Book Review - Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality

Homosexuality. The word stirs many reactions today. Many Christians who don’t know homosexuals personally remain puzzled and scared by this term. Many suspect the word does not picture a reality, only an intentional perversion of God’s created order. Pat answers are easy, and when it comes to homosexuality a simple Bible-based condemnation seems all that is in order. It is easier and more convenient for us to file the word, and whatever reality it represents, away into a tidy corner—far away from our experience.

But in today’s world, we can no longer afford to ignore homosexuality. It is all around us, and if we open our eyes, we’ll see it is affecting people we rub shoulders with at work, it’s in our children’s schools, and has even entered our churches. The debate is here—and more. It’s not just a debate, there is a secret battle being waged in countless hearts around us. A battle to believe in Jesus despite personal homosexual attractions.

When the church takes a very public, vocal and aggressive stance against homosexuality and perceived encroachments on the church’s favored family ideal, we inadvertently make it hard for those among us struggling with identity questions of their own. On the other hand, when churches change their message, dismissing Biblical statements condemning homosexual practices outright, or employing some cunning and inventive “exegesis”, the core of gospel truth is betrayed. And any message left over is spiritually bankrupt. What is needed is a careful balance between a Scriptural approach to homosexual practice as sin, and a gracious acceptance of sinners who are struggling to follow Jesus.

That balance is hard to achieve and frankly, quite rare today. Consider the words of an anonymous Christian who struggles with homosexuality:

What if the church were full of people who were loving and safe, willing to walk alongside people who struggle? What if there were people in the church who kept confidences, who took the time to be Jesus to those who struggle with homosexuality? What if the church were what God intended it to be? (p. 113)

This perspective may be new to many of us. When is the last time that you or I have known someone struggling with homosexuality? Not one given over to it, but one who professes to be a Christian yet openly admits to struggles in this area? What would it be like to be a Christian struggling with this? Can you even be a Christian if you experience homosexual desires? Isn’t Jesus supposed to miraculously heal you of such a warped perspective?

In a new book from Zondervan, Wesley Hill bravely steps forward to share his own journey with us. In Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality Hill tells the story of his life-long struggle with homosexuality. He shares the hopes and struggles, the loneliness and longing, the despair and perplexity that is life for homosexual Christians. What Hill has to say needs to be heard throughout the church today. His honesty and candor, and his gospel-centered, graceful, hopeful perspective make the book a joy to read. He offers hope for all who struggle against sin this side of the resurrection.

The book is well-written and captivating. Hill finds the right balance in conveying what it is like to think like he does, and feel like he feels, without dragging the book down into a cesspool. He keeps the story moving and intersperses reflections on the testimony of other self-professed Christians who struggled with homosexual desires.

Hill grew up in a Christian home, went to a Christian school and went to a Christian college (Wheaton). He even pursued Christian ministry. He would appear to be a typical conservative-minded Christian from a loving home. But he learned as a young teenager that something was different with him. He had no sexual attraction for women, at all. Instead, his feelings were directed toward the other sex for apparently no reason that he has yet been able to discover. One story he tells captures his reality well. He was attending a dance at a friend’s wedding. A friend, set him up to dance with a gorgeous girl. And yet even in close quarter with this stunning beauty, he felt no attraction. Instead his eyes were wandering against his will to a man across the room who he couldn’t help but notice.

Hill’s story goes on throughout the book. He is still young (in his late twenties) and realizes he doesn’t have all the answers. But he hopes his story helps others like him come to grips with who they are, and the calling Christ has for them. Hill realizes that some homosexual Christians do experience a healing of their broken desires. But many do not. He writes for “homosexual persons who have tried—and are trying—to ‘become heterosexual’ and are not succeeding and wonder, for the umpteenth time, what exactly it is that God wants them to do.” (p. 19)

Hill’s testimony of the struggle and perplexity that surrounds homosexuality helps explain the attraction of homosexual accommodation by the Church. It’s surely easier to remain connected with one “soul-mate” than to struggle against one’s natural impulses. Hill observes:

Occasionally it strikes me again how strange it is to talk about the gospel—Christianity’s “good news”—demanding anything that would squelch my happiness, much less demanding abstinence from homosexual partnerships and homoerotic passions and activities. If the gospel really is full of hope and promise, surely it must endorse—or at least not oppose—people entering into loving, erotically expressive same-sex relationships. How could the gospel be opposed to love? (p. 56)

Hill goes on to challenge this “easy way out.” He explains how and why abstinence from forbidden pleasures is essential to upholding the true gospel. “One of the hardest-to-swallow, most countercultural, counterintuitive implications of the gospel is that bearing up under a difficult burden with patient perseverance is a good thing.” (p. 71).

