Matthew Vines has assigned my book, Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality, as one of the core texts of his new training program, The Reformation Project. Matthew disagrees with my conclusions in the book, but he assigned it so that the participants in the program could hear from a gay person who’s trying to live within traditional Christian teaching on homosexuality.
These participants have noted, though, how much I talk about the difficulty of living within the bounds of traditional Christian teaching. There’s a lot in the book about my experience of loneliness, drawing on Henri Nouwen’s powerful writings on that theme, and those descriptions have caused Matthew Vines’ readers to wonder if my experience is typical of gay people who choose to pursue celibacy. Or, more precisely, I think, it’s caused them to wonder if I am baptizing a particular experience of shame- and guilt-induced loneliness and calling it “faithfulness.”
Two initial responses come to mind.
First, I intended the book to be a sort of travelogue or “report from the trenches,” not a generic “how-to.” I wrote the first draft of the book when I was in my mid-twenties, and it shows. If I were to rewrite it now, it would read much differently, given my different stage in life. But I thought there was value in offering a report in medias res, saying, “This is how I, and perhaps many others, are experiencing celibate gay Christian life now, even if we hope to move into a healthier, more hope-filled experience of it as we grow and change.” After reading the book, a friend sent me an email he’d received from a friend of his:
I suspect that it is common to feel a relative lack of joy and loneliness in the mid-twenties… I say that in part to encourage Mr. Hill that his book as-is is probably a very useful statement for people in that age range who encounter it and that they would not likely hear an account of the perspective of a 30-year-old-plus as effectively. No reason not to write the 30-plus book with more joy in it now, but it will probably speak to those people who have matured a bit and for whom the joyfulness resonates. The old book will probably still speak to the twentysomethings in relative misery. As a twentysomething, I would have had no interest in a book telling my how rich my life would be, for example, because of my children. I would have read a book that made sense of the loneliness I felt as adolescence gave way to nascent adulthood, even if by its nature it reflected my dire sense of mind and did not offer me a happier perspective “ten years on.”
(As an aside, I should say that I think there’s a danger in using my book, or a similar book, as a statement of “the traditional Christian view” on homosexuality, as the book has sometimes been used. There is certainly a place for defending the classic teaching, but my book doesn’t do that. Instead it offers a testimony of one person’s often-stumbling attempt to follow that teaching.)
But second, I think the book is, implicitly, a request for help. Describing my experience of loneliness was a way of saying to our churches that we need to work together so that gay young people who are just coming out and beginning to try to understand what their Christian faith means in the realm of sexuality don’t have to experience the same kind of difficulties I narrated—or at least, since loneliness isn’t something you can eradicate, don’t have to experience them in the same way.
Shortly after the book was published, a friend sent me an email saying that what I needed to hear at the time I was experiencing the hunger for close friendship I describe in the book was, “It gets better for the chaste, too.” And, I’m happy to say, it has gotten better. But it could be better still, and therefore there’s more work to be done. We can make our churches safer and more supportive for gay youth, so that the narratives of Christians who are pursuing celibacy ten or twenty years from now don’t sound like the one I wrote.
(Cross-posted at Spiritual Friendship)