A Response to Matthew Vines’ 40 Questions For Christians Who Oppose Marriage Equality: An Afterword.

A Response to Matthew Vines’ 40 Questions For Christians Who Oppose Marriage Equality

Afterword.

In my responses to Vines’ questions with respect to slavery and cosmology, I was a little hasty in calling these questions “red herrings.” In this case, however, I believe Vines was building an argument that can be stated as the following syllogism:

  1. The Church believed, based on information that was outdated, that the Bible teaches that slavery was acceptable.
  2. The Church believed, based on information that was outdated, that the Bible teaches the earth revolved around the sun.
  3. The Church believes, based on outdated information, the Bible teaches that homosexual behavior is always wrong.
  4. New discoveries tell us the Church was wrong about slavery and cosmology, and that the Church is probably wrong about homosexuality.
  5. Therefore, the Church ought to embrace homosexuality.

I realize this is a little oversimplified, but I think his view boils down to this. I already addressed the problem of using the slavery issue as an analogy. With respect to cosmology, it is not a moral issue, so changing one’s interpretation of Biblical texts carries no moral consequences. At the time the Church believed in the geocentric model, (earth as the center) it was based on Ptolemaic cosmology that was never intended to describe the world as it actually is (scientific realism) but simply offered a model for the study of the world. When Copernicus and Galileo showed the sun to be the center of the solar system, they were discovering how the world actually is. Up until that time, there was no reason to question geocentric interpretations of the Bible. This counterexample from Vines is much more vulnerable to the charge of being a red herring.

Another problem for Vines’ method, which seeks to build a case for reinterpreting Scripture on the basis that “the Church has been wrong about…” is that you can apply this to any doctrine. Why not question the command, “Thou shall not murder?” On this view, one could concede that abortion really is murder, but since preserving the mother’s happiness and career opportunities was unknown to the writers of the Bible, and they were sexist anyway, we could argue for allowing abortion even if we admit it is murder. Moreover, these writers were unaware of the expenses involved in caring for the elderly and disabled, therefore killing them would be okay. Make no mistake, I DO NOT BELIEVE VINES HOLDS THESE VIEWS! My point is that once you start down the road of “morality changes because the writers of Scripture didn’t know…” it can be a logical slippery slope. It also illustrates the risks of fallen human beings interpreting Scripture in light of their experience. It seems to me that since most Christians who interpret the Bible in this manner already agree with Vines. (That’s a guess. I could be mistaken.) If Vines wants to convince the rest of us, he needs to persuade us as to why we ought to adopt his method of interpretation.

A Response to Matthew Vines’ 40 Questions For Christians Who Oppose Marriage Equality Part 3

A Response to Matthew Vines’ 40 Questions For Christians Who Oppose Marriage Equality Part 3

  24.  Do you believe that the Bible explicitly teaches that all gay Christians must be single and celibate for life?

I believe that all Christians must remain celibate while they are single, and marriage is a man and a woman. If any Christian chooses not to marry a member of the opposite sex and restrict his sexual activity to his spouse, then he ought to remain celibate.

  25.  If not, do you feel comfortable affirming something that is not explicitly affirmed in the Bible?

If by “something that is not explicitly affirmed in the Bible,” you mean there is no verse that says, “All gay Christians must be single and celibate for life,” I do not affirm that sentence. See my previous answer to see what I do affirm.

  26.  Do you believe that the moral distinction between lust and love matters for LGBT people’s romantic relationships?

No. The relevant passages, Genesis 1 and 2, Deuteronomy 18, Romans 1, etc. make no distinctions with respect to motive. They form the basis for behavior.

  27.  Do you think that loving same-sex relationships should be assessed in the same way as the same-sex behavior Paul explicitly describes as lustful in Romans 1?

The issue is not lust only but function. Romans 1:26b-27a states, “for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another…” No exception in any passage regarding same sex behavior is predicated on being “loving” relationships.

  28.  Do you believe that Paul’s use of the terms “shameful” and “unnatural” in Romans 1:26-27 means that all same-sex relationships are sinful?

I believe the passage, in context, reaffirms the sinful nature of same-sex sexual behavior. It is not predicated on two isolated words.

  29.  Would you say the same about Paul’s description of long hair in men as “shameful” and against “nature” in 1 Corinthians 11:14, or would you say he was describing cultural norms of his time?

Paul’s treatment of same-sex sexual activity is part of a larger set of passages dealing with sexual morality. His note about hair length is one letter to one church, suggesting a much more limited context. Therefore, the comparison is apples and oranges.

