A Review of God and the Gay Christian

God and the Gay Christian - Matthew VinesI got the chance to spend some quality time with Matthew Vines earlier this year at a conference, and it was clear through both our interactions and his writing that Matthew is a sincere man who engages this conversation with grace. Matthew takes Scripture seriously, and he argues for affirmation of same-sex marriage because he truly believes that is the redemptive vision of Scripture and the most loving posture the church can have toward gay people. I want to say from the outset of my review of his book, God and the Gay Christian, that it’s obvious Matthew has been deeply troubled by the way the church has mistreated the gay community, and he feels it can’t reflect God’s heart toward men and women made in His image. I believe he’s correct in that analysis, and while I disagree with his answers to the problem, I believe the church would do well to listen to the concerns he raises because they’re concerns that need to be taken seriously if we’re going to demonstrate love and compassion toward this group of men and women loved by God.

Here is a summary of his main points. He acknowledges these are not new arguments; rather they are previously stated Revisionist arguments that he seeks to make more accessible to a popular audience: Matthew says we now have a more advanced understanding of sexual orientation than they had when the Bible was written. Because we now believe a gay orientation is fixed and unchosen, and the biblical authors were writing to a culture that only understood homosexual behavior in the context of their patriarchal society that viewed gay sex as excessive lust, we have to acknowledge the gap between Scripture’s context and ours, admitting Scripture doesn’t speak to the idea of loving, monogamous same sex relationships. Biblical condemnation of homosexual behavior is primarily related to gender hierarchy in a patriarchal context (rather than gender complementarity), and since we no longer live in such a context then we should reconsider the commands that were written to that specific culture for that specific culture. By imposing the same commands in our current context, the church is mandating celibacy for all gay Christians and forbidding an avenue for them to sanctify their sexuality in the context of a Christian marriage, causing tremendous damage that results in the “bad fruit” of isolation and self-hatred for gay men and women made in the image of God.

With regard to sexual orientation: Matthew is correct that we now tend to categorize individuals as gay or straight and see sexual behavior to be the overflow of their orientation. He says in biblical times homosexual sex typically occurred in addition to one’s heterosexual marriage, that gay sex was an expression of excessive lust, and there was no such thing as an entire group of people with a gay orientation. Rather than running with his assumption that we’ve made progress in our understanding of sexuality, however, I think we should question whether or not we ought to consider sexuality with such rigid categories now. He says the idea of lifelong celibacy sounds like a death sentence to gay people because they have an unchosen orientation that cannot change (and he points to the failure of the ex-gay movement as “evidence” of this), but I’m not sure our modern construct is necessarily correct. Perhaps the story of sexual orientation, were it told to us in different terms that shaped us in different ways, would create space for more of a spectrum and erase the idea of “mandated celibacy for an entire group of people” altogether. Perhaps then, all celibate people would feel a sense of solidarity in pursuing chastity in light of our circumstances as opposed to gay Christians perceiving it as a mandate imposed upon a particular class of people.

Having said that: it is the context we’re in, and we do now think in terms of rigid categories when it comes to sexuality, which does intensify one’s sense of an enduring, unchosen sexual orientation, and can lead one to feel like they’re doomed to a life of failure if they’re never permitted to express it because they belong to a distinct class of people. Matthew raises a good point when he says: “For gay Christians to be celibate in an attempt to expunge even their desires for romantic love requires them to live in permanent fear of sexual intimacy and love. That is a wholly different kind of self-denial than the chastening of lustful desires the church expects of all believers. It requires gay Christians to build walls around their emotional lives so high that many find it increasingly difficult to form meaningful human connections of all kinds” (pg 19). The church has yet to offer a compelling answer to this criticism, and even if our modern way of thinking has caused some of the problem, it is a problem that gay Christians should not be forced to face alone. I don’t believe the challenge of celibacy in light of our context permits a re-imagination of Scripture’s teaching on sexual expression, as the difficulty of obedience (whatever the reason) has never been an occasion to question the command itself, but we need to honestly wrestle with a way forward if gay Christians are going to flourish as sexual and relational beings.

