Consider This Perspective – Wesley Hill

Welcome to the second installment of our new interview series. Last week we heard from Tripp York about sex and violence. This week we here from Wesley Hill. This interview is bound to be provocative, and likely to strike a nerve with some of you, so please remember to comment with kindness and civility.

Wesley Hill (Ph.D., Durham University, UK) is Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. He is the author of Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality (Zondervan, 2010), a book exploring what it means to be a celibate gay Christian.

You have chosen celibacy. Why?

The short answer is that I believe Jesus’ reaffirmed what God had established in the beginning — that marriage was created as the place for sexual intimacy, and marriage is for one man and one woman (Matthew 19:4-6, quoting Genesis 2:24). Those of us living outside that marital state are called to abstinence. It’s not because I have amazing willpower or am interested in asceticism for its own sake; I believe, rather, that those whose lives have been transformed by God’s grace in the gospel are enabled and called to walk in a manner worthy of that gospel (Ephesians 4:1).

How has that decision affected your relationships with folks in the church and in the LGBT community?

It has made me much more desirous of and intentional about pursuing friendship. Celibacy isn’t really doable apart from a hospitable, supportive circle of brothers and sisters in Christ, at least in my case. And my choosing celibacy, as a gay man, out of fidelity to the gospel, has attuned me more to the sufferings and struggles of other gay men who aren’t necessarily Christians. It’s led to greater relational sensitivity, I think.

What advice would you give to Christians who experience SSA and are trying to resolve that with their faith?

First, I would encourage them to remember that they’re not alone. Struggling with coming to terms with one’s own same-sex attraction as a Christian can be a very isolating experience. You can fall prey to thoughts that you ought not talk about it or that no one else is going through what you’re going through. But that’s simply false. Second, I would encourage gay Christians to look for practical ways to remind themselves that they aren’t alone — i.e., by talking with their fellow Christians about their experiences. This can be quite a scary thing to do — coming out to one’s fellow believers in a church setting, say — but I think, despite the pain, that it’s the path to truest community. Look for what a counselor friend of mine calls “circles of appropriate transparency.” You don’t have to share the story of your sexuality with your whole congregation or parish, for instance in a formal testimony. But you can probably find a handful of “safe,” trusted friends who will enable you to process your journey and give voice to your doubts and complaints and fears and joys and hopes and victories.

What other projects do you have in the works?

I want to think and write and speak more about what Christians throughout the centuries have called “spiritual friendship.” We hear a lot in the Christian world about what God is asking us not to do (“Don’t have gay sex”). We hear a lot less in the Christian world about what God is asking us to do, positively. We celibate gay Christians shouldn’t have to think of ourselves as consigned to lifelong loneliness on account of our celibacy. Rather, we can pour out love for others in the form of friendship. We can practice hospitality and find intimate communion with others, albeit not getting married or having a family in the traditional American sense. But Jesus is very clear: we can have family in a true spiritual sense, as we befriend one another in the body of Christ (see Mark 10:29-31). That’s what I want to think and write more about.

Consider This Perspective – Tripp York

The first installment of our new weekly interview series, Consider This Perspective, is finally here! We chat a bit about sex and violence with theologian Tripp York.

Tripp York, PhD, is the author and editor of ten books including The Devil Wears Nada, A Faith Not Worth Fighting For, and A Faith that Embraces All Creatures. He teaches in the Religious Studies Department at Virginia Wesleyan College in Virginia Beach, VA. He also serves as a Keeper Aide at the Virginia Zoological Gardens in Norfolk, VA where he is routinely urinated on by numerous animals. He considers this to be quite natural as well as intentional (especially among the primates).

Tell us about the projects you are currently working on.

I’m trying to wrap up the third volume of The Peaceable Kingdom Series. I am also working on two manuscripts pertaining to sexual ethics, two graphic novels, and I’m constantly working on my comic, Anarcrow! It’s about a crow that is smarter than all of us because he refuses to buy into our obsession with ‘isms.’

That and I think he, secretly, adores Wittgenstein.

Your humor is one of your hallmarks. How can we approach such serious topics of sex and violence with humor? And why should/shouldn’t we?

I have a hallmark? I’ve always wanted one of those. So far, it’s gotten me nowhere.

