I chose to read God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines because I am a pastor who holds a biblical view of homosexual behavior as sin, but I live in Los Angeles with friends and church attenders that are homosexual. Additionally, homosexuality is the most important current issue facing and splitting the church. Matthew Vines' book is an attempted formulation of a "third way," namely that homosexuals can enter into committed, monogamous relationships and not conflict with his reading of the Bible. Unfortunately, despite his title, which addresses "gay Christians," all of his argumentation only speaks to monogamous homosexuals in committed relationships. I wanted this book to be a credible analysis of the Bible's statements about homosexuality and same-sex behavior. However, the author destroyed his own credibility in the first chapter, never to be regained.
Matthew Vines began his book with his unrealistically optimistic cards on the table. His goal is to show that "Christians who affirm the full authority of Scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationships" (Loc. 134)1. He then reveals his bias by personalizing the homosexual experience, suggesting that his experience was the typical homosexual experience (Chapter 1). He then implied that his lawyer father changed his mind about homosexuality (362), so we should as well. We should because, according to Vines, we are bearing bad fruit (Matthew 7:15-20) in our exclusion of homosexuals (281-371). Underlying his entire argument, the author unauthoritatively assumes that sexual desires or orientation cannot be changed (337).
The author addressed six passages that he argues are the main barriers to homosexuals being embraced as Christians: Genesis 19:5; Leviticus 18:22; Leviticus 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; and 1 Timothy 1:10. His goal is to give a fresh view of old words, "to clarify…understanding of Scripture" (424). In Vines' view, sexual orientation cannot be changed (489), but meaning of Scripture can.
The author argues that human understanding of homosexuality is radically different than it was in biblical times (521-530). Today, homosexuality is about orientation; then, it was about excess (530, 640). "Ancient Greek and Roman literature, in particular, generally assumes that men could be attracted to both females and males" (548). Pederasty, sex between a man and a boy, was "a rite of passage for many Greek males" (581). Also, male prostitution was popular in Rome (592). According to Vines' view of history, it was not until the late 1800s that "the modern understanding of homosexuality as a sexual orientation began to develop among an elite group of German psychiatrists" (667). Similarly, the Christian requirement of homosexual celibacy is also allegedly new (685). Vines questions this requirement for homosexual believers on the grounds that celibacy is a biblical calling (769), not a command (705). As a command, it is harmful to homosexual relationship capacity and self-image (803).
One-third of the way into the book, Vines finally starts interpreting what he describes as the main scriptural passages. Genesis 19 has supposedly been misinterpreted as a prohibition of homosexuality (932-974). Instead, "the sin of Sodom had far more to do with a lack of hospitality and a bent toward violence" (980). Yet Vines acknowledges that this does not change the fact that the biblical writers did not hold a positive view of same-sex relations (1083).
Vines then posited that the abomination language in Leviticus was temporary, no longer applicable according to Acts 15 and 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 (1204). The new covenant somehow made the old laws "obsolete" (1213-1218). Today, most Christians do not follow other Old Testament laws about divorce for perceived indecency and forced marriage of raped virgins (1273), so the implication here is that we should also forget about the homosexual prohibition.
Vines then argues that "Romans 1:26-27 is the most significant biblical passage in this debate" (1452). He conveniently distinguishes it as only applying to excessive lustful situations involving bisexuals, not committed homosexual relationships (1490-1585). Therefore, it is inapplicable because, according to Vines (again, no authority given), "gay people cannot choose to follow opposite-sex attractions" (1552). He then reaches even further, noting that "the context in which Paul discussed same-sex relations differs so much from our own that it can't reasonably be called the same issue" (1598).
Vines finally steps around 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and its statement that male prostitutes and sodomites (among others) will not inherit the kingdom of God by re-translating the relevant words. He translated the first word, malakoi, as "soft" or "effeminate," not "male prostitute" (1766-1832). This, too, in the author's view, applied only to sexual excess (1812-1827). He then translated the second word, arsenokoitai, as "abusers of themselves with mankind," not "sodomites," again conveniently linking it to his argument about sexual excess (1832-1885). He referred to the argument that this verse prohibits both the active and passive same sex roles as "speculation", again conveniently arguing that modern "exclusive sexual orientation" was not in view (1890-1896). Vines then attempts to redefine the word "gay" to mean: "exclusive, permanent same-sex orientation" (1921), which is not what it says in the dictionary.2
The author used his new definition of "gay" to reach further and argue that gay marriage is equal and holy because it is monogamous and thereby covenantal (1981-2030). Procreation is not essential because Jesus came to show that faith comes through belief, not family (2030-2090). Thus, Vines implicitly argues that Genesis 1:28 ("be fruitful and multiply") is no longer necessary. While he is at it, Vines concluded that the image of God is no longer "male and female" as stated in Genesis 1:27 because it is about dominion, not procreation (2233-2252).
Vines ends his book by setting aside all argument and pushing his agenda, now stretched to include bisexuals and transgender people (Chapter 10). Now, regardless of monogamy or commitment, LGBT are all sinless Christians in the eyes of Vines (2408). Love and affirmation of all sexual orientations and gender identities is "a requirement of Christian faithfulness" (2602) in spite of the Bible's both Old and New Testament treatment of same-sex behavior.
