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Reflections on Matthew Vines' God and the Gay Christian .pdf



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Dear HCFA Community,
As you may have seen, Matthew Vines will be coming to Harvard today. Some who are
unfamiliar with theological conversations on sexuality and scripture will find his arguments new
or compelling. However, as a student of discussions around homosexuality in the Christian
context, I felt called to contribute to the theological conversations happening around
homosexuality at the present time.
In my view, the theological scholarship of the past two thousand years of Christendom, as well
as the weight of modern Christian scholarship, does not support his position or approach to
concluding that Scripture approves of same-sex sexual activity and related behavior. My aim in
this email is to provide people with relevant theological and Scriptural frameworks for engaging
with his work.
Mr. Vines is a winsome and gentle speaker who has had great success popularizing
lesser-known academic work addressing the issue of homosexuality in scripture. A Harvard
student from 2008-2010, he left school to do research on Christian arguments on
homosexuality and scripture. His research culminated in a highly controversial book entitled
God and the Gay Christian​. Mr. Vines synthesizes and popularizes arguments that many
laypersons have not heard before. However, from a theological perspective, Mr. Vines is
actually utilizing arguments that ​theologians have held to be disingenuous or unconvincing for
some time​.
Reading and Embracing Scripture on Its Own Terms
First, Mr. Vines, in his book, asserts that he holds a high view of Scripture, meaning that he
holds that "all of Scripture is inspired by God and authoritative for [his] life" (Vines 2). This is a
good thing. It doesn't mean that you believe that Scripture was literally penned by God, but it
does mean that, as Paul writes to Timothy, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable
for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Tim 3:16). In other
words, Scripture shows us how to fulfill our calling to be conformed to the image of Jesus. This
means we can't discard the parts of Scripture that we don't like and should be very careful in
relativizing uncomfortable parts of Scripture to cultural context because we could be throwing
away revelations of what it means to look like Jesus. Recognizing that Scripture sometimes calls
us to societally or personally uncomfortable standards as we lay aside everything that doesn’t
look like Jesus goes a long way in Scriptural analysis. Unfortunately, it seems that Vines ​does
indeed relativize uncomfortable parts of Scripture to cultural context in his analyses by
supplanting a proper understanding of the biblical authors with flawed understandings of those
authors or by stripping certain verses from their immediate contexts.

Vines' Creation/OT Readings - Not Reading and Embracing Scripture on Its Own Terms
All biblical scholars will acknowledge that it is important to consider cultural context in Biblical
exegesis (textual analysis and interpretation), but I find Vines to conduct this Old Testament
analysis with suspect methods. For instance, he reads the "suitable partner" criteria in Genesis
2:18 to mean that the appropriate partner for someone with same-sex attractions is a person of
the same-sex. This reading is deeply problematic for a number of reasons. First, it reads
uber-modern assumptions about sexuality and its expressions on an ancient text in an
anachronistic way.
Second, it ignores what the ancient Hebrew authors of this text themselves thought about
same-sex sexual expression, which they express clearly in the implications of the story of
Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19) and in Levitical Law (Lev. 18:22 and Lev 20:13). Other ancient
Jewish/Christian commentators (in Jude 7 and 2 Peter 2:6-10, as well as Philo, who is cited in
my next section) confirm an understanding of Sodom and Gomorrah's punishment as one given
for sexual immorality among other sins such as inhospitality (Ezekiel 16:49-50 uses the singular
Hebrew word ​toevah​ (abomination) to describe the actions of the citizens of that place. The
singular form of that word is used, in Hebrew, only 2 times in all of Leviticus - verses 18:22 and
20:13, speaking directly to same-sex sexual acts.)
Thirdly, and most confusingly, Vines resorts to severing the "suitable partner" verse from its
immediate biblical context, the creation story. In Genesis 1, God creates man and woman and
commissions them to "be fruitful and multiply." In the poetically complementary second
creation story of Genesis 2, God notes that the singular human Adam cannot fulfill the work to
which God has commissioned him without a "suitable partner." It's clear here that the
"suitability" of Eve as a partner is directly tied to the commission to procreate. Jesus himself
affirms the sex-differentiated sexual complementarity of one-flesh unions when, speaking on
divorce, he directly quotes Gen 1:27 ("male and female he created them") and Gen 2:24
("therefore shall a man...cleave to his wife and two shall become one flesh"). These quotes are
clearly sex-differentiated and reflect the ancient Jewish view of sex complementarity for
marriage. It appears that Jesus Christ himself does not hold that a "suitable partner" for
marriage and sexual intercourse could or should include a person of the same sex. Vines,
therefore, through analytical error, situates himself in opposition to the God-man himself. This
is not the fruit of analysis with a high view of Scripture as its foundation.
Vines' Reading of Romans 1/NT - Inserting Extraneous Terms into Reading Scripture

