Matthew Vines, the author of the recently released God and the Gay Christian, said that despite his ideological differences with Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president, he did not "feel like Al Mohler is my enemy."
"I see him as my brother. He may not see me as his brother yet, but I think one day he will and I want to respect him and where he's coming from even though I completely disagree," Vines said during a web conference hosted by Patheos Book Club Live.
When Vines released his book last month arguing that conservative Christians could embrace monogamous gay relationships, Mohler, along with Southern Baptist leaders James Hamilton, Denny Burk, Owen Strachan, and Heath Lambert, released a rebuttal to his arguments entitled God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines. Mohler and Vines later conversed on Twitter and agreed to meet in person though they have not done so yet.
Joining in an online conversation about Vines' new book were progressive Christian writers Rachel Held Evans, Tony Jones and Jay Bakker, while the Managing Editor of Patheos' Progressive Christian Portal, Deborah Arca, moderated.
Vines characterized his argument as one which challenges Paul's condemnation of same-sex behavior by suggesting that "the issue of gay Christians is a new issue that Paul was not addressing."
"We do not have to disagree with Paul or demote Paul's authority to in order to affirm gay Christians in the church. We just have to affirm that Paul was not talking about gay Christians," he said adding that it was difficult to reconcile passages in Romans addressing homosexuality as only "condemning the behavior, not the desire."
"He talks about the sinful lusts of their heart. The language that he uses is no more positive or neutral then when he was talking about the behavior. My point is just focusing on not trying to come up with strangely esoteric circumstantial distinctions between then and now in terms of some specific practice but just focus on the entire conceptual apparatus that undergirds Paul's ancient discussion," explained Vines.
In short, Vines suggested that Paul saw homosexuality as sinful because it sprung out of out-of-control passions, and did not consider gay individuals who are able to manifest their orientation in lifelong, monogamous relationships.
Jones pushed back against some of Vines' arguments.
"What I struggle with is I think the conservative, exegetical angle that Matthew takes is ultimately a dead end," Jones a leader in the Emergent Church movement explained. "The reason that I think Al Mohler and those guys at Southern Baptist Seminary are going to crank out a 100-page e-book to just argue about how wrong Matthew is, I don't think they're really scared of Matthew's arguments so much as they are going to say, 'Matthew, you're just doing what liberals do, you're just doing what progressives do, you're contextualizing these verses and saying it's not really about what we think it's about.'"
What those in the live chat ought to "struggle with" posted Jones, was whether "you can be Evangelical and affirming."
Jones pointed out that the tension between the two schools of thought had manifested itself in his own life in regards to where Patheos lists his blog (he wants it both under "Evangelical" and "Progressive"). However, Evans, who frequently spars with other Christians on social media because of her affirming stance on LGBT issues, announced in the aftermath of World Vision's reversal on hiring married same-sex employees that she might need a break from the label.
"I'm done fighting for a seat at the evangelical table, done trying to force that culture to change," she wrote on April 1.
However, two days later, Evans clarified her position, saying that she was "second-guessing the 'leaving evangelicalism' language.'" She added, "Not because it's an inaccurate representation of what I'm experiencing, but because I don't want anyone to think for a moment that this means walking away from the many, many people who identify as evangelical whom I love and respect very much."
Jones said that while he considered Evans and Bakker evangelical, "the border guards of evangelicalism Christianity, the gatekeepers, Christianity Today, Southern Baptist Seminary, Wheaton College, they don't think that Rachel and Jay and I are evangelicals."
"After this book, they're going to say, Matthew Vines is not Evangelical. The question for me that I would love to hear Matthew's reflections on once we get around, no matter how much you say that you're a conservative evangelical, if the people that define it say you aren't, are you?"
During the conference, Vines did not respond to Jones' question.