  30.  Do you believe that the capacity for procreation is essential to marriage?

Yes, if by essential you mean it is part of what the essence of marriage is. Essence means the “what-ness” of a thing. What is marriage? It is the union of two people whose essence is such that their intimacy produces offspring.

  31.  If so, what does that mean for infertile heterosexual couples?

Heterosexual couples that are infertile are no less essentially unions that produce children than an amputee is less human. The exception does not defeat the rule.

  32.  How much time have you spent engaging with the writings of LGBT-affirming Christians like Justin Lee, James Brownson, and Rachel Murr?

None. How much time have you spent engaging with the writings of traditional marriage-affirming Christians like Kevin DeYoung, Sean McDowell, and William Lane Craig? Your point?

  33.  What relationship recognition rights short of marriage do you support for same-sex couples?

With respect to public policy, live and let live. With respect to Christians in this situation, welcome to attend church, encouraged to end the romantic aspect of their relationship, but not qualified to lead, teach, or vote on church matters, and encouraged to submit to the clear teaching of Scripture.

  34.  What are you doing to advocate for those rights?

About as much as you are to advocate for the rights of bakers to refuse to make wedding cakes for same-sex weddings.

  35.  Do you know who Tyler Clementi, Leelah Alcorn, and Blake Brockington are, and did your church offer any kind of prayer for them when their deaths made national news?

With the possible exception of Clementi, I had never heard of them. Their deaths were tragic, but it does not follow that people’s struggles leading them to commit suicide obligates us to affirm whatever it is they are confused about. Moreover, if my church offered prayers for everyone whose death made national news, we would have no time for anything else. Nothing follows from how this question is answered. This seems like a set up for “you think you are right, so you are arrogant” except this would be, “you don’t grieve every gender confused person in the news, therefore your view is wrong.”

  36.  Do you know that LGBT youth whose families reject them are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide than LGBT youth whose families support them?

Do you know a family can accept a LGBT youth without affirming their LGBT youth?

  37.  Have you vocally objected when church leaders and other Christians have compared same-sex relationships to things like bestiality, incest, and pedophilia?

No, because when church leaders and other Christians note that Leviticus 18 passage that prohibits homosexual behavior is listed with prohibitions against bestiality, incest and pedophilia I know they are not comparing the behaviors. (There’s that fish again.) Moreover, it is entirely reasonable to ask, if you are advocating reinterpreting this and other passages against same-sex sexual behavior, what principled argument do you offer for why we should not embrace bestiality, incest or pedophilia? Who are you to say who should be allowed to love whom? The very same logic you use to defend same-sex sexual behavior can validly be applied to these questions.

  38.  How certain are you that God’s will for all gay Christians is lifelong celibacy?

How certain are you that it is not? Go back and read my answer to 24. Then note that certainty is not the same as truth. I can be certain about an issue and wrong, or uncertain and correct.

  39.  What do you think the result would be if we told all straight teenagers in the church that if they ever dated someone they liked, held someone’s hand, kissed someone, or got married, they would be rebelling against God?

They would open a Bible and show us we were mistaken, in fact, our elementary school kids could do that. Was there a point to that question?

40.  Are you willing to be in fellowship with Christians who disagree with you on this topic?

Absolutely, but if I wasn’t, all that would prove is that I am a lousy Christian, or a hypocrite. It would prove nothing about the truth of the issue.

I was quite disappointed by these questions. I thought Vines had more to offer than poor exegesis and arguments from emotion. No one ever claimed living the Christian life was easy. I might not even like all the moral principles that come with it. But since Jesus did so much for me, the only way I can rightly love him back is to obey him. That means I don’t get to pick and choose what that means. It also means that the same Jesus, yesterday, today, and forever, would let us know clearly if obedience to him changes.

Any Christian who is same-sex attracted can count on me to love him or her, as long as they understand that I am going to do my best to let 1 Corinthians 13 define what that means, including verse 6, “love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth.”

A Response to Matthew Vines’ 40 Questions For Christians Who Oppose Marriage Equality Part 2

A Response to Matthew Vines’ 40 Questions For Christians Who Oppose Marriage Equality Part 2

Picking up where I left off, I continue my responses.

8.  How many gay brothers and sisters in Christ have you walked with on the path of mandatory celibacy, and for how long?

I have walked through the experience with as many gay brothers and sisters as I know, which is none. This says nothing about my willingness to do so, nor about the rightness of it. If a brother or sister came to me and told me of their struggle, I would advise them to remain celibate if traditional marriage was not something they would pursue, and I would walk through that struggle with them. Again, the absence of my experience in this matter is completely irrelevant to the issue of the morality.

