Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill

It's subtitled, "Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality." (Zondervan, 2010; excerpt here; publisher info here)

I found this small volume on the book table at an Anglican church we visited in London. My impression, not backed up with statistics or anything, is that books mentioning homosexuality and Christianity often say things like:

  1. My church rejected me as soon as I told them I was gay -or-
  2. The Scriptures commonly used to condemn homosexual behavior are either
    • misinterpreted [they're really about idolatry, lack of hospitality, promiscuity, etc] or
    • outdated (like the prohibitions against eating bacon and shrimp, wearing braids/jewelry, etc]
    and in either case irrelevant; -or-
  3. I prayed this prayer [or went through this process] and was cured of my homosexuality [and you too can be cured if you're willing to...]
What don't I like about these things? The first thing is that they side-track attention from what I might call The Real Problem, or rather the Remaining Problem:
  1. complains about the lack of real acceptance in our congregations; this is a real issue too, but even if the congregation (both clergy and laity) fully accept people like Hill who have homosexual feelings, problems do not thereby all go away.
  2. tries to explain away "troublesome" Scriptures, but many Christians can't believe either the "really talking about idolatry..." explanation nor the "bacon and shrimp" one (indeed, as indicates, some gay Christians find such explanations specious).
  3. is no more satisfying to an un-"cured" person with homosexual feelings than a "faith healing" testimonial would be to someone paralyzed in all four limbs.
No, what I mean by The Remaining Problem is this: suppose Joe Christian experiences homosexual feelings; when he tells his pastors and church friends about the feelings, they pray with and for him, accept him as he is, listen and speak to him with compassion and understanding. Suppose further that as Joe reads and studies the Scriptures, he remains unconvinced that they condone any sexual relationship other than marriage between one man and one woman. And suppose that in spite of much praying and fasting and seeking healing, Joe continues to be attracted only to other men.

What then? The Remaining Problem is: what do we say to gay Christians about their desires -- not just sexual desires, but the desire to belong with and to another, the desire to know and be known, intimately, by a life partner? Do we say it's all right to disobey the Scriptures (you relativists out there can read this as "disobey the Scriptures as they understand them")? That seems like a really bad idea.

Do we say, "Pray so that you can be healed from this"? I think that's a wonderful idea, which also applies to our brothers and sisters with other persistent issues (those paralyzed in one or more limbs, those dying from cancer or AIDS, brothers and sisters who are blind, who can't sleep nights, who struggle with chronic depression, etc.) -- but what happens when, as in the vast majority of cases, healing doesn't come?

We should not say they lack faith [etc] -- we've no right to say that, and besides we could be 100% wrong anyway. Eutychus was dead and therefore had no faith at all when Paul raised him to life (Acts 20:9-10) -- ditto Jairus's daughter (Mark 5:35). And if the problem is sin, well, everybody's got sin, even those who did get healed or raised from the dead.

No, The Remaining Problem is, when all that other stuff has been tried, how do our brothers and sisters live when they

  • have homosexual urges;
  • feel no attraction to members of the opposite sex;
  • believe the Scriptures that tell us the only acceptable sexual relationship is in a marriage between one man and one woman;
  • earnestly desire to trust, obey, honor, serve Christ; and
  • yearn for love and intimacy and acceptance just like the rest of us?
How do we encourage them to live for Christ in the midst of unfulfilled and possibly unfulfillable desires?

Hill's book addresses these questions with compassion, integrity, poignancy. He tells his own story, and also describes some struggles endured by Gerard Manley Hopkins and by Henri Nouwen, both of whom had homosexual urges but did not act upon them. Hill points out that he has the same unfulfilled desires as many fellow believers who remain single, but not by their own choice. An excerpt from the introduction:

[T]his book is neither about how to live faithfully as a practicing homosexual person nor about how to live faithfully as a fully healed or former homosexual man or woman. J. I. Packer, commenting on Paul’s hopeful word for sexual sinners in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, writes, “With some of the Corinthian Christians, Paul was celebrating the moral empowering of the Holy Spirit in heterosexual terms; with others of the Corinthians, today’s homosexuals are called to prove, live out, and celebrate the moral empowering of the Holy Spirit in homosexual terms”† This book is about what it means to do that—how, practically, a non-practicing but still-desiring homosexual can “prove, live out, and celebrate” the grace of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit in homosexual terms.

This book is written mainly for 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....
† J. I. Packer, “Why I Walked,” Christianity Today 47 (January 20, 2003) 46.

Washed and Waiting p.16
Hill does a terrific job in this small, readable volume; every church leader should read it. →

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