We are considering one of the latest, and most favorably reviewed, books supporting Christian gay marriage, Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships.
At this point, the defense rests. We could move on to other arguments made by Vines, but this is more than enough to make the point.
Vines does make additional, thoughtful arguments, but they just don’t matter if Romans 1 says what I believe it says and 1 Cor 6:9-10 says what I believe it says.
Paul lived in a culture that was very well aware of male and female homosexuality. In fact, the cultures that surrounded the Jews approved homosexual conduct by and large — even celebrated it. It wasn’t just the Greeks and the Romans. It was also the Egyptians, the Babylonians, and on and on. The Jews’ total rejection of homosexual sex marked them off from their neighbors just as surely as their food laws and circumcision — perhaps even more so.
The trend in the Bible is toward greater strictness, not less, regarding gay sex. The Torah says nothing specifically about lesbianism. Paul specifically condemns the practice. There is no sense in which the NT is less strict than the OT on this subject. There is no trend toward greater homosexual freedom. There is nothing in the NT that points toward approval of the practice or to the possibility that there might be exceptions to the broad condemnation found in scriptures. In fact, while the OT simply prohibits the practice, the NT offers a theological basis for the prohibition — making the case all the stronger.
The scriptures are counter-cultural in treating women and slaves far better than the pagans did — and even better over time — whereas the scriptures are counter-cultural in prohibiting homosexual conduct — and become stricter over time, even though Rome was becoming more accepting — even conducting homosexual weddings.
The direction of God’s revelation is clear in each case. God moved the church more and more toward eliminating slavery and granting women equal standing with men, whereas God just as surely pointed the church away from Roman decadence and made ever-stronger prohibitions on homosexual conduct.
If there ever was a time to approve some homosexual practices — such as marriage between consenting, mutually committed adults, why not approve that practice during the reign of Nero? Why did the NT writers miss his chance to join the sweep of history and approve practices that were increasingly common and well-known in the Empire?
Why not speak against prostitution, pederasty, and abuse but affirm what was also going on — romantic love between two men affirmed by a marriage recognized by the state? If God approves this, why did he not say so given that these practices were going on while the NT was being composed?
The impact of culture
Consider this. Today, we are told that people are either straight or gay and they have no choice in the matter. Bisexuals are largely gay people who’ve not yet accepted their true natures. Therefore, a gay person cannot choose to be straight. We are told that this is true with scientific certainty. Perhaps so.
But then we’re told that in NT times, men chose sexual partners as a matter of choice. Most men preferred both men and women. In fact, men so flagrantly and freely chose both male and female partners, that Paul would not have even imagined that someone might prefer only same-sex partners. Or so we’re told.
So homosexuality/bisexuality are cultural? Mere social constructs? Or people have changed? Or what? How can both accounts of human sexuality be true?
I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I have some. First, I know that the notion of men who innately rejected sex with women and had sex only with other men was well known to the Greeks and Romans. Just as is true today, there are people who, by the time they reach puberty, prefer the same sex — to the exclusion of the other sex.
Clearly, some people who are bisexual can happily live as heterosexuals. That’s the story of countless Greek and Roman men who gave up male lovers to marry a woman and leave homosexuality behind. Then again, many Greek men married women and continued to enjoy sex with male lovers. Obviously, the Greeks didn’t get the memo about having to be either straight or gay.
So culture plainly plays a huge role in sexual preference. I mean, can you imagine telling the typical straight American married adult male that he’s welcome to keep a 18-year old young man around as a an additional sex partner? This was common in Greece, and yet would be considered not only immoral but repugnant to most straight Americans. So why the difference? Evidently, culture opens men up to possibilities that most of us Westerners consider objectionable at an instinctual, even visceral level.
In short, Vines, like most who argue for Christian gay marriage, has to invent a Paul living in a culture blissfully unaware of male and female possibilities, believing that all men and all women may enjoy either straight or gay sex as a matter of taste, and choosing the homosexual path solely out of rebellion to God, not because of any innate desire.
But this is just not the real Greco-Roman world of the early First Century. Plato and many others had noted and were well aware that some men and some women only wanted sexual relations with their own sex. Indeed, Greece and Rome were fully aware of what a homosexual is, even if they didn’t bother to coin a word for it — because no one cared. The culture had largely rejected all sexual boundaries, eliminating the need for labels. And it’s not hard to imagine our Western culture winding up in a very similar place.
(Philo was a Hellenized Jew and contemporary of Jesus and Paul. He commented — disapprovingly — on Plato’s speculations in the Symposium on the origins of gay and lesbian men and women in On the Contemplative Life v. 62. Philo felt no need to mention the author or the name of the book because Plato’s work so well known to his readers. Hence, Plato’s theories about homosexuals, male and female, were well known among educated Jews during Paul’s day.)
In short, Vines attempts to be fair and honest in his arguments while still supporting the position he wants to support — and yet his arguments fail. They just aren’t very persuasive, and the weakness of the logic and the evidence presented is very obvious to anyone who’s studied the questions.
Unfortunately, many Christian don’t to their homework to see which side is right. Rather, seeing that many books have now been written on the subject and that the arguments involve Greek and history, they just go with their gut — which sometimes means treating homosexuality itself (as opposed to homosexual sexual activity) as a sin and sometimes means figuring that marriage approved by the federal government is surely marriage approved by God.
But the scriptures haven’t changed, Paul’s arguments based on the nature of Creation remain valid, and homosexual activity remains sinful.
On the other hand, it’s no more sinful than heterosexual sin. Premarital sex is just as wrong. Although the modern church — and modern USA — is obsessed with sex as the source of personal identity and fulfillment, this is not biblical. Therefore, sexual immorality is treated as the worst of all sins while we ignore economic injustices, oppression of the weak, etc.– which the Bible says much more about.
We do need to rethink our priorities. It’s not that we shouldn’t be very serious about sexual sin, but that we should be just as serious regarding heterosexual sin and, even then, be more open to God’s guidance on other issues as even more important. God cares about our sex lives and sexual morality, but it’s a huge mistake to center Christian ethics on sexual ethics. There are more important things.
Jesus clearly condemned sexual immorality — but he spent far more of his limited time in ministry preaching on other topics. And if we honored his teachings, the church would be a much better place in which to struggle with obedience in sexual and other areas.