Matthew goes on to claim that condemnation of homosexual behavior in Scripture is related to a patriarchal context that devalued women. Because women were inferior to men, it was degrading for a man to be treated like a woman, which is what occurred in the act of gay sex. He believes Scripture’s condemnation of gay sex is rooted in that rather than considering gay sex sinful because homosexual behavior fails to align with God’s design for sexual expression based on gender complementarity. As I worked through his book, however, I found myself wishing he would interact a little more with the idea that gender complementarity really could be the basis of Scripture’s condemnation of gay sex. He dismisses that notion and says an assumption that Scripture’s commands are rooted in gender complementarity is “speculative”, but he does not substantiate that claim and it seems Matthew’s assumptions are speculative. To say Scripture’s condemnation of homosexual behavior is primarily related to the patriarchal context, and that Paul’s primary concern was excessive lust as opposed to the actual act of gay sex, is conjectural as well—and far-fetched at that. He reiterates time again that the Bible does not explicitly refer to anatomical complementarity in its discussion of sexual expression, but it seems complementarity could be so obvious that the writers of Scripture might not have seen the need to reiterate it every time they discussed sexual ethics. I personally would need more than the hypothetical assertion Matthew makes in order to re-imagine the meaning behind Scripture’s condemnation of gay sex.

matthew-vines_0Because he believes a gay orientation is rather fixed, and because he believes Scripture is not referring to a monogamous loving gay relationship in its condemnation of gay sex, Matthew believes the church is placing an unbearable burden on the backs of gay people by telling them faithful discipleship requires a life of celibacy. He suggests that a Christian marriage is not marked by gender difference, but by a one flesh union, and that gay Christians should not be excluded from this covenantal bond. He makes some emotionally charged arguments that say our choice not to offer the hope of marriage to gay Christians can lead to self-destruction and even suicide, implying that if we care at all about gay Christians living healthy, whole, integrated lives then we have no choice but to broaden our understanding of a Christian marriage.

As a gay Christian who affirms the church’s historical teaching on marriage, I do not agree that changing our understanding of marriage is the way forward for the church. I do agree with Matthew that we need a new way forward, however, because I’ve seen much of the despair he describes firsthand. Matthew supports his claim by sharing some heart-breaking stories of gay Christians who crumbled under the weight of the call to celibacy, and I grieve that some dismiss those stories as irrelevant to the conversation at hand. They are not irrelevant. They’re my friends and they’re people the church has failed. Perhaps the stories are not reasons to shift on theology (as Vines proposes), but the stories do demand us to make tremendous changes when it comes to pastoral care. The few stories he references represent thousands of others who have walked in their shoes, and to the extent that Matthew is seeking to offer hope to those hurting people, I applaud him.

There have been a number of conservative Christians who have refuted Revisionist theology (and are refuting Vines’ work already). I value their theological contribution immensely and believe we need thoughtful people addressing these questions in our current context. But no small number of these individuals dedicate their rebuttals to their wives and children, tearing down Revisionist arguments without adequately addressing the despair of the gay Christians who will never have a family of their own. Addressing Revisionist arguments without acknowledging the despair the arguments are seeking to alleviate leaves gay Christians feeling personally dismissed as quickly as the arguments. Those stories shouldn’t be dismissed.

Gay Christians, Matthew says, “pursue same-sex unions for the same reasons straight Christians pursue opposite-sex unions. They desire intimacy, companionship, and long-term commitment” (pg 109). We gay Christians desire—and need—each of those in order to flourish. Matthew seems to think a sexual relationship is the primary context in which those needs should be met, and I disagree with him on that point. I hope the church will recognize the problems with assuming a shift in theological interpretation that affirms gay sexual relationships is the answer to the concerns Matthew raises. I also hope the church won’t stop there, though, and will listen closely to the claim he’s making that gay Christians feel the need to enter into sexual relationships because they don’t have a place for those needs to be met within the structures we currently have in place in the church. We cannot refuse to meet those needs for intimacy and then chastise gay Christians for seeking to express their love elsewhere. The concerns Matthew raises warrant more than a critical analysis of his claims. I hope the church will listen closely to his concerns and offer a compelling alternative for human flourishing that aligns with the church’s traditional understanding of marriage.

Julie Rodgers

Julie Rodgers shares life with inner city youth in West Dallas. She also writes and speaks about faith and sexuality, so check out her blog or find her on Twitter:@Julie_rodgers.


55 thoughts on “A Review of God and the Gay Christian

  1. Thank you for your thoughtful review, Julie. It is a good thing to be able to disagree with someone and still care about them. Thank you for demonstrating how to spar without vilifying. I have listened to Matthew’s YouTube videos and have come to similar conclusions about the insufficiency of his argument from scripture’s silence on some of the specifics; I would think some things were so obvious to the Jewish culture of the first century that the author would assume everyone everywhere would understand certain things about what is to be believed about the body, about marriage, about union, and what the take-home lessons are from the obvious complementariness of created man and woman.

    I long to figure out how to truly love those who believe differently than I, while still holding onto orthodox teaching.

    I just realized that I live in Matthew’s hometown, and would enjoy having lunch or a coke with him sometime, if the fact that I’m a married man with SSA wouldn’t close that door for him. I would really like to hear him out. (I do feel somewhat weird having conversations with Christians who affirm gay unions secondary to one’s gay-ness being immutable and foundational, as suddenly I’m the guy who is not being “true to himself”; I have always wanted to ask what they would have me do to live rightly.)

