God and the "Gay Christian"? A Biblical Response - Introduction

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Shifting tides

Homosexuality is a big issue in American culture today. Like a stack of dominoes, the moral floodgates of our culture, already dangerously weak, have collapsed. There have been a veritable flood of victories by triumphant homosexual activists on every conceivable front. In the election of 2008, both then-Senator(s) Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton stood against so-called “gay marriage.” This position seems hopelessly naïve to political sophisticates today. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, considered a likely GOP candidate for President in the upcoming 2016 election, recently remarked, “I may have the genetic coding that I’m inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that, and I look at the homosexual issue the same way.”1

Faced with a near instant backlash of public opinion, some of it from fellow Republicans, Perry hastened to set the record straight:

I got asked about an issue, and instead of saying, ‘You know what, we need to be a really respectful and tolerant country, to everybody, and get back to talking about — whether you’re gay or straight — you need to be having a job and those are the focuses I want to be involved with,’ instead … I readily admit, I stepped right in it.2

The damage control Perry is required to perform on this issue illustrates just how far public opinion has shifted in a few short years in the broader American culture. But, what about the Christian culture? Even here, the battle lines are being drawn. Society’s consensus on homosexuality is shifting, and it is shifting fast. Christians everywhere are faced with a choice; capitulate or “go along to get along.” Make no mistake, persecution need not come in the form of a bludgeon or at the point of a gun; it can come from well-meaning friends, family members or neighbors who try to convince us that Scripture doesn’t really mean what it says. This danger is nothing new, but many Christians today, starved by anemic preaching and weakened by impotent teaching, have allowed themselves to forget that.  

The threat

The Apostle Paul had a special place in his heart for the little church in Thessalonica. He and Silas weren’t there for a long time; they were run out of town on a rail by angry Jews, aided and abetted by “certain lewd fellows of the baser sort” (Acts 17:5)! They were hounded once again when they moved on to Berea (Acts 17:1-15). Despairing of what became of his little church plant, Paul sent Timothy to check on them, explaining that he was sent “to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith: that no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto” (1 Thess 3:2-3).

You see, persecution and temptation (in whatever guise) will come. It is inevitable. When it does come, we ought to be so solid and so grounded in their faith that we stand fast for God in this time of trial. Being faithful to God and going against the relentless tide of culture is difficult, and it makes life hard sometimes. Capitulating, and “going along to get along” is fundamentally a betrayal of God, but it sure makes life in the here and now a whole lot easier! What will Christians do when this fork in the road comes for homosexuality? Will we be so firmly established that we stand fast? Enter Matthew Vines and his new book God and the Gay Christian.

Vines’ mission is to forge a way to be both (1) a practicing, unrepentant homosexual and (2) a faithful Christian:

My core argument in this book is not simply that some Bible passages have been misinterpreted and others have been given undue weight. My larger argument is this: Christians who affirm the full authority of Scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationships.3

… this book envisions a future in which all Christians come to embrace and affirm their LGBT brothers and sisters— without undermining their commitment to the authority of the Bible.4

His book is dangerous. His book demands an answer, because it is fooling many people. It is even fooling Seminary-trained professional ministers. Pastor Danny Cortez, of New Heart Community Church in LaMirada, CA, recently led his congregation to accept unrepentant lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender members in their church.5 Cortez, in an hour-long sermon to his church explaining his change of mind, used Matthew Vines’ terminology and even his arguments.

The die has been cast, for those who haven’t yet taken notice. The question, “can you be gay and Christian?” will be one we must answer. We must know the arguments from the other side, because there will be tremendous pressure to compromise.

Vines’ story

Matthew Vines claims to be a conservative Christian. He says he was raised in a Christ-honoring way by Bible-believing parents. He remembers one day in church, when his Pastor lamented that fact that “progressives” in his denomination were pushing for ordination of unrepentant homosexual clergy. He tells us that people across the church shook their heads sadly in dismay.6 Vines says all this so we understand where he’s coming from – e.g. “I’m a conservative too!”

