We were very blessed recently by the ministry of Revd Dr Wesley Hill. He gave a talk at at our Parish Workers Communion and also spoke at a conference organised over the weekend.
Hill is assistant professor of New Testament at the Trinity School for Ministry, an Anglican College in Pittsburg USA. Hill shared his personal journey as a Christian who gradually discovered that he has same-sex attraction and how that needed to square with his commitment to God’s Word and the gospel of Jesus Christ. A celibate Christian now, he is both convinced of and convicted to follow God’s Word and the traditional (inherited) teaching of the Church.
He also challenged the Church to take a hard look at her emphases, especially the “idolisation of marriage” and underplaying the power of community living and spiritual friendships.
Hill explained how, typically, this Christian hope for sexual minorities lends itself to one of two options, both focused on marriage. The first, that homosexuals can change their sexual orientation and eventually participate in a heterosexual marriage; the second, that homosexuals can find hope in participating in a homosexual marriage.
“My story doesn’t allow me to locate my hope in either of those options,” Hill said. “Instead, what I found is that the hope God was calling me to in the gospel was hope that came in the form of a positive call to love, precisely in my celibacy.”
This sounds like it could mean a life of loneliness and a very depressing prospect and Wesley spoke to those kinds of questions.
After growing up in a “sheltered environment” where he had little to no exposure to homosexuality, Hill realised in college that ignoring his homosexuality was not the path toward redemption. “I began a process of bringing my questions to my faith rather than keeping my questions and my faith separate,” he said.
Hill explained that his own context has led him to a hope revolving around a vocation that encourages fellowship among Christians — the vocation of spiritual friendship. He views this idea of spiritual friendship not only as a call to sexual minorities, but also as a vocation for Christians in general, which allows more room for those who feel called toward celibacy.
This may be the first time I am sharing my thoughts on gay issues. Actually these concerns have dominated my thinking for many years now, often happening around my pastoral ministry to those struggling with sexual difficulties, same-sex or otherwise. I have said all along that the cause of same-sex attraction, whether nature (“born this way”), environment or a bit of both is a moot point. What is important is how we may guide the person to grow in discipleship.
I agree with Hill that we need to develop a more thought out theology and practice of spiritual friendship in the life of the church. In our desire to protect marriage (promiscuity and unfaithfulness are not a lesser threat than LGBT issues) and melded with our Asian values of expecting everyone to marry, we may have idolised marriage and family to the neglect of the celibate person. The church as a family and community is vital to the life and health of every Christian.
Regaining a theology of spiritual friendship can help us shift the balance away from the idea that romance and sex are what you need in order to be a fulfilled person. Revd Dr Ephraim Radner said very much the same thing in a talk he gave to a Young Adult group when he was here in April. In our highly sexualised world, it is all too easy to imagine that “romantic love” is the goal of life. In fact, romantic love is often a cheap, selfish imitation and replacement of
true love, as classically understood and experienced.
In the Cathedral, we will seek to be vigorous as we help each other to think biblically and practise our faith in a fast-changing world. It is never easy to stay faithful to Christ, whether you are a heterosexual, homosexual, single or married person. It has always been so, right from the beginning of time .
I close with the words of Jesus: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25
Note: Dr Wesley Hill’s talk can be streamed from our website in the sermon section.