    I look forward to reading the book.

    • I definitely recommend reaching out to Matthew for a chat whenever the dust settles a little from his book release. He’s very thoughtful and gracious, and nothing from my interactions with him would lead me to believe he would be judgmental toward you or your situation at all. It’s much easier to be gracious toward groups of people who see from a different perspective when we have relationships with individuals from those groups.

    • Jim, you describe yourself as “a married man with SSA.” Perhaps there are millions like you. There are, no doubt, millions of other married men with Opposite Sex Attraction, who (like you, I assume) remain faithful to their wives. This, in spite of their fleshly desires for promiscuity. This is, it seems to me, obedience to God. Obedience to Scripture. This is accepting God’s answer to the the need for intimacy. And my question is, Why can’t Christians accept this and realize that in our fallen condition, we would never be completely satisfied with any arrangement? We will always be tempted, and we will always have to exercise self-restraint. All of us, whether we consider ourselves SSA or OSA. God’s provision of traditional marriage is enough to satisfy our need for intimacy. But none of us can expect to be completely satisfied all of the time.

      • Are you suggesting men who are predominantly or exclusively SSA enter into marriages with straight women. I would assume he would tell his fiancé the truth before marriage. Where do you think are the women who would sign up for this?

      • Hal, though you would think so, that was not the case in my situation. I entered into marriage 25 years ago this week with no one in the entire world knowing about my struggle. Times were a little different then. I wanted to be married (to a woman), had remained celibate with my SSA, and prayed that things would just work out.

        Well, they did work out, but in a little bit of a convoluted God-redeeming way. I didn’t tell anyone until 9 years later, and to make this short, told my wife, my accountability partner, my pastor, my family, my friends, and over the next few years went through pain and growth like nobody’s business. In hindsight, this struggle has been the thorn that has redeemed me through Christ’s love and mercy.

        I would not recommend an SSA man going into any marriage today hiding this from his wife. I would guess that the majority of the married men I knew of with SSA who disclosed after marriage have had divorces – but those cases also involved much infidelity on the man’s part. I have a few married SSA friends who have solid marriages who disclosed after marrying.

        Through my connections and friendships, I also know several young men with SSA who have disclosed to their girlfriends, and who have proceeded to get married with all the cards on the table. It CAN work. My married life with children is a blessing beyond my deserving, and at the same time is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

  2. Julie, thanks for showing how gay Christians who disagree can engage respectfully. I wish the rest of the Christian world would follow your example.

    One statement intrigued me, and I’d like to hear more about what you meant: “I’m not sure our modern construct is necessarily correct. Perhaps the story of sexual orientation, were it told to us in different terms that shaped us in different ways, would create space for more of a spectrum and erase the idea of “mandated celibacy for an entire group of people” altogether. Perhaps then, all celibate people would feel a sense of solidarity in pursuing chastity in light of our circumstances as opposed to gay Christians perceiving it as a mandate imposed upon a particular class of people.”

    What might that look like? Wouldn’t it still boil down to individuals following the leading of the Holy Spirit, rather than a leadership mandate?

    • Great question! I often wonder how much our sexuality is shaped by our context (where we live, at what point in history we live there, etc.). Because the idea of “gay” and “straight” exist as categories for sexual orientation in our context, it probably shapes how we experience all that comes with our perceived sexual orientation. If we lived in a time or place where those categories didn’t exist, we might all feel like we’re in the same boat a little more, with differences in the extent to which we experienced various draws toward various people, but more of a sense of solidarity without a “script” told to us as gay people that is drastically different from the “script” told to straight people (not to mention all the other scripts shaping our situation like marriage, the American Dream, friendship, etc.).

      With that said: we can’t step outside of our context and plug our ears to the scripts. Even if we realize they play a role in our experience to some degree, and even if we try to see through a different lens, our context still shapes us. It might be like someone saying they’re not going to use the internet because they don’t like the way it affects them, but the internet so powerfully shapes everything about their context and how everything around them operates that it would be impossible for their lives not to be hugely affected by the internet. I’m sure that’s a flawed analogy, but the whole concept is just something I’ve thought about a lot with regard to sexuality, attraction in general, friendship, etc.

  3. I continue to be thankful for your voice, Julie. I wish more conservatives could adopt your approach. It’s frustrating when Christians defend traditional marriage with only the intention of winning an argument over the gay opponent. We’re usually left with unanswered questions while straight Christians can merrily move along with their lives. “So what now?”

