Matthew Vines. God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. Convergent Books, 2014. (213 pages)
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. (3)
1 A Tree and Its Fruit
SEARCHING OUT WHAT THE BIBLE REALLY TEACHES. Six passages in the Bible–Genesis 19:5; Leviticus 18:22; Leviticus 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; and 1 Timothy 1:10–have stood int he way of countless gay people who long for acceptance from their Christian parents, friends, and churches.
[via: The problem with this list is that those who are in opposition of same-sex relationships cite the entire Biblical narrative in their argument. Thus, saying, “there’s really only six/seven passages,” does not hold much weight to the other side.]
Mandatory celibacy for gay Christians differs from any other kind of Christian self-denial, including involuntary celibacy for some straight Christians. … for gay Christians, mandatory celibacy affirms something different: the sinfulness of every possible expression of their sexuality. (17)
Despite the prayers of countless gay Christians for God to change their sexual orientation, exclusive same-sex attraction persists for nearly all of them. … In order to truly feel from sin as well as the temptation to sin, they must constantly attempt what has proven impossible: to reconstitute themselves so they are no longer sexual beings at all. … Functionally, it’s castration. (18)
It requires gay Christians to build walls around their emotional lives so high that many find it increasingly difficult to form meaningful human connection of all kinds. (18)
A MORE ACCURATE UNDERSTANDING. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1013, “[God] will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” But mandatory celibacy for gay Christians is more than many of them can bear. It produces bad fruit in many of their lives, and for some, it fuels despair to the point of suicide. (19)
[via: Vines’ argument here needs contending with, as the rates of depression and suicide are high in the LGBT community. However, the argument that “celibacy for gay Christians is more than many of them can bear,” may set up Vines’ position to be one of subjective pragmatism–an argument for the nullification of a virtue/moral based upon the difficulty of adhering to the virtue/moral–which needs caution. The other side could extrapolate this to all other morals, and lead to the abhorrent “moral relativism.”]
2 Telescopes, Tradition, and Sexual Orientation
NEW INFORMATION, NEW VIEWPOINTS. For Christian leaders at the time, the problem with Galileo’s belief was not simply that it ran counter to their interpretation of the Bible. It also ran counter to everyone’s interpretation for a millennium and a half of church history. (23)
Christians did not change their minds about the solar system because they lost respect for their Christian forebears or for the authority of Scripture. They changed their minds because they were confronted with evidence their predecessors had never considered. …the invention of the telescope offered a new lens to use in interpreting those verses, opening the door to a more accurate interpretation. (24)
The telescope didn’t lead Christians to reject Scripture. It simply led them to clarify their understanding of Scripture. (24)
Does new information we have about homosexuality also warrant a reinterpretation of Scripture? (25)
[via: This is precisely why this issue is so difficult. This is not about “six passages.” This is about an entire way of thinking, and understanding that is being taken to task. If I have been reading this Bible wrong on this issue, when it is so clear, then what else have I been reading wrong? That may be too much for some.]
DEFINING TERMS: AFFIRMING AND NON-AFFIRMING.
SIX PASSAGES THAT ADDRESS SAME-SEX BEHAVIOR.
A MORE PERSONAL VIEW OF THE TRADITIONAL INTERPRETATION.
HOW TRADITIONAL IS THE CONCEPT OF SEXUAL ORIENTATION?. …homosexuality was not seen as a different sexual orientation that distinguished a minority of people from the heterosexual majority. It was considered instead to be a manifestation of normal sexual desire pursued to excess–a behavior anyone might engage in if he didn’t keep his passions in check. (31)
SEXUAL PREFERENCE VERSES SEXUAL ORIENTATION. Based on the literary evidence, ancient societies looked at sex in the same way. … A man’s exclusive interest in the same sex would have been viewed along the lines of vegetarianism today–a different choice based on different preferences. It would not have been seen as pointing to a different sexual orientation. (34)
SAME-SEX BEHAVIOR IN ANCIENT HISTORY.
THE BOUNDARIES THAT MATTERED: GENDER ROLES. So same-sex relations were not fully accepted even in societies that tolerated pederasty, prostitution, and sex with slaves. They were approved only when a man dominated someone of a lower social status. Ironically, that means the equal-status gay marriages we see today would not have been accepted in most of the ancient world. So much for the so-called tolerance of the Greeks and Romans. (37)
SAME-SEX RELATIONS AS EXCESS, NOT ORIENTATION.
