No, You Won’t Be ‘Gay’ in Heaven: A Catholic Response to Wesley Hill

by Deacon Jim Russell       March 16, 2016

One of the deeply important truths found in the Catholic faith is that our “sexuality” is ordered toward the conjugal love of man and woman. It says so right in the Catechism (CCC 2360). The authentically Catholic view is therefore that there are not “sexualities” (plural) but only sexuality (singular). And yet, the secular culture’s whirlwind is so strong that this simple truth has been, even among Christians, overwhelmed and cast aside, hardly remembered or believed.

The glaring absence of this crucial anthropological guidepost is self-evident in a recent blog post by Anglican writer Wesley Hill, an assistant professor of New Testament at Trinity School for Ministry and co-founder of the “Spiritual Friendship” blog site, where readers find “musings on God, sexuality, [and] relationships.” The self-described “gay, celibate, Christian believer” has offered a post titled “Will I Be Gay in the Resurrection?” He attempts to answer the question in the affirmative, and in doing so reveals fatal flaws in the identity language of “gay.”

Hill had written previously that “I expect to stand with Henri Nouwen [thought to have experienced same-sex attraction] at the resurrection and marvel that neither of us is homosexual anymore.” But now he is not so sure:

But as time goes on, I feel less sure that that’s quite the right way to put it. Certainly those behavioral aspects of my gay experience that are sinful—lust, for example, and pride—won’t be true of me at all in the kingdom of God. I don’t believe that I will desire sexual intimacy with men in heaven because I believe that that attraction is a result of the fall. And just as certainly, I know I won’t be cordoned off from all the rest of the redeemed by any political identity label. I feel confident that “gay” won’t be a descriptor I’ll want to hold onto (nor, presumably, will it be around much longer in this life, well before the End arrives).

By now, many readers may be thinking: “Wait a minute—isn’t all that the definition of ‘gay’?” Hill, however, appears to put these elements under the rubric of “behavioral aspects” of “gay experience.” In Hill’s lexicon, there seems to be more to the meaning of “gay”:

And yet, as I’ve said many times here at [Spiritual Friendship], “being gay” feels much bigger and multilayered and richer than an attraction to bodies, than the sin of lust or the proclivity to identify with an in-group. It is a sensibility—that’s the word I keep landing on—and one that somehow seems to pervade my personality, shaping the friendships I form, inclining me to certain kinds of reading, drawing me to specific types of conversations and hobbies and artistic pursuits.

As Hill perceives it, because “gay” is a “sensibility” that goes beyond those things he deems “behavioral,” he finds himself in an existential dilemma regarding Heaven—he fears that being “perfected” (not being “gay” anymore) would make him a completely different person, “and,” Hill says, “that thought isn’t exactly a hopeful one.”

Rather, Hill thinks it’s right to anticipate “some sort of connection between the depth and intensity with which I’ve been able to love my male friends now and the way I will love and live in the kingdom of God.” He concludes his post by saying:

I want to believe that the way God is shaping my celibate, same-sex-friendship desiring life now will bear some resemblance, however gloriously discontinuous it may be, to the life God gives me when “all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). In some way, my disability—if that’s the right metaphor for it—will be glorified.

Recognizable in Hill’s prose are two very important errors embraced by the “Spiritual Friendship” project. First is the notion that being “gay” is not just about same-sex attraction but is a much larger, yet still-ambiguous, “sensibility” that interweaves irrevocably into one’s core identity, so much so that if that sensibility is lost in Heaven, Hill thinks he would be a completely different person. Just to be clear, this is not and has never been the Catholic view on same-sex attraction.

Second, Hill’s words make clear that he sees in his experience of same-sex attraction a positive aspect, positively affecting “the depth and intensity with which I’ve been able to love my male friends.” Hill fears losing this gift if he’s no longer “gay” in Heaven. This, too, contradicts the Catholic view, which does not affirm the notion that people experiencing same-sex attraction are somehow “better” at same-sex friendships. Indeed, just as we know that other-sex friendships are often riskier because of the potential for sexual attraction arising, same-sex friendships among those with same-sex attraction would likewise seem to pose a similar challenge.

As long as Hill continues to believe that being “gay” predisposes him to a bad “behavior” (same-sex sexual intimacy) while simultaneously predisposing him to a particular gift or “sensibility” (deep, intense, intimate same-sex friendships), I suspect it will continue to be hard for him to imagine what he himself might be like in Heaven. For Catholics, however, it’s quite simple: “gay” is not an identity at all. Same-sex attraction is something a person experiences. It’s not who a person is.

Truth be told—those experiencing same-sex attraction are not even “gay” here and now. So, instead of wondering whether I’m “gay in the resurrection,” all I really need to do is bend a knee and say to God:

“Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” 

Deacon Jim Russell

ABOUT THE AUTHOR, Deacon Jim Russell

Deacon Jim Russell is a husband and father of eleven, and grandfather of two. Ordained to the Diaconate in 2002, Deacon Russell is Family Life Coordinator for the Office of Laity and Family Life in the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, Missouri. Follow Deacon Russell on Twitter at @MarriageSTL.

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