He first realized he was gay while he was a sophomore at Harvard University. “Standing alone in the toothpaste aisle, I finally asked myself the question I’d managed to avoid for years. Am I gay?” 7

Vines starts with the assumption that homosexuals are born being homosexual. He recounts the story of a family friend, named “Josh,” who came out as a homosexual. Vines’ father was astonished:

“How does he know he can never marry a woman?” Dad asked.

“Well, he’s gay, Dad,” I said. “Why would he?”

“I’m not convinced he couldn’t overcome this. It just seems like he’s decided not to try.”

That night, Christine and I shared our frustrations. “They just don’t get it,” she said. “Josh marrying a woman would be a recipe for disaster.”8

Vines goes on to remark: “The gay people I’d met at school seemed normal enough, and criticizing them for not trying to be straight didn’t make sense. Whether it was a sin or not, gay people were still gay, and ignoring their orientation wasn’t going to help.”9

This assumption that homosexuality is not a choice, but an unchangeable genetic disposition, is one that Vines’ will repeat continuously. This assumption is the foundation of one of Vines’ main arguments, which we see illustrated in the continuing saga of “Josh,” whose homosexuality was not accepted by his church:

As he saw it, the God of the Bible required him to hate a core part of himself. Not surprisingly, he also gave up on the Bible, since it had been the instrument that taught others to reject that part of him too. Thankfully, his family came around over time, and they now embrace him. But much of the damage from our church’s stance had already been done. Josh’s faith, along with the church community that first nurtured it, was already lost.10

Notice two assumptions, the implications of which will be teased out in future articles:

  1. To label homosexuality as a “sin” is to force somebody to “hate a core part of himself.” To do that, therefore, is wrong.
  2. The church, and by extension Christ, lost an irreplaceable asset. It lost Josh. If calling homosexuality a “sin” results in this kind of loss (both for Josh and the church), then we shouldn’t do that.

Vines himself did not have any sense of shame or any inclination to repent of his homosexual behavior. On the contrary, he sought to find a work-around:

So even though I was now facing up to the fact of my sexual orientation, my faith in God was not in jeopardy. Besides, after doing a Bible study of the issue the year before, I had already come to question whether God’s views on gay people matched what Christians back home seemed to think they were.11

It is terrible that homosexuality isn’t discussed frankly in more churches in a serious way. Vines, for example, remarks,

Homosexuality, to the limited extent it was discussed in our church, was little more than a political football, a quick test of orthodoxy … For a young kid who realizes she is gay and has no one at home or church she can talk to, it can be an impossibly heavy burden.12

He’s right. Let us commit, right now, to be willing to discuss this issue just as seriously, compassionately and firmly as we discuss the sins of alcoholism, drug abuse and pornography. Let us commit to look past the “ick factor” and engage this issue in our churches.

Vines continues, and states, “I want you to see how sexual orientation and deeply held beliefs are at odds in ways that injure those we love.”13 What does this mean? As will be made clear in the course of this series, Vines asserts:

  • We simply know more about monogamous, loving, same-sex relationships today than the Biblical writers did.
  • Therefore, what we know today about one’s sexual orientation is at odds with what Scripture appears to teach.
  • Therefore, our traditional interpretation of Scripture must be wrong.

Despite protests to the contrary, the hermeneutic of rebellious, sinful autonomy drives Vines’ interpretations all the way through his book. After all, he argues,

This debate is not simply about beliefs and rights; it’s about people who are created in God’s image. Those people may be like you or entirely unlike you. They may be your roommate or neighbor, your best friend or a colleague. They may be your son or daughter.14

Notice the remark about being made in God’s image. This will come up again in the course of this series; suffice it to say that Vines finds no contradiction between unrepentant homosexuality and (1) the reality of the new birth in Christ, (2) the effect of the atonement, (3) the efficacy of Christ’s present intercession on behalf of believers, and (4) the command for subsequent holiness (e.g. 1 Thess 2:12).

Vines closes his brief personal testimony by summarizing two main objections to the traditional interpretation of homosexuality in Scripture.