The book's biggest weakness is the author's misstatements of Scripture. It is one thing to creatively interpret the Word; it is an entirely different matter when someone misstates the Word itself. Vines "declared that 'Christ is the end of the law,' and he even branded the law a 'curse' (see Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:13, NRSV)" (1220). The author misstated the Word to argue that the "old law" is no longer in effect (Id.). However, the word "end" in Romans 10:4, telos, means: end result, fulfillment or goal.3 It absolutely does not mean that the law is no longer in effect. Further, the law was not branded a curse in Galatians 3:13; the punishment or penalty of the law was called a curse. Christ saved us from the penalty, not the law itself. Vines' bastardization of the Bible is downright dangerous and useless for theological reflection.
Vines' first major rhetorical mistake was pinning his entire argument to the assumption that homosexuals cannot re-orient desires. On the contrary, one recent study concluded that "the majority of men and women who have experienced same-sex attraction to some degree either prefer opposite-sex attraction or have the potential to move in that direction; it's unknown whether or not the small minority with a more fixed preference for SSA could also move in that direction under differing circumstances."4 It is not a fact that homosexuals cannot change attraction or orientation. "Most researchers around the world agree that there is no consensus about the causes of any given person's sexual orientation."5 The author built his book on a shaky premise. "And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand" (Mat 7:26).
Vines' second credibility-crushing mistake was insisting that the notion of unchanging homosexual orientation is only a modern product, unimaginable during biblical times (see, e.g., 667, 777). This is simply not true. In ancient Roman culture, "the concepts 'heterosexual' and 'homosexual' did not exist, but there does seem to be a high degree of correlation between the conduct of men identified as cinaedi and that of some men now labeled 'homosexuals,' though it must be appreciated that the modern term is clinical while the ancient one is emotional and even hostile, and that both have been imposed from outside."6 Homosexuality was seen as sometimes unchanging just as some like Vines contend it is now. Even modern Gay Star News concedes that there were ancient lesbians. "Few lesbian voices come to us from the ancient world but the lyric poet Sappho is a notable exception and her love poems for other women speak down to us through the ages. And of course, the island of her birth, Lesbos, gives us the word 'lesbian' that we still use today."7 Here again, Vines' untenable position causes an incredulous head-tilt from which the author never recovers.
Vines neglected verses about homosexuality. He only discussed six passages summarized above. He side-stepped important verses like: 1 Cor. 7:2 ("But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband"); Mark 10:6-9 (God made male and female in the beginning to join together as one flesh; "Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate"); and Hebrews 13:4 ("Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers"). Also, he did not address debatable but challenging verses about sexual immorality (Acts 15:29; 1 Cor. 5:1; 1 Cor. 10:8; 2 Cor. 12:21; Gal. 5:19; Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5; 1 Thess. 4:3-5; and Rev. 21:8). Even liberal Christians acknowledge that sexual immorality includes homosexual pederasty.8 Vines' limited coverage further limits his credibility.
Vines took too many unsupported positions. He frequently took positions without any authority (246, 335, 528, 705, 803, 1622, 2286, 2334, 2337, 2498). An unsubstantiated statement is merely opinion. Vines' repeated use of this tactic relegated his work to editorial.
The abomination language of Leviticus 18:22 is very clear and undercuts Vines' argument. "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination" (Lev 18:22 NRSV). This does not necessarily involve force or commitment, points Vines distinguishes. The verse literally says a person is not to lie sexually with a man as one would with a woman. According to Leviticus, same-sex behavior is an abomination. Vines cannot change that.
The author made one argument well. He argued logically and biblically that procreation is not necessarily part of what it means for a human to be made in the image of God because animals received the same "be fruitful and multiply" instruction in Genesis 1:22 (2241). However, Vines must still contend with the fact that "male and female" were created in the image of a creative, reproductive God, not male and male who cannot reproduce and fulfill God's creative original instruction.
Matthew Vines' inclusive heart is commendable, but his erroneous arguments are not. He shares my desire to help homosexuals avoid Christian shame, but his book just gives them something of which to be legitimately ashamed. Few things hurt a cause more than inaccurate argument. Vines courageously began his book by vulnerably sharing his personal story, but by the end he was only proffering an unsubstantiated agenda. Given the importance of this issue, this book should be exposed for its inaccuracies and inconsistencies. This church and life-altering debate deserves honest intellectual discourse, not biased unprofessional opinion.
1Location (Loc.) numbers are referenced throughout instead of page numbers because the e-book did not have page numbers.
2Gay: "of, pertaining to, or exhibiting sexual desire or behavior directed toward a person or persons of one's own sex" www.dictionary.com
4Booth, Karen, http://karenbooth.goodnewsmag.org/do-homosexuals-change/#comment-39
5Morton, Warren, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2013/12/22/what-makes-someone-gay-and-can-people-change-orientation/
6Hooper, Richard, http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2000/2000-02-23.html
7Potts, Andrew, http://www.gaystarnews.com/article/truth-about-sexuality-ancient-greece-and-rome261012
8Liberated Christians, http://www.libchrist.com/bible/immoral.html
Scott Hinsche (@hinscheman) is an executive pastor, attorney and mediator in Los Angeles, California.