Washed and Waiting
By Kristin Tabb
December 20, 2010
Washed and Waiting, Wesley Hill’s debut book, is a pioneering work that will pave the way for new territory in evangelical conversations regarding homosexuality. In this rich and moving theological meditation on what it means to live as a celibate, committed Christian with a homosexual orientation, Hill authentically shares his struggles, both with his homosexuality and with his faith and the evangelical church. The book, however, is not as melancholy as its dark cover or subject may suggest; despite Hill’s understanding that he may never be fully “healed” from the brokenness of his homosexual orientation, his perspective is full of hope.
Hill refers to himself as a “homosexual Christian.” It is important to keep in mind Hill’s definition of the terms: as explained in the introduction, Hill uses the term “homosexual Christian”, not referring to current movements that validate the practice of homosexuality within the Christian church, but rather to Christians oriented toward same-sex desire. In doing so, he allows the Christian whose homosexual desires remain unchanged to identify with the Christian faith, while still calling such a person to celibacy under the authority of Scripture. He notes, however, that he has “taken care always to make “homosexual”... the adjective, and never the noun.” Hill states: “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” (emphasis Hill’s). In this way, Hill distinguishes himself from others who would use the term “homosexual Christian.”
Hill begins: “By the time I started high school, two things had become clear to me. One was that I was a Christian … The second thing was that I was gay.” He describes growing up in a fundamentalist Southern church, believing the Gospel, desiring to obey Christ, and, with raw candor, slowly identifying his homosexual orientation. In the three chapters that follow, Hill outlines his three main battles since that realization: why God commands homosexual believers to refrain from engaging in homosexual expression; the loneliness that can result for the celibate homosexual Christian; and, the perpetual struggle with shame that those with homoerotic desires can find to be almost overwhelming at times.
Before each chapter is a prelude that gives the overview of the life of a celibate Christian with a homosexual orientation; first, Hill’s own testimony; second, the life of author and minister Henri Nouwen; and finally, that of British poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. These preludes serve to bring the book to life and prevent it from being another abstract discussion of a controversial topic. Further, each topic serves to illustrate the point made in the next chapter in a way that makes the topic feel real and personal, rather than clinical.
The transparent manner in which Hill describes his personal struggles with his orientation is insightful for those who simply don’t know what it’s like to have a homosexual identity in the evangelical church. Anyone who struggles with a “secret sin” or a “shameful” temptation, such as an eating disorder or pornographic addiction, could find much to identify with in Hill’s emotions and experiences. Those with homosexual friends or relatives can find fresh insight and understanding into those loved ones’ hearts.
I was not necessarily surprised (though I was greatly helped) to find such an authentic presentation of Hill’s struggles. What came as a surprise to me was the amount of hope that lay within all of that authenticity. I did not expect my own faith as a heterosexual to be so encouraged as I read Hill’s reflections on being faithful to Christ while living with homosexual inclinations. Hill discusses how the greater narrative of God’s story intersects with ours in the cross of Christ so that the homosexually-inclined can be free from the fear of failure that could otherwise mark their faith journeys. He discusses the importance of bringing homosexual struggles with loneliness and temptation into the light so that the community of Christ can come alongside the gay Christian. He examines Scripture and persuasively concludes that the gay person can be not only acceptable, but pleasing to God as he or she struggles well and follows Christ in the midst of temptation and feelings of isolation. The title of the book, Washed and Waiting, refers to past sin being washed away by Christ’s atoning work on the cross, and the hope of future redemption and glorification of the Christian’s body when Christ returns.
A good book changes you. Here’s how this book changed me: 1) it helped me to better understand Christians with a homosexual orientation in the Christian community; 2) it prepared me to offer hope to those in Christ who struggle with different aspects of their homosexuality; and 3) it gave me a deeper appreciation for beautifully written books. Rather than offering pat answers in a removed manner, or perpetuating the same “love the sinner, hate the sin” mantra that tends to dominate evangelical conversations regarding homosexuality, Hill’s work offers a richly-worded insight, wisdom, truth, and grace to homosexual believers and fellow Christians. Washed and Waiting is a pioneering work that, I hope, will change the understanding and the attitude of the Christian community toward those with homosexual desires within the church, and offer both hope and refreshment for both. I look forward to reading more of Hill’s work in the future.