Books That Shaped My Faith: “Washed and Waiting” by Wesley Hill

washed-waiting1It’s hard for me to describe in detail how this book has shaped me. I just read it last year, and so its influence is somewhat hard to yet measure. The book, however, was stirring, moving, captivating, and freeing. It ignited in me a more honest self-evaluation and greater move of compassion towards those in the church who struggle with dominating temptations.

Hill’s book is a theological memoir that details his own struggle with same-sex attraction and yet his earnest desire to be faithful the traditional Christian sexual ethic. He writes as a “celibate gay Christian.” His confessions, honesty, vulnerability, and yet orthodoxy makes this one of the most unique books on the issue of homosexuality that I have ever read. It added some important nuance to my own ministry and my own thought life about the subject.

My own struggle to establish a confident sexual identity has been largely hidden, at times even repressed. I do not fit the bill of stereotypical masculinity. I am not big and brawny. I was always way more interested in theater and music than sports. I had the misfortune in high school of being harassed by many of my more “masculine” classmates, and often had many labels attached to me: fag, queer, homo, sissy, and other more vulgar terms. It played no small part in shaping me and often I overreacted by trying harder to fit the bill of “normal dude.” I can’t relate to all of Wesley Hill’s struggle, but there were lots of ways in which I empathized with his frustrations and anxieties as I read through Washed and Waiting. As I read his words I began to feel kinship and connection to the author, feeling like perhaps I wasn’t alone in how I felt. Through reading his words I came face to face with my own memories, my own anxieties, my own frustrations, and even my own failures. I was forced to do some hard self-evaluation. In that regard the book is a tremendous gift. For, it’s not just an autobiography, it’s an invitation to self-reflection.

The book should not be understood, however, as a celebration of same-sex sexual behavior. It most certainly is not. But neither should be it be understood as the story of a “healed” man. Hill writes:

So 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. (15-16)

Instead the book is more humble and in many ways more realistic. It speaks to living faithfully even while a person still struggles with unwanted desires, and uncertain identities. Hill helps readers in this regard not simply confront themselves, but develop compassion for others. Washed and Waiting reveals to many what it looks like to actually want to follow Jesus while still having this unwanted same-sex attraction. In that way we can begin to understand our brothers and sisters who struggle, often in silence and solitude. He is able through his own story to reveal ways in which the church has failed those who struggle like this. He is able to help us see how they feel, their points of tension, and their real needs. In this way readers become better equipped to serve those who struggle. It’s easy to see the subject of homosexuality from a purely “culture war” kind of perspective, but when you see the real people who are impacted by this temptation and this struggle we find different ways to speak and approach them. Such development of compassion goes a long way towards ministry.

I know that only the future will reveal the impact of this fantastic little book, but I can honestly say that it has already begun to shape and influence me. It has impacted me both personally and as a pastor, and in that regard I call it a book that has, at some level, shaped my faith. I am immensely grateful to Wesley Hill for writing it.

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