I met the painfully young Matthew Vines last week, after a few near-misses over the past couple of years. The Dish has been following his work for a while now. Dan Savage gives you the basic biography:
Matthew Vines is a young gay man who grew up in Kansas. His family is Christian and very conservative. After coming out, Vines took two years off college to research and think deeply about what the bible says—and doesn’t say—about homosexuality.
Matthew doesn’t intend to go back to Harvard; indeed he has set his sights on living in Wichita, Kansas, where he is from, and building his fledgling organization, The Reformation Project, to create change within the evangelical church. But the most significant aspect of Matthew is his orthodoxy. His book, God and the Gay Christian, which I recently finished, is not an indictment of Christianity’s long and somewhat callous treatment of homosexuals; it’s an impassioned case that the Bible does not say what many have assumed it to say, once you bore down into the critical verses and chapters and try to understand them faithfully. It’s a thoroughly conservative and orthodox argument. We covered the gist extensively here and here. The video seen above is Matthew’s brand new distillation of the case into a few minutes.
But what thrilled me about the book is that it’s extremely persuasive in utterly orthodox terms. You do not have to pretend that almost all the references to same-sex sex in the Bible are not extremely negative to see more deeply that what these passages are condemning is excessive lust, sexual obsession, and sexual exploitation, rather than homosexual love, as we understand it now. More to the point, several other powerful and more fundamental Biblical passages show how the demand for enforced celibacy for gay Christians is anathema to the human flourishing that Jesus came to foster.
Some of the arguments were familiar to me, and were echoed in my own, somewhat parallel investigation into Catholicism’s natural law arguments against homosexual love. But others were genuinely new and eye-opening. If you read the book alongside James V. Brownson’s groundbreaking new work of Biblical scholarship, Bible, Gender, Sexuality, you begin to see the contours of a revolution in evangelical circles on the subject. Here’s a brief glimpse of an awakening:
What struck me about both books is a new tone. That tone is not defensive or angry, but entirely reasoned and calm. It is the tone I strove to achieve in Virtually Normal all those years ago – a tone designed merely to invite others into a dialogue beyond the polarizing culture and politics of our time. And it is a tone resting on confidence. There is no intellectual straining in Vines’ book; its arguments are simply explained and it is geared almost entirely to a readership that accepts basic evangelical notions about the Bible’s authority and divinely inspired literal truth. I’ve always had a bit of a defensive crouch about the obvious condemnation of some same-sex acts in the Bible, but because my own faith is not built on literalism or entirely on Biblical authority, I didn’t need to defang them. But Vines and Brownson do just that convincingly and then move on to the broader Christian message of the virtue of a commitment to another person, of self-giving to another in love and marriage, in ways that are finally able to include gay people in the broader evangelical community. I won’t read those passages in the Bible the same way again.
People talk about the cutting edge of gay activism, but here is another cutting edge – of gay scholarship in a zone where few openly gay people have felt emboldened to tread. These books may do to the next evangelical generation what John Boswell’s Christianity, Homosexuality and Social Tolerance did to mine. I cannot recommend it – or this fearlessly logical young spirit – highly enough.