Review: Matthew Vines’s “God and the Gay Christian”

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This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Bible and Homosexuality


Matthew Vines’s God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships purports to be an in-depth explanation of biblical support for homosexual relationships. It’s provoked considerable discussion. I’ve read almost none of that discussion, so for better or for worse, these comments are my own.

God and the Gay ChristianThis and other books like it include something vitally important for every Christian: an inside look at what it’s like to be gay in the church. Say what you will, gays’ and lesbians’ experiences in the Christian world have not been what they should be. If love, understanding, and empathy are Christian virtues, they aren’t experiencing them consistently. We could all use the opportunity to hear from gays on this, and if you don’t have a friend who can tell you the story, a good book can help fill the gap.

There is a better choice for this purpose, though, than God and the Gay Christian. While I’m only partway through it and cannot give an overall assessment, I’ve found Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community by Marin and McLaren to do a far better job of exploring the experiences of gays in the church.

So where Vines’s book could have been strongest, there is one stronger yet; and where it is weak it is very weak.

There’s a great difference between empathizing with others’ experience and agreeing with their conclusions. (This should go without saying.) Vines claims to draw biblical conclusions in favor of committed monogamous homosexual relationships. His arguments are thoroughly inadequate, however, and provide no good reason to overturn years of consensus among Christians on sexuality and marriage.

God and the Gay Christian?

Vines’s case for gay relationships revolves around a few broad categories.

  1. A tree is known by its fruit, and the fruit of Christian opposition to same-sex relationships has been pain, hurt, alienation from Christ, even sometimes suicide.
  2. There was no such thing as “homosexuality” until fairly recently, so there could have been no such thing as committed monogamous same-sex relationships in the New Testament era, and NT prohibitions on homosexuality are irrelevant to such relationships.
  3. Old Testament prohibitions of homosexual practice have been superseded by the new covenant in Christ.
  4. References to homosexuality in the New Testament are linguistically questionable and/or applicable to shame-oriented excessive-lust-induced dominant/submissive relationships, not to committed monogamous loving relationships.
  5. Celibacy is a gift to be accepted voluntarily by those who are able to handle their own passions, not something to be forced upon the unwilling or those for whom Paul’s advice applies, that “it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”
  6. Typical arguments against SSM (same-sex marriage) all fail, including those based in concepts such as “one flesh,” complementarity, the image of God, the relationship of Christ to the church, and procreation.

A tree is known by its fruit

Undoubtedly Point 1 (the numbering is mine, not his) exposes something rotten. Far too often, Christians have not treated homosexuals with the respect due to fellow human beings. Besides that, for gays and lesbians who want to enter into committed same-sex relationships, there’s considerable pain in being denied the legal opportunity to do so.

That pain is unquestionably part of the fruit. It is not all of it. The full fruit cannot be identified without knowing what the tree is, and where its roots lie. On this, Vines has overlooked at least as much as he has included. His book itself is a fruit of a movement that Christians must uniformly deplore. That movement can be traced to the sexual revolution of the 1960s, when “free love” was the not-so-subtle euphemism for unbridled promiscuity. It progresses through time, while regressing socially, into no-fault divorce and today’s family-destroying divorce culture. It has been expressed through rampant sexuality in the media. It reached a turning point in the late 1980s publication of “The Overhauling of Straight America” and After the Ball, two documents detailing plans to wrest homosexuality into mainstream public acceptance through openly acknowledged propaganda and manipulation—and particularly through intentionally undermining biblical morality. It continues to be part of a movement whose other fruit includes polygamy, polyamory, and “pansexuality.”

Now, does that constitute proof that committed monogamous same-sex relationships are wrong? By the tree-fruit principle on which Vines depends so heavily, yes, it does. If the fruit and the tree are inseparable as he says they are, and the nature of one can be told by the nature of the other, then Vine’s book, which comes from a rotten tree, must be rotten fruit.

LGBT

Vines is convinced, rightly, that the Bible affirms committed monogamous relationships. This book is his apologetic for the same-sex version thereof. Much of his argument hangs on gays’ and lesbians’ inability to experience that kind of relationship in opposite-sex marriages. Early on, though, he writes,

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.

Yet in the next paragraph he writes,

“This book envisions a future in which all Christians come to embrace and affirm their LGBT brothers and sisters.”

