I’m currently reading Wesley Hill’s book Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality. Hill is a celibate, homosexual Christian. Given I often try to squeeze around the elephant in the room, I am interested in his perspective. The book wrestles with three main areas of struggle that many same-sex attracted (SSA) Christians face:
- What is God’s will for sexuality?
- If the historic Christian tradition is right and same-sex sex is ruled out, how should SSA Christians deal with any resulting loneliness?
- How can SSA Christians come to an experience of grace that rescues them from feelings of shame and guilt?
Hill does not advocate that it is possible for every SSA Christian to become straight, nor is he saying that God affirms SSA. Instead, Hill comes alongside SSA Christians and says, “You are not alone. Here is my experience; it’s like yours. And God is with us. We can share in God’s grace.”
While some authors profess a deep faith in Christ and claim a powerful experience of the Holy Spirit precisely in and through their homosexual practice, Hill’s own story, by contrast, is a story of feeling spiritually hindered, rather than helped, by his homosexuality.
Hill writes: Homosexuality was not God’s original creative intention for humanity— it is, on the contrary, a tragic sign of human nature and relationships being fractured by sin—and therefore homosexual practice goes against God’s express will for all human beings, especially those who trust in Christ.
Hill is writing that it’s ok to be a SSA Christian. But it’s not ok, if you are a SSA Christian, to act on those desires and urges. If you’re not a Christian, have no faith or belief in Christ, then you can do whatever with whomever you like.
The SAP’s (smart alec pastor) angle is that it’s nothing to do with sexuality, nothing to do with doing whatever we like, and everything to do with needing to get to know Jesus better. But that’s why he’s paid to be a SAP (well, he’s paid to be a P, let’s be frank. The SA bit is a fringe benefit I’m sure some Archbishops get starchy about).
Anyway, every bit of my itchy before Christ (BC) skin sat upon me uncomfortably when I read the paragraph by Hill. Yet, given Hill is a homosexual celibate Christian, he has far more insight and knowledge into it, so who am I to get offended on his behalf?
That’s the problem. I feel offended because I feel I ought to. I’ve had a far greater secular life than a Christian one. The society I inhabit is all about ‘self’, and worships the popular belief that we as individuals know what is right, best and true for ourselves. My secular ‘BC’ self gets offended on Hill’s behalf because why shouldn’t he have sex with a gorgeous guy, thrive in a relationship, get married, have kids etc? Why, as his book outlines, is he walking the narrow path of celibacy?
What Hill is gently teaching me – and it brings tears to my eyes as I type – is that his faith in Christ is bigger than this world. He is choosing, radically, to put God and His word ahead of himself. His faith in Jesus commits him to a demanding, costly obedience of choosing not to nurture his SSA desires. Doing so, Hill encourages and challenges Christians with SSA desires to live faithful to God’s plan for human sexuality.
Not helped by different churches sending different messages. One pastor will encourage SSA Christians to live and love in Christ, have sex, be in relationship and come to his church (I’ll call him a populist pastor). Another will encourage SSA Christians to live and love in Christ, come to his church, but, like Hill, encourage them to remain celibate (I’ll call him a scriptural pastor).
The latter will walk with their same-sex attracted Christian friends, loving them well, picking them up, and making sure they are there for them in the same way they would for anyone else.
The former will tell their same-sex attracted friends that all is OK. That other Christians are wrong in interpreting the scripture. That God was mistaken and the Bible is incorrect. That Jesus is all about love.
The latter will worry about the souls being taught by the former, because, as Hill comes back to again and again in his book, it’s not homosexuality but homosexual acts that the Bible lists as a no-no. So the scriptural pastor is counselling based on the Bible while the populist pastor is counselling based on popular, modern-day cultural expectations that ‘we know best’ – revolving around the importance of ‘staying true to self’. I have desires and I can act on them.
The scriptural pastor will be in anguish because he believes the populist pastor is leading SSA Christians further away from Christ. And wouldn’t that just piss you off come his return?
I use the word ‘anguish’ on purpose. The scriptural pastors I meet aren’t narrow-minded, bigoted homophobes. They are desperately saddened and anguished because they believe, with all their loving hearts, that to ignore the Bible (not just on this subject, but on anything) is to lose the way back to God.
