Vines: God and the Gay Christian, Part 1 (Experience, Celibacy, Lust)

One of the latest, and best reviewed, books supporting Christian gay marriage is Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships.

Matthew Vines’ book has been hailed by evangelical authors such as Tony Campolo and Rachel Held Evans. Evans writes,

God and the Gay Christian is a game changer. Winsome, accessible, and carefully researched, every page is brought to life by the author’s clear love for Scripture and deep, persistent faith. With this book, Matthew Vines emerges as one of my generation’s most important Christian leaders, not only on matters of sexuality but also on what it means to follow Jesus with wisdom, humility, and grace. Prepare to be challenged and enlightened, provoked and inspired. Read with an open heart and mind, and you are bound to be changed.

Vines attended Harvard for two years and then took a leave of absence to study what the Bible says about gay sexuality and marriage. He is now founder and president of The Reformation Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to changing church teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Vines realized he was gay at age 19, while in college. His book reflects his efforts to reconcile his generally orthodox Christian beliefs with that fact. In an interview at Amazon.com, Vines states,

If you argue that we are free to agree or disagree with parts of the Bible we may not like, then supporting same-sex relationships is easy: just say that the biblical authors were wrong and move on. But that isn’t how I see the Bible, and it isn’t how most evangelicals see it either. When I say I have a high view of Scripture, what I mean is that I don’t feel free to set aside parts of the Bible that may make me uncomfortable. Instead, I have to seriously grapple with Scripture, daily striving to submit my will to the Bible rather than submitting the Bible to my will. For Christians who share that understanding of Scripture, biblical interpretation on same-sex relationships is far more consequential in determining our beliefs.

This is, of course, critically important. There is nothing to consider or debate if the scriptures are not accepted as authoritative for how believers should live.

So let’s consider the scriptural arguments made by Vines. He begins by pointing out that there are six key texts at issue.

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 in the way of countless gay people who long for acceptance from their Christian parents, friends, and churches.

(p. 11). We’ve covered all these before, but we’ve not covered all of Vines’ arguments.

The test of experience

Vines begins by arguing, fairly, that Jesus himself says that we should judge a tree by its fruit. If gay marriage is wrong, why is it wrong? What is the evil fruit that it supposedly bears? I’ve addressed this question in a recent series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Vines argues that the early church’s change of position on accepting Gentiles is
exemplary —

The earliest Christians used a similar, experience-based test when making what was one of the most important decisions in church history: whether to include Gentiles in the church without forcing them to be circumcised and to obey the Old Testament law. As Peter declared of early Gentile believers, “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.… Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?” (Acts 15: 8, 10). The early church made a profoundly important decision based on Peter’s testimony. Gentiles were included in the church, and the church recognized that the old law was no longer binding.

(pp. 14-15). Vines also gives slavery as an example where experience forced the church to change its position.

There is a key distinction that Vines overlooks. What experience did for the church — in both cases — is prompt the church to look at the scriptures afresh — to see whether their reading had been in error. Experience does not override the scriptures, but it sometimes demonstrates that our reading of the text has been in error.

So, yes, I certainly agree that the gay marriage experience requires us to look anew at the scriptures — with truly open minds. But nothing in our experience may override what the scriptures actually say — and Vines agrees with me on this, at least in principle.

Personal sacrifice

Many Christians argue that asking gay Christians to be celibate may be contrary to American culture, that we see fulfillment in sex much more than anything else, but the Bible actually sees celibacy as a positive option for the Christians. After all, aren’t many heterosexual Christians required to be celibate simply because they haven’t found a suitable spouse?

Vines responds,

Mandatory celibacy for gay Christians differs from any other kind of Christian self-denial, including involuntary celibacy for some straight Christians. Even when straight Christians seek a spouse but cannot find one, the church does not ask them to relinquish any future hope of marriage.

(p. 17).

Vines is quite right, of course, but he misses the point. It’s not just that celibacy is sometimes required due to the absence of marriage. Rather,

(1 Cor 7:32–35 NET) 32 And I want you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the things of the world, how to please his wife, 34 and he is divided. An unmarried woman or a virgin is concerned about the things of the Lord, to be holy both in body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the things of the world, how to please her husband. 35 I am saying this for your benefit, not to place a limitation on you, but so that without distraction you may give notable and constant service to the Lord. 

