Matthew Vines’s new book, God And The Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships, has gotten a lot of blowback from gay-unfriendly evangelicals. In a hostile review, Andrew Walker explains why the book has struck a nerve:
What makes Vines’ book unique is that Vines does not consider himself a theological liberal. He proudly brandishes the identity of a conservative evangelical, claiming to uphold the authority of Bible, affirming its full inspiration and authority. Throughout the book, he quotes John Piper and Tim Keller, thus signaling his evangelical bona fides.
In the marketing materials for God and the Gay Christian, Vines is a theological wunderkind having found the formula for making biblical authority and homosexuality compatible. Vines no doubt believes the authenticity and sincerity of his interpretation and indeed, that is where the heart of this book resides. As the reader soon discovers, Vines doesn’t believe the error in understanding homosexuality is found within the Scriptures, but in our interpretation.
And so naturally the Christianists are getting antsy. The head of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Albert Mohler, Jr., responded to Vines on his site – and also with a 100-page eBook (pdf), including essays from a number of conservative evangelicals – claiming that Vines wants “to overthrow two millennia of Christian moral wisdom and biblical understanding”:
God and the Gay Christian demands an answer, but Christ demands our obedience. We can only pray — with fervent urgency — that this moment of decision for evangelical Christianity will be answered with a firm assertion of biblical authority, respect for marriage as the union of a man and a woman, passion for the Gospel of Christ, and prayer for the faithfulness and health of Christ’s church. … The church has often failed people with same-sex attractions, and failed them horribly. We must not fail them now by forfeiting the only message that leads to salvation, holiness, and faithfulness.
Matthew Paul Turner has more on Mohler and company’s pushback:
In an email exchange with Vines, the author explained that “most books written on this subject in the past have come from a more progressive or moderate theological bent, so they haven’t found an audience among conservative Christians. But given that my book takes a conservative theological approach, it is much more likely to gain a hearing from evangelicals.”
And that is what scares Mohler about this book, and ultimately, it’s what led him to congregate a few of his theology buddies together to craft an official response to it in the form of a free, anybody-can-download ebook called God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines.
According to Vines, somebody from Mohler’s camp requested an early copy of God and the Gay Christian, but Vines didn’t learn of the ebook until last Tuesday, the day that both books released. Yes, that’s how afraid of Matthew Vines they really are, so scared that they’re fully willing to purposefully sabotage not only the success of Vines’s book with a rush-to-press response but also the conversation he’s hoping to spark.
Jonathan Merritt of Religion News Service brought Mohler and Vines together to discuss the controversy:
[Religion News Servic]: Many note that Christians for millennia have held to a traditional view on this issue. But the church also held to certain positions on matters of race before some challenged prevailing and accepted interpretations of scripture. How does Church history and tradition factor into your thinking?
[Albert Mohler]: One of the key insights of the Reformation is that the church must always be reformed by the Scriptures. We must test everything by the teachings of the Bible, and correct our beliefs and practices when these are found to conflict with what the Bible teaches. The Christian church has had to do this regularly, on matters great and small. But I am confident that the church has not misread the Bible for 2,000 years on this question, and that the normalization of same-sex sexuality and same-sex marriage cannot be justified in any way by an honest reading of the Scriptures.
[Matthew Vines]: I think the most instructive analogy from the Christian tradition on this issue is the question of heliocentrism. For the first 1,600 years of church history, every major theologian and church leader believed both that the earth stood at the center of the universe and that the Bible taught this. With the advent of the telescope, Galileo and others obtained new information, which ultimately led Christians to reinterpret Scripture’s statements about it. I think we’re in a similar situation regarding sexual orientation. Until the past 50 years, Christians didn’t think about homosexuality in terms of orientation. They thought about it simply in terms of excess—along the lines of gluttony and drunkenness. Consequently, there really is no Christian tradition on the specific issue we face today: gay Christians and their committed relationships. Just as with heliocentrism, we don’t need to degrade the wisdom of our predecessors. We simply need to acknowledge that we are in a new interpretive environment, faced with an issue our forefathers were not faced with, and that fact requires us to look at Scripture anew.
Julie Rodgers, who describes herself as “a gay Christian who affirms the church’s historical teaching on marriage,” nonetheless agrees with certain parts of the book. She elaborates on the argument Vines makes above:
Matthew says we now have a more advanced understanding of sexual orientation than they had when the Bible was written. Because we now believe a gay orientation is fixed and unchosen, and the biblical authors were writing to a culture that only understood homosexual behavior in the context of their patriarchal society that viewed gay sex as excessive lust, we have to acknowledge the gap between Scripture’s context and ours, admitting Scripture doesn’t speak to the idea of loving, monogamous same sex relationships. Biblical condemnation of homosexual behavior is primarily related to gender hierarchy in a patriarchal context (rather than gender complementarity), and since we no longer live in such a context then we should reconsider the commands that were written to that specific culture for that specific culture. By imposing the same commands in our current context, the church is mandating celibacy for all gay Christians and forbidding an avenue for them to sanctify their sexuality in the context of a Christian marriage, causing tremendous damage that results in the “bad fruit” of isolation and self-hatred for gay men and women made in the image of God.
Terence Weldon defends the book, citing another aspect of Vines’ approach:
One of the most useful passages in God and the Gay Christian is Vines reflection on the biblical verse, “by their fruits you shall know them”. In his own life, and that of others he was able to observe, he noted that for naturally gay and lesbian people, the fruits of acknowledging honestly the truth of their natural orientation was positive, leading to what in natural law is termed “human flourishing” – and the fruits of denial, for example in the attempts of ex-gay organisations at conversion therapy, were frequently downright tragic. (Jeremy Marks, who once led an ex-gay ministry in the United Kingdom, aptly described this with another apt biblical phrase, “Exchanging God’s Truth for a Lie”).