Re-imagining Church Community

In July of 2016, Dr. Wesley Hill joined the Park Church Podcast for an hour-long interview. The interview covered a wide range of topics centering around gay celibate Christians and the rest of the church. Straight evangelicals have put too little thought and prayer into the convergence of these two. Hill’s interview with Park Church helps in re-imagining community.

Hill framed the current problem well; the following is only a paraphrase. To be gay is hard enough, but to be a gay celibate Christian in the church is especially painstaking and confusing. If a believer (whether straight or gay) has come to terms with celibacy, she has not yet discovered the end goal of her calling. Just saying no to sexual desires does not suffice as a holistic, biblical life mission. Christians ought to work towards flourishing in community, not merely against the opposite. If we agree with this premise, we must somehow reconcile it with the predominant state of church living: nuclear families living in houses, with students and young professionals living with roommates in small houses or apartments. This church community makeup leaves gay members cut off from the body of Christ, not able to “love one another”. (The same problem also applies to retirees, widows, and widowers).

Before assessing a practical solution Hill proposed, let us introduce the motivation underneath it. At the root of any community-building solution, the church must first see one member’s problem as the whole church’s problem. Seeing one person’s loneliness as the church’s disjointedness builds new, more biblical paradigms. This is a profoundly Christian ideal. Hill’s words here related well to one of Matthew’s many references to Isaiah. In both Matthew 8:16-17 and Isaiah 53, Jesus’s healing of the sick is described as “[taking] our illnesses and [bearing] our diseases”. Jesus took upon himself the burdens of the sick just as he took upon himself the sin of the world at the cross. Jesus’s church now gets to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), whether they be loneliness, illness, financial strain, or any others. Churches ought not just bear gay members burdens but also allow space for them to actively live out their callings in non-marital relationships.

One practical solution Hill described came from his own experience. At the time of the interview, he lived with a married couple around his age in a committed friendship relationship. Hill did not only receive a roof over his head but also gave meaningful friendship and flexibility. Gay Christians, retired Christians, and widowed Christians have so much to offer to the body. Current paradigms either stifle their potential to live out the Great Commission or belittle them as projects. Hill challenged all believers to think creatively and pray boldly for the body of Christ—in its entirety—to flourish on this side of the new creation.

May we pay heed to Hill’s words.