Paul commends the celibate life as superior to the married life, as a celibate Christian is freed to be “concerned about the things of the Lord, to be holy both in body and spirit” because “without distraction you may give notable and constant service to the Lord.” This is so far removed from contemporary American culture that we can hardly avoid reading this entirely out of the text. It’s certainly rarely preached.

Paul is far from thinking about the hope of one day marrying. Rather, his point is that it’s better to remain single so that you may give yourself more fully to Jesus.  My own experience is that, in today’s culture, marriage and sexual fulfillment are so highly valued
— even in church — that Paul’s advice is never even considered, much less attempted.

Of course, plenty of people have attempted celibacy, but how many have attempted celibacy in order to commit themselves entirely to the work of the Lord?

Lust

Jesus emphasized that sin does not encompass merely wrong actions. It also encompasses the desire for those actions. As he explained in Matthew 5, murder and adultery are sins, but so are anger and lust. So from a Christian standpoint, if all same-sex relationships are sinful, all desires for them should be renounced as well. But as my dad came to realize, while gay Christians can choose not to act on their sexual desires, they cannot eradicate their sexual desires altogether. Despite the prayers of countless gay Christians for God to change their sexual orientation, exclusive same-sex attraction persists for nearly all of them.

(pp. 17-18). Vines sets up an impossible standard — that to obey Jesus’ command against “lust,” we must “eradicate … sexual desires altogether.” Therefore, celibacy is an unsatisfactory solution.

But that’s a weak interpretation of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, taking a middle-school level understanding and seeking to twist it into permission to engage in sex to avoid the temptation to engage in sex.

I readily concede that gay Christians are going to struggle against the temptation toward gay sex. Straight Christians have the same problem — even married straight Christians. Jesus’ words should be read with a little more depth than simply “it’s sin to feel tempted to have sex.”

Jesus’ intention is therefore to prohibit not a natural sexual attraction, but the deliberate harbouring of desire for an illicit relationship. (Lustfully is literally ‘in order to desire her’, ‘desire’ being used generally of desire for something forbidden.) Exodus 20:17 had condemned coveting another man’s wife; Jesus here emphasizes that such coveting is not only implicit theft (Exod. 20:17 includes the wife among other items of property!) but implicit adultery.

R. T. France, Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale NTC 1; IVP/Accordance electronic ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1985), n.p.

The focus is thus not (as some tender adolescent consciences have read it) on sexual attraction as such, but on the desire for (and perhaps the planning of) an illicit sexual liaison (cf. Exod 20:17, “you shall not covet your neighbor’s … wife,” where LXX uses the same verb, epithymeō).

R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co., 2007), 204.

Throughout this chapter, Jesus is not just giving moral commands. He is unveiling a whole new way of being human. No wonder it looks strange. But Jesus himself pioneered it, and invites us to follow.

Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 49.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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21 Responses to Vines: God and the Gay Christian, Part 1 (Experience, Celibacy, Lust)

  1. Gary says:

    Paul indicates in 1 Corinthians 7:2 that the general rule for humankind is marriage. He envisions no class of people for whom marriage is not an option. 1 Corinthians 7:2 certainly seems to suggest that Paul considered heterosexual marriage to be possible for practically everyone. He probably knew of some homosexual men at least through his education in Greek culture and literature but it is significant that Paul never links celibacy with homosexuality. The implication is that Paul would have considered heterosexual marriage as an option for homosexuals. Even Greeks expected men who were active homosexuals to also marry a woman and reproduce. So Paul would have been in line with the cultural thinking of his day to see heterosexual marriage rather than celibacy as the most likely option for Christian homosexuals.

    In 1 Corinthians 7:7 Paul indicates that the ability to be celibate is a gift which only some have. Paul certainly commends celibacy but only as a voluntary choice and never as an expectation for a class of Christians. There simply is no bridge of reasoning in Paul’s writings to support Paul’s extolling of voluntary celibacy somehow evolving into a requirement of celibacy for anyone- including of course gay Christians today.

  2. Gary says:

    Many Christians over the centuries did come to realize that nothing in Scripture required the institution of slavery and that the application of the teachings of Jesus supported not owning slaves. So some Christians who had seen slavery as divinely ordained did come to see that their previous understandings of Scripture on slavery were wrong.