Greg Graffin of Bad Religion sings, “I would rather laugh than cry.” When dealing with sex and violence, those seem like the most faithful options we have, so, for now anyway . . . let’s laugh. Otherwise, I fear my liver would not survive the whiskey-spike.

In The Devil Wears Nada you have some comments about homosexual behavior in the animal kingdom as a way of, in part, refuting the claim that gay sex is ‘unnatural’. Would you be willing to expand on this thought a bit?

Part of my doing that in The Devil Wears Nada was to simply show off my lay-obsession with ethology and anthrozoology. I’m narcissistic that way. But it was also an attempt to revel in the incredible diversity that takes place in the natural world–which is such a weird thing to say, isn’t it? The ‘natural world’. I mean, what are our options here? What is an ‘unnatural’ world? What does that look like? Basically, anything that can be done can be said to be ‘natural’. It’s not like we can walk on walls or breathe under water. Now, that would be unnatural.

We seem to be quite careless when employing the terms ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’, and I’m not sure how fruitful their use is in this sort of conversation anyway. I especially find it difficult to understand why, especially when Christians talk about living in a post-lapsarian world, how the term ‘natural’ is synonymous with ‘good’ and ‘unnatural’ (which, whatever that is, is impossible) is ‘evil’. Placing any kind of moral language on these abused terms is nothing more than people’s enactment of their own will-to-power.

Sorry about getting all Nietzschean on you. It happens on occasion.

How have you seen violence used in discussions on sex? How can we practice nonviolence on sexual topics?

I teach a course called Sex & Violence in Christianity as well as a course called, The Ethics of Intimacy. In both of these courses, my students often unwittingly betray subtle forms of violence by the manner in which they discuss practices such as same-sex relationships, heterosexual marriage or, to use an example here, even what constitutes consensual sex. Coming out of a long-winded patriarchal order, in which every single facet of human purpose (much less sexuality) has been dictated by those with the XY chromosome, it may be the case that Catherine MacKinnon is correct to argue (or, ‘more’ correct than we would like to imagine) that consensual sex is not possible. The very reasons we often give for knowing when it’s the ‘right time’ to have sex are so thoroughly embedded in misogynistic discourse that even when we try to resist it, it appears we collude with the object of our protest. The concern is that we have no other language (hence, world) for how to discuss something like consensual sex that has not been determined by those most anxious to get others to say ‘yes’.

This sort of thinking tends to permeate most of my classroom discussions, especially when I hear my male and female students attempting to discuss what is and is not legitimate modes of sex (and/or violence, for that matter).

Okay. Now, I feel like crying.

What do you think are some of the most prevalent contributions to our culture’s continuing desensitization of things related to sex and violence?

Purity balls, virginity oaths, and Mark Driscoll. Though, not necessarily in that order.

Faith and Sexuality Interview Series

We at LOVEboldly have started to realize that we really aren’t that interesting. Fortunately for you, we know a lot of people who are. The best part is that these scholars, activists, pastors, musicians, and writers have agreed to let us interview them on all sorts of topics related to faith, sexuality, violence, hospitality, politics and more!

LOVEboldly has an ongoing commitment to provide varying perspectives and  a forum for thoughtful voices for the purpose of challenging, teaching, and engaging in productive dialogue around issues of faith and sexuality. The people who have volunteered their thoughts for the series span all sorts of spectrums and have opinions that run the gamut. You are likely to disagree, perhaps even vehemently at times, with some of the positions represented in this series, but we think that is a good thing. Please participate in the conversations that are sure to follow and keep your comments civil and kind. We cannot wait to see where the discussions lead.

Here’s what you have to look forward to over the coming months in our weekly interview series.

Recording Artist Derek Webb

Author, Actor and Scholar Tripp York

Author, Professor and Celibate Gay Christian Wesley Hill

Veterans Advocate and Author Logan Mehl-Laituri

Christian Musician Jennifer Knapp

Author and Transgender Spokesperson Alana Nicole Sholar

Bioethics Scholar and Author Jen Thweatt-Bates

Theology and Ethics Professor and Writer Ted Grimsrud

Presbyterian Pastor and Author Carol Howard Merritt

Scholar, Activist and Author Chuck Gutenson

We also have several others in the works. If you have any suggestions for what we ought to name the series, or anyone who you think we ought to interview, please comment below.