  1. How is the Mosaic Law applicable today? What hold do the prohibitions in Leviticus have over the Christian today?
  2. Vines could no longer agree that homosexual relationships were sinful; “it just made no sense to me.” 15 His rationale is quite telling, and I’ll resist the urge to critique it here. I merely ask the reader to note the hermeneutic of rebellious autonomy which drives it:

But as I became more aware of same-sex relationships, I couldn’t understand why they were supposed to be sinful, or why the Bible apparently condemned them. With most sins, it wasn’t hard to pinpoint the damage they cause. Adultery violates a commitment to your spouse. Lust objectifies others. Gossip degrades people. But committed same-sex relationships didn’t fit this pattern. Not only were they not harmful to anyone, they were characterized by positive motives and traits instead, like faithfulness, commitment, mutual love, and self-sacrifice. What other sin looked like that?

The church’s condemnation of same-sex relationships seemed to be harmful to the long-term well-being of most gay people. By condemning homosexuality, the church was shutting off a primary avenue for relational joy and companionship in gay people’s lives. That wasn’t the case with other sins. Avoiding other sins always seemed to work to our long-term benefit.16

Moving forward

This article merely set the context of the homosexual issue in American culture, in generic evangelicalism and briefly sketched Vines’ own personal testimony, highlighting some of his initial objections along the way. What about actually dealing with his arguments? How strong are they? That will have to wait for the next article.

Notes

1 Javier Panzer, “Rick Perry: ‘I stepped right in it’ by comparing homosexuality to alcoholism,” LA Times. 20JUN14. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/boZe5X.
2 Ibid.
3 Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian, Kindle ed. (New York, NY: Convergent Books, 2014), Kindle Locations 133-135.
4 Ibid, Kindle Locations 137-138. 
5 See Danny Cortez, “Why I Changed My Mind on Homosexuality,” YouTube.com. 07MAY14. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/DLPvbT. See also John Shore, “Southern Baptist pastor accepts his gay son,
hanges his church,”
Patheos.com. 29MAY14. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/Uc78uI.
6 Ibid, Kindle Location 155.
7 Ibid, Kindle Locations 150-151.
8 Ibid, Kindle Locations 164-168.
9 Ibid, Kindle Locations 169-170.
10 Ibid, Kindle Locations 181-184. Emphasis mine.
11 Ibid, Kindle Locations 192-194. 
12 Ibid, Kindle Locations 195-200. 
13 Ibid, Kindle Locations 209-210. 
14 Ibid, Kindle Locations 210-212. 
15 Ibid, Kindle Location 249. 
16 Ibid, Kindle Locations 253-260.

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Thanks Tyler

Good review. I have not read the book  and probably never will, but a few things reading your review made me think:

1- Should Christians "hate" homosexuality? Yes. It is a destructive behavior for individuals and society and faith.

2- Should Christians "hate" homosexuals? No. These people are sinners just like you and me. We need to reach them with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

3- Does the "traditional" view from Christianity require self-identified homosexuals to hate part of themselves? Yes...but join the club! I am a heterosexual. I am married with 4 kids, but I hate the sinful drive of being distracted/attracted by other women. You try to put it down, control it, but it is always there...You turn off the TV so you're ok right? No, there is a sign on the side of the road with some sexually explicit picture and the battle is recharged! So, we ALL have this battle to control lust. Homosexuals aren't special.

4-Does the "fact" that someone has homosexual leanings mean that God willed them to get married to a same-sex partner? No. Lots of heterosexual people don't get married for a host of reasons. Also, the Bible clearly teaches marriage is between a man and a woman. I would further argue the Bible teaches monogamous marriage EVEN IN the OT despite the polygamy seen there at times (the Bible makes it clear polygamy never worked out well...doesn't it?). So, homosexual marriage is not an option.

5-So what's a homosexual to do? I would recommend that they seek to live a single life. I wouldn't encourage them to seek to "overcome the gay" by getting married. That just compounds the problems with a wife/husband and possibly kids.

6- The church needs to reemphasize that heterosexual sins are horrible as well, like rampant divorce, promiscuity, fornication and adultery. Too much media focus has been against homosexuality like it is some kind of special sexual sin.

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Mark

Vines has an entire chapter on celibacy and argues against precisely what you're suggesting:

But in fact, trying to maintain the traditional Christian teaching on same-sex relationships as well as the traditional Christian teaching on celibacy is not an option.