    That is not at all the same dynamic that we find in the acceptance in the first century church of uncircumcised Gentiles as fellow Christians. The early church especially was in so many ways an extension of Judaism that it is not surprising that membership in the first generation following Pentecost was possible only for the circumcised. That was not based on any interpretation or misinterpretation of the OT (the only Scripture they had). Rather it was simply an assumption, a very natural assumption to be sure, but still only an assumption. So it is not accurate to characterize the acceptance of uncircumcised Gentiles into the church as a reversal of any previous interpretation of Scripture. The only reversal was of the previous operating assumption that only Jews and Gentile converts to Judaism could become Christians.

    The matter of whether practising homosexuals may be accepted as faithful Christians also has to do with a traditional assumption: that homosexual Christians must be celibate. There is no scripture that states or even suggests that conclusion. So there is no scripture on this question to interpret or misinterpret. We are dealing with an assumption. There certainly are passages about homosexuality that may be interpreted or misinterpreted. But there is no passage of Scripture about homosexuality and celibacy. So if the experience of Christians today causes them to conclude that Christian homosexuals are not required to be celibate no passage of Scripture is being overridden or rejected. It would only be an assumption that would be rejected.

  3. Mark says:

    “Vines sets up an impossible standard — that to obey Jesus’ command against “lust,” we must “eradicate … sexual desires altogether”.”

    This was the argument used far too often. This came from pulpits by preachers who condemned (all young) people to hell for the normal sexual desire God gave them. While it was taboo decades ago to question the preacher if you were young, I always wondered why man, whom God declared to be very good after creating him, was condemned for the way God made him. I saw more relevance in “Every man should know how to possess his vessel” and “God gave you a brain and he expects you to use it.” Why was this the case? I realize that no unmarried person has sex and no female gets pregnant (enforced morality), which is the overall goal. This sounds like “the ends justify the means” which is Totally secular but when used by religion has caused lots of problems (inquisition and others). However, this mandated suppression of all sexual desire has major league problems for many people later in life. Some people became glad when all sexual desire was gone because it was one less problem with which they had to contend. Don’t complain about the low marriage, increasing divorce, and low birth rate when neither party has any sexual desire or one has much less than the other.

  4. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Gary,

    I refer you to Acts 15.

    (Act 15:5 ESV) 5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

    Why would they say such a thing? Well, if you read Paul’s responses to their arguments, you find they were evidently arguing that circumcision is even older than the Torah because God required Abraham to be circumcised as a sign of the covenant.

    It’s an interpretation.

    You can also read several OT prophecies about the nations being brought in — which could be interpreted as the nations being brought into Israel or the Mosaic covenant. These things aren’t said, but it would be a natural reading for a Jew to give these passages.

    How did the council in Jerusalem respond?

    (Act 15:7-9 ESV) 7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.

    Peter first reminds the council of the Cornelius event and God’s gift of the Spirit without circumcision

    (Act 15:10-11 ESV) 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

    Peter then argues that salvation is only by grace.

    James responds,

    (Act 15:13-18 ESV) 13 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written, 16 “‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, 17 that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.’

    James points out that the prophets agree with what Peter just said.

    He quotes Amos’ reference to “all the Gentiles who are called by my name” — implicitly arguing that the Gentiles who are called by the Lord’s name remain Gentiles and don’t become Jews.

    But the lynchpin to James is the phrase, “with this the words of the prophets agree.” James wanted support for the position not just in experience and not just the absence of contradiction. He wanted a scripture that would support admitting Gentiles into the kingdom without circumcision. He found it.

    Hence, James did not go against the scriptures or even act within their silences but rather he re-looked at the scriptures in light of Cornelius as well as the theology of grace.

    Where is the scripture requiring celibacy? Well, there are plenty of them and we’ve covered them and are about to cover some of them once again — afresh, in light of newly made arguments and deeper study.

  5. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Gary,

    Vines makes the same giftedness argument. There’s a post coming where I respond to it.

