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A Christian publishing company has called criticism from conservative voices over its decision to publish Matthew Vines' controversial book God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships a "distraction," arguing that the author has been successful in his goal to start a cultural conversation on the issue.
"The conversation on who published God and the Gay Christian serves as a distraction to the real issue the book addresses. Now that the book has hit the marketplace, it looks as if the discourse has turned towards the conclusions set forth by its author Matthew Vines. The author's goal was to start a cultural conversation, and it seems that he has," Stephen W. Cobb, chief publishing executive for WaterBrook Press, Multnomah Books, Convergent Books and Image Books, told The Christian Post in an email Thursday.
A number of conservative commentators had spoken out strongly against Convergent Books' decision to publish Vines' God and the Gay Christian. The publisher (the sister imprint to WaterBrook Multnomah) says the book, which was released on Tuesday, will "radically change the conversation about being gay in the church."
Author Michael Brown, who holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University and has published his own book on the subject, Can You Be Gay and Christian, wrote in an opinion piece for CP last week:
"It is a sad and shameful day when a major Christian publisher releases such a book and claims that it is a solid evangelical publication. This is abhorrent, disgraceful, and terribly misleading. And it needs to be addressed and exposed."
Matt Barber, founder and editor-in chief of BarbWire.com, commented last week that Vines is "a homosexual activist and Bible revisionist known for manipulating Christian terminology to advance the counter-Christian homosexualist agenda."
Barber also claimed that WaterBrook Multnomah and Convergent are effectively the same company, stating: "It's smoke and mirrors. It's confusing because it's designed to be confusing. It's intentional – a shell game purposefully calculated to obfuscate and hide the ball from the Christian community."
In his email to CP, Cobb clarified what he called a misunderstanding of the relationship between Convergent Books and other imprints he oversees.
"I understand how it is confusing to people who do not work in publishing and do not understand the structure or nature of imprints. There are 17 imprints in the Crown Publishing Group, which is a division of Penguin Random House. I am responsible as publisher over the four imprints within the Crown Group that relate to the Christian faith: WaterBrook Press, Multnomah Books, Convergent Books and Image Books," Cobb explained.
"They are distinct and separate with different editorial missions and always have been. As such, it is my responsibility to publish books that are appropriate for the specific readership of each imprint. Those readerships do not always agree with each other, as is made clear by the release of God and the Gay Christian."
The Convergent CPE also wrote an article last week explaining the decision to publish God and the Gay Christian, answering a number of questions and concerns within the community.
"We can agree that the cultural battle over same-sex relationships and the Christian church is one of the defining issues of this generation," Cobb wrote.
"Convergent Books is publishing God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines because we believe it offers a thoughtful examination of Scripture on the topic of same-sex relationships from a bold, young, evangelical writer whose first calling is to promote a civil, loving, and biblically based conversation on the subject."
The imprint describes itself as "a place to raise questions and possibilities, and to join an open discussion of spirituality, ethics, faith, social justice, theology, and everyday experience."
Vines is a former Harvard University student and founder of The Reformation Project, which seeks to reform church teachings on sexual orientation. He argues that the Bible does not condemn loving, same-sex relationships and attempts to use Scripture to justify his argument.
A number of conservative evangelicals released reviews of God and the Gay Christian, and have warned that the book should not cause confusion regarding Scripture's teaching on homosexuality.
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. and his colleagues released on Tuesday an e-book, titled God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines, while Andrew Walker – director of Policy Studies for the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, wrote in a separate review that the book "is the first step in a larger effort to fundamentally recast long-held, universally acknowledged norms pertaining to sexual ethics."
"If I was to condense the substance of Vines' book, here's what is happening: Vines has compiled liberal biblical scholarship and popularized it for a non-technical audience," Walker wrote.
"Let me be clear: Vines is not advancing new arguments. In fact, his work draws largely from existing gay-affirming scholarship. Vines is making liberal scholarship accessible for common audiences and then compounding its effect by bringing in the emotionally laden context of our times."
Offering further discussion on the topic, Convergent Books hosted a Q&A telecast with Vines on Tuesday about the book, a recording of which is available on its website.