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God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships Paperback – June 16, 2015
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Q&A with author Matthew Vines
Q. Briefly, what is the story of when you initially acknowledged to yourself that you are gay?
A. I didn’t even let myself think about whether I might be gay until I was 19. The personal, familial, and spiritual consequences of understanding that about myself before then would have been debilitating to me. But going away to an LGBT-friendly college gave me the space that I needed to start removing a lot of the psychological barriers I’d built up over the years. Once I finally let myself think about my sexual orientation more honestly, it was glaringly obvious to me. But while that was relieving in a sense, it was also terrifying in light of my family and church background.
Q. As a devoted Christian, how are you able to reconcile your orientation with your faith?
A. That was the question that loomed large for both me and my parents after I came out, and it’s what led me to take a leave of absence from school and undertake an intensive study of Scripture. I’ve now dedicated four years of my life to researching the issue of same-sex relationships and the Bible, and I’ve come to believe that the Bible doesn’t address the issue of committed, monogamous same-sex relationships. And while it’s true that biblical silence doesn’t necessarily mean divine blessing, same-sex marriages are consistent with Scripture’s core teachings about human sexuality, which is why I think God does bless them.
Q. You say you hold a high view of Scripture. What does that mean? Why is it important?
A. In denominational debates about this issue over the past several decades, the key fault line between Christians hasn’t actually been whether they support or oppose same-sex relationships. From the viewpoint of theologically conservative Christians, disagreements over this issue are merely symptomatic of a deeper disagreement: Is the Bible authoritative for Christians, or not?
If you argue that we are free to agree or disagree with parts of the Bible we may not like, then supporting same-sex relationships is easy: just say that the biblical authors were wrong and move on. But that isn’t how I see the Bible, and it isn’t how most evangelicals see it either. When I say I have a high view of Scripture, what I mean is that I don’t feel free to set aside parts of the Bible that may make me uncomfortable. Instead, I have to seriously grapple with Scripture, daily striving to submit my will to the Bible rather than submitting the Bible to my will. For Christians who share that understanding of Scripture, biblical interpretation on same-sex relationships is far more consequential in determining our beliefs.
Q. Why did you feel it was necessary to re-examine the Bible passages on same-sex relationships?
A. Jesus indicates in the Sermon on the Mount that good teachings should bear good fruit. The consequences of the evangelical church’s categorical rejection of same-sex relationships have been anything but good: higher likelihoods of depression, illegal drug use, relational brokenness, and suicide. Those are all red flags that opposing same-sex marriage isn’t the best understanding of Scripture. That bad fruit was the main reason I felt I needed to take a closer look at the Bible on this subject.
Q. What did you discover in your research that helped you and your family with accepting your orientation?
A. The first thing I realized was simple but significant: The longest discussion of same-sex behavior in Scripture—in Paul’s letter to the Romans—referred only to lustful behavior. The types of loving, committed gay marriages we see on a regular basis today are never discussed in the Bible. In fact, the entire understanding of same-sex orientation as an exclusive, permanent, and unchosen characteristic of some people is completely foreign to the world of the Bible, which helps explain why the Bible’s discussion of same-sex behavior looks quite different from our modern debate. Understanding those differences was crucial in bringing my parents to a place of affirming my sexual orientation.
Q. How does the case you present in God and the Gay Christian change the conversation regarding the inclusion of LGBT Christians in the church?
A. Given that the six references to same-sex behavior in Scripture are all negative, it’s easy to see how the debate has unfolded in the way that it has. For a long time, it’s seemed like there have been two options: either accept Scripture’s negative judgment on same-sex unions, or set aside certain passages from Scripture and accept same-sex unions. But as I argue in the book, that is a false choice. Through a careful study of the type of same-sex behavior described—and condemned—in Scripture, Christians can affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationships and also affirm the full authority of the Bible. That understanding is critical to laying the groundwork for LGBT acceptance in conservative and evangelical churches.
