One of the issues in this world that will be debated until Jesus returns is homosexuality and its various subtopics. In his debut book, Wesley Hills shares his struggles as a homosexual Christian in ‘Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality’ and how he has chosen to live with this ‘thorn in the flesh.’
Here is the synopsis of this enlightening book:
How do the gospel, holiness, and indwelling sin play out in the life of a Christian struggling with same-sex attraction? And how do brothers and sisters in Christ show love to them? Wesley Hill offers wise counsel that is biblically faithful, theologically serious, and oriented to the life and practice of the church.
As a celibate gay Christian, Hill gives us a glimpse at what it looks like to wrestle first-hand with God’s “No” to same-sex relationships. What does it mean for gay Christians to be faithful to God while struggling with the challenge of their homosexuality> What is God’s will for believers who experience same-sex desires? Those who choose celibacy are often left to deal with loneliness and the hunger for relationships. How can gay Christians experience God’s favor and blessings in the midst of a struggle that for many brings a crippling sense of shame and guilt?
Weaving together reflections from his own life and the lives of other Christians, such as Henri Nouwen and Gerald Manley Hopkins, Hills offers a fresh perspective on these questions. He advocates neither unqualified “healing” for those who struggle nor accommodation to temptation, but rather faithfulness in the midst of brokenness.
Here is the biography of this author:
Wesley Hill graduated from Wheaton College and has an MA in Theology and Religion from Durham University, UK. He is currently working toward a PhD in New Testament at Durham and has written for Books & Culture and Ransom Fellowship’s magazine, Critique.
Wesley’s Introduction is powerful:
By the time I started high school, two things had become clear to me. One was that I was a Christian. My parents had raised me to be a believer in Jesus, and as I moved toward independence from my family, I knew that I wanted to remain one – that I wanted to trust, love, and obey Christ, who had been crucified and raised from the dead “for us and for our salvation” as the creed puts it. The second thing was that I was gay. For as long as I could remember, I had been drawn, even as a child, to other males. In some vaguely confusing way, and after puberty, I had come to realize that I had a steady, strong, unremitting exclusive sexual attraction to persons of the same sex.
Since that time of self-discovery, I have struggled week in and week out to know how to live faithfully as a Christian who experience same-sex attraction. In the most difficult hours of that struggle, I have looked for articles or books to help me. I have searched for things written in the furnace, so to speak, by other gay Christians – book born out of intense personal wrestling with homosexuality, as well as the demands of the gospel - that I could look to for guidance. I have found dozens, maybe hundreds, of scholarly articles and monographs debating the passages in the Bible that deal with homosexuality… But I have never found a book I could resonate with that tries to put into words some of the struggle to live faithfully before God in Christ, with others, as a gay person. That is my attempt to write such a book. (pp. 13-14)
I think a book like this is long overdue.
Wesley shares with his readers the struggles he engages in on a repeated basis:
In my experience, the effort to live faithfully as a gay Christian has involved me in three main battles. First has been the struggle to understand what exactly the gospel demands of homosexual Christians; why it seems to require that I not act on my homosexual desires – and how the gospel enables me to actually fulfill this demand. Chapter 1 of this book, “A Story-Shaped Life,” is devoted to these questions.
Second, for me, being a Christian who experiences homoerotic desires has meant loneliness – feelings of isolation, fears that I will be alone all my life with my brokenness, that no one will be there for the long haul to walk this road with me. Most gay Christians who are convinced that gay sex isn’t an option will, I suspect, probably find celibacy to be the best or only alternative for living in a way that is faithful to the gospel’s call for purity. And because of that, most gay Christians will experience loneliness. So the question becomes: How do we live with this loneliness? Is there any relief for it? What comfort does the gospel offer? That is the focus of chapter 2, “The End of Loneliness.”
Finally, in my life and in the lives of many others, shame has been a constant struggle in the effort to live out the life of Christ and his Spirit in homosexual terms. Guilt over homosexual sin, a nagging, unshakable feeling of being “damaged good,” a sense of being broken beyond repair – and therefore of being regularly, unavoidably displeasing to God – these all seem endemic to much homosexual Christian experience. In chapter 3, “The Divine Accolade,” I address this struggle and try to express the conviction that has become the heartbeat of my life – that we homosexual Christians, in the words of C.S. Lewis, can actually be a “real ingredient in the divine happiness.” We can please God, can truly experience his pleasure in the midst of sexual brokenness, and in the end share his glory. (p. 20)
In addition to his personal story, he also shares the story of two other Christians:
Interspersed throughout these chapters are three mini-biographies or character sketches of homosexual Christians. The first is my own life story, and I have also included the stories of Henri Nouwen, the now-deceased Catholic writer on spirituality, and the nineteenth-century homoerotically inclined Jesuit poet Gerald Manley Hopkins, in the hope that hearing about the travails and triumphs of three real-life homosexual Christians may help readers put hands and feet on the more theoretical material in the main chapters of the book.
It is my prayer that God may use the reflections in this book to help others live faithfully before him until the time when he makes all things new. Until then, we wait in hope (Romans 8:25), washed clean by his Son and Spirit (1 Corinthians. (p. 21)
One of the biggest arguments with regard to homosexuality is whether or not one is born with the inclination. Wesley shares his realization during ninth grade:
Birdlike, I was testing my wings, coming of age. But at the same time that I was learning to engage with God as a hungry growing young Christian, the realization dawned on me like a dead weight sinking in my stomach that no amount of spiritual growth seemed to have any effect on my sexual preference. The homoerotic attractions I had been conscious of since waking up to the strange new universe of sexuality remained so constant and unbroken that I came to realize I was experiencing what was usually called “homosexuality.” I had a homosexual orientation. I was gay.