The pleasure enjoyed by males with males and females with females seems to be beyond nature, and the boldness of those who first engaged in this practice seems to have arisen out of an inability to control pleasure. – Plato
Plato’s label “beyond nature” (also translated as “unnatural”) would stick, as would the understanding that same-sex behavior was an extreme to which any lustful person might succumb. (38)
THE MODERN UNDERSTANDING OF SEXUAL ORIENTATION. …all Christian writings before the past century that mention same-sex behavior carry this implicit assumption: even if some people are more tempted by same-sex relations than others, no one is exclusively oriented toward members of the same sex. (41)
This means that the church’s explicit requirement that gay Christians commit to lifelong celibacy is new. And while some argue that we cannot allow experience to lead us to new understandings of Scripture, our forefathers have done so. Christians made remarkable shifts in their understanding regarding Gentiles, slaves, and the place of the earth in relation to the sun. And we are about to see, the new information we have about sexual orientation actually requires us to reinterpret Scripture no matter what stance we take on same-sex relationships. If non-affirming Christians choose to maintain their interpretation of the Bible on homosexuality, they will have to change their interpretation on something else: celibacy. (41)
3 The Gift of Celibacy
Christians throughout history have affirmed that lifelong celibacy is a spiritual gift and calling, not a path that should be forced upon someone. …it must be a choice. (44)
[via: but the counter to this argument is “you being disobedient.”]
“IT IS NOT GOOD FOR THE MAN TO BE ALONE”. …the text doesn’t focus on the gender differences between Adam and Eve. Rather, it focuses on their similarity as human beings. (46)
JESUS SAID CELIBACY IS GIVEN, NOT IMPOSED.
“BETTER TO MARRY THAN TO BURN WITH PASSION”.
“FALSE TEACHERS” WILL FORBID MARRIAGE. …by requiring gay Christians to view all their sexual desires as temptations to sin, it causes many of them to devalue, if not loathe, their bodies. (50)
[via: I find this line to be double-edged. On one hand, I appreciate Vines’s extrapolation of the Christian discipline of celibacy, that it is chosen abstinence. But on the other hand, that chosen abstinence also has resonances to “devalue, and loathe” the body, which is precisely why some ascetics chose this route. It was a way of elevating the spirit. So, this argument could possibly prove to be weak if pressed further.]
Forced abstention from marriage and from “unclean” foods is wrong because it promotes hostility toward God’s creation. (50)
EARLY REJECTIONS OF MARRIAGE. …with shorter life expectancies and a high infant mortality rate, early Christians associated sex with death as much as with pleasure. (51)
AN UNTRADITIONAL PROPOSAL. Marriage and sex are good parts of God’s creation. Celibacy can fulfill them only by affirming them, not by condemning them. (56)
UNDERMINING THE MEANING OF CELIBACY.
4 The Real Sin of Sodom
TWO CITIES DESTROYED, BUT WHY?
THE OLD TESTAMENT VIEW OF SODOM. The fact that no Jewish writings on Sodom prior to the first century connected the city’s sins to same-sex behavior may surprise modern readers. But the original understanding of the story, focusing on oppression and inhospitality, has a much stronger basis in the text. (65)
Gang Rape, Not Sexual Attraction. Aggression and dominance were the motives in these situations, not sexual attraction. (65)
Gender and Hospitality. …do any biblical texts that directly mention same-sex behavior describe it as a violation of God’s complementary design for men and women? (66)
His action primarily indicates that defending his guests was more important to Lot than defending his flesh and blood. but it’s also true that the gender of Lot’s guests played a role–not because of Lot’s concerns about the bodily “sameness” involved in same-sex behavior, but because of the gender honor men held in ancient times. As we saw in chapter 2, men int he ancient world were considered to be of greater value than women, which made raping a man a more serious violation. (67)
The issue in both instances is patriarchy, not the anatomical complementarity of men and women. (67)
NEW TESTAMENT REFERENCES TO THE SODOM STORY. (Regarding Jude 7)…the phrase “strange flesh” likely refers to the attempted rape of angels instead of humans. (69)
None of this is to say that the biblical writers took a positive view of same-sex relations. As we’ll see in the next three chapters, they didn’t. But no biblical writers suggested that the sin of Sodom was primarily or even partly engaging in same-sex behavior. (69)
PHILO’S CONDEMNATION OF SEXUAL EXCESS.