For them, there’s a lot of really serious stuff at stake. As Jesus explains in the Parable of the Weeds: this separation from God – Hell – is like ‘a blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matt 13:40-43) and again a moment later in the parable of the fish in the net, (Matt 13:49-50). A Christian does not wish that upon any soul alive. Which is why they share the message of Jesus. Not to judge or accuse. Rather so as many as possible can come to know and trust in Jesus, and be kept safely away from the weeping and gnashing.
Trouble is, it all goes pear-shaped because humans are involved. We are flawed. No Christian is perfect and in trying to explain all this it often gets narrowly interpreted or blown out of proportion. This is an incredibly emotive and difficult topic to write about. It’s easy to be misrepresented and misunderstood. I’ve skittered around it for months.
If I had the answers, then my name would be Mosette and I’d be standing on top of a mountain taking dictation. I can only offer the following observations from my meditating on this for over a year:
1) Some Christians unhelpfully muddy the waters around sin. I have heard UHT Christians (those who have been at Christianity a long, longer life than I) use terms of condemnation around the Mardi Gras march. But where’s Jesus in that? The same Christians rarely talk pillars of salt when faced with an unmarried heterosexual couple having sex. So why make a ‘bigger sin’ out of SSA and mardi-gras? An unmarried heterosexual couple, having children and living together are just as sinful to God. Yet how often are they called out as an example?
2) The Bible isn’t comfortable reading. But there are two really important lines. As a new Christian I battle my way through the scriptural stuff on the topic. The Bible isn’t a flat set of rules I can read objectively and apply unilaterally. It tells me of God’s complex interaction with humanity. It’s a complicated, and at times troubling, holy text. It has more than one voice. It contains letters and laws. Poetry and proverbs. Prophecy and philosophy. Often, probably like many others, I find myself more called by what I want the Bible to say than what it actually says.
Personally I rest on this: Jesus said all the scriptures can be rendered into two commands: To love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love my neighbour as myself. Jesus is about love, but he was incredibly specific when teaching how to direct that love. To love the Lord first.
3) What does loving the Lord really mean? Wesley Hill has chosen to love the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind and strength in a way that my secular, selfish, self-led perspective would never have understood prior to my Christian journey. Now, though? I am awed and humbled by his decision. To give of yourself; more, give over yourself so totally? To love and honour God’s call above all earth-bound needs and desires? It’s a huge commitment that demonstrates Hill’s immense trust in God.
4) Biblical truth is rarely popular or palatable. God’s word can be uncomfortable and inconvenient in a society that puts self first. Which is why you have such a striking difference between what populist and scriptural pastors teach. As a Christian, I need to look closely at my own heart and discover if I am motivated by what I want the Bible to say than what it actually says. Because if I only take what I want it to say, massaging it so I find it more popular and palatable, then I am putting myself first. I become God in our relationship. And that never works out too well.
5) Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. After all, Jesus persevered for us no matter what. He was faithful no matter what. Hill is trusting, hoping, persevering. He is sticking to what God asks of him because, even though it is not popular or palatable, it is what God asked – commanded – of him. Loving obedience is the crux of our relationship with God and trust in Christ.
That love line is pesky isn’t it? In our self-directed, secular world, we are told ‘all we need is love’, that ‘love is enough’. Yet love without protection, trust, hope, perseverance, truth and grace? It becomes hollow. A sound-byte. A hall pass.
6) God’s truth can’t be convenient only when I need it to be. God packed the Bible full of inconvenient truths. But performing bible-reading gymnastics, to make those truths more palatable, can have an awful impact. Like headship. Some Christian men have perpetrated domestic violence by reading ‘submit to your husbands’ as some awful permission to abuse. Playing God in their relationship, they ignored the instruction ‘love your wife as Christ loved the church’. Yet, for their wives, and the clergy who help them, the ability to turn to that final, ultimate scriptural truth is, for many, a literal lifeline. Imagine if it could be ignored. So I love how the Bible, and Jesus, gives a clear directive on this one.
Ah, right. So I sometimes only like the truth when it suits me and my beliefs, my desires. Which then makes it all about me, not about Jesus and God.
But this, ALL of this, from Bibles falling off shelves, to being pursued by an impatient Hound of Heaven, to getting the courage to be Lipton’d in the river, to hold up all my secular beliefs to scrutiny and be challenged – it’s never been about me. It’s always been about G & J. It’s had to be. Otherwise I’d have stopped a long while back.
So in my relationship with them, I just pray that I may bring but a small measure of the courage, faith, commitment and strength shown by Wesley Hill. That God will save me from convenience, from reading only what I want to read. And that I may always love with protection, trust, hope, perseverance, truth and grace.