The gay Christians and the gay-sympathetic wing of the broad evangelical church seemed to be waiting with almost gleeful anticipation for the publication of God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines. When the book appeared as scheduled after much pre-publication ballyhoo, one felt as though he couldn’t possibly be ‘with it’ unless he read the book at once and was prepared to have all his prejudiced opinions on the issue rocked to the foundation.
Well, I was not immune to all the hype and had to find out what all the excitement was about. So I read, only to be greatly disappointed that no seismal cataclysm shook up my preconceived world. God and the Gay Christian was found to offer nothing substantially new to the gay debate. Rather it epitomized everything that colors the pro-homosex perspective in this dispute.
The primacy of experience
First, Vines’s approach to this debate mimics the method of the gay apologists who have gone before him by putting great emphasis on the primacy of experience.
His book is really a sequel to his earlier well-viewed video and like it is an argument propelled by an emotional appeal. He talks about his own experience as a gay kid growing up in an evangelical church and all the hurt he endured because no one understood him. He buttresses this with stories of all the loneliness and pain that gay Christians have suffered because of their feeling of rejection, sometimes leading to suicide. And he continues his anecdotal ways by telling us about the gay couples he’s known who live in loving, committed relationships that just can’t be wrong. Then after he’s aroused our emotions, he comes at us with bad hermeneutics in an attempt to explain away the ‘clobber passages’ of the Bible.
This all underscores the principal difference between the pro-homosex and the anti-homosex camps in the way they approach this issue. There’s an inverted order of emphasis and logic.
Those who oppose the gay Christian argument take their starting point with scripture, then follow that with philosophic reasoning, then scientific information, and finally experience.
The gay Christian defenders take the opposite tack. They begin with experience, then appeal to science, then resort to philosophic reasoning, and finally bring in scripture. And their approach to scripture is not to find out what it really says about the issue, but to do all they can to explain away the obvious meaning of the text.
Vines does this very well. In fact, for him experience drives his interpretation of the Bible. He virtually says that the traditional interpretation of the Bible causes gay people so much stress and grief that it can’t possibly be right. It produces such ‘bad fruit’ that we have to change our interpretation so gay people will feel good about themselves.
Of course this all means that for Vines the ultimate authority in this debate is not what God says in scripture, but how gay people feel about it.
The avoidance of opposing writings and arguments
The second thing Vines does that is characteristic of gay apologetics is to disregard opposing writings and arguments.
His book is embarrassingly devoid of interaction with his opposition except for an occasional and fleeting acknowledgment that it exists, like his dismissive reference to Robert Gagnon’s complementarity argument which Vines cites as ‘speculative’ without offering any counterarguments to substantiate his assessment. If Matthew Vines is going to enter the public arena as a spokesman for the pro-gay cause, honesty demands that he should be familiar with what the other camp is saying. If he is not prepared to respond to a major work like Robert Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexual Practice, then he’s not ready to throw down the gay gauntlet.
Now Vines does attempt to deal with the ‘nature’ argument when presenting his interpretation of the Apostle Paul’s words in Rom. 1:26-27, but seeing ‘nature’ there as defined by the mindset of a patriarchal worldview can only be called hermeneutical gymnastics of the worst kind. What I would really like to see is a public debate between Vines and Gagnon, but I don’t think Matthew would be too keen on that.
The use of faulty hermeneutics
In the third place, Vines has followed almost verbatim the gay exegetes who have preceded him. Of course, this means that he has employed the same faulty hermeneutics that characterizes the gay interpretation of the biblical text in an attempt to defuse the force of the six ‘clobber passages’ that do not speak favorably of homosexuality.
In the Old Testament, that interpretation explains the Sodom incident as a lack of hospitality or as an indictment of gang rape, but not as a condemnation of homosexuality per se. This of course fails to give any hermeneutical weight to such crucial matters as the ancient Near Eastern cultural context in which the incident is recorded, the Gen. 2 and Gen. 9 texts by the same author, the Judges 19 parallel, or the Bible’s own interpretation of what happened in Sodom as found in Ezekiel, Jude, and 2 Peter.
Also the prohibitions of Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 are seen as outdated Israelite purity laws that are no longer in force, especially in a New Testament context. But this worn out and soundly rebutted explanation gives no consideration to such matters as: the interconnectedness of the Old Testament witness; the fact that these prohibitions are grouped with incest, adultery, and bestiality; their indictment as first-order sexual offenses; their framing as absolute proscriptions; the fact that they contain the marks of moral, not ritual, impurity; their assumption of a creation, or nature, model; and their appropriation by the New Testament without qualification.