Hill’s struggles bring alive the hidden suffering of Christians struggling with this sin. There is an intense loneliness. First, it is hard to share with other Christians that you struggle with this issue. Second, if you agree that abstinence is God’s will, you will pull back from non-sexual relationships with others of the same sex for fear of temptation or rejection (if they knew the real you). Finally, for those who cannot just “switch” their inbred sense of attraction, for those who cannot just “become heterosexual,” or those who through long years of effort find they cannot, these are faced with a lonely future with no possibility of waking up next to the one you love and sharing life together. Hill shared some of his personal diary notes on this point: “And don’t you think we’re wired (Genesis 2!) to want the kind of companionship that can only come through marriage?” (p. 106).

An even more devastating point comes in Hill’s discussion of lust. He quotes Dallas Willard to the extent that to merely look (or see) and desire someone sexually is not wrong. Rather, looking in order to desire someone is wrong. The second glance is the one with evil intent. Hill shares what it feels like to “look and desire” in a homosexual way, and how this is even more hopeless than those who struggle against inordinate heterosexual desires:

For me and other gay people, even when we’re not willfully cultivating desire, we know that when attraction does come—most of the time, it could be as unlooked for and unwanted as it was for me that day on the dance floor at my friends’ wedding reception—it will be attraction to someone of the same sex. And in those moments, it feels as though there is no desire that isn’t lust, no attraction that isn’t illicit. I never have the moment Dallas Willard describes as “looking and desiring” when I can thank God that he made me to be attracted to women…. Every attraction I experience, before I ever get to intentional, willful, indulgent desire, seems bent, broken, misshapen. I think this grieves [God], but I can’t seem to help it. (p. 136-137)

This experience of brokenness and uncontrollable desires is not uncommon. Hill speaks for many when he writes these words. Hill quotes Martin Hallett of True Freedom Trust: “There are probably nearly as many Christians with homosexual feelings who do not believe that homosexual sex is right for Christians as there are those who are advocating its acceptance.” (p. 16)

The beauty of this book is that Hill not only describes the struggle, he also explains how he has found peace with the burden. His “life as a homosexual Christian…has simply been learning how to wait, to be patient, to endure, to bear up under an unwelcome burden for the long haul.” (p. 50). Rather than seeing his struggles and shortcomings as “confirmations of [his] rank corruption and hypocrisy”, Hill has gradually learned to view his journey “of struggle, failure, repentance, restoration, renewal in joy, and persevering, agonized obedience—as what it looks like for the Holy Spirit to be transforming me on the basis of Christ’s cross and his Easter morning triumph over death.” (p. 144). His insights on sanctification deserve to be quoted in full:

The Bible calls the Christian struggle against sin faith (Hebrews 12:3-4; 10:37-39). It calls the Christian fight against impure cravings holiness (Romans 6:12-13, 22). So I am trying to appropriate these biblical descriptions for myself. I am learning to look at my daily wrestling with disordered desires and call it trust. I am learning to look at my battle to keep from giving in to my temptations and call it sanctification. I am learning to see that my flawed, imperfect, yet never-giving-up faithfulness is precisely the spiritual fruit that God will praise me for on the last day, to the ultimate honor of Jesus Christ. (p. 146)

What Christian cannot say amen to that? I found Hill’s honesty and frank discussion of his wrestlings against the sinful pull of his soul, inspiring and hope-giving even for broken heterosexuals like me. We could learn a lot from listening to homosexual Christians who are fighting to follow Jesus with a pure heart.

Hill encourages others struggling with this sin to be open about their struggles with others, to seek help, and find a church community to be a part of. Hill’s message also challenges churches today to be a community of Christ-loving people who minister with His gracious hands and loving heart to all those in need around them.