  6. Gary says:

    Jay, I agree that some OT passages could be interpreted as not requiring Gentiles to be circumcised and were seen in that way by James after the baptism of Cornelius. The point, however, that I was making was that the opposing perspective of the Christian Pharisees (that had been the dominant perspective of the early church for a generation after Pentecost in Acts 2) was only an assumption. You posit a hypothetical scriptural argument for the requirement of circumcision for Gentile converts and you may be right. But we have no record of any such scriptural justification being given before the baptism of Cornelius. Other than perhaps in Antioch it is not likely that the Gentile circumcision question even arose. It is likely that it was just assumed that circumcision was required of all because the idea of an uncircumcised man being in a covenant relationship with God was unimaginable. ( I mention Antioch as a possible exception because some believe that uncircumcised Gentiles were receiving Christian baptism there before Cornelius.)

  7. buckeyechuck says:

    Jay, I recommend you add the following blog site to the list you follow. It is not a CoC blogsite, but I find it very Biblically challenging with specific interest in issues pertaining to the gay Christian. Consider the following quote made by the Catholic author, Ron Belgau discussing the issue of experience vs. revelation. I find the Catholic church, in general, has done considerably more in the theological development of this topic.

    “If our own stories—which are made out of our experiences—only make sense within a larger story, then to be a Christian is to believe that the larger story that frames my own story is the narrative of creation, fall, and redemption through suffering revealed in the Old and New Testaments.”

    http://spiritualfriendship.org/2015/08/31/what-is-the-relationship-between-experience-and-revelation/

  8. buckeyechuck says:

    Jay, I recommend you add this blog site to the list you follow. It provides some of the best information I’ve found dealing with Biblical issues affecting the gay Christian. This article was written by a Catholic author, Ron Belgau, I find the Catholic church has a more developed theology regarding issues involving the gay Christian. This particular article, posted today, directly addresses the experience vs revelation discussion.

    “If our own stories—which are made out of our experiences—only make sense within a larger story, then to be a Christian is to believe that the larger story that frames my own story is the narrative of creation, fall, and redemption through suffering revealed in the Old and New Testaments.”

    http://spiritualfriendship.org/2015/08/31/what-is-the-relationship-between-experience-and-revelation/

  9. John F says:

    RE: pre Cornelius Gentile baptisms: In Acts 2 and following we see no requirement or even questions being asked — it is assumed that all in Acts 2 all were “sons of the gate” and in compliance with an acceptance of Jewish law and therefore circumcised. It is just as likely that Acts 15:1 (Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”) indicates a digression from previous understanding — began teaching — unless —-.

  10. John F says:

    RE: buckeyechuck: I followed the link, and then followed another using a profanity, wondering WHY it would be found in such a post. There are some interesting thoughts which follow; but they seek to be respective of scripture.

  11. buckeyechuck says:

    John, you are correct. I did see that unnecessary word in the original post. When I returned the word was changed to “fouled.” Seems a bit better. However, I felt this post directly related to Jays OP.

    Sorry for the double post error…. 🙁

  12. Dwight says:

    Vines posits a question- “Vines begins by arguing, fairly, that Jesus himself says that we should judge a tree by its fruit. If gay marriage is wrong, why is it wrong? What is the evil fruit that it supposedly bears?” The problem is that homosexuality is the evil fruit and not the tree. The person is the tree. Gal.519-21 “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like;” Fornication was meant to include all things of a sexual immoral nature such as incest, bestiality, homosexuality, etc. Sin may or may not result in something else, aside from condemnation from God. In the case of the Gentiles, God made the decision, not experience. God told Peter that the Gentiles we’re not unlcean and were worthy of hearing the gospel.
    Paul told a slave to go back to his owner Philemon. And then told them both to be Christians in dealing with each other. But this didn’t eradicate the owner-slave relationship.

  13. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    John F,

    Thanks for the note. I’d not noticed the “began teaching” in the NASB and NET. Other translations have “were teaching.” NET Bible translation notes say nothing on their choice. Interesting …

    The commentaries don’t discuss the translation choice, but the best I can tell from just the grammar, “were teaching” is closer to the Greek. I find nothing in the Greek itself to support “began teaching” — except the context clearly indicates that this was a new teaching in Antioch.

    Pre-Cornelius, we know that Peter would have supported the circumcision view, but it would have been moot, as no Gentiles had yet been converted except the Ethiopian eunuch, who might have been a proselyte.

    And except for Roman soldiers, Judea was nearly 100% Jewish. It was in the Diaspora that the question would have arisen, and evidently not before Acts 15.

