God and the "Gay Christian"? A Biblical Response - Chapter 2

God and the Gay Christian addresses the morality of homosexual conduct, specifically within “committed, monogamous same-sex relationships” (41). In the introduction and first chapter, most of Vines’ energy went into framing the debate as a matter of personal suffering (i.e., here’s what happened to me and is happening to homosexual Christians everywhere) and as a matter of progress (i.e., the church should improve its understanding of homosexual morality just as it has improved its understanding of other matters in Scripture).

Chapter 2 continues Vines’ efforts to frame the debate in these terms. (Kindle location numbers appear here rather than page numbers.)

The importance of progress

The section “New Information, New Viewpoints” sets the stage for the chapter by recounting Galileo Galilei’s famous 17th century conflict with the Roman Catholic church. To Vines, it’s a classic example of a traditional interpretation of Scripture that Christians, with the aid of science, eventually discovered to be in error.

How could those who took the Bible seriously be expected to suddenly set it aside in favor of a man with a telescope? (414-417)

Next, Vines clarifies how he will characterize the two main perspectives on the homosexuality controversy.

I have found the terms affirming and non-affirming to be the most direct, respectful ways to describe the differences among Christians on this issue. Some Christians affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationships, while others do not. (439-441)

Whether he is consistent in distinguishing “relationships” from people in the book is a topic for later consideration.

Scripture and the non-affirming

In the next two sections, Vines lists the six passages he sees as the core of the Bible’s teaching on the subject, says he’ll address them in chapters 4 through 7, then shifts his attention to how “non-affirming Christians” argue from “the larger narrative of Scripture” (456).

For non-affirming Christians, the Bible’s references to same-sex behavior should be understood in light of the positive heterosexual vision we see throughout Scripture. (458-460)

Vines discusses the differences between male and female that non-affirmers see as “the key moral problem underlying the Bible’s references to same-sex behavior” (473). He strongly emphasizes the supposed importance of “anatomical complementarity” here, citing Robert Gagnon. Allegedly, the non-affirming view depends on seeing “bodily sameness” as the underlying reason Scripture portrays homosexuality negatively (477).

Painful personal consequences

As the chapter returns to the theme of personal suffering, several paragraphs reject the changeability of sexual orientation and dismiss “reparative therapy” (487). Then we meet Stephen Long (500), who formed a friendship with “another young gay man,” unintentionally “fell in love,” and had to endure the agony of breaking up in order to remain celibate. Vines responds with a rhetorical question.

That life is not something any of us would want for ourselves, our friends, or members of our families. So how, I asked my dad, could God want that degree of emotional torment for anyone? (514-515)

The sexual orientation concept in history and today

Five sections of the chapter trace the idea of sexual orientation and homosexual conduct through history. Vines argues here that though the idea of being permanently oriented as either homo or hetero was unknown from the era of Gilgamesh and ancient Egypt up through ancient Greece, Rome, and the early modern era, we now know that it was the reality all along.

Curiously, Vines labors to emphasize that the idea of fixed sexual orientation toward the same or opposite sex was unknown in Bible times. Apparently, the newness of the orientation concept means today’s traditionalists are not truly traditional.

How are their views not traditional, given that virtually all Christians before the past half-century would have agreed with them? The answer to that question lies in a fact just as crucial to our understanding of this issue as the invention of the telescope was for astronomy: in recent generations, our understanding of what homosexuality is has radically changed. (526-530)

The chapter concludes with a look at the goal of chapter 3: to show that holding to the traditional view of homosexuality requires abandoning the traditional view of celibacy.

Evaluation

Vines will have to deal later in the book with passages that speak very directly to the immorality of homosexual conduct. Consequently, he must first frame the debate in a way that will make reinterpretation of these texts seem plausible.

Christians armed with a broad and deep exposure to Scripture can easily resist this strategy, but five observations may be helpful.

1. Obedience to God has always involved uneven suffering.

“Could God want that degree of emotional torment for anyone?” (514-515) This is a truly amazing question! Didn’t Abraham feel far more than “that degree of emotional torment” as he bound his only son and raised the knife to kill him at God’s command (Gen. 22)? Does a failed romance equal the “degree of emotional torment” of Job, who—at God’s direction—lost his entire family as well as his property, health, and reputation (Job 1:12-20, 2:6-12)? What about Hosea, whom God instructed to marry a woman he knew would be unfaithful to him (Hos. 1:2)?