With regard to the New Testament, the attempt to explain away the obvious meaning of certain texts by appealing to the silence of Jesus on the subject of homosexuality fails to take into account such vital hermeneutical issues as Jesus’ interpretation of Gen. 1:27 and 2:24, his general view of the law of Moses, his overall approach to sexual ethics, his use of the 7th commandment as a rule for other sex laws, and his singling out of Sodom as an example of exceptional judgment. It also does not consider that homosexuality was an irrelevant issue in a Jewish context controlled by Old Testament law, so there would have been no reason to address this form of sexual sin.
Also the common gay appeal to the emphasis of Jesus’ teaching on love simplifies things too much, for it ignores his statements on judgment, fails to comprehend that the loving outreach of Jesus had as its goal the recovery of sinners for obedience, and does not reckon with the fact that the commandment to love our neighbor comes right out of the Levitical ‘holiness code’ context that the prohibitions against homosexuality come from.
And when the Pauline texts against homosexual practice are weighed, the ‘new knowledge’ arguments are paraded in the form of exploitation, orientation, or domination theories to explain that Paul could not possibly have condemned homosexuality per se, but only a specific manifestation of it as known in his cultural context.
Matthew Vines makes use of much of this standard gay interpretive fare, but does it without showing that he is aware of already existing rebuttals to his position, or, if he is, making any attempt to engage and answer them on any but a cursory and dismissive level. Of course, the prevailing emotional tone of his book gives the unmistakable impression that he has an agenda to pursue and consequently tends to avoid honest and intelligent engagement with his opposition.
The appeal to specious analogies
A fourth feature that commonly characterizes the pro-gay literature is the use of alleged analogies to homosexual practice found in the Bible that are supposed to demonstrate the non-binding character of the prohibitions of same-sex activity. Common analogues put forward to prove this point are the ‘mixture’ laws found in the ‘holiness code’ of Leviticus, Jewish dietary proscriptions, intercourse with a menstruating woman, circumcision, Gentile inclusion in the church, slavery, women’s roles, marriage, and divorce.
The point of using such analogies is to show that many things that were considered taboo in the Bible at one time actually changed to an acceptable status later. In the case of marriage and divorce, the argument takes a different direction and attempts to demonstrate a variable moral ethic in what God allows at different times in history. However the argument goes, the objective is to convince us that the Bible changed its perspective on many issues that have some bearing on the issue of homosexuality itself, so we should be careful about being too hasty in consigning same-sex attracted people to a rigid and unalterable moral denunciation.
The problem with this analogical argument is that it is specious, comparing things that have only a surface similarity. When the supposed analogies are scrutinized, serious questions of any significant similarity are raised, questions like severity, absoluteness, New Testament appropriation, ritual uncleanness, unnaturalness, and structural complementarity. Such questions lead to the devastating conclusion that we are dealing with an ‘apples and oranges’ comparison that does nothing to mitigate the severity of the biblical condemnation of homosexual desire and practice. Much more appropriate analogues would be what the Bible says about things like incest, polyamory, and pedosexuality, even in a supposed responsible form.
Now it’s true that Matthew Vines did not make equally extensive use of these four features of typical gay apologetics in his book, but enough is there to substantiate the validity of this analysis.
When it’s all said and done, what we have here is a work that uses all the standard gay arguments, arguments like the Bible condemning only exploitative homosexual acts, which he calls ‘excessive’ behavior; also, the Bible knowing nothing about a same-sex orientation, so it can’t be condemning a natural same-sex attraction; and making a big deal about the domination idea, which Vines calls the patriarchal motif of the Bible.
It also takes on the six passages of the Bible which speak most directly against homosexuality, which have been dubbed the ‘clobber passages’ by the pro-homosex crowd, and gives the pretty stock gay Christian responses to them.
What is different is that Vines presents this position as one who professes to be an evangelical Christian with a strong attachment to the authority of scripture. He actually says that he believes the Bible is inspired and authoritative for his life. And he does it by coming off as a nice, winsome guy who just wants to be understood and accepted by society and the church. Plus he’s smart and good-looking, which all adds to the charm. He knows how to package it, and he’s done it well. And he’ll take in a lot of people in the broad evangelical church, where fluffy thinking and emotionalism are far too common.
So as a significant addition to the ‘gay debate’ in the church, the book offers nothing new or exegetically persuasive. What it does do is enhance the issue and intensify the need for personal decision. This has now become a ‘line in the sand’ dispute, and it’s time for everyone to make up their mind and choose whether they will follow Christ in self-denying discipleship or not.
That means renouncing everything that is contrary to that call, including not only same-sex conduct, but same-sex desire as well. The call of Jesus Christ is a call to repentance from sin, resistance to sin, and redirection of sinful impulses into channels that are pleasing to God. Where these things are not present, there is no true Christian faith or discipleship.