“Is there a place for celibate, gay Christians in the church?”
That is the question Wesley Hill, a self-described celibate, gay Christian, seeks to answer as he bares his soul in this deeply personal book, subtitled “Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality.” Raised as a Christian in a conservative, fundamentalist church, Hill is convinced that the clear testimony of the Bible and the historical teaching of the Church – that homosexuality is contrary to the Creator’s sexual design, and that homosexual actions are sins against a holy God – is true. However, despite many prayers that God would miraculously intervene to change his desires, he remains drawn only to men, both through sexual attraction and a desire for companionship. Because of his Christian convictions, he has made the brave choice to remain celibate, seeing this as the only option that allows him to remain faithful to the God he loves.
This decision was not easy, nor was it self-evident. For men and women who, like Wesley Hill, struggle to reconcile their same-sex attraction with their desire to remain faithful to God’s design for human sexuality, the options are few and none of them are particularly desirable. This problem is compounded by the fact that it is virtually never addressed in books or church pulpits, leaving those in this situation (which is much more common than most Christians realize) to fend for themselves.
Though not without flaws, this book invites readers to enter a usually very private world. Hill shares the sense of guilt, and the profound loneliness that Christians with homosexual desires often experience. Not only do they feel as if they are being “forced” to do without fulfilling one of the most basic human desires (to love and be loved in return); they feel that they are unable to rely on their brothers and sisters in Christ to help them bear their burden, because homosexuality is such a taboo subject. Everyone who has experienced homosexual desires – whether Christian or not – has experienced rejection and condemnation from friends and family, and often from the Church.
Hill is brutally honest with his struggles to accept the teaching of the Church and the Bible. The counsel of many within the Church is to “simply” read in God’s Word that it is a sin, and “simply” stop doing it (as if the rest of us “simply” stop sinning just because we’ve read the Bible). There is nothing “simple” about it. The Bible is radically counter-intuitive and counter-cultural. As with anything else, sanctification comes only through an understanding of the gospel, which is the Father’s gift to Christians through the Word of the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The author found answers to many of his questions in the Bible’s story of redemption. He has come to see his broken sexuality as a consequence of mankind’s brokenness resulting from the Fall. While others have seen a miraculous changing of their desires after encountering Christ, Hill takes comfort in reading that Paul’s “thorn” (whatever it was) was not taken from him, though he had prayed earnestly for its removal. He also sees hope in the two passages from which the book’s title is taken.
First was Paul’s writing to the Corinthians, when, after listing homosexuality among a list of grievous sins, he wrote, “and such were some of you… You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11). Homosexuality is obviously not beyond Christ’s saving power, for His blood is capable of washing even this away. As Hill writes: “Feeling that the guilt of past homosexual sins or present homosexual failures is beyond the scope of God’s grace should never be a barrier preventing anyone from embracing the demands of the gospel. God has already anticipated our objection and extravagantly answered it with the mercy of the cross.”
The second passage comes from Romans 8: “We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies… If we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Hill acknowledges that there may be no relief from his temptation and unfulfilled desires this side of the new creation, but waits in the hopeful assurance that Jesus has already accomplished his ultimate deliverance. “When God acts climactically to reclaim the world and raise our dead bodies from the grave, there will be no more homosexuality. But until then, we hope for what we do not see.”
Throughout the book, Hill anticipates and answers many objections that Christians often have to his story. Perhaps the foremost is the age-old “nature vs. nurture” question: Are we born with an inherent sexual orientation, or do we choose it? Are gay people born gay, or do they decide to become gay? For the most part, today’s popular culture teaches that one’s sexual orientation is an unchangeable part of our makeup, while the majority report among conservative Christians seems to be that homosexuality is a sinful choice.
Hill’s position on this mirrors my own, though in the past I have been guilty of simplistically believing homosexuality to be a conscious choice – which undoubtedly caused hurt for some of my gay friends. What I now believe along with the author is that the origins of homosexuality are very complex. Most people who experience same-sex attraction do not remember a time (at least not once puberty hit and they had any sexual desires at all) when they weren’t gay. It is almost never a conscious decision that someone makes, but neither does God “make” someone gay. God is not the author of sin. He does, however, allow us to be tempted, and whatever particular temptations we face come only by His permission. Jesus was tempted; temptation is not sin. We cannot choose our own temptations, but giving in to temptation is a choice, for which God holds us responsible. This would be unfair if God did not promise us the ability to resist temptation by the power of the Holy Spirit. Hill summarizes it like this: “I know that whatever the complex origins of my own homosexuality are, there have been conscious choices I’ve made to indulge – and therefore to intensify, probably – my homoerotic inclinations.”
Much of the latter half of the book is filled with encouragements for other Christians with homosexual desires. Hill comes alongside those whose struggles he can share, and points them to the gospel, the only hope for all sinners.
My objections to this book (primarily regarding some of his terminology) were few and minor, and are far outweighed by the value it brings to this discussion. Though his stated audience is Christians with same-sex desires, this is something from which pastors, counselors, and laymen will all benefit. It is a helpful reminder to all of us that just like “being gay isn’t the most important thing about [Hill’s] or any other gay person’s identity”, our sexuality — no matter what it is — must never be what drives or defines us. It is but one of many of God’s good creations that exists ultimately for His glory. Sin has tarnished every person’s sexuality, but we can never let this become an excuse to withhold love and justice from our neighbors.
I pray that many will read this book, and that there will be others like to to add to the discussion. Buy it here.