“LGBT” is mentioned 30 times in the book; He’s trying to provide a welcome place for “LGBT-affirming Christians,” among other things

This is confusing, though. For all I can discern, in each instance “B” and “T” are treated with equal weight as “L” and “G.” Why would this be? Remember: the whole point of the book is to build a case for committed monogamous same-sex relationships, for those who cannot bring themselves to enter into man-woman marriage. Why then give such support to bisexuality and transgenderism?

What we see in Vines seems to be undifferentiated enthusiasm for the modern gender revolution, even though none of what he offers in his book even remotely supports major aspects of it. Does the Bible support transgenderism? Where? Vines doesn’t say (how could he?), and yet he himself supports it. There’s nothing biblical about it. How seriously, then, can I take his other protestations of being committed to biblical righteousness?

The recency of “homosexuality” as a category

It may come as a surprise to some that there were no homosexuals before the late 1800s, but that is indeed the case, at least as far as the term itself is concerned. Vines argues that same-sex relationships in the NT era (see points 2 and 4) were a matter of shame-based unequal relationships, which is fair enough; but from there he moves on to conclude that this was the only thing the Bible considered wrong with them, and that same-sex relationships in more equal contexts are therefore just fine.

In other words, homosexuality in biblical times was a package: a certain form of sex that was practiced in a certain form of relationship. Vines has to conclude that the Bible means, “the form of the relationship is bad, but the form of the sex wouldn’t be bad if it were in some other relational context that no one has thought of yet.” The Bible never says that, so this is rather optimistic on his part, to say the least. Further, the great majority of translators have taken the Greek language as specifically indicting the sexual act.

Further historical naiveté

Vines displays historical naiveté in his blithe remark that the marriage account in Genesis 2 doesn’t mention procreation. He’s not alone: the error he makes there is one that pervades the whole contemporary debate. He thinks there is such a thing as marriage without procreation.

Marriage means children. It always has. Or, at least it’s meant children for every marriage in every culture until the very recent introduction of contraception. There’s only one way Vines could conclude that marriage in Genesis 2 didn’t include procreation: by anachronistically importing the Pill into the Garden!

On those same naive lines, he also accepts without criticism what he termed the “dominant message about marriage in modern society,” which is that marriage is “primarily about being happy, being in love, and being fulfilled.”

That’s a huge error. It’s the “just you ‘n me, babe” view of marriage that has been so damaging  (as Vines rightly notes) to heterosexual marriage. Granted, Vines goes on to remind us that “marriage is not just about us. It’s about Christ,” which is better than “just you ‘n me, babe,” but it’s still wrong. Marriage is about Christ, the couple, and the next generation—or it least, it always has been until the past few decades.

And speaking of trees and fruit, this “you ‘n me, babe” attitude has been particularly destructive. Marriages have fallen apart, children have been badly hurt, communities have been fragmented. Vines’s apparent unawareness of that factor does not speak well for the cogency of his position.

Old Testament prohibitions superseded by the new covenant in Christ

Vines’s analysis here is disappointingly thin. He tells us, for example, that the Old Testament never speaks of any distinction between moral and civil law, implying that if the Bible didn’t explicitly bullet-point the categories that way, they do not exist. That’s tantamount to criticizing the Old Testament for not being Grudem’s Systematic Theology. Through careless maneuvers of that sort he hand-waves away the near-universal Christian understanding that the OT moral law can be reliably identified in the new covenant by its NT reiterations.

Natural-law arguments against homosexuality and gay “marriage”

As if the above weren’t bad enough, Vines’s work is even more disappointing in his treatment of counter-arguments. Did I say “disappointing”? Perhaps a better word would be “astonishing,” for he displays absolutely no awareness whatsoever of Girgis, Anderson, and George’s highly influential What is Marriage?. To take just one example, Vines treats “one flesh” as meaning physical and emotional closeness, and nothing more. Girgis, Anderson, and George make a strong case that it involves two persons coming together in organic union to accomplish the one biological function no one can do alone.

In this and in other ways, Vines fails to address and engage the best natural-law arguments relevant to his position.

Celibacy as an enforced “gift” to homosexuals

Vines is strongest when he speaks on the topic of celibacy as an enforced choice for gays and lesbians. If indeed it is better to marry than to burn with passion, as Paul says, and if homosexual persons do not have that option, then they are left with the unwelcome burden of hopelessly unfulfilled desire. The Bible does not seem to have required this of anyone. Straight single persons at least have hope. Gays and lesbians have only prohibition. So says Vines.

