Review of: God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships by Matthew Vines (New York: Convergent Books, 2014).
Matthew Vines, a young, self-professed evangelical Christian and a self-professed "gay" man, has added another book to a growing genre of those claiming that God can bless same-sex sexual relationships. Vines, who was raised in the church, is unwilling to simply reject Christianity, like some homosexuals have. He insists, "Christians who affirm the full authority of Scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationships."
I completely disagree with Vines on this central point. However, I welcome some things in his book-such as his classification of the opposing camps within the church as "affirming" and "non-affirming" (of homosexual relationships). This is preferable to the terms "pro-gay" and "anti-gay," which imply-wrongly-that those who disapprove of homosexual conduct are hostile to "gay people" as individuals.
Vines has done a massive amount of research into a wide variety of sources (although Vines is not a biblical scholar or theologian himself, and resting his argument on secondary sources and interpretations). I will leave it to other reviewers to critiques Vines' handling of his sources, as some (like Dr. Albert Mohler) have already done.
Even before addressing biblical interpretation, however, Vines lays out some fundamental presuppositions that are not well supported by sources. One of the key assumptions underlying Vines' argument-as indeed, it underlies the entire homosexual movement-is the conviction that people can never change their sexual orientation.
He realizes that if homosexuals could change, that truth would offer a path forward for people who believe in the Bible, but also experience same-sex attractions. If they could overcome such attractions, it would be far easier for them to successfully live a fulfilled life without violating scriptural prohibitions of same-sex sexual relations.
Vines, however, is convinced that change in sexual orientation is impossible. He relates that after coming out as "gay" to his Christian parents, his father asked him to read some books about "groups that claimed to change people from gay to straight." Yet Vines fails to name a single one of these books-in stark contrast to his detailed endnotes on almost every other subject. He claims that after he and his father read the unnamed books,
"… [W]e were both struck by how modest their claims actually were. These 'ex-gay' organizations did not claim to be changing anyone's sexual orientation. They focused instead on changing people's behavior. … After reading a fair amount about 'ex-gay' ministries, [my dad] realized that none of the evidence seemed to show God was changing gay people's sexual orientation."
Vines calls sexual "reorientation therapy" a "failure"-but in the entire book cites only two sources for this proposition. One is Alan Chambers, the former president of "Exodus International," a consortium of Christian ex-gay ministries that Chambers shut down in 2013 after abandoning the message that "change is possible." The second is Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor at an evangelical college who was once a supporter of the ex-gay movement, but has grown increasingly critical of it.
However, Vines makes no mention of groups such as the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), a leading scientific organization; Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), which advocates for ex-gays and defends their civil rights; or of the Restored Hope Network, which consists largely of ministries which abandoned Exodus after Chambers abandoned its founding principles. All these groups continue to assert, and to present compelling evidence, that change is possible on any and all of the three elements of sexual orientation-self-identification, behavior, and attractions.
Vines realizes that some evangelicals might argue, "Even if same-sex attractions cannot be eliminated, it remains incumbent upon anyone who calls himself a Christian to conform his behavior to biblical standards by abstaining from sexual relations with others of the same sex."
Because he believes that sexual orientation (meaning, apparently, attractions) cannot change, Vines interprets this prescription as essentially a call to life-long celibacy for people who are "gay" (that is, who experience same-sex attractions). This leads to a theological discussion of a sexual topic not directly related to homosexuality at all-celibacy.
Vines argues that celibacy has an ancient and honored place in both Scripture and church tradition-but only for people who feel called by God to a life of celibacy (such as Catholic priests and nuns). A life of celibacy that is imposed on those who do not feel called to it, however, is nowhere supported in Scripture or Christian tradition. Therefore, in Vines' view, "gay" Christians who do not feel "called" to celibacy simply must be permitted an outlet for their sexual desires in the form of a committed, monogamous homosexual relationship.
This argument ultimately fails, however, for two reasons. First, the presupposition is false-sexual attractions are amenable to change, and therefore a believer who currently experiences same-sex attractions can hold a reasonable hope of overcoming them, with appropriate and competent help. The second is simple-where Scripture absolutely prohibits a certain form of conduct, it grants no exemptions to those who do not feel "called" to obedience! Anyone, including a heterosexual person, who is unable to or fails to find a partner who is a suitable spouse is required by Scripture to abstain from sex-regardless of whether they consider it a "calling" or not.
Vines acknowledges that "the understanding that homosexuality is a fixed sexual orientation is a recent development" and raises the question of "how confident we can be that same-sex orientation is indeed a permanent, exclusive characteristic, and not just a passing idea." The only evidence he presents as an answer is a "guess"-"[D]id gay people exist in ancient times? If I had to guess, I would say yes, based on their existence across diverse cultures and societies today." The absence of more tangible evidence of people with a "gay" identity in the ancient world strongly suggests that the concept of "gay" identity is itself a modern social construct, not something inherent in any human beings or in human society.
Although Vines does not discuss his own sexual experiences, he professes to believe in marriage and apparently remains unmarried himself. We can only pray that his idealistic heart is changed by a willingness to submit to the true teachings of Scripture and by an openness to healing, before that idealism is tarnished by personal experience with the real world of homosexual relationships.