Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Book Review: 'Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality' by Wesley Hill

The book’s author, Wesley Hill, is sexually attracted to other men, and he thinks that same-sex attraction is not God’s intention for the world. This intimate book records Hill’s challenging journey as a Christian who is trying to make sense of his homosexuality and his calling to struggle with it in the light of the Scripture and Church tradition. 

There are 3 important lessons that one can learn from Hill, who is Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Trinity School for Ministry.

Lesson 1: Same-sex attraction is real---the need to struggle with it.
There are those among us who are really and genuinely feel attracted to people of the same gender. For this reason, many have tried to find a connection between same-sex attraction and their childhood. Some even try to link sexuality to gene. Hence the whole debate between ‘nature versus nurture’. Accordingly, there are ‘therapies’ designed to help people to change their sexuality. 

The author cuts through this impasse debate by talking about his own personal discovery of his homosexual orientation. He was brought up in a non-abusive childhood and had a fairly good upbringing. It was during high school years that he sensed a “steady, strong, unremitting, exclusive sexual attraction to persons of the same sex” (p.13). The unchangeable sexual desire for homosexual relationship is real to him and to those who experience it. Since then his life is marked by fear, persistent loneliness and inner conflict.

Hill asked a probing question, which I think many homosexual Christians are asking as well, “Can we gay and lesbian Christians who experience no change in our homoerotic desires live in the joyful assurance that our lives are satisfying to God? Can we who remain homosexually inclined actually please God?” (p.135). 

To Hill, the answer depends on our understanding of homosexuality: What do the Scripture and Church tradition say? Hill is clear that same-sex attraction is “one of the myriad tragic consequences of living in a fallen world stalked by the specters of sin and death” (p.32). With full conviction and tireless struggle, Hill writes, “I abstain from homosexual behaviour because of the power of that scriptural story” (p.61), and such endurance is a “daily dying” (p.71). As Hill further affirms, “I am waiting for the day when I will receive the divine accolade, […] “Well done, good and faithful servant” (p.150). Hill’s spiritual persistence is exemplary for all Christians in dealing with our own temptation, be it on sexuality or otherwise.

Lesson 2: Homosexuality comes with unbearable loneliness---the necessity of a trustworthy and supportive community within the church.
The loneliness experienced by those with homosexual inclination is not easily understood by heterosexuals. Gay Christians cannot relate to their heterosexual peers’ interest in the opposite gender. They have to be careful not to jeopardize their friendship by developing romantic interest with friends of the same gender. They are afraid that they will be rejected and discriminated when their sexuality is known by their family, friends, and church-mates. They have to constantly struggle against the desire of entering into a monogamous homosexual relationship, especially in society where homosexual practice is widely accepted and legally protected (e.g. civil partnership and same-sex ‘marriage’). On top of these, they have to face negligence in various degrees by their heterosexual friends who eventually get married and start their own family. To Hill, loneliness is the “defining struggle” of his life (p.92) that makes him feels “painfully contradictory” (p.115).

“What I wish,” as Hill once said to his pastor, “is that I could feel the church to be a safe place” (p.42). “The remedy for loneliness—if there is such a thing this side of God’s future—is to learn, over and over again, to do this: to feel God’s keeping presence embodied in the human members of the community of faith, the church” (p.113). Writing from Hill’s own experience with his church, “I began to learn to wrestle with my homosexuality in community over many late-night cups of coffee and in tear-soaked, face-on-the-floor times of prayer with members of my church” (p.48, italics original) Are we, as part of the local churches, willing to learn to provide the kind of safe space for our brothers and sisters in Christ to wrestle with their same-sex attraction?

Lesson 3: Christians’ struggle against same-sex attraction is great encouragement for the church. 
In the book, Hill is trying to see broken sexuality as an (in the words of Thomas Hopko) “extraordinary opportunity for imitating Christ and participating in his saving Passion” (p.145). On Hill’s part, his gay and celibate journey is a mark of the Holy Spirit’s transformation. Based on Heb. 12:3-4, 10:37-39 and Rom. 6:12-13, 22, Hill is learning to see his “flawed, imperfect, yet never-giving-up faithfulness” to struggle against his homosexuality as the spiritual fruit that God will recognize (pp.145-146). In this way, the struggle against homosexuality is exemplary. The resistance against the intimate yet broken desire displays God’s sanctifying work in the church and for the encouragement for all.