It’s worth noting that the alcoholic with a burning lifelong need for whiskey faces only hopeless prohibition, too. I’m not sure, therefore, how a hopeless burning desire by itself legitimizes the fulfillment of that desire. So even here at his best, Vines is not convincing.

And Yet a Call To Empathy and Believability

And yet here is where empathy is most called for. Christians who tell gay and lesbian fellow believers that celibacy is a viable choice need to speak believably. As I’ve written elsewhere,

What message of hope do we have to offer gays and lesbians? … “reparative therapy” is no message of hope, whether it is legitimate or not, for it lacks the believability that hope requires. I cannot say to my gay friend, “try this therapy and it will work for you.” Even the most positive accounts of reparative therapy are nowhere near that optimistic. [And few gays or lesbians would give those “most positive accounts” any credence anyway.]

The hope we can offer the GLBT man or woman instead is the satisfactions of God himself. Psalm 16 speaks of the delights of God….

But this too needs a believability check. I said this was always going to be a hard topic to write on, and it’s reaching that difficult stage right now. I am asking myself, do I really believe that God can satisfy me fully? When I’m faced with temptation, do I know that there is something better for me, if I say yes to the grace of God and no to the counterfeit pleasure of sin? How consistently do I act that way? I am not entirely pleased with the answer I must give to my own question.

I am asking, too, how well does the church demonstrate this? I have counseled (and as HR director, ultimately discharged from service) a Christian missionary who said his wife was no longer “meeting his needs,” and so he was going to another woman for that. Dissatisfactions of this sort are denials of God’s satisfying nature, and are largely responsible for the culture of divorce that afflicts the church nearly as much as the world.

The church must be believable in our message and in our empathy for those with whom we share it. Here again I will recommend the Spiritual Friendship Blog as the best representation of both, written as it is by celibate gay and lesbian believers. We all have much to learn there.

So with this I am adding my voice to whatever has been said by others about God and the Gay Christian. It has some value as an open door on the pain experienced by gays and lesbians in the church, but there is at least one book that’s better for that purpose. And it gets nowhere with its main objective: its purported biblical case for committed monogamous same-sex relationships fails on virtually every count.

Series Navigation (Bible and Homosexuality):“Can You Be Gay and Christian?” by Michael Brown >>>
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7 Responses to “ Review: Matthew Vines’s “God and the Gay Christian” ”

  1. For those who may have read the first draft of this blog post, I have changed the wording of the first paragraph to clarify an ambiguous use of a pronoun. I inadvertently made it read as if I had read almost none of the book, when what I meant was that I had read almost none of the discussion provoked by the book. I’ve edited that paragraph to eliminate the ambiguity.

  2. Well, the alcoholic with a burning desire for whiskey knows the negative consequences of giving in to his desire. Whereas, it’d be pretty difficult to convince the gay person of the negative consequences of giving in to his love for another human being…

    I know you’ve been over that territory before, just couldn’t let it pass without a comment.

  3. Whereas, it’d be pretty difficult to convince the gay person of the negative consequences of giving in to his love for another human being…

    Their opinion doesn’t matter. If it did then this entire discussion would be over already. The question is: is it morally wrong? If you are a Christian, where do you go to answer this question?

  4. Whereas, it’d be pretty difficult to convince the gay person of the negative consequences of giving in to his love for another human being…

    No one’s asking them not to ‘give in to his love for another human being’.

    It’s the sodomy that’s the problem, for heterosexuals and homosexuals alike. Love who you like, otherwise.

  5. First OS changes the argument that Vine was making and Tom was commenting on (enforced choice, burden of hopelessly unfulfilled desire) so that it’s now an argument about consequences. OS then complains about the argument nobody made.

    Go figure.

  6. Whereas, it’d be pretty difficult to convince the gay person of the negative consequences of giving in to his love for another human being…

    Really? Maybe it depends on the individual. I guess there are gay people who are happy being gay. But there quite a number that are not, as is evident from the people who attempt to find a way to turn straight, and from those who say they have not found that ultimately they dont like leading a gay life –
    http://youtu.be/c2kqisUzkyw

  7. I’m curious if Vines is reading from the “Queen James Bible”, look it up, it really does exist.

  8.