Friday, November 06, 2015

Wesley Hill and Celibate Homosexuality

Wesley Hill was in Marion last night to give a interview/talk back session with any students who might want to hear his testimony and thoughts on a book he has written on Spiritual Friendship. A faculty group read through this book and then anyone who was interested came to hear the interview at College Wesleyan Church last night. I would say there were several hundred in attendance.

1. Hill gets critique from both sides of the spectrum. There are Christians who believe that, if he is attracted to the same sex, then it isn't appropriate for him to be celibate. Then there are Christians who believe that he should be moving toward opposite-sex attraction and not accepting as permanent the desires he has.

I thought there was a healthy atmosphere last night. There was no sarcasm on anyone's part. Hill was extremely judicious in all his comments, almost contemplative. One person leaned over to me during the session and said something like, "It may seem strange to say it but there seems to be a spiritual atmosphere here." From what I could tell, those there concluded that Hill's testimony was authentic and that his convictions and faith all around were genuine.

2. I did have two students ask me earlier about IWU having the session. Was this advocating for homosexuality? Did Hill believe it was okay to stay gay?

Never having met Hill or read his book, I guess at an answer to the second question. I presume Hill would say that, for whatever reason, most Christian individuals who discover they are attracted to the same sex ask God to take away those desires at some point. Most gay individuals who grow up in a Christian context struggle significantly with their desires.

But, I think he would say, very few if any find that God takes away those desires. Instead, they eventually find a way to be Christian while being attracted to the same sex. Of course the church is typically hostile toward such individuals. Many end up leaving the church. Some end up marrying which is usually disastrous (it would be interested to know what percentage of Christian divorces come from gay individuals marrying because they think it is the right thing to do).

So to one student I suggested that Hill was not advocating staying gay. I assume he has concluded that same-sex attraction just usually isn't something that God takes away from a person, for whatever reason.

3. To the question of advocacy, neither Hill nor IWU was advocating homosexuality. The Wesleyan position is that homosexual sex is sinful, but that there will be Christians in the church who are attracted to the same sex. Temptations are not sinful, choices are. Hill's commitment to celibacy is what the Wesleyan Church advocates.

It seems inevitable that there will be individuals attracted to the same-sex in our midst in the church and certainly at a university as large at IWU. Our tendency in the past has been to ignore such individuals and let them wrestle with these issues in secret, meaning that they probably floundered at some point in relation to Christianity. In our current context, it seems much more Christ-like to offer counsel and to cultivate Christ-like attitudes toward individuals like Hill in our midst.

4. Let me close by giving background to the Wesleyan position:
  • The notion that someone might be gay and never have gay sex is a fairly recent paradigm shift in history. Even not too many decades ago, a homosexual would have been defined as someone who has homosexual sex. I don't think that in the 1920s, for example, a person would have been considered homosexual if they never had gay sex. 
  • So it is with the Bible. All references to homosexuality are references to people who have homosexual sex. None of the references have to do with some orientation abstracted from the practice of gay sex. The notion of orientation is a fairly recent one.
  • So Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 refer to gay sex acts. I would argue the same for 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. These do not refer to individuals like Hill who are celibate.
  • The Sodom and Gomorrah story is about attempted same-sex rape. In cultural context, these would have been married men with children trying to do an act similar to what is notoriously said to take place in prison. A similar event is found in Judges 19 where the men of the city go on to rape a woman to death when they can't violate the man.
  • Romans 1 is also about homosexual sex acts. It talks about "natural use" and "doing."
  • Temptation is not sin. Action on temptation--mental or physical--is sin (James 1:15). We all face different temptations. For some it is pride. For some it is women. 
  • We hopefully do not struggle to the same degree with the same temptations our whole lives. But entire sanctification is not a state beyond temptation either. 
So that is the basis for the Wesleyan position. Being attracted to the same sex is not a sin. But there have always been celibate individuals in the church. As I heard Russ Gunsalus put it, unless you get married immediately when you hit puberty and die with your spouse at the same time in a plane crash, there will be a period of celibacy in your life.

Hill has chosen to follow the monastic tradition of celibacy. Following Aelred in the Middle Ages, he has written a book about the importance of friendship without a sexual component. It applies to married men who have female friends and married women who have male friends. It applies to all singles who have friendships without sex. Hill would include himself within this latter category.


Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for your sensible thoughts.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

If one is "holiness" then, a personal commitment to what defines "holiness" is the most important value. Holiness seems to be defined by one's sexual behavior in his case. Granted it sounds as if Wesley Hill contains his "burning" by a choice and commitment to celibacy, which monastics have done for eons. But, what about those that "burn" and cannot contain themselves? Doesn't Paul suggest marrying instead of burning?
Marriage is a choice and commitment to value a monogamous relationship which is to value an institutional structure in our society for order. Gender concerning marriage is unimportant for maintaining the institutional structures for social order. Monogamy is the ultimate value of marriage, as procreation cannot be the reason for marital sex because many heterosexuals marry that cannot procreate! So what is the difficulty in affirming marriage between homosexuals? Just doesn't seem reasonable.
I've also heard that the homosexual verses are verses misunderstood of their cultural context, as homosexuals were present at the public bath houses which were "free for all" sexually. Paul was concerned about promiscuity, not homosexuality.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Doesn't it seem disingenuous, for historical abolitionists, and those that advocate "love", to limit the role of gender within the confines of a marriage, when the role of a slave has been re-defined in modern society?
It is the prerogative of the two consenting adults to determine the roles/functions they will play within their particular marriage. Each marriage is a unique relationship because each of the individuals involved are unique. Good marital counselling considers the individuals and individual cases, not standardized and specified roles and functions.....

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Christians are concerned that if we do not define the terms exactly as scripture states, then, America will be doomed culturally, if not judged directly by God. I beg to differ and this is why.

There is a reality show on TV that follows a polygamist and his wives. I've not watched it except to stop to see what the show was about. Many argue that if we don't define sex according to scripture, then, we will come to accept polygamy, bestiality, etc. But, polygamy was allowed in scripture.

Scripture was the record of how ancient people formed their social order and has become the tradition of the Church, as the Church was "born" within an ancient context. Paul (the Church's apostle) recorded his opinions about sexual order, using his "political power", as an apostle to further "Christian order". (This is how "colonization" is defined as promoting cultural values.)

This morning I ran upon a question whether an atheist could govern our nation. Do we need a "Paul" to govern our nation, or is "Christian" a cultural term, which has little to do with specified religious belief?
This is what I think. And how I defend it.

It is true that we are a "Christian Nation", but America is not a CHRISTIAN Nation!
America was founded by Europeans, who came from a Christian background. Because of the religious wars that Europe fought and because people wanted to claim Christianity as their religious tradition, but did not want the imposition of the King upon the tradition, the Founders sought to prevent government intrusion into matters of conscience.

Separation of Church and State was to protect "free speech", which is neutral concerning religious opinion, as the Founders understood what happens when religion becomes the focus of discussion!

I see no conflict with an atheist serving the public interest, despite protests from CHRISTIANS! Both Atheist and Christian could agree on certain principles of "social order", but might disagree about how to define "social order". Who is going to be more "fair minded" about diverse views of conscience?