The book is a witness to God’s power and the author’s incomplete yet faithful discipleship. I am touched, encouraged, and strengthened by Hill’s journey in my struggles against my own different brokenness. I highly recommend Hill’s book to those who are struggling with same-sex attraction, to church leaders, and to those who want to learn how to relate to their homosexual family members and friends.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Gandhi on religion and politics

 (Erik H. Erikson, Gandhi's Truth: On the Origins of Militant Nonviolence [USA: W. W. Norton & Co., 1969], p.22.)

Saturday, February 23, 2013

ESSENTIAL tools for ministry!

Notice the bottom part: "Creative financing available to avoid unnecessary accountability!"

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Population woes; then, now and future

More than 20 years ago, overpopulation was a concern. Hence the "Two is enough" campaign. Now, overpopulation is again a concern. Hence the "Hong Lim Park" gathering.

Then and now share the same concern: there is not enough supporting infrastructure and resources to cater to the increasing number of people.

The source of overpopulation in the past was internal. The present is external.

Many see today's underpopulation as the result of the 1980s campaign. So, they blame the campaigner. How would people in 2030s look at the present, and who would they blame?

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Letter to Michelle Ng

To my dear sister in Christ Michelle Ng,

Thank you for taking time to write an encouraging letter to our Muslim friends. Besides being an apology and an act of building trust with Muslims, your letter rightly serves as a reminder to the rest of us, Christians, who constantly need to take care of the plank of our own eye. Indeed, and rightly so. If I may, I would like to share with you three thoughts on behalf of our Muslim friends regarding those issues you have highlighted in your letter.

First, Muslims are more generous and inclusive than your letter implies. While there are indeed Muslims who demand exclusive right over the use of 'Allah', we should not forget our other Muslim friends in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore as well as those in middle eastern countries who see no problem at all for non-Muslims to use that word.

You have helpfully noted that our relationship with God is not constrained by any form of human’s linguistic expression. While this is true, let us not forget that many of our Muslim friends think likewise too for their own faith. They call this transcendence tanzih. This is part of the reason they are as puzzle as Christians when they found out that their own fellow Muslims demand exclusive use for ‘Allah’, as if the transcendent God can be compared and equated with a human word.

Second, Muslims are more understanding than your letter allows. The call to burn Bibles is not only condemned by Christians but by Muslims too. Individuals from both religious traditions have jointly lodged police report on it. I think they condemn such a call not because they are holding grudge or acting impulsively. Rather, it is because such a call disrupts the cordial relationship and threatens the harmonious co-existence of both communities in the country.

Third, Muslims are more loving and hospitable than your letter assumes. You assure our Muslim friends that Christians will still be hospitable and charitable to them should the day come when Christianity is prohibited in Malaysia. While Christian hospitality for everyone at all times is a must, let us not forget that Muslims are as much capable of loving those who do not share their religion and be hospitable to those who are politically persecuted regardless of their religion. Your assurance seems to imply that Muslims are somehow morally inferior. It is worth remembering that the Albanian Muslims risked their lives to save thousands of Jewish families from being deported and executed during the Holocaust. Nearing to home, a personal Christian friend of mine was protected by his kampong’s Malay-Muslim penghulu during the 1969’s riot in Klang.

There are many Muslims who are more generous, understanding, and loving than those who have been trying to wreak havoc in the country. The Christians are not alone in responding to those unjust matters that have surfaced in recent months. We have Muslim friends who are in solidarity with us, just as us with them. Therefore any condemnation or critique of our responses to these matters is unfortunate because it implicates our Muslim friends, who are marching side-by-side with us, to be less generous, understanding, and loving than they have always been.

Thank you for reading this. May God continue to bless you in your life and work.

Joshua Woo Sze Zeng
A brother in Christ.