   9.  What is your answer for gay Christians who struggled for years to live out a celibacy mandate but were driven to suicidal despair in the process?

The premise of this question seems to be that struggling for years to live celibate is what drove the person to suicidal despair. That someone would be suicidal over that suggests much deeper issues than celibacy in light of same-sex attraction.

   10.  Has mandatory celibacy produced good fruit in the lives of most gay Christians you know?

If by “mandatory celibacy” you mean celibacy because someone told you that’s what the rules were, then no “mandatory” behavior has ever produced “good fruit” in anyone’s life, if you mean spiritual fruit. However, forbidden behavior, for whatever reason, produces all kinds of bad fruit.

   11.  How many married same-sex couples do you know?

Just one. How many do I need before it becomes obvious that it is irrelevant?

   12.  Do you believe that same-sex couples’ relationships can show the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?

Relationships don’t show the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is expressed in individuals through relationships. Love? Among other things, Paul says that love “…does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:6) Leviticus 18 and Romans 1, among other passages, clearly show homosexual behavior to be examples of “unrighteousness.” Peace? Maybe, but it sure seems like it is incumbent on those of us who disagree with you to cave in order for the peace to prevail. Among such couples? That will vary. Goodness? That begs the question. If homosexual behavior is sin, and sin is evil, then it is impossible for homosexual relationships to bear the fruit of goodness. Self control is also out the window if the claim is that same-sex attracted people cannot live celibate.

  13.  Do you believe that it is possible to be a Christian and support same-sex marriage in the church?

It is possible for to be a Christian and be confused and mistaken about a great many things. The issue is, on what basis does the Christian support same-sex marriage? Being a Christian means recognizing one’s sinful condition and need of a savior, and trusting in the person and work of Jesus Christ to reconcile us to God. We come to this knowledge through Scripture. If someone claims to accept this teaching of Scripture, but rejects the teaching on sexual boundaries, it is fair to ask on what basis they accept the teaching about Jesus.

  14.  Do you believe that it is possible to be a Christian and support slavery?

*sniff sniff * Do I smell fish? It must be that red herring over there.

  15.  If not, do you believe that Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards were not actually Christians because they supported slavery?

In what sense do these individuals “support slavery?” What kind of slavery? Often the indentured servant provision of the Mosaic law, this was what was provided for as a “welfare” program for those who found themselves in poverty. They could “sell” themselves for up to six years to pay off the debt. They were housed and fed, and were not considered property. However, what does it even mean that these people “support” it? In any case, see my answer to 13. It applies to any Christian and any problematic belief.

  16.  Do you think supporting same-sex marriage is a more serious problem than supporting slavery?

There’s that fish again.

  17.  Did you spend any time studying the Bible’s passages about slavery before you felt comfortable believing that slavery is wrong?

I spent enough time to realize that this question trades on the equivocation of the word “slavery.” Vines knows this word conjures up visions of the antebellum south and chattel slavery in the United States, when the Bible passages regarding slavery speak to no such condition.

  18.  Does it cause you any concern that Christians throughout most of church history would have disagreed with you?

It causes me no more concern than it does Vines that for 3500 years, the Judeo-Christian worldview has disagreed with him.

  19.  Did you know that, for most of church history, Christians believed that the Bible taught the earth stood still at the center of the universe?

Does Vines know that all the homosexual people who lived before Copernicus though the same thing? His point?

  20.  Does it cause you any concern that you disagree with their interpretation of the Bible?

No more than it concerns me that I disagree with the Roman Catholic interpretation of the Bible. If numbers of people and length of time counted for anything, Vines would not even be making his case.

  21.  Did you spend any time studying the Bible’s verses on the topic before you felt comfortable believing that the earth revolves around the sun?

No, but then I know the difference between factual assertions and phenomenological language (describing things as they appear, rather than as they are. Even in our scientific age, every weather forecasting website and newscast still speak of “sunrise” and “sunset.”)

  22.  Do you know of any Christian writers before the 20thcentury who acknowledged that gay people must be celibate for life due to the church’s rejection of same-sex relationships?

I have no knowledge of any Christian writers before the 20th century writing about how gay people should behave, and no Christian writer I read bases such ideas on what the Church accepts or rejects. The question is what does God’s Word accept or reject. This question is also a red herring.

  23.  If not, might it be fair to say that mandating celibacy for gay Christians is not a traditional position?

No, it would be fair to say that Scripture mandates celibacy for any Christian who is not married (in the traditional man/woman sense.) That is the traditional position.

To be continued… (cue fanfare with dramatic reverb.)

