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.