Vines: God and the Gay Christian

Matthew Vines is out to show that the Christian case in favor of same-sex relationships is not the exclusive purview of the liberals.

As an Evangelical, who seems to me to hold a view of scripture that is something akin to inerrancy, Vines writes God and the Gay Christian in order to establish what he calls, in his subtitle, “The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships.”matthew-vines

The way in which Vines is committed to scripture means that the whole thrust of the book is to open up new ways of understanding passages that people have long taken to stand in condemnation of same-sex relationships. The problem, in short, is not what the Bible says, but how we have been interpreting it.

Vines precedes his scriptural argument by making three important appeals: (1) the “fruit” of the traditional position on sexuality has been destructive to people who know themselves to be gay; (2) in the ancient world, the idea of sexual orientation was not the same as our idea–in Rome people assumed most men would be attracted to both men and women; and, sexual rules assumed a patriarchal view of the superiority of men; and (3) the church’s understanding of celibacy has always been that it is a state entered into voluntarily by those who know themselves so gifted and called.

Point 2 is important, and I anticipated awhile ago that it would come to take an increasingly central place in debates about homosexuality.

Point 3 also needs to be weighed: are we “changing the definition of celibacy” by demanding such a way of life for those who are not so gifted, and feel no call to such a life?

Vines’ first two chapters of biblical exegesis examine the Sodom and Gomorrah story and the prohibitions against same-sex intercourse in Leviticus. He rightly distances the Sodom story from specific connotations of homosexual attraction or desire and does a fine job contextualizing Leviticus within a framework of laws and of cultural ideas that we no longer see binding.

Vines’ exegesis of Romans 1 is a mixed bag.

He brings in a number of important points, including some cultural considerations. The “unnaturalness” of same-sex intercourse might well be seen as a problem of “excess desire” rather than “wrongly directed” desire as such.

The problem, however, is in showing that “excess” desire is what Paul himself had in mind. And here’s where we get to a running undercurrent of the book that I did not find persuasive.

Vines regularly distinguishes between Paul’s understanding of homosexuality as expressive of “lustful” desire and our modern ideas of it as something that can be expressed in love, even within relationships of fidelity and commitment.

The implication seems to be throughout that if Paul had only known about the kind of homosexuality we’re talking about he would have been on board. I’m not sure that this argument holds. It might very well be that he would continue to say that there is an inherent problem here, that it is by definition an expression of lust due to the fact that it is wrongly ordered.

Vines says, “We have to remember: what Paul was describing is fundamentally different from what we are discussing” (italics original). I’m not sure that works. Or, if it does, we have to be very careful how we wield such an instrument–we might find that it’s so blunt that it destroys the Bible’s capacity to address us about much of anything. God-Gay-Christian-Book-Cover-Matthew-Vines1

In this chapter, and the following on 1 Cor 6, Vines puts some important pieces in place. We often read “nature” in Rom 1 as referring to an order of creation; however, in 1 Cor 11 that same word is used to talk about appropriate length of hair. One of the best pieces of interpretive advice I received came from a classicist who said, “For ‘nature,’ read ‘culture.’” Vines opens up the importance of recognizing how cultural mores are possibly shaping Paul’s discourse in ways we would fundamentally disagree with.

But Vines’ argument has a number of weaknesses. While it is true that we have an idea of homosexual orientation that the ancients did not share, it is also the case that Romans 1 and 1 Cor 6 largely delineate actions that typify people’s behavior. He complains about translations that capture this, such as “men who have sex with men,” but the complaint seems to arise largely from his wanting to have room to say that same-sex sex itself isn’t the issue.

This seems to be the point at which Vines is never quite able to pin down the biblical writers. There is a gap between the cultural milieu he establishes and what the scriptures say, and his argument is not quite up to the task of demonstrating that this gap is filled by the former being the reason for the latter.

Matthew Vines has put a good deal of important information on the table. And his is one of a number of significant voices in the new chorus of evangelicals who are committed to scripture while advocating for the full inclusion of same-sex relationships. In many ways, I see this volume as indicative of where the argument for same-sex relationships is moving among more conservative Christians.

And, Vines frames the argument with some issues that might, in the long run, be the sorts of questions that help create a culture in which Evangelicals read the Bible differently.