Another way in which Vines dangerously distorts biblical authors' contextual mindsets with
extraneous constructions is found in his interpretation of Romans 1. In this passage, Paul links
same-sex sexual desires and same-sex sexual behavior (for men and women) to a rejection of
God's given contexts for sex and sexual desire as found in the Genesis creation narratives. Vines
argues that Paul's negative moral view of homosexual sexual desire in these passages is based
on one of two criteria: 1) the idea that ancient Romans believed that homosexual desires were
borne from excessive sexual desires, and 2) when Paul makes a reference to "natural"
desires/relations, he's appealing to Roman patriarchal conceptions of dishonor and shame
rather than the Jewish creational account of how and why nature itself was originally formed.
On the first point, while some in Greco-Roman culture believed homosexual desire arose from
an untamed surplus of heterosexual desire, others did not. Tim Keller elaborates on this point
in a thoughtful and civil ​review of Vines’ book​. Keller cites scholars of a very well known book
by Plato called Symposium, which ​features a speech​ given by a man named Aristophanes. The
speech is a creation myth that asserts that some men and women have innate desires for
sexual union with people of the same-sex. Plato's writings certainly shaped Greco-Roman
culture in terms of its commentaries on philosophy, love, and the Good Life.
However, this is all ultimately beside the point, because Paul, though a Roman citizen, is very,
very Jewish (Phil 3:5). As theologian Albert Mohler, Jr. notes, Paul is more likely writing from a
Jewish understanding of sex and sexuality as opposed to a Greco-Roman perspective. (​Mohler
17​) Still, Vines argues that Paul is not condemning loving, non-lustful same sex desires, but only
excessively passionate, lustful same-sex desires. To make this point, he cites a Jewish
philosopher named Philo, who was a contemporary of Paul in 1st century AD. Vines argues that
Philo, who addresses same-sex sexual desires in part by comparing them to gluttony and
drunkenness, is only condemning same-sex sexual activity as it results from "excessive pleasure
seeking of men who could be satisfied with women" (Vines 71). Therefore, Vines argues, Philo is
working a model that doesn't address the modern context of same-sex sexual relationships
borne from simple attraction to one another.
Yet, this analysis ignores two crucial facts about Philo's own analysis. First, Philo ties biology
with sexual roles, criticizing the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah for paying no "respect for the
sex ​nature​ [emphasis added] which the active partner shares with the passive; and so when
they tried to beget children they were discovered to be incapable of any but a sterile seed."
(qtd in Vines 70). Here, it's clear that Philo is operating from a framework of ​nature​ that ties
procreation with sexual complementarity and critiques the men of Sodom and Gomorrah for
abandoning that deeply Jewish creation framework for sex and sexuality. Additionally, on the
question of excess, theologian and United Methodist minister J. Edward Ellis notes that Philo
also associates bestiality with sexual excess in the same passage that he criticizes same-sex

sexual behavior. (​Ellis 168​) It is unlikely that Philo or any Jewish thinker of the time would have
sanctioned non-excessive man-animal lovemaking. A similar claim is most likely true about
Philo’s view on male-male or female-female sexual relations.
On the topic of "nature" referencing Greco-Roman cultural norms instead of the Jewish
creation story, this claim by Vines relies on two more unlikely principles. First, Vines assumes
that Paul is more likely to rely on Greco-Romans notions of "nature" and norms of
righteousness than Jewish ones. This is an odd assertion to make about a man who calls himself
a "Hebrew of Hebrews." (Phil 3:5) Additionally, instead of aligning himself with Greco-Roman
culture, Paul is clearly making a critique of it in Romans 1.
What makes more sense, and is clearer after linguistic analysis, is that Paul is referencing the
Jewish conception of nature, i.e. the creation accounts found in Genesis 1+2. Theologian Denny
Burk notes that Paul uses the unusual words ​thelys​ and ​arsen​ in referring to females and males,
respectively, referencing the specific words used to describe females and males in the
Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament. (​Burk 49​) These words are particularly
located in the Greek translation of Genesis 1:27 - "male and female he created them," which is
the same verse subsequently tied to the procreative commission in Genesis 1:28. In other
words, Paul is intentionally and linguistically tying "natural relations" to those which fulfill the
sexual complementarity and procreative intent of sex as established by the creation narrative
of Genesis 1 and 2. Therefore, he is grounding his definition of "natural" in the Genesis sources
and not in secular or Greco-Roman sources.
There is much more to say here, as I've only addressed two of the six biblical passages which
Vines addresses on his book, but in the spirit of fair, rigorously intellectual dialogue, I wanted
everyone to be aware that while it is true that we all engage in the practice of interpreting the
Scriptures, there are more faithful ways of interpreting Scripture than others. Reading
anachronistic biases into Scripture instead of considering the cultural and theological
convictions of the Bible's authors is one of the less effective ways of reading and analyzing
Scripture. We must read the Bible on its terms - not our own.
Another Concern - The Gentle Deception of Consequentialist Ethics
There is a final qualm I have about Mr. Vines' approach to understanding Scripture. The first
chapter of Mr. Vines' book is called "A Tree and Its Fruit." It is a description of his personal
anxieties, fears, and anguish surrounding the process of coming out and attempting to reconcile
Scripture with his desire to pursue a romantic partnership and marriage to a person of the
same-sex. His experience is moving, as are the stories of countless other LGBTQ Americans who
have struggled to understand their experiences in light of the competing cultural stories around