The review of this entire book on SI, chapter by chapter, will be a collaborative effort by a few writers. Vines' treatment of the celibacy issue will be treated soon! 

Thanks for your comments. 

TylerR is the Pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Divernon, Il. He blogs here

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Vine's Qualifications

Does Matthew Vines have any theological training, ordination, etc? Just curious.

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Qualifications

Mark_Smith wrote:

Does Matthew Vines have any theological training, ordination, etc? Just curious.

I don't see anything on his "About Me" or Amazon author page.  This is what I do see:

Matthew Vines is an advocate for the acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people within Christian communities and in society at large. He lives in Wichita, Kansas. Matthew attended Harvard University from 2008 to 2010. He then took a leave of absence in order to research the Bible and homosexuality and work toward LGBT inclusion in the church.

In March 2012, Matthew delivered a speech at a church in his hometown about the Bible and homosexuality, calling for acceptance of gay Christians and their marriage relationships. Since then, the video of the speech has been seen more than 500,000 times on YouTube, and it was featured in The New York Times and The Christian Post.

In 2013, Matthew launched The Reformation Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to training LGBT Christians and their allies to reform church teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity. Matthew’s book, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships, is in stores now.

If you would like to contact Matthew, please visit the contact page.

I also saw that Rachel Held Evans endorsed the book, for whatever that's worth.

"Our task today is to tell people — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells
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I also saw that Rachel Held Evans endorsed the book, for whatever that's worth.

[/quote]

 

That says enough

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How should we treat any unrepentant believer?

There will be a continuing problem when we tolerate open sin of any sort among believers. Yet many evangelicals have needlessly surrendered the high ground in sexual matters by not speaking out against cohabitation and unbiblical divorce and remarriage. Giving in to homosexuality doesn't seem like that big of a deal to them.

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Unrepentance, Holiness, Church Discipline

Steve:

Well said! I see that there are three issues:

  1. The issue is with unrepentant homosexuality. Christians struggle with a whole host of sins, and yes - homosexuality can be one of them. Christ died to save us from this sin. He gave us the ability to triumph over it. He prays for us. A Christian can struggle with homosexual urges, etc. and be repentant, just like a Christian alcoholic, drug abuser or gambler. No Christian can be unrepentant in their sin. We are commanded to struggle against it all the time, and He's given us the Holy Spirit to do that. What makes Vines' book so dangerous is that he is trying (and succeeding) in fooling a whole generation of Christians with the idea that unrepentant homosexuality is just fine with God. 
  2. The idea of holiness is often ignored. If it is dealt with, God is not allowed to set the terms. Holiness becomes re-defined into something that feels good and makes us happy. 
  3. Church discipline is often ignored. The idea that Christians are called by God for both salvation and sanctification, and that we ought to call one another to account for unrepentant sin is foreign to many people. As Steve said, so many people have no foundation for even the idea of accountability in the corporate body for personal holiness that the concept of repudiating homosexuality seems unloving and weird. 

"I have written to him the great things of my law, but they were counted as a strange thing . . ." (Hos 8:12). 

TylerR is the Pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Divernon, Il. He blogs here

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Debate

Today, on Moody Radio, Matthew Vines had a discussion with Christian scholar Dr. Michael Brown over his book and his views. Brown is an outspoken conservative who is probably one of the most formidable folks defending Christianity against Vines' heresy. I have not listened to the program yet, but here it is

I have read Vines' book. I have also listened extensively to Brown, who has been working in this area for years. He is a Messianic Jew with a PhD in Semitic Languages. He contributed the volume on Jeremiah for the revision of The Expositor's Bible Commentary. I am certain Vines' arguments are exposed here for the frauds they are. I'll be surprised if they aren't. Give it a listen - I think it's an hour long. 

TylerR is the Pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Divernon, Il. He blogs here

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Thanks for the article and

Thanks for the article and link Tyler.

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I agree with everyone here,

I agree with everyone here, but I would put one caveat.  Most Christians (Evangelical and Fundamental) have surrenured on many sin issues.  I just thought that I would throw that out there.

