The Christian Post has recently published an interview with Matthew Vines, a response from various Christian theologians, and a series of brief personal essays. Here is my response:
I was reluctant to accept the Christian Post’s invitation to respond to Matthew Vines for three reasons:
1. The Post asked me to write about 600 words in response to a 2,600 word interview, in which they had embedded a video of a nearly 10,000-word speech Vines gave defending his views.
I’ve written extensively about homosexuality in the past, responding briefly and in depth to the kinds of arguments Vines makes, sharing some of my own experiences, and offering some reflections on friendship and living in obedience to Christian teaching.
I know the territory well—well enough to know it would be impossible to offer a meaningful response to so much in so little space.
However, it is worth responding—even if only briefly—to Vines’s claim that, because of the traditional teaching on sexuality, he is “uniquely excluded” from the possibility of experiencing love and companionship.
I understand and relate to his frustration. Growing up as a gay teenager, the only messages I heard from the church were negative. Most in our culture—including many Christians—uphold romantic and sexual love as the most important form of love. But God forbade the sexual and romantic love I desired. Was I, as Vines seems to fear, just to be left out in the cold?
When I was an undergraduate, I read Aelred of Rievaulx’s treatise On Spiritual Friendship. This little book, and my own experiences of Christian friendship, have done a lot to change my perspective on chastity and loneliness.
Friendship, according to Aelred, is based on shared goals. He distinguishes between different kinds of friendship: carnal friendship, based on shared pursuit of pleasure; worldly friendship, based on mutual advantage; and spiritual friendship, grounded in shared discipleship.
Aelred insists that, contrary to the transitory nature of so many contemporary friendships, a friend in Christ “loves always” (Prov. 17:17). This is very different from the kind of casual friendship that is common in our culture (Facebook informs me that I currently have 563 “friends”). He also discusses how to select and cultivate lasting and Christ-centered friendships.
This helped me to see that obedience to Christ offered more than just the denial of sex and romance. Although Christian discipleship can be costly, it need not be lonely. And this insight has been confirmed in the lasting Christian friendships I have formed over the years.
2. In contemporary Christian culture, “defending the sanctity of marriage” almost always means one thing and one thing only: opposition to same-sex marriage.
I don’t buy the interpretive gymnastics Vines uses to justify gay marriage. But Jesus clearly teaches that those who divorce and remarry, except in very limited circumstances, commit adultery. I am much more concerned by the widespread Christian acceptance of anti-Biblical standards for divorce and remarriage than I am by the more limited debate in favor of a similarly watered down stance on gay marriage.
I think Vines gets the Bible wrong on sexual ethics; but in contemporary Christian culture, he is hardly alone in doing so. So I am cautious about responding to Vines’s arguments as if they somehow represent a uniquely serious challenge to Christian teaching.
3. Finally, the Post invited me to present my perspective as a Christian “who has struggled with same-sex attraction and believes the Bible calls homosexuality sinful.” This is the wrong way to frame the issue.
First, “homosexuality” is a broad and ambiguous term. Unlike Vines, I believe that sex between two men or two women is always sinful. But there is a critical distinction between sinful actions, and sexual attraction to the same sex: this attraction is a source of temptation, but not, in itself, sinful.
Second, the Post uses the past tense when talking about struggles with same-sex attraction: one who “has struggled,” with the suggestion that one does not struggle now. Every Christian experiences a variety of temptations, and like most Christians, I experience ongoing sexual temptations. However, we can choose how we respond to temptation. Christ himself was “tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Heb. 4:15). Temptations are not an obstacle to holiness: giving in to them is.
I hope that this response—limited as it is—clarifies some concerns, and helps to refocus the discussion along more productive lines.
Much more can and needs to be said, both to adequately develop the points I have made, and to address the many points I had to skip. But I am already past my 600 word target, so this will have to do.
Thank you, Ron. Well put.
I realize this was written a few months ago; my question is this – you talk about sinful actions and sexual attraction but what about sexual orientation? How does that term fit in to the scheme of things. Does orientation perpetuate ongoing same sex attractions? Assuming that orientation means some kind of fixed or persistent direction of one’s sexual desire whether intentional or not.