    I’ve kinda already expressed this to you before, but you have been so instrumental in my ability to find hope in celibacy. While it’s not an easy road, it’s a beautiful one. I still can believe in a loving God who calls me to abandon sexual desire and also embrace meaningful, intimate love. I didn’t know if I’d ever accept a good God and feel belonging down this path, but hope still burns because of folks like you guys who set the vision and the friends in my life who act on it.

    You’re a pretty awesome sister in Christ is what I’m saying, haha.

    • So encouraging! Thank you for just being so honest and supportive in general. I also (clearly) share your frustration with those who care more about winning an argument than caring for another person. I try to remind myself they really think the most loving thing they can do for that person is win the argument. They think that is sufficiently caring for the other person in that situation (or at least I assume that’s the case). Hopefully we can continue to pray and encourage others toward a both/and approach that errs on the side of over-extending oneself in an attempt to listen and understand, and show gratitude when we see it.

      • What a gracious response – “continue to pray and encourage others toward a both/and approach that errs on the side of over-extending oneself in an attempt to listen and understand, and show gratitude when we see it.” I couldn’t agree more…! Winning an argument never wins a thing if it compromises relationship, but we don’t learn that reality without heaps of mercy and people who are willing to go the distance with us, so there is much wisdom in patience, prayer, and compassion.

        I just had to comment on this because I was profoundly moved last week when I met with an old theology professor of mine whom I adored and respected a ton. I wanted to consult her on her theological understanding of homosexuality. But, what I received instead, was a heart willing to listen and suffer with me, a mind desiring to understand my own experience and wrestle with the reality of my story. She is genuinely questioning and seeking to understand Scripture and the reality of gay Christians, and while she did not give me what I was looking for (which is some greater certainty with regard to this issue), she did give me a far more priceless gift: connection, relationship, and respect… which by and large, does more to impact my desire to trust and live intimately with God and others than the best argument ever could.

        Lord, have mercy on us all.

  4. Julie,

    Thank you for this review. I just finished reading the PDF of the analysis of this book edited by Albert Mohler and yours is far better. True, his dealt with the specific arguments from Scripture. But yours went straight to the heart of the matter. Until the Church begins to show true pastoral concern and care to those who are hurting, all the logical argumentation in the world won’t matter a bit.

  5. This is a very fair and kind review. However, Julie, I am baffled at your assumption that the church has a responsibility to meet the intimacy needs of gay Christians, or that it even could. I guess I first need to know what you mean by intimacy. That aside, the bigger issue at hand is the chronic abuse gay Christians suffer at the hands of the church. I am a straight pastor in LA who’s on the front lines of this issue. I have a bachelors in Biblical Studies and an MDiv. I’ve been a Bible reading, church going Christian for all 38 years of my life and what I’ve learned is simply this – gay Christians will continue to be marginalized and abused by the church as long as the church believes that the Bible’s stance on same-sex relationships is God’s stance. I don’t agree with Matt’s revisionist view. I just think the Bible is wrong about this issue as it is on slavery.

    • And you are not alone, if that’s any comfort. The problem is, if you derive your sense of morality entirely from the book (or magisterium, or what have you) you deprive yourself of the ability to see where the book is immoral. It’s viciously circular. Preach it, man, at least you can’t be accused of special pleading like gay people.

    • Exactly right. There is harm inherent in the traditional teaching. If the Church is serious about loving people who are gay better, we must believe in a way that doesn’t cause injury.

      • Someone could just as easily say “There is (spiritual) harm inherent in the revisionist teaching. If the Church is serious about loving people who are gay better, we must believe in a way that doesn’t cause injury.”

        If there is to be respectful dialogue, claims that traditional teaching is harmful (unhealthy for gay people) or that revisionist teaching is sinful have to be set aside.

      • Joe –

        There is a discussion to be had about the morality of a theology that diminishes the humanity of a whole people group. There is demonstrable harm that has happened to gay people as are result of this theology.

        People who, presumably like both of us, are interested in productive dialog are often loathe to have a conversation about the inherently harmful nature of the traditionalist belief. They somehow think to recognize the harm is to cast apsersions about those who subscribe to the belief.

        But the reality remains that this belief causes injury to flesh and blood people (icluding the here-cyber-assembled). Intellectual honesty requires us to consider this harm in our discussions.

      • Joe,
        I mean depression and suicide (have you seen the gay Mormon studies?). I mean the moral obligation of conservative Christians to stigmatize and marginalize gay people inside and outside the church. I mean the tragedies that result from mixed orientation marriages because that’s the only permissible expression of sexuality. I mean the risky sexual behavior engaged in because covenant relationships are not morally permissible in a gay person’s faith community.

        That’s not to mention the families torn apart when a member comes out, or the kids kicked out of their houses because they’re gay.

        This is demonstrable harm to flesh and blood people resulting directly from the traditional sexual ethic.

