Wrestling with Wesley

I have mentioned previously that I did not enjoy reading Wesley Hill's book, Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality, published by Zondervan. I had just finished reading Justin Lee's wonderful book, Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate, published by Jericho Books. I resonate with the views and the writing style of Justin while I find Wesley's book tedious, laborious, and even a bit pretentious. Riding on the high of having read Justin, I was eager to read Wesley, and I was weighing the content of each in forming some of my own views.

At the Contents of Wesley's book, where we look for subject-heading content that will address various topics, we find the following -- what I refer to as pretentious:
Prelude: Washed and Waiting
1. A Story-Shaped life

Interlude: The Beautiful Incision
2. The End of Loneliness

Postlude: "Thou Art Lightning and Love"
3. The Divine Accolade
Is this a clinical academic treatise or a book about the inner wranglings of a believer who loves Christ but longs for intimacy with the author's own gender? Dispassionate-natured treatment aside, at least regarding the Contents, some of Wesley's views are now so utterly foreign to me. For instance, he writes, "My own story ... is a story of feeling spiritually hindered rather than helped by my homosexuality."1 What occasions his feeling of being "spiritually hindered"? He continues (emphasis added):
Another way to say it would be to observe that my story testifies to the truth of the position the Christian church has held with almost total 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 relationships 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.2
Of course, Wesley is lauded by conservative evangelicals, because he espouses and affirms their core beliefs about the Christ-denying, horrifying, God-rejecting context of homosexuality in toto. Never mind the inner anguish; never mind the uncontrollable weeping and longing for a mate to love and by whom to be loved for a lifetime; never mind the seventeen years of praying that God would "heal" me of this disease; never mind the ridicule, the looks in public and in the church; never mind the attraction one might possess for the same gender since he was five years old. All that truly matters to some evangelicals is that the gay Christian deny his own reality. If so, then such will be accepted and praised; if not, then such will be dismissed as a heretic and possibly, at least to an adequate majority of conservatives and evangelicals, unregenerate.

The additional commentary offered by Wesley does not answer the question: What occasions his feeling "spiritually hindered" by his homosexuality? Demanding that "the Christian church has held with almost total unanimity throughout the centuries" that homosexuality is a sin is not an answer. As a matter of fact, the church has held nearly unanimously throughout the centuries that women are inferior to men (link), that infants are to be baptized into membership into the church (contra views of Baptists, Pentecostals, et al.), and that congregations are not to select their own pastors by a democratic vote (contra views of Baptists, Pentecostals, et al.). A "Christian church consensus" can be wrong; at least, that is the explanation that Baptists, Pentecostals, and others are forced to concede regarding the latter two notions.

Wesley, when clarifying his position, states in emphatic terms: "my story testifies to the truth of the position the Christian church has held with almost total unanimity through the centuries." Now, when a progressive uses absolutist language in defending her particular views, she is dismissed outright by conservative evangelicals. How dare the progressive, one might argue, insist that the truth of the Bible is that its authors do not address homosexuality as understood by us in the modern era! But conservative evangelicals grant themselves a pass when they afford themselves absolutist language concerning the alleged truth of the position against homosexuality maintained by a majority of Christians throughout the ages. Shall we dismiss Wesley, then?

I need to press Wesley on two other matters, as well, in his brief statement: 1) God's original design is an a priori concept belonging to complementarian theory; and 2) homosexuality is a sign of our fallenness and yet that fallenness is imbalanced. First, the insistence that "God's original creative intention for humanity" includes the life-long relationship between one man and one woman betrays what some refer to as "the gift of singleness" (cf. Matt. 19:10-12; 1 Cor. 7:25-40), as well as the practice and guidelines for polygamy (cf. Ex. 21:10) -- the practice is not forbidden in the Hebrew scriptures. Moreover, if we are to be "biblical" regarding marriage, then fathers should sell their daughters to men (cf. Deut. 22:16). How convenient that evangelicals assume license to pick and choose which passages are and are not relevant for today.

