Matthew Tuininga on Wesley Hill and What the Church Can Learn From “Gay” Christians

My friend Matthew Tuininga (via Acton University) has an excellent post, What Can the Church Learn From Gay Christians? | Christian in America. It’s essentially a review and some personal commentary on Wesley Hill’s (a New Testament scholar and professor at Trinity School for Ministry) volume Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality. It’s also important to note that “gay” is used adjectivally from Hill, and thus, I presume, from Tuininga in his blog title. What I found helpful was Tuininga’s suggestion that a misplaced theology of marriage actually creates a distorted understanding of sexuality and, thus, an under-realized appreciation of love as exercised through the community of the church. Here’s a lengthy excerpt (including an excerpt from Hill):

Far too often, I fear, Christians portray marriage as if it were the epitome of human existence. This is, of course, a modern phenomena, rooted in our culture’s infatuation with romantic love and sexuality. Go back a couple hundred years and you will find that marriage was more about social responsibilities and commitments, the procreation and raising of children, than about romantic love. Love was supposed to be a part of the equation, of course, and it has always been an obligation for all Christian spouses.

But as early as the 19th Century, during the Victorian era, Americans came to conceive of human sexual love as the transcendent human experience, the most satisfying thing for which one can live. Here indeed, as astute cultural observers were aware at the time, the glory of God and fellowship with Christ were already being shoved aside from the prominent place they had long held within Christendom. Romantic love and a satisfied sexuality became the great idol of modernity, and as such, it gradually changed the way most people thought about marriage. Here, not in the 1960s, are the roots of the modern conception of marriage, according to which same-sex marriage makes sense.

Has the church exacerbated this form of idolatry? Far more, I suspect, than we realize. In the New Testament, as Hill points out, the most important place for love and fellowship is not marriage, but the church. Paul wished that all would be as he were, a celibate Christian devoted to the kingdom of God, and he acknowledged that marriage would be appropriate for most people only as a concession (1 Corinthians 7). But the Christian who is married is to live as if he were not (1 Corinthians 7), and the most important identity and sense of belonging for the Christian is to be the body of Christ. Paul’s most eloquent words about love (1 Corinthians 13) therefore appear in his discussion about the church, not in the context of marriage. As Hill puts it, again quoting a friend:

[E]ven when agape love is discussed in the marital context of Ephesians 5, it is sacrificial love that is the model for marital love – not the other way around. Marriage is a venue for expressing love, which in its purest form exists, first and foremost, outside of it. The greatest joys and experiences God has for us are not found in marriage, for if they were, surely God would not do away with marriage in heaven.

Perhaps, then, gay Christians like Wesley Hill actually have something important to teach us. Indeed, I found this book to be powerfully humbling. It is so easy for most of us to get caught up in our families, our marriages, and our vocations, mistaking the American dream for the service of Christ. Yet people like Wesley Hill remind us that this is, in fact, not the most important thing. They also make it eminently clear that the way of Christ is the way of suffering and self-denial, no matter how often we try to turn it into something else.

© 2013, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.

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2 comments on “Matthew Tuininga on Wesley Hill and What the Church Can Learn From “Gay” Christians
  1. Rick, the link for the article by Tuininga didn’t work for me. I’ve noticed this on at least a few of your recent posts.

    I did find the article, though, and enjoyed it. Thanks for pointing to it.

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