      • I guess most SF contributors/readers wouldn’t be so convinced that the actual teachings cause harm – but agree that harm has sometimes been (unintentionally) caused by individuals and churches who uphold those beliefs.

    • In religion’s morals and ethics impose many restrictions on individuals behavior. Not only sexuality. These restrictions are good.

      Then some of us take morals and understand them correctly (in the context of mercy) and some of us take them and make them into idols (we regard them above God and above our fellow men).

      It is this last group the one that unleashes harm upon others. The teachings however, if taken as given by God with God being first and the teachings coming from him, are good and make us whole.

    • Aaron,

      It is the Church’s responsibility to provide a path to holiness for everyone. Not only in the negative sense (you shall not…) but also in the positive sense, in the affirming sense.

  6. Pingback: "God and the Gay Christian": Religious Conservatives Are Running Scared. | Queering the Church

  7. Ford 1968’s posts show why I really have no interest in “dialoguing” about revisionist theology.

    I have no patience with those (especially Christians) who claim that accepting the male/female definition of marriage demeans their humanity. If sexuality were the essence of one’s being, there would be marriage and sex in heaven. For a Christian, one’s identity as a Christ follower is first and foremost.

    Romans 3:8 states: And why not say, “Let us do evil so that good may come of it?” (as some who slander us allege that we say. Their condemnation is deserved!)

    The ends do not justify the means. If gay sex is intrinsically evil, it is not justified by desire, no matter how strong.

    Humans have free will. The choice to engage in risky sexual behaviors is ultimately the choice of the individual. Entering a marriage without no attraction whatsoever to one’s spouse is ultimately a choice.

    Thus, no matter how hard you want to force me to accept blame, I will accept none. If you want to blame someone, it would show better intellectual integrity to blame Jesus for failing to whip non-affirming Jewish culture into line with affirming Greco-Roman culture.

    • Happiness1535,

      I have no intent or desire to blame. Yours is the orthodox view, not mine. I recognize that.

      I do, however, think it’s important to recognize the harm that has been caused. In fact, I’d be willing to bet many, maybe most, of the celibate gay readers here have had suicidal thoughts at some point in their journey. It’s a normal reaction to the traditional teaching.

      Yes, people have free will, but when teaching leads to self harm and suicide, I believe we (the Church) are morally obligated to question and challenge that teaching. I think that’s why we’re going through this painful discernment process right now.

      Even in our disagreement, I would hope that we can have an intelligent, honest conversation that serves the process of discernment, secure in our love for one another as siblings in Christ.

      I wish you peace,

      • I know a lot ‘side B’ people and none of them have said anything that would suggest they have had “suicidal thoughts at some point in their journey”

        Sometimes I wonder if the often stated expectation that remaining single = a lifetime of misery is the thing that causes the “harm”

      • Hi Joe –
        It might be interesting to ask your celibate gay friends about this. Statistically speaking, it’s very likely that suicide ideation was a part of the sexual/spiritual identity process.
        Best –

  8. Joe, this is not to say that all or most have dealt with suicide ideation, but the folks I have talked to (my church started a group a couple of years ago to begin to have open dialogue), myself included, have dealt with suicide ideation at some point.

    • Mollie, I fully agree that churches should work towards being safe spaces where gay people who aren’t entirely convinced by the traditional teaching can speak up about their doubts and/or trust others enough to talk about very difficult stuff like suicide ideation.

      I’m not challenging that really. I’m just cautious about use of highly emotive generalizations (no doubt, well meaning) in public conversations about this topic. I’m not sure if it’s Vines (or others) intention but they do seem to be putting out there the idea that ‘traditional teaching = harm’ when others (and this where I’m a bit of a cynic) aren’t persuaded by their revisionist arguments.

      • Hi Joe,

        The traditional teaching causes harm. I don’t say that as a substitute for a convincing theological argument. I say that as a matter of verifiable fact. It would be intellectually dishonest for traditionalists to deny this.

        Why does this teaching cause harm? My personal view is that it demands that gay people live contrary to God’s creative intention for humanity. Others posit that the distress is caused by a Church culture that idolizes marriage and a national culture that idolizes sex.

        Is this harm necessary? In my view it is both unnecessary and unjust; the suffering and pain I often see on this website breaks my heart. Others see this harm as necessary for the flourishing of humanity (ie living into God’s design for human sexuality).

        These are important questions that the divided Church needs to grapple with. We need to have a conversation about the morality of the traditional teaching. How much of the harm is cultural, and how much is inherent in our traditional understanding of scripture? This is not a diversion from theological discussion or discussions about the authority of scripture. These are legitimate, urgent questions unto themselves.

        That conversation is impossible if traditionalists refuse to acknowledge the harm that has flowed, and continues to flow, from the orthodox view.

