Same-Sex Attraction and Pastoral Care (seminar, March 6, 2017, Providence Theological Seminary), Dr. Wesley Hill. Reviewed by Pastor Barry Plett (Blumenort), BRS, BEd, and Russell Doerksen (Fort Garry), BA, MDiv, a member of the Board of Church Ministries and employed by Providence.
There were many familiar EMC faces in the crowded lecture theatre at Providence to hear Dr. Wesley Hill, a young scholar from Arkansas with a same-sex attraction, make a presentation on the issue that has been central in his life for the past many years. Dr. Hill is Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania.
The curiosity and slight apprehension, as to his angle of approach, only increased as he started his session by reading Romans 8:18-27 with comments of the whole world groaning in the season between his resurrection and the culmination and restoration of all things.
That apprehension dissolved quite quickly as Dr. Hill’s love for scripture, the cross, salvation and new life in Christ became obvious as the day progressed. This was a marked difference to many of the presentations and sermons we have heard over the years that seemed to approach scripture with a very clear agenda to find ways to validate and legitimize the feelings and desires same-sex attracted people have.
Dr. Hill began the day by summarizing the Church’s past responses to same-sex attraction into three distinct phases. The first phase was how the Church has historically operated. This approach can be characterized as harsh and judgmental to all those who have same-sex attraction, causing them to feel rejection by family, the Church, and their community. This approach would leave people looking for an outside place where they could be accepted and loved as they tried to sort out what they were going through.
The second phase, which is still largely in practise, has found the Church offering hope to same-sex attracted people in the form of diminishing or eliminating the attractions through therapy and counseling. This approach often begins with the assumption that there was childhood trauma of some kind, often with the same gender parent, that caused the same-sex attraction. The problem is that not everyone, including Dr. Hill, falls neatly into this category. The effectiveness of this type of approach has come into question in recent times and at times.
The third phase has been for the Church to offer hope to same-sex attracted people by pushing for full acceptance at every level of society, including all the rights of marriage and the adoption of children. The problem with this approach, as Hill points out, is there is a unified story of heterosexual marriage in scripture from the Garden of Eden to the wedding feast of the lamb in Revelation.
In adjusting the scriptures to include same-sex marriage, there is too much damage to the beauty and meaning of the unity in diversity illustrated in the heterosexual marriage relationship. Dr. Hill acknowledged this to be a path of difficulty and frustration, but one that is biblically faithful and realistically possible when lived in a healthy community.
Dr. Hill, who enjoyed a wonderful childhood with strong supportive relationships with his parents, youth leaders, the Church, and who has a great love for scripture, does not find any of these approaches to be fully satisfactory. This is where the passage from Romans 8 comes into play.
Using the example of Paul’s thorn in the flesh, Hill points out to the Church that we all live with various reminders that the world is not yet as it should be. It is precisely in living with these reminders that we can all discover how to live and serve in the Church. He calls this “the hope between presumption and despair.”
In light of this tension, Dr. Hill issued a challenge to the Church in the way they have explicitly and implicitly, presented marriage as the utopian ideal that will fulfill all natural desires for relationship and intimacy. Instead, the Church must work on reclaiming the dignity of singleness, help people called to live in the discipline of singleness, and give direction to those living in singleness. He criticized our western culture as having over emphasized our sexual activity as our primary identity, rather than in being created in the image of God and having been bought by Christ through the cross.
Dr. Hill acknowledged this path of singleness to be a path of difficulty and frustration, but one that is biblically faithful and realistically possible when lived in a healthy community. This is a community that is caring, that is inclusive, and that is supportive of all of its members in their daily struggles.
The seminar challenged our level of understanding and appreciation for the dilemma people face who have same-sex attraction even though they do not prefer it. It challenged us to face our own “groaning” before the Lord’s return, with a little more perseverance and less victim mentality. The humble, surrendered approach to scripture of Wesley Hill, that caused him to adjust and limit his natural desires for the sake of the Word of God and the witness of the people of God, left us invigorated and encouraged.