This book was very hard for me to read, though I liked it. It is beautifully written: lyrical, well-organized, theologically robust, moving. My problem with the book, as anyone who knows me well might guess, is this: my brother Wesley Hill cannot allow himself to consider that someone like me, who affirms that same-gender relationships are part of God’s good plans for some of his people, can be a faithful Christian. (There is a single footnote in the introduction that points to a few scant resources–including an excellent essay by theologian Sylvia Keesmaat–but otherwise I’m not sure his rhetoric in this regard is generous.) I really wish this book had been two–one about the vocation to celibacy, and the other a much more fulsome statement about the author’s traditional position on the morality of sexual-romantic intimacy between queer Christians and people. I realize they may be rarer than people expect, but there are affirming queer Christians who are celibate. Opposition to homosexuality, for them, is not at all related to their vocation, and therefore the thread of agony that winds its way through Hill’s narrative will not speak to their situations.
One thing I appreciated without any reservations was Wesley’s emphasis on the bodily resurrection, something he reiterates consistently. And yet with my affirmation is a difference in conclusion:
Rather than refer to someone as “a homosexual,” I’ve taken care always to make “gay” or “homosexual” the adjective, and never the noun, in a longer phrase such as “gay Christian” or “homosexual person.” In this way, I hope to send a subtle linguistic signal that being gay isn’t the most important thing about my or any other gay person’s identity. 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. (Hill, p. 22).
On the contrary, I believe that my identity as a gay man will not disappear, but will be part of what informs my relationships even in the resurrection.
Perhaps I am picking a fight about word choice, but “part of my makeup, a facet of my personality” is both a typical conservative notion about sex and (from Hill’s own perspective, I think) a contradiction. I live with Cerebral Palsy, a neurological impairment and disability that I do not believe belongs to God’s good creation. Though it affects almost everything I do, it is not part of my makeup from the standpoint of the resurrection–God will remove it because it doesn’t belong to my true and full personhood. If Hill believes (as he clearly does) that all homosexual expression is sin, it might be more coherent for him to say that his same-sex attractions are not part of his true makeup.
Seeing the world as a queer person–for most of us, I expect–is much more complicated than simply being “a facet,” something with clear edges that fits into a much larger picture. For most queer people, our queerness is like a drop of dye in a glass of water–clearly not the most important thing, but something that probably will diffuse itself in different ways throughout. In my experience, people who describe their queerness as “a facet” have rarely stopped to examine the ways in which sexuality (which someone helpfully describes as “the drive to overcome our alone-ness”) impacts the way they live their day-to-day lives.
Hill regularly implies (perhaps because of his own convictions, but perhaps also because of the theological bias of Zondervan, his publisher) that Christians who affirm same-gender relationships as-or-analogous-to marriages are not being faithful to the Gospel. His book was published in 2010, before Evangelical books like Generous Spaciousness, Torn, or God and the Gay Christian were also available; yet, his biblical exegesis of the passages that buttress the traditional position is un-nuanced and unhelpfully summative (even given that his primary purpose was not to go merrily ’round the biblical mulberry bush one more time!). He left me with the impression that Christians who disagree with him have done no substantial theological work, and have in fact let pity and predominantly secular reasonings guide our decisions. I hope that Hill will be able at some point (perhaps in a later book or a revised edition) at least demonstrate more nuanced engagement with the theological work of queer-inclusive Christians (and especially those whom identify as Evangelicals).
I had a life-changing experience once while worshiping in a Pentecostal church I regularly attended in my early twenties. That night, I was feeling seriously distracted by all the beautiful men around me–and especially the worship leader, a tall, lanky man with tight blond curls, blue eyes, lovely arms (visible because he wore a sleeveless tee-shirt) and one of the most beautiful male voices I’d heard to that point in my life!
“Lord,” said I, “I’m trying to worship, here, not get distracted by beautiful men!”
It was the strangest thing, but I sensed the Holy Spirit laughing at me, quite affectionately. “So you think he’s beautiful?” she asked.
“Yeah, I really do!”
“Oh, good!” came the reply, and I swear I could hear the wicked-playful grin. “I do, too!”
I know that there are all kinds of reasons why skeptical people could tear my testimony to shreds. But in that moment, because I was recognizing his beauty and seeing him from what (surprise!) seemed to be the Holy Spirit’s perspective, my longing and recognition of his beauty became part of my worship rather than an ungodly distraction.
It seems clear to me that my brother Wesley cannot yet experience his attractions as part of how God might want him to appreciate human beauty, and it causes him deep agony. I wonder, though his writing about the traditional, sweeping perspective of the Church contains much truth and beauty, if he is causing himself deep and needless harm. I am sure that many Christians in Hill’s position will resonate deeply with much of what he says. I only wish that he could recognize much more fully that there are Evangelical Christians, like himself, who reach a different conclusion about homosexuality but nevertheless love Jesus and look forward in hope to the bodily resurrection, when all shall be made new, and when we all experience the joyful surprise of receiving our full humanity in Christ–even if we were deeply wrong about its shape and content on this side of the New Creation.