        And, not for nothing, there are non-affirming theological perspectives that are less harmful than a simplistic “side b” characterization. I abhor the “sides” language because it insists on an all or nothing polarization. The spectrum of belief about the sinfulness of homosexuality is much more nuanced and varied. We’d be better served by allowing for that variation and stop choosing “sides”.

        My sincere best to you,

      • David,

        This discussion has the potential to go round in circles. If you are asking “Why does God allow people to suffer?”, I’ll leave it to more scholarly Christians to answer that one.

        I sense that Vines is promoting a subtle version of the prosperity gospel. He’s young and he wants to look forward to a “good life” – I understand that and I hope he does have rich and rewarding life but I cannot avoid believing that obedience will produce much better fruit in the long run.

      • Hi Joe,

        I should probably bow out of this conversation, but I feel compelled to reply. The question on the table is not “why does God allow suffering?”. That’s the type of evasion that keeps the Church from reconciling.

        The question that we must face is “does God require gay people to suffer the harm of the traditional teaching?”. Traditionalist would say that obedience requires this suffering. In the same way, some Christian Scientists would say obedience requires the child to suffer rather than receive medical care.

        You want to frame this conversation as being about cheap grace – willful disobedience perhaps. Do you really think so little of gay Christians like me that you can’t see us as faithfully discerning God’s will for our lives?

        The essence of this important moral conversation is what beliefs are generative? Which ones lead to human flourishing and which ones are destructive? You can’t honestly engage with that question without acknowledging the reality of the harm that has been caused.

        I’m sure I’ve said too much at this point. I’ll let God be God now.

        Sincere thanks for engaging in this conversation.
        I wish you peace,

      • Joe, I can understand that. I think it is also very wise, though, to listen deeply to the experience of people who are dealing with this difficult reality… actual people in our lives. Then, we may have compassion, and that, I believe, is foundational to our Christ-like faith and understanding aside from any argument, traditional or revisionist. I think there is good reason that Vines and others make such highly emotive statements; were the church–you and I–to truly listen compassionately and engage one another, the need to speak louder and louder would diminish.

      • To be be honest, I don’t entirely trust the sincerity of Vines. If you read enough of his interviews or back-up pieces by his supporters, you will start to notice he is applying a ‘tactic’ (presumably worked out in Reformation Project workshops?) for getting conservative critics on the back foot. The pattern is fairly simple but seems to be effective so far:

        1. Claim to respect the intelligence, integrity etc of the critic but then stress that they are wrong and would change their mind if they really listened to what revisionists are saying*
        2. Remind everyone – and push this point – about the harm the traditional ethic does to LGBT Christians (and not just the harm done by culture war battles or ungracious pastoral attempts to address the subject**)
        3. Close the argument by saying that the “harm” can now be reduced by allowing revisionists into conservative churches to discuss how wrong the conservatives are.
        4. Repeat until you wear the opposition down – taking full advantage of any admissions from the conservative side about how poorly they have served gay/SSA Christians in the past

        * Vines is very quick to claim his views have been misrepresented when critics make a valid point.
        ** Conservatives will be caught out by this (because they have invested some much time and energy in fighting culture war battles) unless they get some advice/help from so called side-b gay Christians

      • Interesting commentary, Joe. Ive taken quite an interest in Vines and periodically do a Google search to see what new things he’s up to. Do you have any examples you can point/link to that illustrate your observation that “Vines is very quick to claim his views have been misrepresented when critics make a valid point.”? I seldom see him respond to critics.

      • I think I got that impression from his Twitter feed. He retweets and flags up almost every review or comment (accept a few of the more negative ones). Fair enough – he has a book to promote – but he’s adapting his message as he goes along. I’m certainly more cautious (bordering on cynical) about his “tactics” than some others here. I don’t think he tells lies but I do detect a politicians gift for spin/evasion and tailoring arguments to flatter different audiences. That’s what I meant by his “deceit” in another SF comment thread. In contrast, Justin Lee is most more consistent in his interviews/speeches.

        The Molher debate will be an interesting one – if it happens.

        I’ve got to leave it at that. These are only causal observations and SF probably isn’t the right place to post them.

  9. Hi Ford,

    I can tell you are an honest person looking to do God’s will in your life. I can not imagine the struggle of being gay. I’m learning so much from everyone here, including you.
    I have some questions for you (in fact anyone interested can answer I would be glad to read all of your answers):
    What would you tell an heterosexual friend who is living with his girlfriend and having sex with her out of wedlock?
    What would you tell an heterosexual couple that is to be married but have decided not to have children?
    What would you tell an infertile heterosexual couple who have decided to give in-vitro fertilization a try?
    Your answers to these will help me to understand you point of view better… I believe.