Incapable of bearing such satiety, plunging like cattle, they threw off from their necks the law of nature and applied themselves to deep drinking of strong liquor and dainty feeding and forbidden forms of intercourse. Not only in their mad lust for women did they violate the marriages of their neighbours, but also men mounted males without respect for the sex nature which the active partner shares with the passive; and so when they tried to beget children they were discovered to be incapable of any but a sterile seed. – Plato
He was condemning same-sex relations as the excessive pleasure seeking of men who could be satisfied with women. He was not taking a position on the issue we are facing today: gay people and their committed relationships. (71)
THE SHIFT IN HOW THE STORY IS READ. By the start of the Middle Ages in the fifth century, same-sex behavior had replaced inhospitality as the dominant understanding of the sin that brought God’s judgment on Sodom. (72)
What Caused the Shift in Interpretation? In light of that history, we might conclude that Christians were influenced by their ascetic environment to interpret Scripture in ways that explicitly condemned taboo practices. (74)
5 The Abominations of Leviticus
THE OLD LAW AND CHRIST’S ATONEMENT.
MORAL LAWS VERSUS CEREMONIAL LAWS? …we can still help to answer the question of whether Christians should observe the prohibitions of male same-sex intercourse when we focus on the reason for the laws’ inclusion in Leviticus. (82)
Are the laws we find in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 grounded in a view of complementarity that applies to Christians? (82)
THREE PERTINENT ISSUES IN OLD TESTAMENT LAW. In the vast majority of cases, toevah (תועבה) refers to idolatrous practices of Gentiles, which led Old Testament scholar Phyllis Bird to conclude that “it is not an ethical term, but a term of boundary marking,” with “a basic sense of taboo.” (85)
[via: But is it “taboo” because “God says it is?” There seems to be a few theological connections missing with this explanation, though compelling.]
BACK TO THE ISSUE OF GENDER COMPLEMENTARITY.
Same-Sex Relations and the Subordinate Status of Women. Philo said the active partner was “a guide and teacher of those greatest of all evils, unmanliness and…effeminacy”. (87)
But in the ancient world, deeply misogynistic attitudes were the norm. (87)
Reading Leviticus in Its Ancient Context. Old Testament scholars Richard Elliott Friedman and Shawna Dolansky have argued that Leviticus prohibited all male same-sex intercourse “since by cross-cultural perception such intercourse would necessarily denigrate the passive partner and violate his equal status under God’s law.”
| None of these considerations lends support to the idea that the Leviticus verses are grounded in a commitment to anatomical complementarity. In fact, the entire question of how bodies fit together doesn’t seem to be on the radar. The concern we see instead is centered on the proper ordering of gender roles in a patriarchal society. (90)
PATRIARCHY AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD. …in the ancient world, women were not thought simply to have “equal value but different roles.” They were thought to have less value. …the word virtue actually comes from the Latin word for “male.” (91)
Patriarchy in Context. Yes, ancient Israel was dominated by patriarchal structures and norms, which we see reflected throughout the Old Testament–including in its prohibitions of male same-sex intercourse. But not only is that unrelated to anatomical gender complementarity, it isn’t even the kind of hierarchical gender complementarity some non-affirming Christians today advocate. That’s because the verses reflect the inferior value that was commonly accorded to women in ancient times, not just their subordinate status in those societies. (93)
6 Excess Passion and Unnatural Acts in Romans 1
THE HEART OF ROMANS 1.
THE REASON FOR PAUL’S CONDEMNATION.
A CONDEMNATION OF EXCESS PASSION. Both Dio and Paul saw everyone as having the same basic appetite for sex. In moderation, that appetite manifested itself in heterosexual desire and behavior. But in excess, it led to same-sex desire and behavior. (105)
Paul wasn’t condemning the expression of a same-sex orientation as opposed to the expression of an opposite-sex orientation. He was condemning excess as opposed to moderation. (105)
Same-sex behavior condemned as excess doesn’t translate to homosexuality condemned as an orientation–or as a loving expression of that orientation. (106)
THE QUESTION OF NATURE.
