God and the Gay Christian

Preparing to Review “God and the Gay Christian”

“God and the Gay Christian is a game changer. Winsome, accessible, and carefully researched, every page is brought to life by the author’s clear love for Scripture and deep, persistent faith. With this book, Matthew Vines emerges as one of my generation’s most important Christian leaders, not only on matters of sexuality but also on what it means to follow Jesus with wisdom, humility, and grace. Prepare to be challenged and enlightened, provoked and inspired. Read with an open heart and mind, and you are bound to be changed.”

—Rachel Held Evans, author of “A Year of Biblical Womanhood and Faith Unraveled”
found at Amazon.com

This isn’t the sort of book I’d normally read, and especially the sort of book I’d pay for, but I found a book review on this text, and it’s quite compelling to consider that someone would say there’s supportive data in the Bible for “loving same-sex relationships”. A surface reading of both the Old and New Testaments would seem to suggest otherwise, but the debate continues to rage regarding the accuracy (let alone “truth”) of this matter. One such debate can be found in the comments section of The Christian Post article Evangelicals Review Matthew Vines’ “God and the Gay Christian” Book, while LGBTQNation.com has a very different viewpoint.

Whenever I’m concerned that my conservative religious, social, and political bias is overwhelming my ability to fairly view an issue like this, I check in with my daughter who is supportive of marriage equality and equal rights for the LGBTQ community. Given her perspective, she continues to think that equality in secular society is one thing, but that it’s a step too far to say that the Bible actually supports and endorses homosexual behavior.

That’s been my perspective as well (for a representative but not exhaustive list of my blog posts on this matter, click on this link). I haven’t reviewed a book like Vines’ before, but I have reviewed a series of reviews of a book called Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe written by the late John Boswell. My conclusion of the author’s supposition that the Church performed same-sex marriages in antiquity and thus, the modern Church should perform same-sex marriages today, is that it was pretty much wishful thinking on Boswell’s part.

I will agree that the Bible generally does not speak of same-sex relationships in a negative light when they occur outside the community of faith. However, for those who are joined to God in a covenant relationship (i.e. the Jewish people) or those of us (i.e. Gentile Christians) who are grafted in and enjoy certain covenant blessings, the story (in my humble opinion) is different.

But I can’t get ahead of myself and I want to be fair. My concern is that this book will be reviewed almost exclusively along emotional, political, and social lines rather than based on an evaluation of the author’s research in comparison to scripture. That is, if you are a liberal Christian or Jew, you’ll love the book. If you’re a conservative Christian or Jew, you’ll hate it. It’s a knee-jerk response from either side of the aisle. You almost don’t even have to read the book in order to render a strongly held opinion.

I’d like the opportunity to look at Vines’ work while minimizing my “visceral response”. I should say that a lot of how one reviews such a book depends a great deal on the interpretative matrix used to understand the Bible. Evangelical Christians will use proof texts from the Old and New Testaments to speak against homosexuality while simultaneously saying the Old Testament laws (which by definition should include those laws that address homosexuality) are dead (for details about a Jewish viewpoint on homosexuality, read Homosexuality and Halakhah).

Liberal Christians and Jews won’t necessarily speak against the literal words of the Bible, but they will reinterpret them in ways that some of us might consider “creative” in order to say that the plain meaning of the text isn’t the true meaning of the text.

You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.

Leviticus 18:22

If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.

Leviticus 20:13

Matthew Vines
Matthew Vines

Strictly speaking, the New Testament doesn’t address homosexuality or homosexual behavior. It does address sexual immorality in a number of verses (Matthew 15:19, Romans 13:13, 1 Corinthians 5:11, Revelation 21:8, for example), but it’s a matter of opinion if the intent of the New Testament authors included “homosexuality” as a sexually immoral behavior, although according to this article:

Nearly every major Greek lexicon includes “fornication” as at least an aspect of the meaning of porneia. In addition to premarital sex, this term would also include such things as homosexuality, bestiality, adultery, et al The first definition given above sums it up well as “every kind of extramarital, unlawful, unnatural sexual intercourse.” We would also do well to remember Christ’s words from Matthew 15 which state that it is not only the actual intercourse that is prohibited, but also the sinful affection which lies behind the action (relate to Matthew 5:27-30). (emph. mine)

No doubt, the reviews of Vines’ book, pro and con, are going to be surging forth in the blogosphere, at least in the short run (public opinion is fickle and attention spans are limited), but I feel compelled to add my voice to the din because (hopefully) I can attempt to view what Vines wrote while restricting my reflexive response. If he can make his case based on scripture while avoiding an emphasis on emotional appeal, he should be heard out.

I just ordered the book. It will take some time to get here (five to fourteen business days), but I feel honor-bound to actually read Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships before reacting to it in any definitive sense.