What about Jesus Christ, who “being in agony prayed more earnestly” until “his sweat became like great drops of blood” (Luke 22:43)? Perhaps God’s will included a bit of emotional torment there?

The Bible is saturated with the truth that God has something a little bit larger in mind than every individual’s personal happiness (Rev. 4:11). And in the course of that larger purpose, His will has always included suffering for many, and far more suffering for some than for others.

It would be wrong to forbid homosexual conduct if this brings unnecessary suffering—that is, if the prohibition is man’s and not God’s. But as of chapter 2, Vines has not established that this is the case. Rather he assumes what he needs to prove then appeals to our sense of compassion on the assumption that the suffering of homosexuals has been imposed by mere human will.

2. Even in the short term, the suffering of disobedience is often greater than the suffering of obedience.

The Scriptures call us to believe that disobedience to God’s instructions often brings—even in the short term—more suffering than is immediately obvious. “The way of transgressors is hard” (KJV, Prov. 13:15), and the individuals in Romans 1:28-30, though they scarcely seem aware of it, are not experiencing anything close to happiness.

So far, Vines’ argument from personal suffering completely ignores the suffering that results from disobedience to God through homosexual indulgence. Even if we suppose that forbidding “committed, monogamous same-sex relationships” brings great suffering to many, how does this pain compare to the pain that results from encouraging these relationships?

3. Scripture depicts the suffering that results from faithfulness as an honor and privilege.

Both Scripture and abundant Christian tradition present the suffering that arises from faithful obedience as an honor and blessing for those who follow Christ. Vines would do well do ponder 2 Timothy 1:8, Colossians 1:24, Romans 8:17 and Hebrews 11 and 12:1-2. Peter is very direct:

But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed….if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. (ESV, 1 Peter 4:13–16)

4. The view that Scripture rejects homosexual conduct does not depend on any particular understanding of “orientation.”

Vines’ claim that orientation is a newfangled concept invented by a couple of 19th century German psychiatrists (668-669) hardly helps his overall argument. Some of us remember that, as recently as the 1980s, the idea of being either gay or straight (as opposed to “bi”) was not generally assumed. Vines seems unaware of this and equally unaware that his survey of ancient attitudes on the question suggests society’s views on this are likely to change again in the future.

But none of that is truly relevant.

Though the historical information is interesting, the newness or ancientness of the notion of orientation is not particularly important to understanding Scripture’s disapproval of homosexual conduct. Scripture focuses consistently on what we ought not to do in this area (including acts of mental as well as physical indulgence) regardless of what we are inclined or not inclined to do—and regardless of the nature of that inclination.

5. A high biblical view of heterosexual morality, marriage, and family does not rely on an any particular understanding of complementarity or “orientation” (or celibacy either).

Though some “non-affirming scholars” may well argue from complementarity, sameness, and orientation, the view that a biblical family begins with the marriage of a male and a female in no way depends on these particulars. The decisive truth here is really quite simple.

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Eph. 5:31–33)

Galileo and progress

Resistance to Galileo’s ideas was actually a science vs. science debate until Galileo himself turned the matter into a debate over Scripture and church dogma. Regardless, a historical example of Christians erring in an interpretation of Scripture falls short of proving that we’re misinterpreting the Bible today on an unrelated point. Vines’ obligation is to show that reinterpreting the Bible’s teaching regarding homosexual conduct would constitute progress in a biblical sense of the term. So far, the book fails to accomplish that—just as it fails in its argument from personal suffering.

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There are 5 Comments

TylerR's picture

Editor

I wonder if people who support Vines' arguments would also support the logical conclusions of them. For example, let's consider adultery:

  • "It's not my fault I'm an adulterer! I was born that way! To say otherwise is hurtful. We know a lot more about this issue now then people did before. Therefore, when Jesus spoke against adultery, he was speaking against something else entirely. He was speaking against the unrepentant, casual assignations of people who weren't suffering from what I'm suffering from. We now know that my "adulterous affinity" is in a completely separate category than what Christians have traditionally understood Jesus as addressing. Moreover, because I'm made in the image of God and I was born with the desire to have sex with many women (even while married), it would be cruel to deny me that relational fulfillment. It's against the image of God! How could Jesus be against that? My adultery should be affirmed by the church."

