09 Aug 2012
Sex, intimacy, and community
We all yearn to be deeply known, and to be affirmed by the one who deeply knows us. In his book, Washed and Waiting, Wesley Hill explains why intimacy seemed so unattainable for him. As a believer in Jesus with same-sex attraction, celibacy is the choice of faithfulness to God,. Hill found himself holding male relationships at bay for fear that they would be come sexualized, thus already compounding the loneliness he felt.
Does a life without sex mean a life without intimacy? In our culture, we often cheapen sex so that two strangers can casually use each other for their own sexual satisfaction. But we also idolize sex to the point where a deep relationship without sex—heterosexual or homosexual—is considered to limit intimacy. Must intimacy include sex to be complete? If so, intimacy is unattainable for any person committed to celibacy. Such a person must be destined for loneliness.
Building on some of Hill’s observations, we reject this. First, the Bible describes our relationship with the Father as “one” (John 17), the apex of intimacy. God commends us, “For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:18, ESV); he praises us, “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God” (Romans 2:29): and he loves us sacrificially, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). There is nothing sexual here, and yet we are deeply known, affirmed, and delighted in by our heavenly Father.
Second, some of the most intimate relationships described within the Bible were not sexual relationships. They weren’t marriages, but rather relationships within the community of believers: Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, John and Jesus, etc.
Hill takes us a step further. Under the guidance of a mentor, he realizes that humanity, as beings of flesh and spirit, requires intimacy of the flesh and spirit. Certainly Jesus meets every need. But he does that partly through providing a flesh-and-spirit community of believers– brothers and sisters with whom we can weep and rejoice. We confess sin to them, receive assurance of forgiveness through them, sustain loving mutual correction among them, and are loved for our good. This is incredibly intimate, unlimited, and not sexualized at all. So there is fulfilling intimacy in the gospel, even for the one who chooses a celibate life!
07 Aug 2012
Washed and Waiting is a series of Christian theological and personal reflections written by a doctoral student who struggles with same-sex attraction. Wesley Hill begins his story as a secret, frightened believer with forbidden yearnings in the church. He ends his biography as an open, integrated member of Christian community who has chosen celibacy as a lifestyle of faithfulness for Christ. The book is almost devotional at points, exploring the spiritual nuances of the gospel as they apply to his struggle. Even if he weren’t addressing same-sex yearnings, he provides us with a model of what growing discipleship looks like as we live in a broken world.
This is not a “success” story. There is little movement away from his same-sex attractions during the course of his story, and Hill says he cannot even imagine what the absence of these desires might look like in his life. But we do see personal transformation in how he increasingly understands and welcomes his celibate struggle as an impetus and means to deepen his relationship with Christ. After all, intimacy and union with Christ are the ultimate goals for all believers.
In the introduction, Hill explains his terminology. He calls himself a “gay Christian” and, more frequently, a “homosexual Christian.” Since we hear this term from those who want to legitimize homosexual relations as a “Christian” alternative, it feels uncomfortable—probably both to those who want to legitimize homosexual practice and to those who reject it. At Harvest USA, we feel that using a sexual orientation qualifier for Christians lessens one’s full and primary identity in Christ (see this blog for an excellent discussion on this topic).
But Hill is absolutely on target in reminding us that there is, and always has been, a slice of the Christian church who have struggled, usually silently, with same-sex attraction while remaining faithful to Christ in their lifestyle. Hill provides a number of well-known names as representatives; there are more than we realize. God calls us in the church to understand, empathize, and support them. Like all of us, whatever our sexual attractions, they are broken people, and Christ walks with them in their suffering.
You can’t take this journey of celibacy without accepting that sin causes basic human brokenness. Same-sex attraction is, like all forms of brokenness, a result of the human race’s fall in Adam. And like all effects of the Fall in our lives, we struggle to attain the goal of personal holiness for which Christ calls all of us to strive as we wait for the coming glory when sexuality will no longer be an issue, and intimacy will be complete in Christ. Those who have a small vision of the coming glory—when the coming of Christ will usher in a restored humanity and world—who see sexual intimacy as a right, and who refuse suffering as part of the spiritual journey, will struggle with Hill’s book. But those who long for deep intimacy with Christ, understand the relational power of Christian community, and find Christian waiting profitable in the long run, will find this book encouraging and full of hope.