Today we pick up our yearlong series on Sexuality and The Church with a final discussion around Wesley Hill’s short book, Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality.
Wesley’s book is meant to both complement and contrast Justin Lee’s book, Torn: Rescuing the Gospel From the Gays-vs-Christians Debate, which served as a starting point for our discussion. Both Justin and Wesley are gay, but whereas Justin concluded that a relationship with another man could be blessed by God, Wesley has chosen celibacy. I picked these two books because I think Justin and Wesley represent the very best in civil, gracious, and loving disagreement on this issue…which for them is not a mere issue, but a deeply personal journey with deeply personal implications. I highly recommend reading these books together.
You can check out every post in our series thus far here.
Chapter 3 – The Divine Accolade
In Chapter 3, Wesley explains that many gay Christians like himself struggle with a sense of shame. It is “a sense of brokenness,” he says, “the shame of feeling ‘this is not the way it’s supposed to be’ with my body, my psyche, my sexuality.”
“Sometimes I feel that no matter what I do, I am displeasing to God,” he recalls telling a friend. “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.” (134)
“For many homosexual Christians,” he says, “this kind of shame is part of our daily lives. Theologian Robert Jenson calls homoerotic attraction a ‘grievous affliction’ for those who experience it, and part of the grief is the feeling that we are perpetually, hopelessly unsatisfying to God.” (137)
Wesley writes that, for him, much of this shame was lifted when he encountered C.S. Lewis’ essay “The Weight of Glory”—a literary reflection on the moment when God glorifies his people, when followers of Jesus hear God declare, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
Summarizing Lewis, (and referencing Scriptural passages such as 1 Corinthians 4:5, 2 Corinthians 10:18, Romans 2:29, John 5:44, and 1 Peter 1:7), Wesley writes that “pondering this future glory…has implications for how we think about our lives now. God’s acceptance of us in the future, his being pleased with us, means that we may be pleased with ourselves in the here and now as we live our daily Christian lives; or, more precisely, we may be pleased that we are pleasing to God…According to Lewis, the promise of a future accolade from God means we can be satisfied with our work—our lives, our imperfect efforts to serve and love God—now.” (p. 140-141)
Sure, there is a sense in which the closer we get to God the more obvious and glaring our sins become. But the image of guilty, worthless creatures is simply not a pervasive one in the New Testament, Wesley observes.
“The whole tenor of the New Testament is strikingly positive when it comes to describing the Christian experience of trying to live in a way that pleases God,” writes Wesley. “Not triumphalistic, but positive. Maybe even optimistic. In short, rotten fruit isn’t the right analogy…The human heart that has been redeemed by Christ has been made new. And that heart leads to a new way of life. And that way of life will be honored when Jesus appears on the last day with a ‘weight of glory,’ a divine accolade.” (p. 144)
What does this mean for Wesley, a gay man whose convictions have led him to choose celibacy?
“My homosexuality, my exclusive attraction to other men, my grief over it and my repentance, my halting effort to live fittingly in the grace of Christ and the power of the Spirit—gradually I am learning not to view all of these things as confirmations of my rank corruption and hypocrisy. I am instead, slowly but surely, learning to view that journey—of struggling, failure, repentance, restoration, renewal in joy, and persevering, agonized obedience—as what it looks like for the Holy Spirit to be transforming me on the basis of Christ’s cross and his Easter morning triumph over death. The Bible calls the Christian struggle against sin ‘faith’ (Hebrews 12:3-4; 10:37-39). It calls the Christian fight against impure cravings ‘holiness’ (Romans 6:12-13, 22). So I am trying to appropriate these biblical descriptions for myself. I am learning to look at my daily wrestling with disordered desires and call it ‘trust.’ I am learning to look at my battle to keep from giving in to my temptations and call it ‘sanctification.’ I am learning to see that my flawed, imperfect, yet never-giving-up faithfulness is precisely the spiritual fruit that God will praise me for on the last day, to the ultimate honor of Jesus Christ. (p. 145-146)
Questions for Discussion
As we wrap up our discussion around this book, I’d love to hear your thoughts on Wesley’s perspective. What did you learn from this book? Did it change you in any ways? What did you find encouraging/ discouraging/ provocative/ frustrating?
And, again, I’d like to raise the question I raised last week: Do you think it is possible to fully support both Justin in his pursuit of a partnership/marriage to another man, and Wesley, in his decision based on his convictions to remain celibate? Or does the full support of one somehow diminish the support of the other?
Moving forward with the series, I’d like to spend just a few more weeks focusing on the specific topic of homosexuality, before we move into other aspects of human sexuality, like singleness, “purity,” sexual ethics, marriage, and so on. So at least until May, expect Mondays to include a few more interviews, guest posts, reflections, and book reviews on this topic.
(If you want to read along, we’ll touching on the following books/essays: Does Jesus Really Love Me? by Jeff Chu, Our Family Outing by Joe Cobb and Leigh Anne Taylor, A Time to Embrace by William Stacy Johnson, “The Body’s Grace” by Rowan Williams, The End of Sexual Identity by Jenell Williams Paris, and a few more.)
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