With the recent controversy over Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathey’s non-remarks about gay marriage, followed by a threatened boycott, then a day of support, then a suggested Kiss-In, public discourse, like water, quickly ran to the lowest point. One of my friends, himself no stranger to stirring the pot, finally was compelled to write on Facebook:
To my conservative friends, please stop posting these stupid e-cards about Chick filA, God hating gays and protests. No wonder people won’t visit church anymore. To my liberal friends, quit whining like Dan Cathy attacked a small child or something. Who cares what he thinks. The chicken is delicious. Eat it or don’t eat, but for god’s sake, everyone please focus on the real problems in this world.
Then, an ongoing conversation with an openly gay friend who I have known since he was a child turned my thoughts to the ways we as followers of Christ have, perhaps, misunderstood the plight, feelings, and concerns of those around us with same-sex attraction.
This context, as well as the trials of another friend last week, made me open to a recommendation to read Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality, by Durham University PhD student, Wesley Hill. I am very thankful for the recommendation, as this is one of the most moving books I have ever read, and perhaps one of the most important.
Where Hill differs is that he refuses to capitulate to the current cultural doctrine regarding homosexual activity. He firmly holds to the Bible, though his own desires rail against what he knows to be right. The book was written to encourage
those gay Christians who are already convinced that their discipleship to Jesus necessarily commits them to the demanding, costly obedience of choosing not to nurture their homosexual desires, whether through private fantasies or physical relationships with other gay or lesbian people. (pg. 16)
Hill’s description of growing up confused and filled with shame over his same-sex attraction is heart rending. His thoughtful descriptions of thinking about males rather than females, of a fleeting moment of possible sexual desire toward a woman that he read about in a book, and dancing with a beautiful girl but feeling nothing…until an attractive man went by Hill on the dance floor as he grooved with his own wife, are gripping and touching.
This is one heterosexual dude who has no point of reference for those kinds of thoughts and feelings.
What Washed and Waiting revealed to me, though, was the intensity with which some people are attracted toward people of the same sex. I cannot identify with Wesley Hill except in this way: if he, his entire life, has only known attraction to males the way that I, for my entire life, have known attraction to only females, then to accuse him of making a choice in the matter certainly does not seem very well informed. (This is not to say that some people do not make choices with regard to sexual preference; they obviously do.)
This places Hill and others who have chosen celibacy in response to their same-sex attraction in the position of never being able to experience sex righteously with someone toward whom they actually feel attraction and love. However, he notes
[f]rom the gospel’s point of view, then, there is no absolute right or unconditional guarantee of sexual fulfillment for Christian believers. And this is one more reason the Bible and the church’s prohibitions of homoeroticism have seemed less and less surprising or arbitrary or unfair the more I’ve thought about them with the context of the gospel. If all Christians must surrender their bodies to God in Christ whenever they enter the fellowship of Christ’s body, then it should come as no great shock that God might actually make demands of those Christians and their bodies–demands proving that God, and God alone, has authority over us.
It is from this framework that Hill makes what I think is a crucially important contribution to the swirling arguments around homosexualtiy: there is a difference between same-sex attraction and same-sex activity, just as there is a difference between hetero-sexual attraction and sex outside of wedlock.Perhaps the most moving sections of the book are the chronicles of Hill’s intense feelings of loneliness. Drawing parallels with other celibate homosexuals like Catholic theologian Henri Nouwen and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, each of whom experienced deep struggles with loneliness, Hill takes us on a journey through what I can only call moments of emotional despair resulting from loneliness. While such feelings are not limited to celibate homosexuals, it does help understand his struggle.
Where many people with same-sex attraction and others who actively practice gay sex will disagree vehemently with Hill is his assertion that same-sex attraction is a result of the brokenness in the world brought on by sin. Those who insist that homosexual desires, passions and practices are “normal” or even “God given” will find themselves lovingly reproved by Hill who categorizes the first two as thorns in the flesh and the last as sin.
The most powerful part of Washed and Waiting is the final chapter which applies to all followers of Christ, not just those who have same-sex attraction. The chapter entitled “The Divine Accolade” taken from a C.S. Lewis notation on Jesus’ famous words of hope, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Rather than being caught up in our past sinfulness or current temptation, both Lewis and Hill rightfully encourage focus on how God views us rather than how we are tempted to view ourselves. We should not succumb to the condemnation of our heart, since God is greater than our heart and knows every single thing about us and still, because we are in Christ, refuses to condemn us. Said Lewis,
It is written that we shall ‘stand before’ him, shall appear, shall be inspected. The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God. To please God…to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness…to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son–it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is. (The Weight of Glory)
I cannot recommend Washed and Waiting highly enough if you want to get inside the mind of what it means to only have ever experienced same-sex attraction. Whether you have given yourself over to same-sex activity, have a family member who has come out of the closet and you are not sure what to do, or want to get an idea of what it will take to push the conversation on gay marriage (or gay rights) past the shouting, finger pointing, boycotting, condemning stage, this book will provoke your thinking in a biblically centered direction.