them. Moving from several descriptions of negative coming out experiences, Vines cites a
passage in Matthew 7:15-20:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You
will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every
healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit,
nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown
into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits."​ (qtd in Vines 14)

Ostensibly, this is an excellent test for determining what theology is good, and what theology is
bad. Vines says, "Jesus' test is simple: if something bears bad fruit, it cannot be a good tree. And
if something bears good fruit, it cannot be a bad tree." (Vines 14) In the context of the chapter,
Vines seems to be arguing that good theology leads to good experiences and bad theology
leads to bad experiences.
On its face, this is a good way to separate good theology from bad theology, ​until you consider
the very life of Jesus of Nazareth and his disciples​. Jesus accomplished many good things in his
life, but in following the will of God, he was led to persecutions, injustice, and even death. The
same was true of his disciples, especially Peter (crucified upside down) and Paul (perhaps
beheaded). Jesus, not contradicting himself, says this in Matthew 16:24:
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."
If Christ had adopted the consequentialist method of assessing God's Will for his life, he likely
wouldn't have taken up his own Cross to fulfill God's mission of salvation. But an exclusively
consequentialist approach to determining God's Will is not sufficient. We need to obey the
inspired and authoritative revelation He has already given us, even when it seems hard or
painful.
Final Reflections on Love
LGBTQ+ suicide and depression are serious issues, and every Christian should be deeply
anguished that sin has led Christians and non-Christians alike to see and treat people with
same-sex attractions as if they did not bear the image of God over the past centuries. We
should repent of those moral failings. But that doesn't mean we should rewrite Scripture and
ignore relevant scholarship so that our interpretations align with cultural narratives of
marriage, sex, and romance that are ultimately way more destructive not only to LGBTQ folk
but to everyone else as well.

God is love and God is life. I affirm these things. But it’s true as well that following God can be
really difficult, and not only so for Christians with same-sex attractions. The notion that sex and
sexual expression are fundamentally tied to personhood has resulted in many men I've met
feeling suicidal or despondent over their inability to shake a durable addiction to pornography. I
can't tell you how many Christians suffering from durable sin patterns like premarital sex or
uncontrollable anger or eating addictions have expressed to me feelings of shame, depression,
and anguish in the process of discipleship. To be perfectly frank, I myself have, at times, wanted
to stop following Jesus to pursue same-sex relationships because that's what the world around
me tells me is better for me and truer to my humanity.
But there is hope for me and for you in that God loves us, His Word is life, and culture does
not define what's best for us.​ Culture cannot define my humanity. The God who fashioned me
from the Earth with ​His​ hands and breathed ​His ​breath into my body says who I am, and He
says I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14) and deeply beloved (Rom. 5:8). He also
says that ​I'm not yet who He's making me into (Phil. 1:6). ​I don't know if God is going to take
away my same-sex attractions, but I do know that 1) He can if He wants to, and 2) if He doesn't
want to, He can strengthen me by His Spirit to love others profoundly and recklessly, and to do
so without sinning or exchanging truth about sin for a lie. (Rom. 1:24-25).
In sin, I have known many despondent people, but in Christ, I have seen those folks brought out
from the pathways of depression and self-flagellation into joyous happiness and freedom they
could have never known. The Spirit of God did that for them, and Jesus promises the Spirit can
help us, too, no matter the issue. (John 14:26) We, as the Body of Christ, also have to be there
to bear the pain, anguish, and anxieties of our friends until they experience their freedom (Gal.
6:1-2). Their suffering must become our own, and only then can we share in each others’ joy.
Unfortunately, I can't make it to the Vines event. If you are going, however, I encourage you all,
as has been suggested, to ask very hard questions of his theological premises and failures to
consider Scripture on its own terms.
As always, I'm available every day if you want to hear my experiences or challenge my
understanding of the Christian sexual ethic. ​Shoot me an email or text if you have interest in
that.
I love you all with the extravagant love of Christ, and I'm praying for this event and for you all as
well.
In Christ,

Tyler


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