Customary and Uncustomary Gender Roles. These texts show us how the terms natural and unnatural were used in ancient writings. They were not synonyms for straight and gay. They were boundary markers between what did and didn’t conform to customary gender roles in a patriarchal context. (109)
In societies that viewed women as inferior, sexual relationships between equal-status partners could not be accepted. Same-sex unions in particular disrupted a social order that required a strict hierarchy between the sexes. (109)
NATURE, HONOR, AND SHAME. Paul himself used the word “nature” to refer to what we understand as “custom.” (112)
Even though Romans 1:18-32 cannot be understood as a narrative about “sameness” and difference, it can be understood as a narrative about honor and shame. (114)
USING A GOOD THING WELL. From the church’s early centuries through the nineteenth century, commentators consistently identified the moral problem in Romans 1:26-27 as “unbridled passions,” not the expression of a same-sex orientation. Furthermore, no biblical interpreter prior to the twentieth century even hinted that Paul’s statements were intended to consign a whole group of people to lifelong celibacy. (115)
7 Will Gay People Inherit the Kingdom of God?
THE TWO WORDS IN QUESTION.
THE GREEK WORD MALAKOI (“EFFEMINATE”). It literally means “soft,” and it appears elsewhere in the New Testament to describe fine clothing (see Matthew 11:8) | In a modern context, the term was used to describe a lack of self-control, weakness, laziness, or cowardice. (119)
The word malakos was actually more frequently applied to men who succumbed to the charms of women. (120)
Note how malakos was translated in these Bible versions:
- “weaklinges” (1525, Tyndale New Testament)
- “wantons” (1587, Geneva Bible)
- “debauchers” (1852), James Murdock translation)
- “licentious” (1904), Ernest Malan translation)
- “sensual” (1923, Edgar Goodspeed translation)
As we’ve seen, malakoi doesn’t refer to merely a single act. It encompasses an entire disposition toward immoderation. (122)
THE GREEK WORD ARSENOKOITAI (“ABUSERS OF THEMSELVES WITH MANKIND”). First, the component parts of a word don’t necessarily tell us what it means. (123)
The only reliable way to define a word is to analyze its use in as many different contexts as possible. – Dale Martin
[via: If we accept Martin’s reasoning, then at some point are we just going to have to say, “we don’t know,” because of the paucity of the word in ancient Greek?]
…arsenokoites may describe “economic exploitation by some sexual means.” (125)
If arsenokoites does refer to male same-sex behavior, it’s possible that it refers to pederasty. But given the scarcity of the word in ancient literature, the most we can say with confidence is that it may refer to some kind of economic exploitation involving sexual behavior. (126)
MINOR SHIFT, MAJOR IMPLICATIONS. …here’s a sampling of how arsenokoitai was translated into English from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries:
- 1525: “abusars of them selves with the mankynde” (Tyndale New Testament)
- 1587: “buggerers” (Geneva Bible)
- 1729: “the brutal” (Mace New Testament)
- 1755: “sodomites” (Wesley’s New Testament)
- 1899: “liers with mankind” (Douay-Rheims American Edition)
…starting in the mid-twentieth century…
- 1946: “homosxuals” (RSV)
- 1958: “pervert” (Phillips)
- 1966: “homosexual perverts” (TEV)
- 1973: “homosexual offenders” (NIV)
- 1987: “practicing homosexuals” (NAB)
WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE US? The bottom line is this: The Bible doesn’t directly address the issue of same-sex orientation–or the expression of that orientation. (130)
8 The Biblical Argument for Marriage Equality
MARRIAGE AS A REFLECTION OF CHRIST AND THE CHURCH.
HOW DOES THIS VIEW OF MARRIAGE APPLY TO SAME-SEX COUPLES? If the essence of marriage involves a covenant-keeping relationship of mutual self-giving then two men or two women can fulfill that purpose as well as a man and a woman can. But is lifelong commitment between two adults sufficient for realizing a Christian basis for marriage? Or is there something unique about heterosexual relationships that prevents same-sex couples from truly illustrating Christ’s love for the church? (137)
Our question isn’t whether the Bible addresses the modern concepts of sexual orientation and same-sex marriage. We know it doesn’t. Instead, our question is: Can we translate basic biblical principles about marriage to this new situation without losing something essential in the process? (137)
THE MATTER OF GENDER HIERARCHY. Christians did not work for change so that slaves would be regarded as having equal value while maintaining a subordinate status and role in society. (143)
THE LANGUAGE OF “ONE FLESH”.