    Thanks before hand and God bless

    • Hi Rosa,

      Are you asking what I would say or what I believe? I believe in the permanence of marriage. Yesterday, my friend who has been with his partner for 35 years told me he is now asking for a pre-nup before getting legally married. I asked a lot of questions and it led to an interesting discussion about what marriage is.

      I don’t have a blanket response for any of your questions. I think we need to discern each one individually. For example, like most Protestants, I don’t subscribe to a natural law ethic; marriage and sex is about so much more than procreation. So I don’t see any moral qualms with contraception or surgery to prevent pregnancy if a couple doesn’t want any (or any more) children. I also believe that the Creator enables us to explore His creation; so if science has found a way to bless an infertile couple with children, I don’t see that as morally problematic either. That’s not to say that there are no moral limits on science – just that availing oneself of fertility treatments is a God-given remedy to infertility for some couples. I think the RCC teachings on this are wrong.

      The question of abortion is much more morally problematic. I subscribe to a pro-life ethic, so I think the proper pastoral response to your hypothetical teenager is to seek to understand her fears and help her see her alternatives. There is great emotional violence in the act of abortion. I believe that there would be less harm not only to body but also to spirit if she lived with honesty by carrying the child to term.

      I believe in the permanence of marriage; and I believe divorce is very harmful. I get heartbroken when couples split because they’ve simply grown tired of the relationship – especially if they have children. But there are times (such as in cases of physical or emotional abuse) where the harm of staying in the relationship outweighs the harm of divorce. In that case, I think it is immoral for the church to demand that the couple stay together. An accommodation must be made.

      I know I haven’t answered all of your questions, but I hope to demonstrate that there are ethical underpinnings to each of the ones that you pose. Human flourishing is directly related to individual harm. When harm is unnecessary and preventable (such as in the divorce of convenience or the abortion), then, for me, it is morally problematic.

      • Hi Ford,

        Thanks for taking the time to respond. I am truly thankful to engage in a conversation with you.

        Now, about your answer, the key is in the words you use. You say: “I believe…”, “I subscribe…”, “I don’t subscribe…” “for me…”

        You see, moral teachings are not a matter of believe. They don’t take their force from our individuals’ or even our churches’ believes or doctrines. Otherwise entire groups of people will not fall under their jurisdiction. Entire cultures will be excluded from them. For instance, Muslims do not “subscribe” to the notion of monogamy or permanence in relationship to marriage. Therefore if the teachings force came from our believe, how would you preach the gospel to them? How would you talk about Christ to them when talking about marriage?

        If you read Genesis you will realize that the forbidden fruit was the one produced by the tree of knowledge of good and evil. When Adam and Eve took from the tree and ate they were not only disobeying God but accessing the knowledge of good and evil by themselves leaving God to the margins. This means we can not put ourselves as references to the knowledge of good and evil. So “I believe…” or “I subscribe…” is the wrong approach when it comes to learning what is good or bad.

        And (I must add) if I’m saying anything that goes against the teachings of the Church I recant.

  10. Hi Ford,

    I realized I just posted my questions and maybe you haven’t read them yet. But I cannot stop thinking about more questions…

    What would you say to a man whose wife keeps nagging him and bothering him when he falls in love with another woman and wants a divorce?

    What would you say to a desperate teenager who got pregnant and wants an abortion behind the backs of her very “Christian” parents?

    What would you say to a woman who have lost hope of getting married but longs for a child. She is ready to go to the sperm bank for an artificial insemination…

    God bless

    • Your questions are valuable. These examples present situations where much of the secular world would say orthodox christian teachings cause needless and unjust suffering. It helps one to see the teaching on homosexuality as part of a system rather than in isolation.

      It is obvious to me from any standpoint that homosexuality is a disjointed desire. As a child, descriptions of non-vaginal sex bothered me in a way descriptions of vaginal sex did not and I did not know myself to be SSA at that time. The complementarity of male/female bodies, tendency of heterosexuality to lead to families where a man and woman can give their unique and complementary gifts to parenting, etc. make it obvious that heterosexuality is THE proper ordering of human sexuality.

      Nonetheless, I can understand why a secularist would still encourage homosexual relationships.

      But, the basis of being a Christian is accepting the teachings of Jesus. In all of these situations, we need to work out ways to make following Christian teaching more bearable. But, we are not free to discard those teachings because they seem too painful.

      In each of these situations, subjective guilt can vary , based on knowledge of sinfulness, mental state, etc. So, we cannot be certain that anyone who commits one of these sings will go to hell.

      Ford 1968’s posts show the limits of dialogue. Whenever he posts, he brutally attacks any attempts to alleviate some of the sufferings of celibacy (helping with loneliness, affection, etc.) as saying they are not good enough.