Roger Carlson, Pastor
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As scarce as hen's teeth

What I find so ironic about this argument of his is that even if we accept his argument:

  1. The average length of a homosexual relationship is 1.5 years. Notice the following quote from the Washington Times:

A recent study on homosexual relationships finds they last 1-1/2 years on average — even as homosexual groups are pushing nationwide to legalize same-sex “marriages.”

The study of young Dutch homosexual men by Dr. Maria Xiridou of the Amsterdam Municipal Health Service, published in May in the journal AIDS, mirrors findings of past research.

Among heterosexuals, by contrast, 67 percent of first marriages in the United States last at least 10 years, and researchers report that more than three-quarters of married people say they have been faithful to their vows.

Same-sex “marriage” has gained new attention since a Supreme Court decision last month struck down state laws against homosexual behavior. Conservative activists say they expect the state Supreme Court in Massachusetts to rule this weekend on whether to recognize homosexual “marriages.”

2. Very few same sex relationships (especially homosexual) are "monogamous." From the same article:

The Dutch study — which focused on transmission of HIV — found that men in homosexual relationships on average have eight partners a year outside those relationships.

Earlier studies also indicated that homosexual men are not monogamous, even when they are involved in long-term relationships.

Also, according to studies (see this report):

Research indicates that the average male homosexual has hundreds of sex partners in his lifetime:

The Dutch study of partnered homosexuals, which was published in the journal AIDS, found that men with a steady partner had an average of eight sexual partners per year.[12]

Bell and Weinberg, in their classic study of male and female homosexuality, found that 43 percent of white male homosexuals had sex with 500 or more partners, with 28 percent having one thousand or more sex partners.[13]

In their study of the sexual profiles of 2,583 older homosexuals published in the Journal of Sex Research, Paul Van de Ven et al. found that "the modal range for number of sexual partners ever [of homosexuals] was 101-500." In addition, 10.2 percent to 15.7 percent had between 501 and 1,000 partners. A further 10.2 percent to 15.7 percent reported having had more than one thousand lifetime sexual partners.[14]

A survey conducted by the homosexual magazine Genre found that 24 percent of the respondents said they had had more than one hundred sexual partners in their lifetime. The magazine noted that several respondents suggested including a category of those who had more than one thousand sexual partners.[15]

Therefore, Vines is arguing for something that barely exists and is not desired by the LGBT community.

Also, if there were only M-M or W-W "committed, monogamous" relationships, he might have an argument. But he is arguing for the whole LGBT package. For example, if you are "Bi," how are you going to have a "committed, monogamous" relationship with ONE person?

I find it amazing that any Christians who claim to believe the Bible to be true would take him seriously at all.

Finally, this whole dispute hits very close to home since I have a close relative who is living "the life." What really galls me is that this relative attends one of these "affirming" churches that accepts them as a "couple." I believe there will be greater condemnation by God in the final judgment for those who claim to be "Christian" leaders but encourage and legitimize those who have chosen to live sinful lifestyles.

MS
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Luke 17:10

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"Marriage"

Therefore, Vines is arguing for something that barely exists and is not desired by the LGBT community.

I don't think it's really about 'acceptance' - I think it's about moral salve for people who know deep down that they are wrong but want others to tell them it's OK anyway.

 

"Our task today is to tell people — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells
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MSHEP2, keep in mind that

MSHEP2, keep in mind that studies about sex are notorious for methodological issues.  Douglas Wilson commented once that if a man goes around with a clipboard asking people about their sex lives, he's the very last person you'd ask to find out what was "normal".  No?  So we ought to take these studies with a grain of salt.

That said, if there is anything to them, what a cruel world is inhabited by the homosexual.  His relationships blow to pieces regularly, and those he has are likely to give him any number of incurable diseases, some of them lethal.  For that matter, even if the studies are not totally true, what a hellish existence, even if 85% of homosexuals were in long term exclusive relationships.

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Right, Bert

Bert, 

I am well aware of the limitations and outright biases of many of these studies. This began when Kinsey published his work on sexuality but based it mostly on interviews with prostitutes and prisoners, and Masters and Johnson published reports based on their adulterous relationship and observations of prostitutes and their clients.

However, the article I linked from the Family Research Council draws from a number of studies where the data seems to be very similar, so I think we can take the basic conclusions as being more or less reliable.

MS
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Luke 17:10

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