Often enough it is the story of someone we know or love that creates empathy and a new perspective. A student comes into my office who tells me her brother is gay; her father is an evangelical pastor. She’s now in the role of mediator between father and son. She told me she was against homosexuality until her brother came out. She told me she knows her brother is a Christian. She told me she knows what the Bible says.
Many of us want to fashion our faith on the basis of the Bible. But encounters with stories of people often force us to think again.
So what do we do? What I’m often seeing is the tension and ambivalence of a both-and: Such persons both think the Bible’s view of homosexuality is that it is out of God’s will and at the same time know that their friend or brother or sister is gay and conclude they think it is OK. The tension is both knowing it is not God’s will from the Bible, and thinking it is OK for the person they know and love.
To summarize: the story of personal experience is what creates this problem. Many people have very little tolerance for homosexuality until they meet a homosexual person. Then things change.
What are your experiences, in a few sentences, in journeying alongside a gay person or lesbian person? What “stories” are possible or safe to tell in the church?
The reality is that only one kind of story is tolerable to many: the story above.
Enter a different story, the story of celibacy:I know enough gay and lesbian people to know the oft-told story above is not the only story. I also know that for many any other story is unacceptable, intolerable and even oppressive. But there is another story: Many gay and lesbian Christians know they are gay or lesbian, know they are committed to the traditional view of the Bible, and are struggling to live a life of celibacy. What we perhaps need is a compelling story of the one who chooses to be celibate but who knows that he or she may never be “healed” and may never be attracted to the opposite sex.
This story has now been told by Wesley Hill in his excellent, moving, and sensitive book Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality . I cannot recommend it enough.
He’s open and he’s struggling and he’s lonely and he’s accountable and he’s waiting. And his story made me empathetic with the story of those who struggle to be celibate.
His theology is simple: he’s been washed pure in the graces of God’s forgiveness and he’s waiting for the restoration of all things. In between forgiveness and restoration he struggles.
The core of this book is the story of a Christian who is gay and who wants to live faithfully before God as someone who admits his own same-sex attraction. His appeal is to churches to permit this story within its walls. He wants tho make this story honest and safe in the Christian church.
If I were a pastor, I’d have copies of this book available, free, at places where struggling Christians could pick it up.
Some of Wesley’s own observations:
My own story… is a story of feeling spiritually hindered rather than helped by my homosexuality.
… my story testifies to the truth of the position the Christian church has held with almost unanimity throughout the centuries, namely that homosexuality was not God’s original creative intention for humanity, that it is, on the contrary, a tragic sign of human nature and relationship being fractured by sin, and therefore that homosexual practice goes against God’s express will for all human beings, especially those who trust in Christ.
… 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.
I am a Christian before I am anything else. My homosexuality is part of my makeup, a facet of my personality. One day, I believe, whether in this life or in the resurrection, it will fade away. But my identity as a Christian — someone incorporated into Christ’s body by his Spirit — will remain.