For me, admitting this to myself – I have memories of lying in bed, staring at the ceiling in the dark, mulling it over, forming the word homosexuality silently on my lips – was like an awareness that steals up on you one day out of the blue. It was there all along, but you saw it just then. There was nothing, it felt, chosen or intentional about my being gay. It seemed more like noticing the blueness of my eyes than deciding I would take up skiing. There was never an option – “Do you want to be gay?” “Yes, I do, please.” It was a gradual coming to terms, not a conscious resolution. (pp. 28-29)
Those who are convinced that a homosexual ‘learns’ his same-sex attraction (nature vs. nurture) has no argument against this man’s own experience.
It was interesting to read about Wesley’s journey from denial and secrecy to finally revealing his feelings to some people in his life. He explains himself this way:
Washed and waiting. This is my life – my identity as one who is forgiven and spiritually cleansed and my struggle as one who perseveres with a frustrating thorn in the flesh, looking forward to what God has promised to do. That is what this book is about. (p. 50)
I love the conclusion he comes to about how he is able to live the celibate life:
And this means that our pain – the pain of having our deeply ingrained inclinations and desires blocked and confronted by God’s demand for purity in the gospel – far from being a sign of our failure to live the life God wants, may actually be the mark of our faithfulness. We groan in frustration because of our fidelity to the gospel’s call. And though we may miss out in the short run on lives of personal fulfillment and sexual satisfaction, in the long run the cruelest thing that God could do would be to leave us alone with our desires, to spare us the affliction of his refining care.
“Not only does God in Christ take people as they are: He takes them in order to transform them into what He wants them to be,” writes historian Andrew Walls. In light of this, is it any surprise that we homosexual Christians must experience such a transformation along with the rest of the community of faith? (p. 68)
It was also interesting to read about the stories of Henri Nouwen and Gerald Manley Hopkins. I have read works from Mr. Nouwen in the past; I had no idea he had those struggles. I was unfamiliar with Mr. Hopkins before being introduced to him in this book. Wesley looks forward to the day that he meets Mr. Nouwen:
Nearly two thousand years ago, Good Friday gave way to Easter Sunday, and at the end of history, when Jesus appears, death will give way to resurrection on a cosmic scale and the old creation will be freed from its bondage to decay as the new is ushered in. On that day there will be no more loneliness. The wounds will be healed. I expect to stand with Henri Nouwen at the resurrection and marvel that neither of us is homosexual anymore, that we both – together with every other homosexual Christian – are whole and complete in the fellowship of the redeemed, finally at home with the Father. (p. 93)
Mr. Hill closes out his book this way:
I am learning that my struggle to live faithfully before God in Christ with my homosexual orientation is pleasing to him. And I am waiting for the day when I will receive the divine accolade, when my labor of trust and hope and self-denial will be crowned with his praise. “Well done, good and faithful servant,” the Lord Jesus will say. “Enter into the joy of your master.” (p. 150)
In the Afterword, Kathryn Green-McCreight makes this important observation:
We who are the body of Christ must show the love, joy, hope. and fellowship of the gospel to all who are part of the body. This is especially true in this day and age with regard to those who, for the sake of the narrow gate of the gospel, find their vocation in celibacy – even when it may include personal pain and isolation. (p. 153)
I have been a Christian long enough to remember the day when the prevailing opinion about homosexuality was that it is the most heinous of sins. It is a relief to see that that seems to be becoming a minority opinion in the Christian community. There is no love in that mindset – and God is love! That is sin just as much as is the act of sex between two men or two women.
Alternately, many people are going the other direction, saying the Bible is irrelevant today and that even Christians don’t have to follow the Biblical teachings about homosexuality. I think of the example of Jennifer Knapp, who came out in the last couple years. I wonder what she thinks of Wesley’s perspective on same-sex attraction and how to deal with it in a Godly manner.
With all that said, I admire Wesley a great deal for making the decision that the way God wants him to approach his homosexuality is to remain celibate. I have never understood why homosexual Christians think they are exempt from the biblical admonition to remain celibate unless you are married (above other groups such as heterosexual singles, for example).
I have read two books addressing homosexuality since I have been reviewing books: ‘Turning Controversy into Church Ministry: A Christ-Like Response to Homosexuality’ by W.P. Campbell (you can read my review here) and ‘Someone’s Son: A Woman’s Fight for Her Gay Son’ by Brenda Rhodes (you can read my review here). The first book looks at homosexuality from the perspective of a pastor; the second is the chronicle of a mother whose son died from AIDS; he was infected with HIV through homosexual encounters. Each book had a different view of the homosexual orientation. This is the first book I have read that is written by a person who has been dealing with same-sex attraction himself.
To be honest, I was expecting the shoe to drop every time I turned the page – thinking he would come up with reasons (excuses?) for seeking the pleasures of this world (the natural human response). Fortunately, Mr. Hill (soon to be Dr. Hill, as he is working on his PhD) has made the hard choice to forgo some potential happiness on this planet in exchange for obedience to His Heavenly Father and praise from Him on the other side. That is a hard decision for anyone to make – to follow the biblical mandates for certain things when our flesh wants us to go the other direction. I am glad Mr. Hill did not choose his own pleasures and renounce his faith. He is an exemplar for all saints, whether they are homosexual or heterosexual. I applaud him for his strength and courage, and I look forward to seeing how God uses him in the future.
You can order this book here.
This book was published by Zondervan and provided by them for review and giveaway purposes.
I have one copy of this book to pass along; many thanks to Andrew at Zondervan for generously providing this copy!
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