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17 thoughts on “Preparing to Review “God and the Gay Christian””

  1. I wonder what would be the public response or receptiveness to a title such as “God and the Sinful Christian: The Biblical Case For Continuing in Sin that Grace Might Abound”?

    I am continually amazed at how much effort is exerted to justify aberrations of mental programming in place of pursuing the reprogramming that accompanies the renewing of a mind to conform with the ways of HaShem.

  2. @PL – such a good point. Paul makes the specific point of distinguishing between sinful behavior in the world and among believers and how to handle it accordingly (1 Corinthians 5:9-13). To summarize, Paul tells us that God will judge the world, but we are to hold fellow believers accountable.

  3. My sense of all this is that the millennials in the Church need to find a way to not only accept the LGBTQ community in secular society but to refactor the Bible so that its message now says that homosexual behavior is not only not sinful, but accepted and endorsed.

    I’m actually looking forward to reading the book and examining Vines’ arguments. Everyone who has positively reviewed his book as well as this rather lengthy video that’s gone viral, believe he has a very compelling argument. I find the timing interesting as the U.S. has several states where same-sex marriages are now legal. American society is moving toward normalization of homosexual behavior and relationships and the millennials in Christianity are attempting to normalize homosexuality in the Church.

    It seems as if social imperatives are driving this movement rather than Biblical exegesis. But I say all that before reading Vines’ book. Like I said, I want to be fair.

  4. James,

    I’ll be interested in reading your thoughts. By the way, I’m not sure I would agree with your assertion that “the New Testament doesn’t address homosexuality.” I’m not in a knowledgeable enough position to comment extensively, however, I just finished a commentary on the Book of Jude, which will be released this Summer (published by Lederer). The discussion in Jude relates the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah with the sin of the Fallen Angels. Although the emphasis is not specifically on the issue of homosexuality (but rather the forbidden unions between humans and angels), it is also difficult, in my opinion, to believe that it is not at least being alluded to.

    In many ways I agree with your daughter. I am not sure we can force the Biblical text and ancient Jewish perspectives on morality to fit modern sensibilities. Sometimes we may just have to agree there may be an amount of conflict. The question I guess in this whole discussion is just how great is that conflict.

  5. Thanks for your comment, Rabbi Josh. Actually, it’s not my assertion that the NT doesn’t directly address homosexual behavior, it’s a commentary I read, although another resource says otherwise (the link is also in the body of my blog post). I’d always assumed that the NT *did* condemn homosexual acts specifically.

    I agree with my daughter as well. Paul didn’t try to reform the various sinful practices of the Roman empire. He did however, hold the community of believers to a certain standard and was uncompromising in his resolve.

    As American society continues to become more accepting of the LBGTQ community and strives to normalize same-sex relationships, including through the process of legalizing marriages, people of faith will need to come to terms with the world in the same way Paul did. Actually, this is the same challenge the Jewish community has faced across the long centuries in the diaspora, living alongside Gentile communities with radically different values and morals but not being part of them.

    But the issue of Vines’ book isn’t how Christians (or Messianics) are supposed to relate to gays outside of the religious community, but whether or not we can reasonably interpret the Bible to say that homosexual acts should be accepted and endorsed within the community of faith.

  6. This is a humble approach that I think edifies the collective Church body, both “conservative” and “liberal.” My personal favorite on this question is “To Melt a Golden Calf”, since it spends half a book trying to make an affirmative case for same-sex relationships based on orthodox biblical principles. However, I don’t even that book will persuade anyone until they’ve experienced a disconnect be their abstract theology and experiential theology. That’s why the Millennials have about-faced so quickly: having personal friendships with gay people, especially gay Christians, created enough cognitive dissonance for them to reconsider what they had been raised to believe. But in case you’re inclined to check it out, it’s cheap at least! http://www.amazon.com/Melt-Golden-Calf-Evangelical-Relationships/dp/1490429956

  7. Thanks, Paul. I’ve seen that book mentioned on other commentaries about Vines’ new book. I’m not planning on making a career out of investigating the suggestion that there is not scriptural conflict with being actively gay (i.e. having an active gay sex life) and being reconciled with God as a Christian, so I’ll probably prioritize other books on my buying/reading list.

  8. I find this whole discussion taking place today quite interesting. Do we really believe that in NT times same-sex relationships were the same as what exists today. It is not a apple to apple comparison. That is part of the problem. Our world today is far removed from the 1st century. 2 many evangelicals have wanted to claim the text in a literal – it says, God says, it’s settled kinda of way we have forgotten just how dark, destructive and violent the first century world could be. Was consensual even part of the equation then?

  9. No, I doubt that we had a lot in common sociologically with first century Israel relative to homosexuality. A Jewish first century Israel would have taken the prohibition against men having sexual relationships as a given, but Christianity tends to distance itself from the Torah in many respects (except for this one). As far as Evangelicals are concerned, I recently listened to a sermon saying that “church services” in the time of Paul were substantially similar to what we have today. I kind of doubt that, too. I think Paul conceptualized Gentile participation in a Jewish religious stream differently than how Evangelical churches see themselves today.