This book packs quite the punch for 160 short pages. It has opened up to me in a new way the struggle of what it means to be homosexual. It gives me hope and confidence that the gospel of Jesus Christ does work, even for those with such a burden to bear. I pray and trust this book will make a wide impact among churches of all kinds, but especially the more conservative churches.

I have but one small reservation with this book. Hill details both a Roman Catholic’s and Greek Orthodox’s struggle on this issue with no caution about the deficient theology of those churches. There may be genuine Christians who are RC or Orthodox, but they are the exception not the rule. Perhaps those faiths are more open to the struggle for faithful celibacy and so have something he can identify with. As a Protestant, I fear the gospel can be at stake in so easily recommending Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy with their denial of justification by faith alone.

One brief personal note, too, if I may. As I read the acknowledgments, I was delighted to find many names I recognized from Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis where I was a member for four years. It’s a joy to think that my former pastor John Piper and the apprentice program he and others have poured their lives into was blessed to make a positive impact in Wesley Hill’s life. It shows that conservative evangelical churches can and do minister to struggling homosexual Christians.

I pray more churches would avail themselves of resources like this book and aim to think through what a full-fledged, biblical perspective on homosexuality really means. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

[node:bio/bob-hayton body]

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There are 18 Comments

Jay's picture

This sounds like a great book.

I was watching YouTube yesterday when a representative from Wisconsin http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5GOCfpE4RQ&feature=related ]was arguing against cutting fundingfor Planned Parenthood and she was talking about the problems that she went through as an unmarried mother at the age of 18 and not having enough money to feed her kid; her point is that cutting the funding for PP will put more people in her situation. I completely disagree with her that abortion and contraceptives are part of the right answers to poverty, but I'd never really tried to put myself in that position before to understand it. It sounds like this book does something similar, and I hope that it gets wide circulation.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Bob Hayton's picture

Yes, it does. I hope it will get a large circulation, even in some pro-gay circles that anathematize Christians. Hopefully they'll see why a Christian would bother to fight for purity as a homosexual (or person with strictly homosexual desires he struggles with).

The book also helps with the very real possibility that a genetic or some other biological cause of homosexuality is discovered (or at least becomes widely held to be true). Just because that is the case doesn't excuse homosexual action. My own innate tendencies for lust and other sins don't excuse me. This book helps us think through the implications of this for how to battle for purity with such desires.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jay.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

Bob Hayton's picture

By the way, this paragraph is earning me a lot of grief from the biblioblogging community at large.

Quote:
I have but one small reservation with this book. Hill details both a Roman Catholic’s and Greek Orthodox’s struggle on this issue with no caution about the deficient theology of those churches. There may be genuine Christians who are RC or Orthodox, but they are the exception not the rule. Perhaps those faiths are more open to the struggle for faithful celibacy and so have something he can identify with. As a Protestant, I fear the gospel can be at stake in so easily recommending Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy with their denial of justification by faith alone.

My response to that is " http://www.fundamentallyreformed.com/2011/02/25/still-a-fundamentalist-a... Still a Fundamentalist at Heart: My Stance on Roman Catholicism ".

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

Forrest's picture

Based on your review, I hope to be able to pick this book up soon...Thanks for sharing it with us.

Forrest Berry

Bob Hayton's picture

Glad to. Every once in a while a book just really resonates with me and deserves to be trumpeted. Glad I got the chance with this book.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

Jonathan Charles's picture

The link below is a paper written by various professors and published by Wheaton's Center for Applied Christian Ethics. The title of the paper is "Understanding Homosexuality." There actually 5 parts to the paper (it is 41 pages long); I think part 1 is by a theologian; parts 2,3 by a psychologist; part 4 is by Dallas Willard; part 5 is, I think, a testimony.

http://www.wheaton.edu/CACE/resources/booklets/UnderstandHomosexuality.pdf

Bill Roach's picture

Jonathan,

Thank you for attemping to bring an often difficult and necessary discussion to the forefront. I have not read the book you are talking about, but I pray that God will use it and discussions like this to bring clarity to His Word and more faith in Christ.

I once was challenged in the discussion of homosexuality that we should always be willing and able to replace the word "homosexual" with the words "murderer" or "rapist" in order to get a consistent view of how God looks upon these sins. Since all 3 sins were punishable by death under the authority of the civil magistrate as commanded by God, we can keep a more consistent view of what God thinks of these sins. In our discussions and analysis, if we feel more at ease with the word homosexual than we would with the word murderer or rapist, then we might be heading a bit in the wrong direction.

