Matthew Vines is fast becoming a significant voice in the church’s debate about homosexuality. Matthew is a young, gay Christian, who has done more research on the Bible’s view of homosexuality than any 10 people I know. A couple years ago, he gave a lecture at a church that summed up his initial findings of his research. The video of the lecture went viral in the Christian world—nearly 1 million views—and now he has written a book that further articulates his view. God and the Gay Christian (Convergent, 2014) hits the bookstores today (April 22) and it’ll no doubt persuade many Christians to believe that the Bible affirms same-sex marriage.
Matthew’s publisher was kind enough to send me an advance copy of the book, so I’ve been combing through it over the last few weeks. Since this is going to be such an important—and debated—book, I want to write several blogs reviewing it. For this first blog, I want to highlight its positives aspects. This is not because I agree with Matthew’s conclusions, but precisely because I don’t. Having been knee-deep in the same research that Matthew has been engaging in, I’m able to follow his argument and research very easily. From Plutarch to Gagnon, Rufus to Martin, Plato to Brownson, and Seneca to Boswell, I’m reading the same stuff. And if Plato is the only name you recognize from that list, it’ll be good to know that many scholars both recent and ancient have been seeking to understand the phenomenon and morality of men and women desiring sex and marriage with the same gender. Vines’ book is one more addition to a very large, and very old, debate about same-sex unions.
So, for the pros. First, from everything Matthew says, he’s clearly committed to the authoritative, inspired, inerrant text of Scripture. Vines destroys the stereotype of someone who wants to be a gay Christian but is much more gay than Christian. I’ve read many appalling essays and books by people who want to maintain some vague notion of faith or spirituality, even though it’s clear that their sexual desires are their god. Matthew doesn’t believe in a Gumby Jesus, whom we can bend and mold however we see fit; rather, Matthew seems to go where Scripture leads him. And according to this book, Scripture has led him to conclude that the Bible affirms (or at least does not condemn) consensual, loving, monogamous gay and lesbian marriages.
I know, I know. “Scripture didn’t lead him there, it’s his inaccurate, biased interpretation of Scripture that wrongly led him to his sinful conclusions,” some will say. Perhaps. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and we need to look at his actual arguments before we dismiss them. Plenty of Christians were accused of similar non-traditional interpretations of the Bible. Galileo was condemned for his wrong interpretation of Scripture when he said that the earth revolved around the sun, and many abolitionists were condemned by Christian slaveholders because they were forcing their views that all people are equal upon the text. We are all subject to biases and baggage—misinterpreting the text. The best way to tell is to look at the actual arguments to see if they hold weight. And this I will do over the next few blogs.
Second, Matthew Vines has done more research on the Bible and homosexuality than any traditionalist I have met. His rather short book has nearly 25 pages of footnotes, many of which interact with scholarly sources both ancient and modern. He’s not just citing the latest psychological study, nor just relying on his own experience. He’s carefully weighing historical and exegetical evidence for what the Bible says about homosexuality—and what the ancients believed about homosexuality. As one who has been combing through the same texts, I can applaud Matthew for doing a ton of grueling work. It’s not easy to pour over a pile of dense literature (some of it written in Greek and Latin) and then try to explain it to a lay audience. But Matthew has. And he’s done a fine job for the most part of explaining, even though he makes several mistakes in the process, as we’ll see in future blogs.
Third, Matthew’s book is incredibly clear. Clarity is not always forthcoming, especially in younger writers. Matthew’s book is quite different and he’s clearly a gifted writer, along with being a very good thinker. Few people can listen in on discussions going on in the Ivory Tower and then climb down to communicate them to the masses, but this is exactly what Matthew has done. Matthew, if you’re reading this: you have a gift and it’s evident from this book.
Fourth, I agree with several points he makes in the book. For instance, chapter 4 “The Real Sin of Sodom” is spot on. Matthew and I have arrived at the same conclusion (though independently) that God condemned Sodom for attempted gang rape, not for pursuing consensual, same sex marriages. Also, Matthew has a good understanding of the Greco-Roman view of sexuality and gender, which of course forms the backdrop for Paul’s references to same-sex activity in Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 1Timothy; however, as we’ll see in the next post, he still leaves some important aspects out of this discussion. Same thing with his discussion of Genesis 1-2. Many good points, but he still leaves some key features out.
Matthew’s book is definitely a discussion starter and it will, no doubt, trigger a wave of responses. However, my fear is that people will read this book as the last word on the subject. Or, people wanting to affirm same-sex relations will read Matthew’s book without a critical eye (in the same way that conservatives will read Gagnon or whomever without actually looking for the pros and the cons). There are several mistakes in the book that are significant enough to leave his argument resting on a shaky foundation.