A Response to Matthew Vines’ 40 Questions For Christians Who Oppose Marriage Equality Part 1

A Response to Matthew Vines’ 40 Questions For Christians Who Oppose Marriage Equality Part 1

Matthew Vines is Founder and President of The Reformation Project. He is author of God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. His work has been featured recently in the New York Times and Time. Vines posted the article linked above in response to Kevin DeYoung’s 40 Questions for Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags. Vines advocates a rejection of the traditional Christian understanding of sexual morality. To his credit, Vines offers his arguments in a reasonable tone, refraining from the hostile rhetoric all too common in this debate. However, he is starting from a preconceived notion that is contrary to classical Christianity. A glance at the questions below gives a sense that he would have us read Scripture in light of experience, rather than interpreting our experience in light of Scripture. This is a common theme in Liberal Theology. Here, “liberal” is not used as a pejorative, nor does it refer to political views. Liberal Theology traces its roots to the work of Friedrich Schleiermacher (1760-1834.)[1] Ironically, if I apply this approach, and I read Jeremiah 17:9,

“The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?”

I can say, “That is consistent with my experience. Therefore, I ought to interpret my experience in light of Scripture, since my heart is not reliable as measure of interpretation of Scripture.” (I realize this is simplistic, but the point is that the overwhelming evidence for human depravity really seems to mitigate against the liberal view.)

Before I address the questions, I want to respond to Vines’ opening line. He says, “Too often, LGBT-affirming Christians are the only ones asked to explain and defend their views.” One gets the sense that Vines is complaining about bearing the burden of proof. But given the long history of the traditional view, the affirming Christian is asserting a new view, and a basic rule of engagement is that whoever makes an assertion bears the burden of proof. It is like the rights of the accused. When you make an assertion, you are accusing something of being a feature of reality. For that, you bear the burden of proof.

Now to the questions.

  1. Do you accept that sexual orientation is not a choice?

According to the American Psychological Association, “Sexual orientation refers to the sex of those to whom one is sexually and romantically attracted.”[2] If this is what Vines means, then I suppose while it is possible to train one’s affections, most people do not choose to be attracted to one sex or the other. However, if someone finds herself attracted to members of the same sex, she has a choice as to how to respond to that attraction. There is overwhelming evidence from both general and special revelation that we are intended for members of the opposite sex. Genesis 2 describes the union of the man and woman, and Jesus even refers to this in response to a question about divorce. (Matthew 19:5-6) From general revelation, we need only to look at our “plumbing.” Moreover, it’s not for nothing they are called reproductive organs. As such, attraction to members of the same sex ought to be recognized as a sign that something is amiss. So the answer to the first question is not a simple yes or no.

  1. Do you accept that sexual orientation is highly resistant to attempts to change it?

I accept that, like many forms of disordered thought, confused sexual orientation can be highly resistant to attempts to change it. That change is difficult tells us nothing about the morality of the behavior. Drug addicts find abstaining very difficult. Many do recover. Likewise (and I am not equating same-sex attraction with drug addiction) there have been those who have successfully recovered from same-sex attraction.[3]

  1. How many meaningful relationships with lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) people do you have?

I have family members with whom I have meaningful relationships. However, all that follows from these relationships, or lack thereof, is how the issue affects me emotionally. I never said I was indifferent to the emotional side of it. It is just not relevant to the question.

  1. How many openly LGBT people would say you are one of their closest friends?

None. However, leaving aside the irrelevance of this, how many LGBT people would allow someone who does not affirm their lifestyle to be one of their closest friends? I do not seek out LGBT people to become friends with them, nor avoid them. I build relationships as the opportunity presents itself.

  1. How much time have you spent in one-on-one conversation with LGBT Christians about their faith and sexuality?

The only one-on-one conversation I have had so far with a LGBT Christian was very short since the person could not differentiate between disagreement and “hate.”

  1. Do you accept that heterosexual marriage is not a realistic option for most gay people?

That depends on how you define “gay people.” If you mean people who are convinced of the rightness of their orientation and have no interest in changing it, then obviously marriage (classically understood) is not a realistic option. However, if you mean same-sex attracted people, then it is a realistic option as evidenced by the story of Allan Edwards.

  1. Do you accept that lifelong celibacy is the only valid option for most gay people if all same-sex relationships are sinful?

No. Go back and read my answer to question 6.

I will pick up the discussion with question 8 in Part 2.

[1] Nancey C. Murphy, Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism: How Modern and Postmodern Philosophy Set the Theological Agenda, The Rockwell Lecture Series (Valley Forge, Pa.: Trinity Press International, ©1996), 22.

[2] http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/sexuality-definitions.pdf

[3] Many stories of such people can be found here. http://www.pfox.org/personal-stories/