For those who are waiting for a book to come along and tell them what to do with irksome passages that seem opposed to same-sex relations, this will no doubt be received as a God-send. For those demanding a higher degree of argumentation, this book will not likely persuade, but it might outline a way that others (such as James Brownson) have or will yet fill in with greater skill.

**In compliance with Federal guidelines, I hereby disclose to you, the unsuspecting reader, that I was supplied a free copy of this book by the publisher.**

21 thoughts on “Vines: God and the Gay Christian”

  1. Good stuff, as always, Daniel. Have you reviewed Brownson’s book? I’d love to see it! Much love to you, friend.

  2. Could you clarify the “blunt instrument” metaphor? Are you suggesting that if we highlight the change in cultural context between Paul and us then we lose the ability to make application of any scripture to the present cultural mileau? As many have pointed out before, we seem to have already done so on outlawing slavery. Yes many Christians who supported abolition were something like what we might call biblicists.

    Am I missing a subtler point you intend to make about vines methods?

    1. I take it from Vines’ reading that he still wants to maintain many of the things that scripture says about marriage, for instance. However, if we start making modern-day standards of “love” the measure for whether we can listen to the scriptural teaching about one aspect of marriage, I think we will quickly find that (next to?) nothing that scripture says applies. The ways the ancients thought about love, gender, hierarchy, etc. largely depend on assumptions we no longer hold.

  3. I acknowledge and appreciate the Spirit’s sensitivity to cultures and peoples as depicted in the letters, for the purpose of the gospel was not to turn gentiles into Jews but to turn sinners into saints… and this is to teach believers to love people despite their differences and despite their sins in order to further the message of the gospel of grace, forgiveness and love from a God who is limitless and generous with such attributes. The gospel is timeless in every culture and epoch, let us also grow into Christ as we minister to the same world.

    There is no sin that the believer can commit which God’s love cannot overcome and defeat… the sinner has their part to do with repentance while God has His part with grace.

    Here’s an insightful passage when looking at a believer plagued with whichever litany of sins they struggle with, even the homosexual desire:

    “On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”

    - 1 Corinthians 12:22-26

    Is one who murdered, prior to knowing Christ, still considered a murderer in God’s sight after having repented and believed? No. He is no longer considered a ‘murderer’ in God’s sight, but a redeemed child of His. But if that man / woman continues to murder, perhaps they have yet to realize that those who live like that do not inherit the kingdom of God. What can be done about them other than to love them, pray for them and remind them in a graceful way that their lifestyle will lead them to an undesirable outcome?

    Perhaps the one who used to murder needs to be treated with special modesty, not because they may murder you if you make them irate, but because they may have a feeling of desperation for having committed such an awful act in taking the life of another of God’s creations. Maybe they can’t live with themselves… and this has been my experience with some gay friends: mentally depleted and in anguish because they believe God hates them and society despises them just the same. If they have such an inclination towards that sin ( we all have are sinful / carnal challenges, correct? ), one could say that God created them to have that thorn in their side.

    Perhaps the same can be said about the pedophile, the homosexual, the liar, the criminal, the spousal abuser, the dirty cop, the cheating husband / wife, the religious fanatic who reads much but doesn’t do much and cannot forgive others when they fail.

    In Roman times, a man owned a slave and would have sex with his property if he so desired, whether it was male or female. This was not seen as ‘wrong’ among the culture at large because that culture was viewed and led by those living via a prism of a pagan manner of life: the depravity was atop the food chain of society. We see that today in Amerika and in most other societies… it has always existed in societies not following and focused on the Creator / Holy One, but focused on man-made gods and on man himself… so folks shouldn’t be surprised that paganism is still here among us and laws are being written to reflect the ways of the popular culture.

    Is this a ‘sign’ to loosen what was bound in terms of what is already addressed in the letters? Rather, is it not to loosen the tools of love and grace? Is it not to help those blinded by the popular culture’s depravity see their place in God’s kingdom, if they in fact believe and desire to love God and deny themselves… as every disciple of Christ if called to do.

    To promote the ways of the world amongst the believers is to subscribe to the secular world and forgo the Way.