    In Gal 2, Paul says these men were “from James.” Assuming the Gal 2 event and Acts 1 event are the same, then the circumcision party seems to have brought that teaching from James, the brother of Jesus and evidently the chairman of the elders in Jerusalem. So it’s no surprise that Peter got caught up in the politics and refused to eat with the Antioch uncircumcised Gentile converts.

    Now, were they simply assuming that nothing had changed? Maybe, but this is years post-Cornelius. Did James fail to get the lesson from the Cornelius event? It sure seems that Paul is saying that in Gal 2:12.

    If so, then James was influenced by more than inertia. I mean, if Cornelius doesn’t persuade you, then you’re bound to have some scriptural rationalization for your position. And our own experience with the massive inertia of tradition in the CoC bears this out. People will reject a new teaching in favor of tradition — but they’ll have a scriptural argument to support their view. They don’t just disagree with the Bible. They have a proof text.

    The only proof texts that would make any sense at all are Gen 17, where God requires circumcision of Abraham and his household, and Lev 12:3, which is the command to circumcise on the 8th day. Gen 17 is by far the more extensive discussion of the practice, and it’s tied directly to the covenant in 17:10.

    Paul responds to this argument in —

    (Rom 4:9-12 ESV) Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

  14. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    BC,

    Thanks for the link. I’ve added to my RSS reader.

  15. John F says:

    Acts 15:24 indicates that these teachings of 15:1 did NOT have apostolic endorsement. The reference “from James” may be nothing more than James as representative of those apostles who had remained to this time in Jerusalem. Or it may mean that James did not have a particular viewpoint at the outset of the discussion. But certainly in the letter written James does not agree with the circumcision party.

  16. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    John F,

    Or James may have changed his mind during the deliberations of the council. I really don’t know how to reconcile Gal 2 and Acts 15 otherwise — and Peter was in the wrong for a while. Why not James?

  17. stasisonline says:

    Gary, this is in response to your first post above.

    Youre right that nowhere in Scripture does it explicitly state that homosexuals must be celibate. But likewise, I hear few Christians utter those words. What Scripture does state on this matter is that sex with members of the same gender, is sinful. And that’s what I hear Christians say. Yes, it’s another way of saying the same thing. But have you considered that?

  18. Gary says:

    Stasis, what we actually have in Romans 1 is a seeming condemnation of those who exchange or give up their heterosexuality for homosexuality. That doesn’t apply to gays who have never had a heterosexual orientation to exchange or give up. If we simply take Paul at his word in Romans 1 and don’t try to put words in Paul’s mouth that he never said then there is in fact no condemnation in the NT of committed, same-sex marriages and relationships freely entered into by adults. Homosexuality in the first century was overwhelmingly associated with prostitution, promiscuity, pederasty and coercion. I’m not aware of any same-sex marriages in the Roman Empire before the AD60’s which is after the relevant NT texts were written. So despite the strenuous efforts of conservatives to prove otherwise there is no evidence that Paul had same-sex marriage in mind in his writings. The homosexuality Paul condemned waa sexual sin just as it would be today. But committed same-sex marriages and relationships between two persons with homosexual orientations fall outside the scope of the NT.

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

  20. Monty says:

    Jay,

    “but on the desire for (and perhaps the planning of) an illicit sexual liaison (cf. Exod 20:17, “you shall not covet your neighbor’s … wife,” where LXX uses the same verb, epithymeō).

    I had an instructor in Bible College who said, that Jesus meant premeditation of committing adultery was the sin Jesus spoke of, and not WOW! look how sexually attractive she is. If someone sets all the wheels in motion, to make it(committing the act) happen, then even if plans fall through, you’re still guilty.

  21. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Monty,

    I think your instructor is likely close. I mean, if the only reason you didn’t commit adultery is that she said “no,” well, you’ve still sinned against your wife. Exactly where the line is drawn is hard to say on just the grammar. But dwelling on having her sure sounds like envy, if not adultery. But noticing her beauty is not, by itself, the sin Jesus has in mind. Even being tempted — unless you’ve gone looking for temptation.

    Then again, Jesus would surely disapprove of going to a strip club, even if you really do just want to watch and no more. I struggle to articulate a standard, but most men know where the line is.

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