Washed and Waiting Book Review

washed and waitingI recall a gay friend of mine (I’ll call him Bryce) saying to me, “You know why I reject Jesus? Because I want a loving relationship just like you have. I want a man to snuggle up to at night and watch TV with. Otherwise, what hope do I have?” Bryce’s reference to “hope” transcends the trenches of morality and truth – it is grounded in heart-affections. And this is the realm of the universally human. For heart-affections, read “idols” – as Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) in his essay, The Expulsive Power of a New Affection points out (Chalmers’ article remains the best start to explore the significance of heart-affections and is easily found on the web). Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill presents a significant contribution to how Christ can provide new affections which can help those who struggle with the temptations of same-sex orientation. Hill presents this through a book that gives hope that is biblical, personal, sophisticated and timely.

Washed and Waiting is biblical. The title refers to two biblical passages. The “washed” aspect refers to I Corinthians 6:9-11, where the Apostle Paul describes Christians (who were once “wicked”) as being “washed… in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” The “waiting” aspect refers to Romans 8:23-25, where Paul refers to the groaning of all creation for the glorious renewal of all creation. Hill holds the historic Christian understanding of sex as a gift from God that is expressed obediently in the context of a heterosexual marriage (see pp 51-53). But you won’t find an encyclopaedic, rigorous or systematic analysis of the biblical material such as in Gagnon (see www.robgagnon.net) or Schmidt (Straight & Narrow?). And that’s ok, because, this is more an appeal to heart-affections, rather than a “Bible says no” approach. However, Washed and Waiting would have benefited with an index of scripture passages peppered throughout the book. Further, the book would have benefited with more numbered sub-headings: especially in the case of Hill’s four reasons for the “Bible’s no to homosexual practice” (pp62-75).

Washed and Waiting is a deeply personal book. Hill tells his story of how he struggled from a young age to uphold God’s “Yes” to relational fidelity. He gives insight into how gay Christians have to regularly deal with intense loneliness, shame and guilt. Hill’s honesty is more than engaging – it is purposeful and challenging. Regarding purpose, he says, “I hope this book may encourage other homosexual Christians to take the risky step of opening up their lives to others in the body of Christ.” Hill gives many stories of how for him Christ’s grace is “mediated to us through the human faces and arms of those who are our fellow believers (p112)” (gay and straight). He challenged me to be the kind of straight supportive person who takes the midnight call and listens for 3 hours, or who takes the day off to spend with a lonely heart. Missing in the book, however, is a page or two on how churches can practically work toward being this community of support for the gay Christian. Here is an opportunity lost, from one most qualified.

Washed and Waiting is a sophisticated book. Hill weaves together reflections and stories of people as diverse and ecumenical as Henri Nouwen, CS Lewis, Alan Paton, Aristotle, the Pope and Gerard Manley Hopkins. He draws from art, poetry and culture. Negatively, this could prove too ‘high-brow’ for many. Or, at least, it could miss the mark to a readership more acquainted with popular culture. Positively, Hill occupies the cultural territory often claimed by the Cultural Revolution (Peter Hitchens’ term) and frequently barren of any authoritative Christian voice. Many stereotype a gay celibate Christian who opposes same-sex practice as someone akin to a Westboro Baptist militant. Hill’s sophistication means that his arguments cannot be so conveniently dismissed. I hope that, just as the soap opera Number 96 helped normalise homosexuality in Australia in the 1970s, Hill’s positon finds a similarly popular medium to normalise his traditional Christian approach in contemporary Australia (if I’m missing something in my TV viewing, please let me know!).

Washed and Waiting is a timely book, without conforming with the times. Hill seems agnostic with regard to the origins of his same-sex attraction. He has no story of childhood abuse or parental absence. He doesn’t advocate “heterosexual reassignment” for those who struggle. He therefore dodges another popular missal of dismissal: that of the Christian who advocates a ‘solution’ to same sex attraction. Hill simply considers himself a gay Christian with an assurance and a hope: that is, he has been washed by the blood of Jesus, and who is now waiting for the glorious renewal of all creation.

I recommend Washed and Waiting for all Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction. You might even find it appropriate to give to a gay non-Christian. Its impressionistic biblical references, relational and sophisticated approach, and Hill’s own undoubted authority on the subject makes it an excellent way to present the “new affection” of Christ. This makes it a rare book on the topic. And gives hope for people like me who love and pray for people like Bryce.

Francis Chalwell, Dec 3, 2014.