    Remember that Christ broke bread with sinners and He called the sick to Himself… so to dis-invite the sinner to the feast of the Father ( church ) is to judge them and not offer the gospel…. yet make sure to help them find the proper wedding clothes.

    Yet, to acknowledge and promote an unnatural union of the same sex couple among the group of believers would be subscribing to the ways of the world instead of kindly addressing the struggles every living person deals with: sin.

    I can see why some religious groups who say they preach Christ would invite the secular lifestyle into their circles instead of inviting the sinners: financial support in the community they reside.

    There is a way, in all love and manner of grace and peace, to show the person struggling with this or any particular sin what is expected from God… and room for God’s Spirit to work in their lives as the disciple of Christ continues to love that person, continues to serve them and be their friend despite their sin… isn’t that how Christ has treated all of us?

  4. The claim that Paul wouldn’t have familiarity with the modern view of sexuality is hogwash. Aristophanes’s speech in Plato’s SYMPOSIUM, well-known in antiquity, describes (comically) something that sounds very much like what we think of as “sexual orientation.”

    1. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Aristophanes specifically discussing pederasty and the taking of youths to bed? It also seems to hinge on a hierarchy of genders/sex in which manliness/men are superior to the feminine/women? Not to mention the whole ‘soul mates’ aspect that Christianity has never ascribed to.

      That seems to be far different from the cultural understanding of same-sex attraction and consenting adults choosing to make a monogamous commitment that proponents of LGBTQ marriage rights are putting forth, isn’t it? Regardless of whether one agrees with the LGBTQ movement, isn’t it accurate that this is different from the ancient world’s understanding?

      Please aid me if I’ve misread Arisophanes on this matter.

      1. Does it matter how man views the world around him… or does it matter how God views man’s actions and judges man according to His Way?

        I stated in a previous post ( I know they are lengthy and do not give honor and glory to opinion writers, even the author of this blog, so perhaps folks just skim over them ) that in Roman times, people who owned slaves were ‘free’ to do with that slave as they desired… even using them for sexual satisfaction, regardless the slave was male or female.. and this was not was deemed ‘wrong,’ because we’re talking about a pagan culture with pagan morals and doing with your property as you desired to was the call of the day…. yet God still called homosexual behavior sin and still calls it sin today… and it is explained in the letters… but men love to read what is opined rather than what believers are called to believe… which again makes me wonder if the readers of this blog actually believe anything outside of their favorite author’s opinions.

        Why the desire to soften the impact of what depravity has on society and culture at large by wondering what and how so and so explains it?

        Why swallow up the obvious with what some would say is a ‘fresh new way’ of looking at depravity and calling it ‘modern’ or ‘acceptance.’

        We have yet to see the effects of same sex unions / marriages / couples will have in raising children who are not brought up with the basics; raising children with the ‘openness’ of choosing either a hetero or homo way of life… we’re talking about some major repercussions in societies who support such nonsense.

  5. I spent quite a bit of time with a small group studying the book “Torn” by Justin Lee. The most powerful aspect of Lee’s book was his story. His writing style and authenticity truly allowed me to engage and empathize with what he was going through. And then at the end of chapter 11 Lee, a gay Christian struggling with his identity as a gay man and his desire to honor Jesus, stated that he had “made up his mind” to find his way in life even if it upset some people. So in chapter 12 he set out to do a careful exegesis of the Bible and found exactly what he was looking for – God allowed Christians to live actively gay lifestyles and He blessed them all the same.

    What I am wondering here with these books is this; “Are these authors trying to get exegetical insights “correct” (finally!) now in the 21st century? or are they looking for an exegesis that fits their needs? And if the goal is to finally exegete the Bible correctly after all these centuries, are they going to stop at the gay issue or will they tackle other issues as well – was the universe created in 6 days, women in leadership, etc.?

    Now, consider this, what if…what if the same careful exegesis by these same individuals (Lee, Vines, etc.) on other topics actually fell in line with current mainline evangelical thinking, would they then consider their exegesis on the gay issue to be incorrect or simply that the gay issue was the only thing the mainline thinkers got wrong? Hmmm.

  6. What I find most interesting is how people look into what others have opined instead of what the Word says… it shows the typical struggle of man: arrogance, deceitful heart, pride, disbelief.

