Matthew Vines is gay, he is also a Christian. He firmly believes that the Bibles prohibitions against homosexuality do not envision or encompass gay monogamous Christian relationships. According to him, the Bible condemns sexual excess, not sexual orientation. It is, therefore, no sin to act out on same-sex impulses provided they are safely within a covenant of marriage.
I did not enjoy this book. All the interpretations of Scripture feel like such a stretch to me, but they are pulled along by highly charged emotional stories of suffering and abuse. By the end of the book, it's hard not to think that if I still disagreed with Matthew, I would be on the wrong side of history.
Christians have made mistakes before
Vines is worried that Christians will have to throw out the Bible if they take his position, but he tells his readers that it's just an interpretive issue, not an authority issue.
- We were wrong about slavery. We changed, and the Bible is still authoritative
- We were wrong about the earth being the centre of the universe. We changed, and the Bible is still authoritative.
- We were wrong about strict patriarchy and the role of women in the Church. We changed and the Bible is still authoritative.
Therefore it is entirely possible that we could be wrong about condemning monogamous gay marriage, that we could change and still have the Bible be authoritative.
Within the Church, it would undoubtedly make things a lot easier if Vines were right. Outside the Church, it won't make any difference at all. Activists are calling for sexual freedom, which is hardly what Matthew Vines is suggesting. Both Christians who hold to traditional views and those who are open to a "Vine-ean" interpretation will still be ridiculed by the broader public.
God wouldn't do this to his children.
According to the author, it is "bad fruit" to condemn a Christian person to a life of celibacy against their will just because that person happens to be same-sex attracted. It is not "good fruit" for man to be alone! So there must be a better interpretation for those Scriptures that appear to prohibit homosexual activity. A good God would not create a rule that produces the bad fruit of loneliness and perpetual banishment from the intimate belonging that God gifts to human beings in marriage. Monogamous gay marriage doesn't hurt or damage anyone, therefore it's "good fruit" The early Church initially thought that Christianity was a Jewish cultural thing, but as the early Church listened to God and looked at their own experiences they decided it was "bad fruit" to force Gentiles to keep Jewish laws and get circumcised. Those were unnecessary restrictions, and so they fell away.
In the same way, it's bad fruit to force Gay Christians to keep unnecessary sexual laws that technically, if you look at Scripture close enough, don't even apply to a Gay Christian in the 21st century. Bad fruit does not mean personal hardships or whatever someone doesn't happen to like. Vine's use of this parable strikes me as something out of Hobbes' or Jean-Jacques Rousseau's playbook. That's not good.
Gay people can't help it, so how can it be wrong?
Gay people cannot change their sexual desires. "Sexual orientation is both fixed and unchosen." says Vines, therefore "it is impossible for same-sex attracted people to be attracted to opposite sex people." Many have tried and failed, creating even more problems. He cites the complete failure of the ex-gay movement "Exodus International" as evidence.
But this is not true, Rosaria Butterfield and Deborah Hirsch are two notable examples to the contrary, also, in my own city, I know personally two same-sex attracted men who managed to marry women and are happy. They wouldn't say they are never attracted to their same sex anymore, but they manage the temptations with their spouses. God has given them deep affection for the women they married, and it's working out just fine. Every human relationship is unique, human sexuality is both more complex and flexible than Vines allows with his short definitive statements about sexual attraction.
What about what the Scripture actually says?
According to Vines, all six of the no gay sex passages don't actually mean no gay sex, they mean no bad gay sex. Bad gay sex is whatever happens outside of marriage. As for the male and female, one flesh marriage thing, well that can go away too as an argument against homosexuality because that isn't really about biology, it's about covenant keeping. Moses, Jesus, and Paul when they talk about, leaving and cleaving and one fleshing, they are talking about keeping promises not anatomical body parts that naturally fit together. Promise-keeping is a big part of it to be sure, but no less significant than the male and female coming together. He spent a lot of time attempting to debunk the need for gender complementarity in marriage, his insistence that the terminology is simply about promise-keeping remains particularly unconvincing.
The Levitical passages against gay sex get tossed out with the shell-fish laws, they don't apply. Vines rejects, the non-biblical man-made distinction that eliminates civil and ceremonial laws but at the same time keeps the moral ones. According to his hermeneutics, you don't get to keep some rules and toss the others.
What about Sodom? — The thirteen O.T. passages that condemn Sodom speak against its arrogance, it's pride, it's violence, it's in-hospitality, it's uncaring attitude, and it's abuse of the marginalized. They don't dwell on same-sex behaviour much at all. It's not until 1st century A.D. that this link is made. Indeed the term "sodomite" according to Vines, is a term from the 11th century A.D.
The words for "abomination" and "despicable actions," which seem to have obvious links to sexual behaviour are reinterpreted to mean sexual excess. It would be excessive to gang rape someone, or as one scholar suggested to have sex with an angel. Evidently, if one man came to the door with a marriage proposal for Lots guests, it wouldn't have been so bad.
In the New Testament passages, it's more of the same. The sin is not in the act itself, Sexual excess is the problem. According to Vines, homosexual activity was always considered excessive in the first century. It was always men who needed more than what they were getting in their marriages. There was no category of orientation and no understanding of gay marriage. It was always sexual "overflow." To be faithful to the Scriptures' original intent, this passage and all the rest should only be used to condemn sexual excess. I just don't buy it. Paul is condemning the action — period. I would rather just walk away from Scripture, then twist it so badly here. Yes, Paul didn't think in terms of sexual orientation, he didn't give identity language to behaviour or assume that it could be limited to loving monogamy, but all this talk is irrelevant to the text. What concerned Paul was the behaviour. Paul gives it a thumbs down. Matthew Vines answers with a "yeah but" and then tries valuantly to say that our 21st-century context is different. I just can't get on board.
The great sin was misogyny, not gay sex
He quotes Philo, Plutarch and Clement who all seem to think that the great sin of homosexuality was not the act itself. It was that one of the men had to "become a woman" for the act to happen, and nothing was more degrading than that. This perceived sin had its roots in misogyny. To be considered womanly was the great sin. Not gay sex per se. As near as I can gather, the point is, we have evolved from such misogynistic notions now, so active and passive sexual partners are not the offence that they would have been in a patriarchal culture. So...it's all good now (?)
If someone wants to believe this is true, they will. Vines gives enough supporting "evidence" to justify the change, or at least to create enough confusion that Christians will say it doesn't matter so much anymore. Matthew has worked very hard and presented as strong a case as possible to justify his experience while at the same time, receiving the approving applause of Scripture.
I'm sympathetic to Matthew Vines, I appreciate his diligent work, in many ways, I even hope he is right! But To me, it's just too much to swallow. He holds up a high view of Scripture but his interpretations seem to speak lies to his claim.