      Well, there is no perfect solution. We must unite any suffering to that of Jesus on the cross. It can be used to redeem the world.

      We cannot even dialogue about discarding the clear teachings of Jesus based on suffering. We can only dialogue about ways to minimize it. If someone refuses to do that, then we must respond strongly.

  11. Thanks Happiness,

    I agree with you. I liked these in particular:

    “In all of these situations, we need to work out ways to make following Christian teaching more bearable. But, we are not free to discard those teachings because they seem too painful.”

    “In each of these situations, subjective guilt can vary , based on knowledge of sinfulness, mental state, etc. So, we cannot be certain that anyone who commits one of these sings will go to hell.”

    We ought to not judge but help. Help to ease the suffering while teaching justly. We ought to be careful not to add an ounce of suffering but instead help to carry the cross.

    The Bible says pray and seek and you shall find. I believe this with all my heart.

    And this from Joe (several posts above) is also priceless:

    “I fully agree that churches should work towards being safe spaces where gay people who aren’t entirely convinced by the traditional teaching can speak up about their doubts and/or trust others enough to talk about very difficult stuff like suicide ideation.”

    About the answers Ford would give to my questions I can only guess at this point since he has not actually answered. I rather not do that. However, assuming he is intellectually honest and not bias only towards the suffering of gay people, then, I presume, he would teach the easy way out in everyone of the situations I presented above.

    • Rosa,

      Wow. I didn’t see that coming. I didn’t realize you were trying to set a trap. I thought you were genuinely interested in conversation. It’s disappointing that you would cast aspersions about me in this way. Especially since you don’t know anything about me or my story. If you want to believe that gay-affirming Christians are only interested in cheap grace, I certainly can’t change your heart. But that’s not only uncharitable and offensive, it’s also wildly inaccurate. I am inspired by the example of Pope Francis. I hope the rest of the church follows his lead.

      I’m assuming from your questions that you are Roman Catholic. There is much to admire in the RCC – ethical consistency and intellectual integrity among them. But there is also much to be wary of – particularly the type of rigid moral certitude you espouse in this comment. To say we can understand God’s absolute truth is a prideful fallacy. That’s like saying we can know how salvation works.

      Catholic teaching is not infallible and is sometimes in conflict with itself. And it has, through history, been both demonstrably life-giving and demonstrably destructive. When the teaching is destructive, as it is on sexual ethics, I think it wise to hold those teachings loosely.

      • Hi Ford,

        I don’t know exactly what bother you about my post. If I have offended you I apologize and I do it whole heartily.

        My point is that you can not think that gay people’s suffering is greater than other people’s suffering.

        God bless.

  12. I need to add one last thing…

    As God is my witness I did not come to SF to set up traps or to insult anyone. I hope I can grow in the faith with everyone here. Thank you for allowing me to share with all of you.


    • I greatly appreciate your posts Rosa. You did not set a trap. Ford 1968’s attacks on your character are entirely inexcusable.

      From what I have seen, Ford1968 will always find a way to take offense at our comments unless we give in to his demands, which we cannot do. Jesus comes first.

      Sometimes in life, we simply have to accept that we cannot dialogue with everyone.

      We need people like you who will support us spiritually and help us find ways to minimize our sufferings without trying to make us abandon orthodox teachings.

      • I believe that the trap-like part was where Rose responded not to the content of Ford’s answer, but to the polite terms in which he’d framed the answer, by speaking of what he believes, thinks, and so on. She wasn’t actually interested in the answers he gave to her questions, only the terms in which he expressed them.

        More substantively, I think that his point is epistemological. If there is an interpretation of biblical passages that leads to great human suffering, and another interpretation that doesn’t, that provides *some* evidence (who knows how much) in support of the second interpretation. And the reason it does this is that we know God loves us, and doesn’t want us to suffer (at least not as an end in itself).

  13. Julie I interpret your review to mean that you trust Vines’ claim that modern understandings of homosexuality differ from Biblical times, when they supposedly perceived homosexuality to be excess lust. Have I interpreted your words correctly?

    Personally I dont buy Vines view. Although as we find in our modern world, different people have different understandings of homosexuality, my impression is that there would have been people in Biblical times who understood homosexuality as more than a fleeting lust. My reasoning is based on historic records such as Plato’s presentation of homosexuality as involving love and not just lust, on Philo’s presentation of homosexual inclinations as being a lifetime tendency for some. Conversely there are people today who perceive (male) homosexuality to be more lustful than is heterosexuality, partially on the grounds of the stereotypically large number of sexual partners involved – a fact often confirmed by statistics of the reality. Overall I have doubts that public perceptions over the millennia have changed much, although perhaps the public is increasingly accepting.

  14. Pingback: God And The Gay Christian – the Matthew Vines book | stasis online

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