    Anyone can bend words to fit their view, and most religions today ( including many ‘Christian’ religions ). As I said in my earlier comment, we are all tempted to justify our sin and homosexuality is one act that didn’t ‘go away’ with the new covenant, but is still very much against God’s will as murder and the other acts I mentioned are against His will.

    It says it quite clear in Galatians 5:13-26 what the difference of living by the flesh and living by the Spirit is… and the warning is expressed to those who gratify the desires of the flesh.

    Here it is quite clear as well:

    “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Yeshua Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

    - 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

    But what we see today, sadly, is a lot of this going on:

    “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

    - 2 Timothy 4:3-4

    Think of all the supposed ‘teachers’ who write book after book stuffed with their opinions of what the scriptures ‘really’ mean…. and the thousands of folks who cling to the writings of these folks and make those popular opinions their doctrines instead looking at the clarity in the Word of God… woe to them.

  7. Matthew Vines article. “Google”
    10 Reasons God Loves Gay Christians
    2. Sexual orientation is a new concept—one that the Christian tradition hasn’t addressed. Many Christians draw on their faith’s traditions to shape their beliefs, but the concept of sexual orientation is new. Until recent decades, same-sex behavior was placed in the same category with gluttony or drunkenness — as a vice of excess anyone might be prone to — not as the expression of a sexual orientation. The Christian tradition has never spoken to the modern issue of LGBT people and their relationships.
    Even on the surface of it, the notion that mutually caring same-sex relationships first originated in modern times sounds absurd. Are we to believe that nobody with homosexual or lesbian urges in all of antiquity was able to provide a healthy example of same-sex love? In fact, moving statements about the compassionate and beautiful character of same-sex love can be found in Greco-Roman literature. Among the examples 8 are the speeches in Plato’s Symposium. In it is narrated a series of discourses on Love (Eros) by various celebrants (including Socrates), during the time of light drinking after a banquet that occurred in 416 B.E. 9
    Gagnon, Robert A. (2010-10-01). The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Kindle Locations 6820-6825). Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.
    The notion that first century Jews, such as Jesus and Paul, would have given general approval to a homosexual lifestyle if they had only been shown adequate examples of mutually caring and non-exploitative same-sex relationships is fantastic. More or different information about same-sex intercourse would not have changed the verdict for any first-century Jew because the anatomical, sexual, and procreative complementarity of male and female unions, in contrast with those between female and female or male and male, would have remained indisputable.
    Gagnon, Robert A. (2010-10-01). The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Kindle Locations 3410-3414). Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.

  8. Daniel, I think there is one big mistake here—on the meaning of phusis ‘nature.’ Paul does use it in relation to women’s long hair—but he does not appear to think this is merely cultural, but part of the way God made things. That is what he also thinks about sex in Romans 1.

    We might not agree with him on this (though it is interesting to note that long hair on women has been almost universal in human cultures over history; i wonder why?), but it does appear to be what he means.

    One problem with this view is that is suggests Paul’s argument in 1 Cor 11 might also be binding. But his argument is that ‘women do not need a head covering, since they are given hair in place of a covering’ (1 Cor 11.15). I always find it odd when people miss this.

  9. Daniel, I find myself in agreement with your analysis of much of Evangelical exegesis that finds that we have been reading the passages (especially the New Testament ones) that refer to same sex relations all wrong. It does seem like an effort to accept the authority of Scripture and still justify modern same sex unions by doing quite a bit of calisthenics with the texts.

    Your notion of reading “culture” for “nature” struck me as a key understanding. Culture is the human way of understanding nature. I think we can all agree that no human culture has gotten “nature” down perfectly. We easily see the faults in other cultures, but are often blind to our own. Certainly those who live within a culture that despises homosexuality (most of Evangelicalism) find the biblical passages to exactly align with their cultural understanding of “nature.” Those who self-identify themselves as being within the GLBT community and as Evangelical Christians have a great desire to go at those same holy passages and come out with a different interpretation. I don’t think you get much movement on either side from even the most careful and proper of exegetical arguments.

    However, one main issue we are dealing with is cultural shift. In the span of an incredibly short number of years in the Western world homosexual behavior has moved from almost complete approbation to majority acceptance. What we are left with as heterosexual Christians is the question as to whether we should embrace the change or reject it.