Q. What do you hope is the outcome from your book?
A. My initial hope for the book is that it helps to finally open up the conversation on this issue in conservative churches, where there has been little to no theological debate so far. When I was trying to come out to my church a few years back, it was incredibly difficult even to start the dialogue with most people. When that’s the case, the strength of your arguments almost doesn’t matter, because if you can’t get a hearing, nothing will change. If the book can help to start the dialogue in those churches, that would make a tremendous difference for the LGBT people who worship there. Beyond that, my longer-term goal is to help forge a world in which all Christians embrace and affirm their LGBT brothers and sisters as true equals. This kind of theological dialogue is indispensable in shaping that future.
Praise for God and the Gay Christian
“For anyone who wants to know why some evangelicals find that the Bible does not condemn same-gender marriage, Matthew Vines’s book answers the question. Christians who oppose gay marriage should consider what he has to say.”
— Tony Campolo, professor emeritus, Eastern University; co-author of Red Letter Christians
“Many people believe you can either hold a high view of Scripture or affirm gay relationships, but not both. Matthew Vines proves them wrong. Provocative and relentlessly Bible-focused, God and the Gay Christian offers hope and insight for Christians who have felt conflicted on matters of sexuality.”
— Justin Lee, author of Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate
“A must-read for all Christians, but especially parents. Matthew Vines brings great insight and wisdom to the conversation so urgently needed by today’s church. God and the Gay Christian has the information I was searching for when my son, Tyler Clementi, came out to me. This book will have a great impact on families, freeing parents of misunderstandings about their LGBT children while letting them hold securely to their faith.”
— Jane Clementi, co-founder of The Tyler Clementi Foundation
“Matthew Vines has accomplished a rare feat in this book, combining a detailed mastery of a wide range of material from the ancient world and the Christian tradition, a clear and articulate writing style, a deep commitment to his Christian faith, and an incisive judgment that can cut through complex arguments and mountains of data, and identify the core issues and their implications for human life. This book makes significant contributions, not only to ongoing scholarly conversations but also to the average person who wants to probe more deeply how to think about God and the gay Christian. It is the breadth of his reach and the integrated character of his vision that makes this book particularly worth reading.”
— Dr. James Brownson, Reformed theologian and professor of New Testament; author of Bible, Gender, Sexuality
“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
“Few things in today’s world divide churches and Christian communities more deeply than the issue of homosexuality. What lies at the very heart of the matter is the Bible and its interpretation. The very few biblical verses that touch upon same-sex-related matters say nothing about love and enduring relationships between people of same sex—on the contrary, these texts condemn harshly the activities they describe, such as attempted rape, debauchery, or depriving a person of his male honor. This has led theologically conservative Christians to condemn altogether what is today called ‘homosexuality.’ As the consequence of such an interpretation of the authoritative Scripture, hundreds of thousands of members of Christian communities have faced the difficulty, if not impossibility, to live out their non-heterosexual orientation while maintaining their Christian identity. Matthew Vines dedicates his book to ‘all those who have suffered in silence for so long.’ He reads the Bible and biblical scholarship as an evangelical gay Christian, giving a voice both to the biblical texts and its readers. He takes seriously the biblical text which for him represents the authoritative word of God; historical scholarship that reads the biblical text against what can be known of its historical context; and the experiences of Christians who read the Bible today. Importantly, his own personal voice is to be heard throughout the book, which only adds to its credibility. A careful scrutiny of the six biblical passages that somehow address same-sex behavior leads Vines to make a compelling argument against mandatory celibacy for gay Christians. More than that, he argues that Christians who affirm the full authority of Scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationships. Matthew Vines’s well-read and well-argued book deserves to be read by all those who have suffered in silence, but also by members and ministers of Christian communities struggling with the recognition and appreciation of their gay members.”
— Martti Nissinen, professor of Old Testament Studies, University of Helsinki, author of Homoeroticism in the Biblical World: A Historical Perspective
“Matthew Vines lives at an intersection of identities: a committed, theologically conservative Christian who also happens to be an out gay man. In offering both a scholarly and profoundly personal reconciliation of a duality often depicted as hopelessly at odds, he performs a public service that is valiant, hopeful and long overdue. He points the way forward for all those still stranded at the intersection.”
