A Review of “Washed and Waiting” by Wesley Hill

washed-waiting1The pursuit of holiness happens often not simply in the midst of personal struggles, but because of them. Wesley Hill understand that. He understands it not simply because it is the teaching of Scripture, but also because it has been his own personal experience. As a Christian struggling with same-sex attraction Hill has nonetheless desired to pursue obedience to Jesus. Washed and Waiting is a bit of a theological memoir written to encourage others who struggle with same-sex attraction. Though the book has a clear target it can be an overall wonderful encouragement to all disciples of Christ, regardless of their struggles.

Washed and Waiting is a unique book. Often theological works on faith and sexual orientation come from one of two particular perspectives. On the one hand there are plenty of authors today writing about their experience as a gay or lesbian person of faith. For them the two are perfectly compatible and they need only to convince others that their faith poses no threat to their expression of homosexuality. On the other hand, however, are those who write diatribes against the so-called “gay gospel.” They focus on all the Biblical prohibitions against homosexual acts. Hill’s book is not like either of those. In his words:

This book is neither about how to live faithfully as a practicing homosexual person nor about how to live faithfully as a fully healed or former homosexual man or woman. J.I. Packer commenting on Paul’s hopeful word for sexual sinners in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, writes, “With some of the Corinthian Christians, Paul was celebrating the moral empowering of the Holy Spirit in heterosexual terms; with others of the Corinthians, today’s homosexuals are called to prove, live out, and celebrate the moral empowering of the Holy Spirit in homosexual terms.” This book is about what it means to do that – how, practically, a nonpracticing but still-desiring homosexual Christian can “prove, live out, and celebrate” the grace of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit in homosexual terms. (15-16)

Hill wants to expose his readers to both the possibility and process of being faithful to Jesus while still struggling with same-sex attraction.

The book is short (153 pages), and consists essentially of only three chapters.  Each chapter is preceded by the story of another faithful Christian who also struggled with same-sex attraction but remained faithful to Christ in the midst of it. He tells his own story in brief overview, and then tells the individual stories of Henri Nouwen and Gerald Manly Hopkins. The big picture with each story seems to be a dual emphasis that God gives grace in the midst of the struggle and that it is possible to struggle and be faithful to Christ. The stories themselves are beautiful and encouraging.

Hill could have picked any number of topics to address in his book, but he limits himself to three. Each topic seems a very pertinent and powerful one. In chapter one he explores his struggle with SSA through the lens of the divine story. Part of the reason, he recognizes, that so many see the prohibitions against homosexuality negatively is because they seem them apart from God’s grand narrative. He writes:

On the surface the Bible and the church’s demand for homosexuals not to act on their desires can seem old-fashioned, life taking, oppressive. But could it be that if I place that demand into a larger story, then perhaps – just perhaps – it won’t seem as irrational, harsh, and unattainable as it otherwise might? Could the Christian story of what God did for the world in Christ be the framework that makes the rules – “Don’t go to bed with a partner of the same sex.” “Don’t seek to cultivate and nurture desires and fantasies of going to bed with a partner of the same sex” – make sense?

These questions have been the deciding factor in my choice to say no to my homosexual desires. In the end, what keeps me on the path I’ve chosen is not so much individual proof texts from Scripture or the sheer weight of the church’s traditional teaching against homosexual practice. Instead, it is, I think, those texts and traditions and teachings as I see them from within the true story of what God has done in Jesus Christ…I abstain from homosexual behavior because of the power of that scriptural story. (61)

The narrative of the gospel becomes the interpretive lens through which Hill views the commands of scripture. The prohibitions are not life-taking, when he sees them within the context of a beautiful story of salvation. The gospel becomes the lens through which he views his own story and particularly his continuing struggle with SSA.

