Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill – A Book Review

Would you be willing to share your ‘darkest’ secrets in order to serve others?

Have you ever bared your most intimate struggles, on a highly controversial issue, knowing that the mean-spirited will use your weaknesses against you?

If someone else did this, would you be interested to hear their story?

Dr. Hill has offered us, his readers, just this kind of rare gift in Washed and Waiting.

In doing so, Dr. Hill accomplishes at least three major objectives:

  • He models for us what it means to struggle faithfully and tenaciously to become holy
  • He gives us insight and understanding for how we can love and befriend fellow strugglers in community
  • He models for us how to see our own stories in light of God’s story

All of this is done within the context of the great challenge of his life: to be faithful to Jesus while experiencing “a steady, strong, unremitting, exclusive sexual attraction to persons of the same sex” (13). As he quotes C.S. Lewis, he shares with us the point of his book:

“I have no answers anymore,” he [C.S. Lewis] says, “only the life I have lived.” In many ways, I feel similarly about what I have written in the pages that follow. At the end of the day, the only “answer” I have to offer to the question of how to live well before God and with others as a homosexual Christian is the life I am trying to live by the power of the gospel (17-18).

There are other types of autobiographies: those who struggled with sin until, at last, they redefined sin away so they could live as they pleased. And there are those who were healed of their sinful desires so that they no longer struggled to be holy (in at least some part of their lives).

Dr. Hill has faced a tougher journey: resisting his own sinful desires, on a daily basis, with little relief (13-15).

Is this not the challenge of every committed disciple of Jesus? Are we willing to fight against sin as manfully as he does?

Besides the frustration of unfulfilled sexual desire, Wesley Hill’s life has encompassed two ongoing struggles: loneliness and shame. He shares his own story, in addition to brief biographies of Henri Nouwen and Gerard Manley Hopkins, to explain how these difficulties have been the context for a personal knowledge of God’s love and grace.

The title, Washed and Waiting, refers to the narrative bookends of the Biblical witness that Dr. Hill returns to time and time again: we have been forgiven and cleansed of our sin (we are washed), we are God’s beloved now, and we hope to soon experience the fulfillment of our dreams in God’s presence (we are waiting).

Dr. Hill grew up in a conservative Southern Baptist family and attended an evangelical undergraduate college (Wheaton). How, in these contexts, could he share that he was a gay Christian? What would people think?

And how can we, who are in conservative churches, share our great secrets and ruinous sins? Can we bear to hear one another in our stories of struggle? Are we equipped with a story of God’s redeeming love that enables us to love and accept, to challenge and admonish, to care and to pray, and finally, to struggle together for holiness?

As Wesley Hill opens up his life to others, he learns important lessons about the church:

No longer was I simply struggling; I was learning to struggle well, with others, in the presence of God (48).

Sometimes it seems that we gay and lesbian Christians are unfairly singled out by the church for especially harsh demands. After all, what other group in contemporary society does the church confront as directly and sharply as it does homosexual people? (56).

“Are homosexuals to be excluded from the community of faith?” asked one gay Christian in a letter to a friend. “Certainly not,” he concluded. “But anyone who joins such a community should know that it is a place of transformation, of discipline, of learning, and not merely a place to be comforted or indulged.” Engaging with God and entering the transformative life of the church does not mean we get a kind of “free pass,” an unconditional love that leaves us where we are. Instead, we get a fiercely demanding love, a divine love that will never let us escape from its purifying, renovating, and ultimately healing grip (67-68).

One of the ways I have received help in dealing with my particular struggle has been through reading about the unfulfilled desires of others and how they have dealt with them (73).

So community is one of the major strands of the book. Through the love of good friends, both the ache of his loneliness and the discouragement of shame are somewhat mitigated. There are no plastic smiles or tidy resolutions, but there is enough to encourage and to guide.

The other redemptive theme is story, which provides an important perspective for his life:

These questions have been the deciding factor in my choice to say no to my homosexual desires. In the end, what keeps me on the path I’ve chosen is not so much individual proof texts from Scripture or the sheer weight of the church’s traditional teaching against homosexual practice. Instead, it is, I think, those texts and traditions and teachings as I see them from within the true story of what God has done in Jesus Christ—and the whole perspective on life and the world that flows from that story, as expressed definitively in Scripture. Like a piece from a jigsaw puzzle finally locked into its rightful place, the Bible and the church’s no to homosexual behavior make sense to me—it has the ring of truth, as J. B. Phillips once said of the New Testament—when I look at it as one piece within the larger Christian narrative. I abstain from homosexual behavior because of the power of that scriptural story (61).

Do we know the Biblical story? Have we learned, by the Holy Spirit, to live within it?

When we come to understand the Biblical story, we can see more clearly that:

Woven into the fabric of Christian theology is the insistence that Jesus Christ is the truest, most perfect, most glorious human being who has ever lived—and that those who want to experience true, full, rich humanness must become like him, must pattern their lives after Jesus’ humanity (Romans 8:29; Ephesians 4:20-24; Colossians 3:1-17) (76).

Imitating Jesus; conforming my thoughts, beliefs, desires, and hopes to his; sharing his life; embracing his gospel’s no to homosexual practice—I become more fully alive, not less. According to the Christian story, true Christlike holiness is the same thing as true humanness. To renounce homosexual behavior is to say yes to full, rich, abundant life (77).

As he situates his own life within the Christian narrative, Dr. Hill gains hope – and the capacity to endure suffering, because he is living for a good and glorious cause. As he puts it so well:

To engage with God as a homosexual Christian, as Hopkins did, is to find God in Christ to be ever-present, always watching, with ruthless, relentless, transforming grace. And one day, beyond all hopes, that grace will accomplish the ultimate transformation—changing human beings with broken sexualities and a thousand other afflictions into shining, everlastingly alive children of the resurrection (130).

Slowly, ever so slowly, I am learning to do this. I am learning that my struggle to live faithfully before God in Christ with my homosexual orientation is pleasing to him. And I am waiting for the day when I will receive the divine accolade, when my labor of trust and hope and self-denial will be crowned with his praise. “Well done, good and faithful servant,” the Lord Christ will say. “Enter into the joy of your master” (150).

Above all, this is an honest book. It is filled with hard-won insights into the human heart, the love of God, and the pursuit of holiness. It educates us how to love our gay friends. It humbles us to reconsider if we are fighting faithfully against our own sin.

We need more stories like Washed and Waiting. The church needs to learn from the testimonies of those who, with tears and heartache, loved their enemies, overcame racism, refused to be materialistic, and lived in obscurity, because they cared far more about living for God.

May Dr. Hill’s book inspire us to write those stories.

You can pick up a copy of Washed and Waiting at Amazon.com.