Bart, and marriage. I mean, that is the way to basically trigger a side B scholar like me. And I was like, Oh really? So you just want to get rid of natural theology and the created order and just say, it’s also easy. I can get married. Well, isn’t that nice for you, traitor? You know, and then she would look at me and be like that side B guy over there who wants to defend this you know, orthodoxy that’s oppressive and terrible. And actually, I want a whole different orthodoxy that I regained through Karl Bart, blah, blah, blah, you know, so we’re just both there in these seminars. And then finally, we got over ourselves and decided to have waffles and a coffee. And we sat down and she told me her story of being raised by a far right wing Republican father that believed the American Constitution was as inspired as the Bible that the gay people were agents of Satan, like just crazy stuff. And I was like, no wonder you’re Side B is not an option for you. You know, because it’s just like, I can’t. And there’s some deep potential.
Devi (she/her) (54:49.573)
Yeah. It’s so triggering. Honestly, it’s so triggering to be told you have to be celibate because the people. Yeah, sorry.
David Bennett (55:00.014)
No, I mean, and purity culture and idolatry of sex and romance and marriage. I mean, we haven’t even talked about that. That’s so enormous. That’s part of like global capitalism. That’s like evil.
Devi (she/her) (56:17.285)
I think there’s no question to me that churches that ask single people and LGBTQ plus people to be celibate or place that expectation on them. There’s no question to me that is a huge ask. However normal it may be from that particular reading of scripture, however normal that expectation, however historical, whatever, it’s still a big ask. I’m curious. where do you think churches need to raise the standard for straight people or for married people? Because I think sometimes it’s not just about the what we expect of queer people. The problem is that we expect so little of everyone else.
David Bennett (57:14.238)
This is a great question. So first thing I would say is there’s a really big issue in our society. We have assumed beliefs that are wrong, like desperately wrong. And one of those assumed beliefs is that there is no Eros outside of sexual intercourse. The idea that, you know, Eros is this evil selfish desire and if we can just get it to stay in marriage… and not go anywhere else, then it’ll be kind of okay, even though it’s slightly abusive and weird. And our marriages are actually miserable forms of hell. Like that is the straight world often in the church. And they get this weird jealousy when you’re queer and free and like celibate and full of this Eros from heaven, which is like full of intimacy and all these straight people looking at like, why can he be free? I’m so miserable in my marriage. And I’m like, guys, you need to…
Devi (she/her) (58:06.321)
It’s so real.
David Bennett (58:08.078)
You need to let go of this view of Eros, which comes from weirdo hypermedieval hyper Lutheran people who were like, we need to get rid of all the Eros, you know, Pope Benedict talked about how Agape makes Eros noble again. But yes, it’s true, the fall and sin has made Eros unstable. And so it becomes this kind of disordered versions of sexuality and all sorts of other things coveting your neighbor’s car or, you know, whatever it looks like.
Devi (she/her) (58:36.424)
David Bennett (58:38.414)
But actually what needs to happen is the gospel needs to sanctify that inner Eros that God has given us so that it can come through in friendship and sisterhood and brotherhood and in solidarity and intersectional empathy and all these different things, you know, that then becomes a life of fullness. And you’re like, yeah, I can live without marriage. Like I don’t need that sexual good because I have all these other erotic goods. And what I mean by Eros is not sex.
Devi (she/her) (59:02.954)
David Bennett (59:04.846)
I mean the more classical philosophical definition, which is actually about union with God and each other. You know, the Greeks saw sex as a distraction from true philosophical eros. They were like, and they did, they made mistakes the other way, where they’re like, so we need to go up into the spiritual realm of Plato and forms and escape the physical. And women, by the way, are part of the physical, so we’ll just be with men. That’s like, okay, no, that’s wrong. You know, so there’s a lot to do.
Devi (she/her) (59:05.577)
David Bennett (59:29.87)
Devi on our view of theology of eros. So that’s the first thing I would say. Then the second thing I would say is when we have pain and trauma, we often make really bad decisions. Like we can make a really bad decision to be celibate and try to be side B. There is bad celibacy. There is bad side B. They’re like, hear me out. I’m not saying, oh, great. People come to me and say, I’ve decided to be celibate. I’m like, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Where is that coming from? Like.
Devi (she/her) (59:48.801)
David Bennett (59:58.83)
tell me your story because I’m like, you could be tempted towards bad celibacy. We need to teach you good, healthy Christian aestheticism. I only, you know, feast, so only fast to feast. And then, you know, with people that are like, I just want to be side A, it’s like, Whoa, whoa, careful, because you could be making that decision from a bad base, you know, of thinking sex and marriage will just fulfill you. Let me tell you, they won’t. Only God will. So we need to bring God back to the center. And this Eros and intimacy with God. People say, oh, you’re Jesus is my boyfriend, David. I’m like, yeah, Jesus is my husband, David. Like, whatever, like run at me. I’m so passionate in love. I wanna give like my whole self to God. I can throw all my Eros onto God and he will help me reorder it all of it to people in a healthy way. Like, isn’t that awesome? Like we have this God who’s loved us perfectly in the cross and can sanctify us through the resurrection so that our desires become a power towards sainthood, not a prevention from it. Like…
Devi (she/her) (01:01:22.617)
Yeah. No, no. Well, yeah, I think for me as a straight married person, what I hear when you say that is, how am I living sacrificially? Am I living sacrificially? Right? So whatever the churches that we’re a part of expect of queer people, are we expecting the same thing of ourselves as straight people? If you are in a… If you are in a church that is not affirming, that is the question to ask. Are you at kind of the same level of sacrifice?
David Bennett (01:01:59.822)
And the Orthodox tradition, you know when Orthodox people get married, they wear a crown of martyrdom. Because in Orthodox theology, marriage is such a form of self-death that you need to wear a crown of martyrdom because they recognize marriage is so hard and it is so about self-sacrifice for the other. And you’re going to encounter all their issues and all their problems that you don’t even know about yet, but you’re going to like live through it and love them through it and come out with a crown.
Devi (she/her) (01:02:11.349)
Devi (she/her) (01:02:30.25)
David Bennett (01:02:30.254)
And I just think that’s a much healthier view of marriage than our Western view that’s all just about created goods. How can I get the created good and go away with my trophy? I think we need a bit more of that like martyrdom idea, that asceticism that Paul says, husbands love your wife as Christ loved the church. That’s the foundation of what marriage should look like as a Christian. And I would say marriage lived out truly in the biblical traditional sense I’ve mentioned, that strand in the tradition. I would say that’s queer.