CP: Do you believe that the view that homosexuality is not a sin is becoming more accepted in churches in America?
Vines: There is definitely a lot of division in the church over the issue today, but the issue has evolved in significant ways over the last 20 years. There are still a number of churches where the issue isn't really openly discussed, but I think that the trajectory is clear, I think that where we are going as a church is clear, because there has been a lot of change, and the change is only really going in one direction. For a lot of gay Christians, the change is coming too slowly, and I would agree – if you are personally being excluded and marginalized, then just because you are becoming slightly less marginalized each year, that does not feel very satisfying. However, gay Christians are getting more and more of a voice in different denominations – the Lutheran church, the Presbyterian Church, they are now accepting gay Christians in the clergy on the same footing as straight Christians.
Even though I feel the issue is still definitely a very contentious one, progress is being made in the favor of acceptance of gay Christians, significant progress over the past 10 to 20 years. And I don't see any reason why that would shift, especially because once you have some gay Christians in any church, it makes it easier for other gay Christians in the same communities, because then they have somewhat of a role model, there is some precedent for understanding and acceptance.
More and more gay Christians are coming out to their friends, to their parishioners, to families and pastors, and that does end up leading the church in the direction of acceptance.
CP: What is your response to gay Christians who decide to stay in the church but practice abstinence because they believe Scripture says homosexuality is sinful?
Vines: I think that, as Paul talks about, celibacy is a gift, it is an individual calling. And so the majority of people and Christians don't feel a call for celibacy. But some straight Christians and some gay Christians do. So if some gay Christians feel a call to celibacy, then they should be supported in that, and that should be respected and they should be able to pursue that calling to the best of their ability and with the support of their community.
What I don't feel is OK is for them to say "well, I feel a call for celibacy, and so all other gay Christians must be celibate as well." That isn't how straight Christians who feel a call to celibacy operate; they don't say "I have been called to celibacy, so everyone else in the church who is married needs to break up and be alone."
I think that it is absolutely fine that some gay Christians feel a call to celibacy, I think that they should be supported in that. I just don't think that the fact that some gay Christians feel the call to celibacy should mean that all gay Christians should be forced into it. The main reason why I think that is because the Bible doesn't specifically address the issue of loving same-sex relationships.
So I think that some would say "well, straight Christians who feel called to celibacy don't think that the Bible condemns heterosexuality, that is just their personal calling." And so gay Christians who feel called to it because of their biblical understanding, well I would argue that their biblical understanding is not the correct one. The passages in question (on homosexuality) do not discuss loving, same-sex relationships, and that's the big issue; that's what a vast majority of gay Christians are interested in and then would like to have a part of their life not a lustful relationship, but a loving, committed monogamous relationship. And because the Scripture is silent on the issue, I think that the broader principles of Scripture, toward love and justice and compassion and dignity should lead us toward an acceptance for them, and because I think that loving, same-sex relationships frequently bear all the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. I think that reflects very well upon them and their place within a Christian context.
CP: What about gay Christians who decide to leave the church altogether because they do not feel welcomed?
Vines: What I would say to them is that I empathize with that I understand their feelings of hurt and rejection, but I would encourage them not to give up on their faith. I would ask them to try and distinguish between the communities that rejected them and what Christ asks of us, how he asks us to love and treat one another, and Jesus himself, and to understand that the Bible itself is not anti-gay. Christianity is not anti-gay.
Jesus would not support the ostracization and marginalization of them, and so I would ask them not to give up on their faith but to keep reading the Bible, to keep a relationship with God, and ultimately to try and find a church community that can actually nurture their faith and support them as Christians.
CP: Is reconciliation possible for those who believe the Bible condemns homosexuality as sin and those who believe otherwise?
Vines: Well, in a sense, the two views coexist at a broad denominational level. There are a number of denominations with different churches and different views; even in different churches there are people with different views, but I think that ultimately one position is going to have to prevail, and the other position will end up losing a lot of its support. Because the understandings are so different in terms of what constitutes sinful behavior in that respect, and what does not, because that is a significant enough disagreement, it is hard for those two views to coexist for the long-term in families and church communities.
I do think that a position of acceptance – and I feel that sometimes when you say "acceptance" people think that that opens the door to anything, but I mean acceptance of a permanent, committed, monogamous relationships for gay Christians, not fleeting relationships, not promiscuous relationships, just a single, lifelong, committed, monogamous relationship, just like what a vast majority of straight Christians have as a part of their life. That's what I mean by acceptance – and I think that position will ultimately prevail because that is a position straight Christians reach after they put themselves into the shoes of a gay Christian and they ask "how does it affect my life and what does this mean?"
I think that a lot of straight Christians who believe that homosexuality is a sin, the first thing that I would ask them is if that's the case, what does that mean for my life? What that would mean for me is that I cannot have a heterosexual marriage and family, because I am not attracted to women – independent of my choice – and I never will be and so I am not capable of having a meaningful heterosexual relationship.
So if homosexuality is a sin, what that would mean for me is that I would just be alone for the rest of my life. I come from a family, but I would never be able to form one of my own. It's different from straight Christians who just can't find the right partner. While I could find the right person to marry and fall in love with that person but then I would still have to walk away from that person that I care very deeply about, and that can happen over and over again. It will be an extremely destructive experience and way of living that is ultimately harmful to my dignity as a person and to the dignity of gay people.
I feel that once straight Christians put themselves fully into the shoes of gay Christians, and walk a mile or two in their shoes, and to consider how to apply the Golden Rule in that situation, that's when attitudes can really begin to change. Because that is happening more and more, that is why I feel optimistic that the position of acceptance of gay Christians is going to prevail.