CAN SAME-SEX COUPLES BECOME “ONE FLESH”? So based on Ephesians, gender difference isn’t necessary to become one flesh in the Bible’s understanding of those words. What is necessary is that two lives are joined as one in the context of a binding covenant. (146)
THE DIFFERENCE THAT MATTERS. I think it’s the flawed understanding of sex as a “reunion” of two incomplete halves that’s most likely to foster a selfish attitude. If marriage is viewed primarily as a path to completing oneself, then it risks becoming self-absorbed. Marriage is designed to be a human reflection of the only love that offers true completion: God’s love for us in Christ. (147)
9 What the Image of God Teaches Us About Gay Christians
THE MEANING OF BEING MADE IN GOD’S IMAGE.
DOES THE IMAGE REQUIRE HETEROSEXUALITY? Given that our identity as God’s image bearers is what sets us apart from the rest of creation, it doesn’t make sense to say that God’s image is uniquely found in something we have in common with so many other creatures. (152)
OUR IMPRINTED NEED FOR RELATIONSHIP.
CREATED TO BE IN COVENANT. If we tell people that their every desire for intimate, sexual bonding is shameful and disordered, we encourage them to hate a core part of who they were created to be. (158)
[via: Reminds me of the Ryan Robertson story]
SEXUAL ORIENTATION, SIN, AND THE GOOD NEWS.
AFFIRMING GOD’S GOOD CREATION.
10 Seeds of a Modern Reformation
THE STORY OF KATHY BALDOCK. …glib responses do not do justice to the lives, faith, and experiences of transgender people. (167)
THE STORY OF DR. JAMES BROWNSON.
THE STORY OF JUSTIN LEE.
THE REFORMATION PROJECT.
THE WITNESS OF FLESH AND BLOOD.
I find myself compelled to state a qualifier, that wrestling with books and authors, even to quote from them, is not a tacit endorsement of them, their content, or an expression of what I believe. I will explicitly share my thoughts when appropriate, but I do so selectively, carefully, and sparingly. The compulsion to state this comes from the observation that the subject of Christianity and homosexuality divides the Church in our contemporary setting perhaps more than any other subject. In addition, my lengthy study of the subject has been enough for some to have already labeled me with different identifiers, all of which I reject. What I will affirm is that this topic is too important to merely spat at each other with opinions and uneducated hermeneutics. This demands hard work, critical thinking, deep study, and most of all, love. Love enough to engage with a multitude of voices with respect and humility. On this [study] blog you will see that I’m attempting to do just that. I invite you to join me in this journey.
Okay. Now to the critical review.
Vines did his homework. Much of what is written in his book is summarized distillations of other works, which ought to compel a reader to contend with his Notes and Bibliography. For that, this book is an important one for the conversation because it it accessible to the everyday person. I have not seen much evidence to suggest he has misrepresented much (though clearly some are going to disagree), but his presentation is clear, and moves the reader through the arguments carefully.
There are two contentions worth noting. First is regarding Sodom and Gomorrah. On page 62, he writes,
…the biblical text does not justify this interpretation. (62)
That interpretation being God’s judgment against same-sex relations. My contention is that there are many facets to the text, and many ways of reading Scripture, a hermeneutic that I presume Vines himself would support. Yet, throughout his book, he is at times a little too hasty to dismiss alternative readings. I feel that there must be room for variant readings, especially given translation history, and original language work. This is, in my opinion, central to the dual realities we are facing here, a) that variant readings have gotten us here to this point on this issue, and b) that variant readings are precisely what Vines is attempting to do to get us out of this current point.
Second, Vines closes his penultimate chapter with,
So it isn’t gay Christians who are sinning against God by entering into monogamous, loving relationships. It is the church that is sinning against them by rejecting their intimate relationships. (162)
As there are variant interpretations, so there are variant applications, and this on what I think is Vines’s weakest chapter. This statement can only be affirmed if previous arguments hold, and the tone of it may be perceived as a bit snarky and hypocritical, that you would label something like this “sin,” when it is unsubstantiated reading and reasoning is what Vines is attempting to redeem.
Regardless, if you’re at all opinionated or intrigued on this topic, first read Torn, and then read this book. Then comment. 🙂