    I would like to suggest that we look at the first contentious cultural issue facing what would be called Christianity. That is, whether or not pagans would need to follow the dietary laws of Judaism and take the mark of circumcision. I think we can all agree that the “Bible” they had was clear on these issues. And yet, the church leaders voted to go against the clear reading of Scripture. Why? I suggest it wasn’t by going over each passage about circumcision and unclean foods and finding that they had been wrong about their interpretation. The pivot point was the evidence reported by Jewish believers in The Way who developed relationships with new believers who were not Jewish. They said that these people received the Holy Spirit just as we have. We see their changed lives. Jesus resides in them as in us. In addition, asking them to become culturally Jewish is a hindrance to the Gospel and not Good News at all.

    Should something give? The decision was to add a codicil to Scripture (in the eventually canonized book of Acts) the notion that what we Christians might think intolerable because of our culture and the clear reading of Scripture can be overturned by God. “Never consider unclean what God has made pure.” (Acts 10:15 CEB) I propose that the question before us is not to decide what the clear teaching (or even the not so clear teaching) of Scripture might be on homosexuality, modern or ancient. It is rather the fruit in the lives of those who accept the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and at the same time find that God has not rejected them on the basis their homosexual behavior. The question is, can we still declare unclean what God has made pure? Will we listen to the voice of our Evangelical culture and say, “No, I have never accepted anything unclean or impure.” Or will we go to Cornelius’ home and welcome him and his family into the family of God even though they are uncircumcised and seemingly defy God’s perfect Law every day?

    1. Ron,
      Excellently put. This is very much the linesman working through with an adult bible study at my church this year. The inclusion of the Ethiopian eunuch preceding the story of Cornelius heightens the radical, counter-tradition inclusion of the early church community.

      But discerning the spirit is never going to be objective enough for some folks apart from a vision of unclean animals or same sex marriages descending in a sheet.

      I agree that it’s a hard task to work through but I’d like to suggest that the “instrument” is only as blunt as the interpretive community is homogenous.

    2. And perhaps we should extend that approach, Ron? There are atheists who are loving partners and parents, patient and with good self control. Do they pass the fruit test? Should they be regarded as part of the Christian church? I bet there are polygamists and prostitutes and covert adulterers who would arguably achieve similar ratings on a fruit test.

      Im not as learned as Daniel, and may be speaking out of turn, but can I suggest the following. It seems to me that St Paul welcomes Cornelius as a sanctified Christian, on the grounds that the rules of the religion have changed, eg for circumcision, in the transition from old covenant to new covenant. However, we see from St Paul that although religious laws on elements such as circumcision dont carry across to the new covenant, other elements do carry across. And one of those elements that remains consistent, seems to be standards on sexual sin (Rom 1, 1 Cor 6:9, 1 Tim 1:10, etc).

  10. Do believers really suppose the early disciples / apostles who were used to write down what we today term the bible simply made up their minds on their own?

    Remember where Paul is sharing commands of the Lord and also gives his personal commands?

    Has every revelation of God via the early disciples / apostles been noted or do we simply read them in the letters as instructions?

    When God taught Peter about accepting people who repent and turn to God, regardless of their nationality, bloodline or prior lifestyle, could this simply be a manner in which God was teaching Peter something? And then by the pouring out of the Spirit it seems the lesson was completed. Perhaps God directly gave lessons to His followers as when Paul was on the road to Damascus, because they are so limited in their spiritual interpretations…

    As I’ve state in previous responses to previous posts; some of the thought processes and conclusions lack faith… but are swayed by the opinions of men and their many books and many words rather than what the Spirit says.

    God desires you to love everyone; the so-called terrorist, the foreigner, the murderer as well as the homosexual… but you do need to point out their shortcomings while also reflecting on your own…. how else will people realize they are not properly dressed for the wedding banquet?

    How does one realize they themselves do not wear wedding clothes, but are full of faith in the opinions of men?

  11. Weak interpretation of Scripture. Adds nothing new to the poor exegesis liberals have been offering for many years to say that Christians can be gay. The writer is winsome and articulate. He needs to take a course or two on how to interpret the Bible.

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