— Leonard Pitts, Jr., Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist; author of Freeman
“Matthew Vines brings within reach of non-specialists the rich store of scholarly work on what Scripture does and does not say about same-sex relationships. Coupled with his poignant descriptions of the damage done by traditional exclusionary interpretations, his book is an essential resource for all who seek to find their bearings in the current debate over the Bible’s teachings for gay people.”
— Dr. Mark Achtemeier, Presbyterian theologian; author of The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage
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I have been asking God to show me through His word where I am wrong about my understanding of homosexuality. (...how much I want to be wrong...). I was hoping this deeply personal and fairly presented book would provide the insights necessary to fully embrace my daughters choice (and yes, she calls it a choice). Unfortunately, I feel the some of the arguments made are justified by assumption and want.
To be clear, I am glad to have read the book and I certainly have some new ideas to continue to explore. Also, I feel the book was fairly researched and see that the author attempted to offer both side of the argument. But in the end I remain unconvinced. Which, to be fair, was not the authors intent. He made it clear early in the book that he hoped the book would at least help open minds and it did accomplish that. I just wanted more.
Actually, I would like to know if his father has yet written a book. I think that would be interesting to read.
Even though I had already changed my mind about homosexuality, I was curious to hear Matthew’s case. I was skeptical that a scriptural case could even be made, but when Southern Baptist potentate Al Mohler released a rebuttal I had to read it. If Matthew’s arguments threatened the evangelical gatekeepers that much, then it must have teeth.
The book begins with Matthew’s own “coming out” story. He worried about how his conservative family and friends might respond to his revelation. Though it took some time, his immediate family was accepting and supportive. Unfortunately many of those in his church chose not to be. This rejection was an extremely painful experience for Vines and readers can see how it has shaped his crusade for full acceptance of LGBT Christians.
The book makes the case that the bible is not condemning of same-sex relationships as they are understood in modern times. What makes Matthew’s case unique is his conservative scriptural approach. He gives great weight to the biblical texts, the language, and the historical contexts as he addresses all six explicit biblical references to homosexuality (three Old Testament verses and three New Testament verses).
Two of the Old Testament verses about homosexuality come from Leviticus, a book that deals with the ceremonial laws of the ancient Jewish religion. Most people are familiar with its infamous prohibitions against shellfish and pork, but it also has laws about beard grooming, menstrual cycles, and homosexuality. Leviticus 18:22 deems homosexuality an abomination and verse 20:13 calls for the immediate execution of men who practice homosexuality – the women get a pass. Vines takes a simple approach to these passages, asking those who use them to condemn homosexuality to be consistent with their Old Testament hermeneutic.
Ask an average Christian why they love lobster, eat ham, shave their beards, wear rayon, or let their wives stay in the house during their periods. My guess is that you will receive some variation of the following response.
“We don’t follow the Old Testament law because Jesus died for our sins and we aren’t under the law anymore, we’re under grace.”
(Seriously, we were all taught this response in Sunday school as children. Go ahead and try it!)
Most evangelicals are also taught that they don’t get to pick what parts of the bible to follow. Vines highlights the cognitive dissonance that’s created by these axioms. He begs the question: If grace is good enough to negate laws about shellfish, beards, and monthly cycles why not laws about homosexuality? I felt this was perhaps the strongest argument against these particular verses. These types of calls for intellectual consistency posed the greatest challenges to my own views of the bible.
The third set of Old Testament passages used to condemn same-sex behavior is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Vine’s looks at the big picture of the Sodom and Gomorrah tale, including the Jewish moral context in which it was written. He contrasts the hospitality of Abraham and Lot with that of the men of two cities. Next he compares those events to Mosaic Law regarding the treatment of strangers.
Prior to the events at Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham meets three angelic strangers. He treats them as honored guests; washing their feet and feeding them. (Genesis 18:1-8). Lot does likewise when the group of strangers – minus one – arrive in Sodom. (Genesis 19:1-3). The actions of these two men reflect the Mosaic laws governing hospitality towards strangers. Their actions are also a sharp contrast to the men of Sodom and Gomorrah who seek to demean, subjugate, and conquer their visitors through vicious gang rape.