Plug in incest, bestiality, pedophilia, murder, rape, theft, etc and you come out with the same result - sin cannot be defined as sin. This is why Vines' arguments are so heretical. It's not just about homosexuality. Vines is fundamentally arguing that sin cannot be defined anymore, at least not by God. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Much rests on the orientation concept. In Vine's argument, homosexuality is in a different category than adultery because, in the traditional view, it has no righteous expression. So he reasons that adultery has a righteous form in heterosexual marriage, but homosexual promiscuity has ...what? To him, it should have a "married" expression as well (or "committed, monogamous," to use his term).

So the question for that part of the argument is at least two-fold: (a) is homosexual longing really in a separate category where it can have both unrighteous and righteous forms? and (b) even if it is "fixed and unchosen" (also his term I believe), does it follow that it must have a righteous expression?

I would argue that the answer to both is no. In the case of the latter, what if a married man must go on a long mission as a soldier or diplomat or something in a far, far away country for, say, a couple of years? Or gets stranded far away and can't return for years? Is there any kind of sexual relationship he can have with someone other than his wife? The answer is clearly no, in a biblical moral framework, and so his sexuality has no righteous expression during that time.

And what about pretty much all of us before getting married?

So there is nothing essentially different about the plight of those who, for sake of argument, have an unchosen and unalterable same-sex attraction. (Personally, I believe that this condition does exist for some, but also that a capacity for same-sex attraction--with attendant temptations--is actually more common that is generally recognized.)  The difference is one of degree (life long) in this scenario, not a difference in kind as Vines attempts to argue (but mostly assumes).

As a difference in degree, biblical morality is not asking anything special of these folks. Biblical sexual ethics commands that they do what we must all do, only much longer.  (But what about the man or woman who is never able to marry? Most of them would be in a situation not substantially different from what Vines tries to portray as the unique plight of the "Christian homosexual" under the traditional interpretation)

TylerR's picture

Editor

What I found particularly shocking was the gall Vines had to say that because the imago dei includes a relational element on a horizontal plane (among other things), this means that to deny homosexuals the opportunity for loving, monogamous relationships is to suppress that in-born desire for relational fulfillment that He instilled in us. I think this is a key point in Vines' argument for a "righteous express" (as you put it) of homosexuality:

Given that we are created by a God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit— relational to the core —such a consequence seems at odds with God’s nature. We will consider this idea in more detail in chapter 9 , but for now, it’s safe to say that true Christian sacrifice, no matter how costly, should make us more like God, not less (Kindle locations 355-357).

I just can't get over the absolute nerve of that statement. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Mark_Smith's picture

I think Vines and others like him would not say that accepting adultery, incest, etc, was the natural extension of their argument. Vines wants to say that he seeks a monogamous homosexual relationship. One where "no one is hurt",  opposite of what would be the case in adultery, incest, etc.

 

If you go purely on human reasoning (which all too many are doing today) why not let "love flourish" with homosexuals? Only by sticking with the clear meaning of Scripture do we see that homosexual relationships are sinful. Too many aren't accepting the requirement to live your life by the word rather than reading the word by how you live your life! It started when people accepted divorce, fornication and adultery in the church. Now it has morphed into Vines!

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

The ages-old struggle to properly relate faith and reason is a huge factor with this. Though we do not "understand" Scripture without understanding the world it references, we also do not understand the world (and behaviors it references) unless we "understand" Scripture first.

There's really no paradox. I'm equivocating a bit w/the term "understand." We don't understand what Scripture means in practical terms unless we first understand that heart and mind must be yielded to the God of the Bible and that this yielding is top priority. So we have to read it not only with a desire to submit to it but also with an intellectual humility: the attitude that the Father knows best. The result is that with a properly open heart (and the ministry of the Spirit - 2 Cor. 2:14, if memory serves) we're in a position to understand what we must believe and do even when we don't understand why or how.

To say it another way, we can be obedient and yielded even when the "How can this be true?" question is not yet answered. 

One of Vine's major errors--one he is very transparent about in the book--is that of taking the "How can this be true?" feeling as a de facto proof that we have misread the Bible. This elevates independent and unyielded human reason (and the experiences it sees as evidence) above faith.

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