One of the accompanying struggles to his SSA is loneliness. Hill talks quite honestly and achingly about his longing to be desired, known, and loved. He talks about the importance of “small intimacies” and the difficulty in accepting that he may never know those in this life. He is, of course, more than ready to recognize that the acceptance we have in God through Christ is the “end to our loneliness,” but he is not naïve about that acceptance. “The desire of God is sufficient to heal the ache, but still we pine, and wonder” (108). Interestingly enough, in chapter two, Hill explores the value of the church and deep friendships as a means to overcoming his loneliness. God, after all, created man with the need for companionship and so God will, to some degree, meet that need for companionship in other people. The church is one such means, and what Hill writes here is so helpful for all of us to realize and embrace. He states:

One of the most surprising discoveries I made in the weeks that followed my lunch with the eccentric history professor is that the New Testament views the church – rather than marriage – as the primary place where human love is best expressed and experienced.  (111)

Perhaps one of the main challenges of living faithfully before God as a gay Christian is to believe, really believe, that God in Christ can make up for our sacrifice of homosexual partnerships not simply with his own desire and yearning for us but with his desire and yearning mediated to us through the human faces and arms of those who are our fellow believers. (112)

Our cultural obsession with romantic love has blinded us to the value and deep friendship possible within the church. Hill knows this value better than many of us, and what he writes here is not simply significant for those who struggle with SSA. It is significant for all of us.

In the final chapter Hill wrestles with our acceptance before God. There is a sense in which this too is a relevant discussion for all of us. We all wonder at times can I really be pleasing to God. For the individual struggling with same-sex attraction it is a particularly persistent question. He notes of his own struggle:

“Sometimes I feel that no matter what I do, I am displeasing to God,” I said. “Even after a good day of battling for purity of mind and body, there is still the feeling, when I put my head down on the pillow at night to go to sleep, that something is seriously wrong with me, that something’s askew. I feel in those moments that my homosexual orientation makes God disappointed or unhappy or even faintly upset with me. Of course, the really frustrating part is that I can’t just turn off this orientation like a spigot. I can’t choose not to be gay. Does that mean I’m locked into this feeling of being constantly unacceptable to God? Can I ever really please him? (134)

Through C.S. Lewis, however, Hill discovers what the Bible teaches about God rejoicing over His people, taking delight in them, being pleased with them. This chapter is a beautiful read to walk alongside its author as he discovers that he can honor and please God with his life. Even more pointedly is his realization that he can honor and please God not in spite of his struggle with SSA, but in fact because of it! “The Bible calls the Christian struggle against sin  faith (Hebrews 12:3-4; 10:37)” (146). The book as a whole, and this chapter in particular, helps us develop a more robust theology of struggling and of the Christian life. It is in light of that theology that Hill views his struggle with SSA not ultimately as a weaknesses but as a grace and a vocation. He is called to struggle that he might become increasingly conformed to the image of Christ, that he might increasingly love Jesus more than the things of this world. It is a beautiful reminder not simply to those who struggle with same-sex attraction, but to all of us.

That is one of the strengths of this book. As a theological memoir it is obviously very specific. Its content centers around one man’s life and struggles, and even more broadly around those with similar stories. But it can help pull all readers up from the myopic perspective of their immediate frustration and see how God is shaping them through it. This book can challenge all of us to develop a more robust theology of struggle and of the Christian life. It can challenge all of us to see ourselves and our temptations within the framework of God’s redemptive narrative. I loved this book for that reason. It resonates with my on a myriad of levels. Wesley Hill has written a book that many within the church need. It addresses the issues of same-sex attraction from a very practical and refreshing perspective, and yet it re-states the call to follow Christ in a way that is applicable to us all. I highly recommend Washed and Waiting to all of us in the church.

 

Comments

  1. I just read this book as well. I found it very helpful and informative for relating to Christians with SSA. His was a perspective I had never considered before. At the same time it left me challenged in my own faith and struggle with my sinful nature.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Though the book was written originally in 2010 it has easily been the best book I read this year. As a theological memoir Hill wrestles Biblically with the subject of same-sex attraction and then directs us to see what Biblical faithfulness looks like as it is applied to his own personal struggle with SSA. He supplements this well with the stories of others who have struggled in similar ways. I know of no book that better addresses this issue with Biblical faithfulness, winsomeness, and sensitivity. The only qualms I have are his use of the word “homosexual” which has long been identified as a label carrying a lot of cultural baggage, and the identification as a “gay” which has its own set of cultural baggage. Read my full review here. […]

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