Following up on this past Saturday’s “End of Sexual Identity” event, I want to share about another book that has the potential to change the Church’s conversation about sexuality. It’s Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality.
Hill writes as a self-identified gay Christian man who is choosing to remain celibate. As he shares in the book, it’s difficult to find others speaking up from his position. The voices that speak the loudest in the Church’s debates about sexuality are either (1) those thumping the Bible defending traditional Christian views of sexuality, often with insensitivity toward those who experience same-sex attraction, or (2) those promoting the more culturally acceptable view that homosexual activity is not sin. The arguments between those two sides are often marked by callousness and lack of compassion. People become entrenched in their positions and then talk past each other. Perhaps because of that insensitivity, it’s hard to hear the voice of men and women who experience attraction to members of the same sex, yet deliberately choose, because of their Christian convictions, not to live into those attractions. Shame, the feeling that their sin is “worse” than others, and fear of insensitive responses from others in the Church too often keep Christians who experience same-sex attraction in a lonely closet. Thankfully, Hill has given voice to that struggle, and his voice needs to be heard.
Though Hill identifies as a gay man, and uses categories like “homosexual” in ways which Jenell Paris would not, he makes it clear that the most important part of his identity is his identity in Christ. And his very personal story bears witness to the fact that one’s identity in Christ includes taking up one’s cross. Hill writes movingly about the loneliness, isolation, and shame he’s experienced. But he also shares about loving community and supportive friends, other celibate gay men who have served as role models (including Henri Nouwen), and the hope he has looking forward to the day when Jesus will say to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” The personal aspect of Washed and Waiting makes it impossible to talk about homosexuality in abstract terms. It’s a deeply personal matter, and this is a moving testimony from someone living a deeply personal struggle.
Anyone interested in the Church’s debates about sexuality should read this book. Anyone who’s struggling with their sexuality and unsure where to look for guidance should read it, too. Just as I hoped our event with Jenell Paris would change the conversation about sexuality in the Church by giving us different language for the Church to use, I think this book can change the conversation by presenting a different perspective: that of someone who’s chosen the counter-cultural path of celibacy. Hill makes it clear that such a path is not easy, but he believes it’s the right path. One does not have to express oneself sexually in order to be fully human. Jesus Christ was fully human and remained celibate. Surely the Church should be a place where voices like Hill’s can speak openly as they seek faithfulness to their Lord.