Just something to consider.

Of course, our goal is for repentance and faith, regardless of the sin. But we must always remember that God seems to hold certain sins especially heinous. And it appears that sexual perversion is high on that list.

Thanks again for your work, brother...

Bill

Bill Roach's picture

I meant to address my comments to Bob...

My bad.

Bill

Bob Hayton's picture

Bill,

Thanks. Don't forget adultery though, or persistent disobedience to parents. Both of those were capital punishments too. As was desecrating the Sabbath day.

The temptation to adultery of the heart and the temptation to homosexuality are quite analogous, I think. I recommend the book, and applaud the author for sticking his neck out on this. You are right, this is sin with a capital S. But it's something we need to think through holistically and Biblically. It's easy to jump in and cast stones without examining our own motives and heart first.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

JobK's picture

2 Cr 12:7 "And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure."

I wonder to what degree that verse was dealt with in this fellow's book?

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

Bob Hayton's picture

JobK,

Good verse. It wasn't directly mentioned that I remember but definitely the same theme was. Not so much the Satanic part of that verse, but the trial aspect of having innate weaknesses and what living with those weaknesses in dependence on Christ is all about.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Job,

I don't think this verse applies. Sinful tendencies and desires are never God's intention for our lives. They cannot be the thorn that Paul tells us later in the passage God refused to remove as being for Paul's good.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Jonathan Charles's picture

I just wanted to share some thoughts I had as to why Christians regard homosexuality as more abominable than almost any other sin:

1. It was punishable by death (Lev. 20:13). In the O.T., rape of an unengaged woman was fined and the man had to marry the girl (Dt. 22:28). If you have premarital sex, then you must get married; if you commit homosexuality, then you must die.

2. Other sins were punishable by death (murder, adultery), but we have plenty of biblical examples of characters forgiven by God for these things. When it comes to homosexuality, we only know of some anonymous Corinthian Christians, and most Christians are probably ignorant of 1 Cor. 6:11.

3. It is a sin (especially male homosexuality) that when people think about what happens in the commiting of it, shivers go down their spine. They just can't get their mind around why anyone would desire that. It is so much against nature that many conclude that anyone who would commit it is too far gone, spiritually, to be helped.

4. It gets preached against ALOT. And not just by red-neck fundamentalists. I was talking to a counsellor with a ministry to gays who had listened to a sermon by Mark Driscoll on Rom. 1 where he repeatedly called homosexuals "perverts." The counsellor pointed out that for those who never struggled with this sin, such a message just reinforced the idea that homosexuals can't be helped. And for those who do struggle with it, after hearing such a message, are very unlikley to ever ask for help. They will struggle privately, and, probably, eventually give up and just plunge into the sinful lifestyle.

5. It is a sin that is still foreign to most sound Christian churches. I don't doubt but that there are men and women in our churches that struggle with the temptation, or that families are in these churches don't have a gay adult son or daughter, but such people are very likely to say much. For many Christians it is something that happens out in San Francisco but not around here.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I think that any sin which is becoming prevalent in the culture around us is going to begin to manifest itself in the church. And, most churches probably aren't ready to deal with it as they should. I'm glad that books like the one reviewed here are being written so that the church can catch up with understanding this sin and with knowing how to help those who struggle with it.

BTW, there is a book "Gay...Such Were Some of Us" (http://www.amazon.com/Gay-Such-Were-Some-David-Longacre/dp/1935256017). It gives testimonies from a number of men and women delivered by Christ from this sin.

Bob Hayton's picture

Jonathan,

That article you shared earlier from Wheaton is good. Thanks for your thought here, too and another book recommendation.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

JobK's picture

Especially if one takes the position that Romans 7:13-25 is applicable to Christians (as do I)?

13Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.

14For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.

15For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.

16If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.

17Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

18For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.

19For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.

20Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

21I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.

22For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:

23But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.

24O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

25I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

JobK's picture

I was wanting to address some of the points that you raised on my own blog, but didn't know the OT scriptures to start. Thanks providing them!

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura
http://healtheland.wordpress.com

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