Second, to suggest that homosexuality is a sign of our brokenness, or sin, is to muddy our theology. If this is the case then why are not all people homosexual? If sin explains homosexuality then why does sin not affect all respectively? Where is the evidence for such a belief noted in the Hebrew or Christian scriptures? (See the post: "Exchanging the Natural for the Unnatural: Homosexuality in Rome.") As a matter of fact, the apostle Paul ascribes some sort of homosexuality in Rome as the result not of inherited sin but from denying the God they knew to exist, "for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened." (Rom. 1:21, emphasis added)

Furthermore, to revisit the notion of polygamy not being God's "original creative intention for humanity," or God's "express will for all human beings," God concedes to the practice, and establishes guidelines for the men to exist within such a framework, a framework that is not God's so-called original creative intention for humanity. Could not God, today, also allow for monogamous committed same-sex relationships?

If one answers that, in the case of polygamy, the reality still exists of male-to-female relationships, the answer still fails to address this supposed insistence of God's "original creative intention for humanity," and God's allowing such to occur. An argument cannot be made against same-sex relationships on the basis of God's "original creative intention" and then a free pass be granted to heterosexuals who want to live contrary to God's "original creative intention." This is a convenient double standard for conservatives that will not be blithely ignored by progressives.

Wesley's words regarding feeling "spiritually hindered" by his homosexuality intrigue me; mainly because of my curiosity as to whether he would still feel "spiritually hindered" by his homosexuality if "the Christian church [had] held with almost total unanimity throughout the centuries" that the homosexuality referred to in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures differs in nature and practice from how we understand homosexuality today -- defined and outlined in terms of two members of the same gender committing themselves to one another in holy matrimony for life. In other words, what really troubles Wesley is not necessarily his homosexuality, but how he has been made to feel about his homosexuality from the views of evangelicals.

Now, in closing, I intend to be brutally critical regarding Wesley's views on the cure for single and celibate gay Christians in their loneliness. He writes: "The remedy for loneliness -- if there is such a thing this side of God's future -- is to learn, over and over again, to do this: to feel God's keeping presence embodied in the human members of the community of faith, the church."3 To me, this is spiritual balderdash, and overt, theoretical, psuedo-spiritual gobbledygook. Communing with people from church in no realistic sense whatsoever can remedy the loneliness that stems from wanting, at times more than one's next breath, to love and to be loved by another human being in terms of romantic, emotional, and physical intimacy. I am sorry, Wesley, but I will not let you get away with this Chicken-Soup-for-the-Soul bumper-sticker spirituality because it is unfair to offer this proverbial unadhesive band-aid to soul-hurting and desperately lonely gay people, religious or otherwise.

When C.S. Lewis lost the love of his life, his wife, in his grief, desperation, and loneliness he writes: "Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand."4 This is how I feel when I read books like those of Wesley Hill (and Chad Thompson); they are clinical, detached, heady: they are not the words of someone pouring out his soul but words chosen carefully so as to impress a targeted audience -- which, in my opinion, is not gay Christians but conservative evangelicals who are ready to applaud the "bravery" of a gay man who believes in Christ but who has adopted a stance against same-sex relationships and affirmed their core agenda.

Not even the so-called "keeping presence of God" can replace the longing to love and to be loved by another human being. If it could then straight people would have no need to share their lives with each other. No, Wesley, your advice shall not be heeded because it is bad advice; it is not helpful; it is as effective as applying cherry punch to cancer. Again, Lewis writes, "Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about him. The conclusion I dread is not, 'So there's no God after all,' but 'So this is what God's really like. Deceive yourself no longer."5 What kind of God is Lewis referencing?

This is a God who is not warm and fuzzy, all-comforting and wrapping you in safe and secure arms, but a God who is, too often, silent during your pain; and Wesley encourages us toward God's "keeping presence" through members of the body of Christ. If God behaves in such a manner then what hope have we from fallen creatures? This is a God who is silent during the worst time of Jesus' life on earth -- a God who seems to disappear when dread enters my own soul. C.S. Lewis writes:
Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be -- or so it feels -- welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become.6
You will not find this kind of desperate honesty in the writings of Wesley in Washed and Waiting. What you will discover is that God detests homosexuality, while God refuses to "heal" the homosexuality God so detests, and that this is your cross to bear; and when you get lonely then you should spend time with other believers as a means of remedy. There can be no wonder why this brand of Christianity is too bitter a pill for LGBTQ persons to swallow. This sort of life is not merely too costly but an actual denial of the reality allegedly conscripted by a God who wants our trust and love.


1 Wesley Hill, Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 14.

2 Ibid., 14-15.

3 Ibid., 113.

4 C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (New York: HarperOne, 1996), 25.

5 Ibid., 6.

6 Ibid., 5-6.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.