The Christian and Same-Sex Attraction
I recently finished reading Wesley Hill’s popular book, Washed and Waiting: Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality (Zondervan, 2010). Continue reading . . .
I recently finished reading Wesley Hill’s popular book, Washed and Waiting: Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality (Zondervan, 2010). Wesley was one of the best students I had when I taught at Wheaton College. After graduation, he spent a couple of years at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, where John Piper served as pastor for some 33 years. Wesley eventually earned his Ph.D. from Durham University in the U.K.
I’m not going to provide a detailed and exhaustive review of Wesley’s book. Rather, I’d like to focus on one theme that is widely debated regarding the struggle that many have with same sex attraction. It has been suggested that Wesley speaks of his “identity” as a homosexual. Many are uncomfortable with his use of the words “Gay Christian.” Even before reading the book I was quite sure that Wesley does not mean by that, a person who claims to know Christ yet regularly and unrepentantly practices homosexual sex. What he meant was that he is a Christian man who struggles regularly with homosexual desires, but that he believes such desires to be sinful and any acting out on them likewise to be sinful. I am now more convinced than ever that this is what Wesley meant.
On p. 20 he identifies himself as “a Christian who experiences intense homoerotic desires.” Again, on p. 21, he is very careful to define his terms:
“I also refer to myself as a ‘gay Christian’ or ‘a Christian who experiences homosexual desires.’ These phrases are all synonymous for me, and though they are open to misunderstanding, in my judgment the gains in using them outweigh the potential hazards. None of them should be taken necessarily to imply homosexual practice; in each case I am most often placing the emphasis on the subject’s sexual orientation and not the corresponding behavior.”
So, it appears to me that Wesley is keenly aware that some may misinterpret his use of terms. That is why he is so careful to define them. When he speaks of a “gay Christian” he means a person who struggles with, but does not indulge in practice, same sex desires. He then follows this with an extremely important clarification:
“There is, however, one way of speaking that I’ve tried to avoid. Rather than refer to someone as ‘a homosexual,’ I’ve taken care always to make ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ the adjective, and never the noun, in a longer phrase, such as ‘gay Christian’ or ‘homosexual person.’ In this way, I hope to send a subtle linguistic signal that being gay isn’t the most important thing about my or any other gay person’s identity. I am a ‘Christian’ before I am anything else. My homosexuality is a part of my makeup, a facet of my personality [emphasis mine]. One day, I believe, whether in this life or in the resurrection, it will fade away. But my identity as a Christian – someone incorporated into Christ’s body by his Spirit – will remain” (22).
In another place he writes: “Washed and waiting. That is my life – my identity as one who is forgiven and spiritually cleansed and my struggle as one who perseveres with a frustrating thorn in the flesh, looking forward to what God has promised to do” (50; italics are his). He is clearly saying that his identity is not his same-sex struggle but rather his union with Christ.
He also clearly describes same-sex “desires” or “impulses” as sin and not just the choice to indulge them: “I am not the only one who has chosen voluntarily to say no to impulses I believe are out of step with God’s desires” (75). Note well: the “impulses” themselves are inconsistent with God’s will for us. That Wesley believes same-sex desires are sinful is clear from this statement:
“Those of us who live day in and day out with the disordered desires of a broken sexuality can opt to live as single people, fleeing from lust and fighting for purity of mind and body in the power of God’s Spirit” (103).
Again, note his use of the words “disordered desires of a broken sexuality” (he uses the word “disordered” again on p. 146 where he again describes same-sex attraction as “impure cravings”). He also articulates a prayer in which he says to God: “I would love to say thanks for my sexuality, but I don’t feel like I can. Every attraction I experience, before I ever get to intentional, willful, indulgent desire, seems bent, broken, misshapen. I think this grieves you, but I can’t seem to help it” (137). And of course he also repeatedly says that this inability to “help it” is itself sinful, a facet of his fallen and corrupt nature.
He refers to his “exclusive attraction to other men” as something that brings him “grief” and for which there is required “repentance” (145).
There is an increasing number of individuals writing on the subject of same sex attraction who believe that it is biblically legitimate for a Christian to live in an unrepentant, sexually-active, so-called “monogamous” relationship with another individual of the same gender. This is something Wesley abhors and declares repeatedly to be sinful.
If you are looking for a book to give someone who knows Christ but struggles with same-sex attraction, this one is for you.