For centuries theologians and laymen have held up Sodom and Gomorrah as an object lesson on the depravity and consequences of homosexual behavior. What Matthew points out – and what any person who spends time with the text and context can see — is that the damning sin of the sister cities was injustice, not homosexuality. (Genesis 18-19:28, Matthew 10:14-15)
The book takes a more nuanced approach when dealing with the three New Testament verses. Romans 1:26-27, 1st Corinthians 6:9, and 1st Timothy 1:10 are not so easily rebuffed. But, Vines asks the reader to consider Paul’s cultural understanding of the issue. What did Paul mean when he used words like natural, unnatural and effeminate to describe same-sex behavior? Was he really condemning homosexual orientation?
Debates about whether sexual orientation is a choice or a genetic disposition raged for decades, but that particular issue seems to be settled. While the fighting continues over same-sex marriage, most people including Al Mohler, have accepted the overwhelming scientific evidence supporting a genetic role in sexuality.
But the modern understanding of sexual orientation was foreign to 1st century writers like Paul. History documents widespread acceptance of same-sex behavior, including those that modern people find repugnant. Consider ancient Rome where pederasty was so common that it is celebrated in the engravings on the Warren Cup. Vines suggest that to understand Paul’s we must understand the sexual mores of his era.
Biblical and secular writings show that contentions weren’t with homosexuality, but gender roles. Same-sex behavior was an accepted practice. What ancient people found to be “unnatural” was for a male to take a submissive sexual role. Males who did so were effectively debasing themselves to a female gender role. It was considered effeminate, but it was especially debasing for a male of high social status. The submissive sexual role was for women and others of inconsequential social standing.
There still exists a strong constituency for gender roles in Christianity. But many are beginning to push back and reject the sexism inherent in the biblical cultural context. But it must be noted that Paul wasn’t simply parroting the societal norms of his day. The rest of his works bear out a desire for believers to find healthy outlets for their sexuality. God and the Gay Christian contends is that Paul was speaking out against uncontrolled sexual lust. A problem which he and his contemporaries believed was manifested in the “debasement” and “self-abuse” of willing taking a submissive same-sex role. However “backwards” some of Paul’s views may seem to modern readers, there is still some wisdom to be gained. Committed monogamous relationships, gay and straight, provide fertile ground for personal and spiritual growth and benefit society in a multitude of ways.
I found this book easy to read. The arguments were well structured and clear. Matt’s desire to enter an often vitriolic debate with humility and grace impressed me. The fact that he engages with scripture on the same terms as most conservative evangelicals is an important tool in creating understanding. This book could open constructive dialog between affirming and non-affirming Christians.Unfortunately – and certainly to my discredit – I have little interest in bridging that gap.
While I saw Matt’s relationship to scripture as a strength in dealing with evangelicals, it was a roadblock for me. It felt very much like Matt was “lawyering up” with the Bible. He uses it as a rule book that, if parsed correctly, can absolutely define morality, theology, and philosophy. This approach to scripture leaves me feeling cold and sterile. I find that I quickly become cynical and resistant to the truths that it can offer. Also many moments felt like Matt was working to justify himself to his own conscience. I fully understand this need and desire. I’ve spent great deals of time picking at biblical texts to grasp some shred of existential peace.
Call it conscience, the Holy Spirit, or heresy, but I no longer see the bible these ways. For this reason the book wasn’t for me. I liked where Matt ended up theologically, but I didn’t necessarily enjoy how he got there. But, there’s no fault for him in that. It reflects entirely on me and not the author or the book. Truth be told I don’t think Matt wrote this book for progressive/liberal/mainstream Christians. This was a book written by a conservative Christian to progress conservative Christianity and that’s something I can definitely support.
This book is a kind, respectful, meticulous argument
If your loved one has asked you to, please read this book, it's important to them. It's important to both of your walks in Christ.
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The Bible makes it VERY clear that GOD is not okay with homosexuality. In fact, it says that it’s an abomination to HIM.Read more