Welcome to the second installment of our new interview series. Last week we heard from Tripp York about sex and violence. This week we here from Wesley Hill. This interview is bound to be provocative, and likely to strike a nerve with some of you, so please remember to comment with kindness and civility.
Wesley Hill (Ph.D., Durham University, UK) is Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. He is the author of Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality (Zondervan, 2010), a book exploring what it means to be a celibate gay Christian.
You have chosen celibacy. Why?
The short answer is that I believe Jesus’ reaffirmed what God had established in the beginning — that marriage was created as the place for sexual intimacy, and marriage is for one man and one woman (Matthew 19:4-6, quoting Genesis 2:24). Those of us living outside that marital state are called to abstinence. It’s not because I have amazing willpower or am interested in asceticism for its own sake; I believe, rather, that those whose lives have been transformed by God’s grace in the gospel are enabled and called to walk in a manner worthy of that gospel (Ephesians 4:1).
How has that decision affected your relationships with folks in the church and in the LGBT community?
It has made me much more desirous of and intentional about pursuing friendship. Celibacy isn’t really doable apart from a hospitable, supportive circle of brothers and sisters in Christ, at least in my case. And my choosing celibacy, as a gay man, out of fidelity to the gospel, has attuned me more to the sufferings and struggles of other gay men who aren’t necessarily Christians. It’s led to greater relational sensitivity, I think.
What advice would you give to Christians who experience SSA and are trying to resolve that with their faith?
First, I would encourage them to remember that they’re not alone. Struggling with coming to terms with one’s own same-sex attraction as a Christian can be a very isolating experience. You can fall prey to thoughts that you ought not talk about it or that no one else is going through what you’re going through. But that’s simply false. Second, I would encourage gay Christians to look for practical ways to remind themselves that they aren’t alone — i.e., by talking with their fellow Christians about their experiences. This can be quite a scary thing to do — coming out to one’s fellow believers in a church setting, say — but I think, despite the pain, that it’s the path to truest community. Look for what a counselor friend of mine calls “circles of appropriate transparency.” You don’t have to share the story of your sexuality with your whole congregation or parish, for instance in a formal testimony. But you can probably find a handful of “safe,” trusted friends who will enable you to process your journey and give voice to your doubts and complaints and fears and joys and hopes and victories.
What other projects do you have in the works?
I want to think and write and speak more about what Christians throughout the centuries have called “spiritual friendship.” We hear a lot in the Christian world about what God is asking us not to do (“Don’t have gay sex”). We hear a lot less in the Christian world about what God is asking us to do, positively. We celibate gay Christians shouldn’t have to think of ourselves as consigned to lifelong loneliness on account of our celibacy. Rather, we can pour out love for others in the form of friendship. We can practice hospitality and find intimate communion with others, albeit not getting married or having a family in the traditional American sense. But Jesus is very clear: we can have family in a true spiritual sense, as we befriend one another in the body of Christ (see Mark 10:29-31). That’s what I want to think and write more about.