An Orthodox friend has a T-shirt that says, “Wow, suppose it’s all true!” The “all” of course is the Christian Gospel and its ultimate promise of resurrection and everlasting communion with the Holy Trinity. If it is all true, if Jesus is risen, and if following him leads to that everlasting communion, then the impact on our lives will be vast.
The impact will even touch sex. That proposition is increasingly incomprehensible to souls nurtured by the toxic soup of post-modern sentimentalism. In that fog sex is a free-floating good to be used to the most gratifying effect by a disembodied self casting about for meaning, affection, and joy. It has become a right, indeed an entitlement. Any interference with the attainment of that entitlement, even the publication of discouraging news about the results of the sexual revolution, is out of bounds in large segments of our culture. Sexual freedom and self-expression just cannot be bad or dangerous or illusory. If increasing numbers of female undergraduates show signs of depression, it cannot have anything to do with the sexual anomie into which the society has delivered them. Sex is nearly the most important thing, but it cannot be thought to have any real affect on the person.
Those who know Christ know differently. Those who know themselves to be on pilgrimage to the Kingdom of God know that sex, as important as it is, can no more define us than can power or money, ethnicity, or politics. Those whose eyes are open to the truth of God can see what the culture dare not imagine.
Wesley Hill believes that it’s all true, and in his little book, Washed and Waiting, he has offered a look at what it is like to be a young homosexual man who believes that the most important thing is to follow Jesus. He is utterly forthright, his book poignant, thoughtful, and engaging.
As the title indicates, he understands himself as a baptized Christian on pilgrimage to the Kingdom. He is “washed,” and he is “waiting.” His Christian faith runs deep, nurtured in his Evangelical family and firmly held through his teens and early adulthood. His growing awareness of his same sex attraction is laid out with honesty. The confusion and pain are all there. He provides a window for heterosexuals, men in particular, on the experience of homosexuality. He wants us to understand, and he succeeds. Among the most moving of his stories is his account of dancing at a wedding with a lovely female friend and simply having no awareness of her “sexual value,” the very apt term employed by Blessed John Paul II in his early work Love and Responsibility. What he regrets is not male swinishness but the capacity to appreciate her fully as a woman with or without sexual intent. He realizes again that he cannot marry and simultaneously regrets his corollary struggles to relate to men.
As a faithful Christian, he will not accede to the promise of sexual relief that entering the lifestyle would offer. It will not provide the love and acceptance for which he longs. Nor can he imagine living at odds with the clear teaching of Scripture.
Scripture is not an enemy that inflicts sexual frustration on him. Rather, it provides a liberating perspective on love. The Church, he learns from the New Testament, is for Christians the principal locus of love. Neither marriage nor “committed relationships” can bear the freight laid upon them by post-modern sentimentalism. His cultivation of friendship, pastoral relationships, and partnership in prayer is exemplary. Homosexuality has required him to nurture his faith and examine his psyche, and his quest for faithfulness makes the book a significant piece of Christian spiritual literature. His is the story of a soul.
It is a soul with the longing to be loved and with vigorous sexual appetites. But it is a soul that believes that only God in the end can meet the deepest longings of our hearts. Finding his color on the politically correct rainbow and expressing it to the full will not take away the sense of brokenness he describes. He could adopt the common enough view that God just wants everybody to be happy and then suit himself. But he sees through that temptation and commits himself to celibate Christian discipleship. In two short chapters he examines as models Henri Nouwen and Gerard Manley Hopkins, who shared his struggle.
The turn to Catholic writers for models betrays a deficiency in Protestantism. There is essentially no positive role for celibacy. The model of Jesus, John the Baptist, and Paul has not yet enabled even biblically serious Evangelicals to shape a theology that would affirm celibacy as anything more than a regrettable alternative to more-or-less mandatory marriage.
Wesley Hill understands that, as a faithfully Christian homosexual man, he is not in the only category of people who are not called to sexual activity. Because sex is not a free-floating good but a component of the call to marriage, celibacy must be the norm for many people. Homosexuals who disavow the active homosexual lifestyle for the Kingdom of God are in a vast and excellent company. Hill is certainly aware of this and touches the issue several times. He is also aware that marriage and parenthood carry their own burdens. Neither marriage nor the rejection of marriage guarantees happiness. Sexual intimacy is not a certain cure for loneliness or for anything else that goes wrong in the tragedy and comedy of human existence. This context of his celibacy needs further reflection. I expect and hope there will be a book that will push the matter forward, much in the mode of Dawn Eden’s The Thrill of the Chaste. He has perhaps begun the process with some exegetical reflections near the end on how God glorifies us.
For the glory that is set before him he has chosen the narrow way. The burden of that yoke is lightened again and again by friends and prayer, by faith and most of all by hope. His choice is not easy, but he is credible and engaging, washed and waiting with hope for the healing that none of us will fully know this side of the Kingdom.
Leonard R. Klein is a priest and the Director of Pro-Life Activities for the Diocese of Wilmington, Deleware. He was a Lutheran minister for 30 years and is married.
Wesley Hill, Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality
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