    To the best of my knowledge (and I’m not a historian), no other society has ever normalized homosexual behavior, at least to the degree that a same sex couple could marry and it was considered identical to an opposite sex marriage.

    That said, the issues here are and should be primarily theological, not sociological. There are a number of times in the Bible where God makes a decision that flies in the face of what most people would find palatable. For instance when God commanded the total destruction of a people group, down to the children and livestock. I don’t know what I would do if faced with such a command. How could I slaughter children, even if their parents and their entire society were utterly evil?

    I say all this to illustrate that, for some and perhaps many Christians, it may seem humane and loving to accept gay couples who are sexual active into the community of faith and ignore the obvious dissonance involved, but ultimately what does God have to say about it? If Matthew Vines has an iron clad argument backed up by solid Biblical exegesis that shows us we’ve been reading the Bible all wrong for all these years, I’ll be impressed and reconsider my long held understanding on the matter, but I’ll have to read his book before I can come to any conclusions.

  10. @James says “Christianity tends to distance itself from the Torah in many respects (except for this one)”… Not quite true… the other issue is tithing…

  11. I see so much wrong here, I don’t know where to begin. Sex and marriage is about children. Malachi….he seeks a godly seed. It is all about LIFE. The other brings death.
    May G-d give you the wisdom and insight to slay the lies and twisting of the scripture that will be necessary to support the argument presented.

  12. James, when I read the list of prohibitions in Acts 15, I understood that as a “quick list” based on the idea that those activities would have been common to their daily life in the Greek/Roman culture. In order to mingle with Jews in the synagogue, Gentiles would need to be “clean” or would cause Jews to violate the civil law of associating with Gentiles. Also not listed is to have no idols, or other Gods. The list can not be comprehensive on the basis of that omission alone. For that matter, there was no mention to obtain from murder either. I have also wondered if Luke only included a summary of the actual letter, and if the Didache was possibly the full instruction sent out. (Or at least sent as a follow up?)

    This veers a tad off topic, but the idea that council ruling was all inclusive really doesn’t hold water. Sexual immorality would have meant the overall theme encompassing all sexual laws in the Torah. Just the mention that the laws of Moses are read every Sabbath implies they expected Gentiles to learn more.

  13. Terry, I agree that the four essentials in the Acts 15 letter don’t represent a detailed description of “Gentile halachah” in the Messianic community, and I also agree that it is quite likely the Didache was originally the verbal instructions that went along with the letter and later, was written down as a guide.

    For a more detailed view of Acts 15, see my six-part Return to Jerusalem series based on the FFOZ Torah Club lessons for that chapter in Acts.

    We know that homosexual behavior was forbidden in Torah so it would be unlikely that the Jews in the Way would tolerate homosexual behavior from Gentiles who were part of the Messianic community. If Vines’ book can properly refute this assertion, it will represent a major change in how we read the Tanakh and Apostolic scriptures, but he’s fighting an uphill battle. I’m looking forward to seeing what approach he takes.

  14. “”she continues to think that equality in secular society is one thing, but that it’s a step too far to say that the Bible actually supports and endorses homosexual behavior.” I asked for an opinion from a 21 year old as he winds down his third college year in southern California. His opinion went something like this: “Sure we support the idea that people (to include Christians) leave the Gays alone. For the most part they are not harming anyone, most work for a living holding down good jobs, and not enough time has passed to evaluate the outcome of marriages, adoptions, divorce rates in their community (cause there will be one). Gays have always felt unwelcome, unloved, distrusted, and the cause for all kinds of problems. They hurt. My four room-mates (he shares a house) are all from broken homes. Infact on this Campus most kids of my age are from broken homes. We suffer too and nobody gives a damn! Gays are not the only issue in our society!”
    So here’s one example for why the college-age set aren’t getting excited about this issue. I would add also: many of these kids are not interested in theology and church. It’s a shame but true.

  15. I don’t think it’s a matter of whether or not being gay is a “successful lifestyle” or not (marriage, divorce, job record, parenting) but in secular society, whether gays are accepted within societal norms. We certainly are heading in that direction given the number of states that allow gay marriage.

    For Millineals, the LGBTQ community has been more or less normative their whole lives, so it seems strange to them that anyone could oppose “same love”. Also, as you say Pat, there are other priorities in this generation that draw more attention, such as how so many of them are products of divorced parents, something of an epidemic in today’s world. Rabbi Boteach has said that divorcing parents is a much bigger priority than the issue of homosexuality, but he was also from a broken home.

    My focus is more narrow currently. Can scripture be used to support and endorse gay relationships in the community of faith?

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