Q Conference Addresses Church's 'Gay Dilemma'

Matthew Vines spoke at The Reformation Project's 2013 leadership conference in Prairie Village, Kan.
Matthew Vines spoke at The Reformation Project's 2013 leadership conference in Prairie Village, Kan. | (Photo: Rick Wood/The Reformation Project)

Two Evangelical Left speakers chastened their co-religionists to change the church's teachings on human sexuality and marriage at an influential gathering of mostly young Evangelicals in Boston April 23-25.

Author Matthew Vines of the Reformation Project and Ethicist David Gushee of Mercer University offered arguments from mission and hermeneutics against biblical prohibitions on sexual acts between persons of the same sex.

Begun as a project of Evangelical Author Gabe Lyons, Q is frequently compared to TED Talks with a format of short, timed presentations and a focus on cultural engagement.

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Gushee and Vines' invitation to speak at Q was not without controversy. At least two high profile millennial Evangelicals voiced concerns before the event that providing Gushee and Vines with a platform to address conference attendees risked legitimizing their arguments as equally valid to the church's historic teachings and within Christian orthodoxy.

"Bad Fruit"

"The relationship that I formed with Jesus from a very young age, I want other people to be able to experience," Vines offered as motivation for his advocacy. "I have far, far too many friends who are not interested in Jesus, not interested in Christianity because they love and care for their LGBT friends who are on the margins and the way that the church has treated them has been to silence, to dismiss and humiliate. If someone is not interested in following Jesus because they love people on the margins, that is not how it should be."

Vines argued that upholding the church's historic teaching prohibiting sexual contact between people of the same sex was a distortion of the Gospel and has caused "profound devastation" in people's lives. The author of "God and the Gay Christian" insisted that change was necessary so that people could come into the church and develop relationships with God.

"I simply saw far too many people who saw rejection of their sexuality completely led to very bad fruit, to relational brokenness, much higher occurrence of depression and suicidal thoughts," Vines recalled.

Addressing the verses in scripture that all portray homosexuality negatively, Vines asserted that none referred to "relationships of long-term commitment that are based upon love and mutuality with the partners who are seeking to live out the vision of marriage that we see in Ephesians [Chapter] 5, that marriage is reflecting God's covenant with his people through the covenant we make and keep with our spouse."

Vines offered an argument from hermeneutics, claiming that when the Apostle Paul addresses same-sex relationships, he speaks only of people who are "consumed with lust and passions" — the kind of relationship Vines insisted he did not want.

A Consistent Sexual Ethic

Vines was interviewed by Lyons alongside Julie Rogers of Wheaton College, who explained her own history of same-sex attraction and conviction that God was calling her to remain celibate.

Rogers spent a decade in ex-gay ministries in an attempt to change her orientation.

"In many ways it was a positive experience for me, because I was able to grow in my relationship with Jesus and grow my understanding of scripture. I was loved well by the people in that community, I really was," Rogers told the audience. The ministry, however, offered a message that there would be a shift in her orientation, something that she and most of her friends in the ministry did not experience. Instead, Rogers began to ask how she could be faithful to God and steward her sexuality.

"I believe that our bodies matter – that gender complementarity matters, that our bodies tell us important things about reality, about ourselves and how we should live," Rogers explained, noting that those not called to marriage are called to celibacy. "I trust that the boundaries God put around sexual expression are for our flourishing."

But while she affirmed the church's historic teaching on sex, Rogers had a sharp critique for how many evangelicals were failing to apply biblical standards consistently.

"In order to be consistent in our theology, we need to take the sexual ethic seriously across the board – I have way too many gay friends who have been asked to leave their churches, and I don't know a single straight person who has – but I know way more straight people who have been sexually involved with other people," Rogers shared. "We need to be consistent with our sexual ethics, this is really important."

Rogers argued that Christians need to create communities where celibacy is possible.

"We need to find a new definition of love and belonging that includes older single people, the widowed, the elderly. We need to be able to find family in the church. We need to take the call to hospitality as seriously as we take the call to chastity," Rogers charged, calling for communities where people can experience "deep, live-giving intimacy."

"I can live without sex, but I cannot live without intimacy," Rogers summarized.

Reassessing the Church's Teaching

Like Vines, ethicist Gushee explained his earlier support for Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality, and a more recent conviction that his affirmation of those teachings had been uninformed and ultimately flawed.

"We have been wrong on this [prohibitions on homosexual practice] as we have been wrong on some issues in the past," Gushee assessed. "The church has to acknowledge the times that we have been wrong, and this is one of them."

The Mercer University professor determined that ultimately the LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender] issue is one of love, justice and sacredness of life.

"Essentially, we've taken the six Bible passages that reference homosexuality and they have trumped core teachings of love, justice and the sacred worth of all human beings," Gushee insisted, labeling the church's traditional teaching as "a toxic body of bad tradition that bears bad fruit" that must be reconsidered based on "the core moral traditions of the Christian faith."

Gushee spoke alongside Evangelical pastor Dan Kimball of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, who argued that Christians can't throw out the overwhelming body of Evangelical teaching on sexuality simply because of an emotional response.

Gushee insisted that he was not operating solely on emotion, but that "my heart got broken, so I began to be able to see scripture through the tears of our most oppressed group."

"When straight people tell gay people 'your flourishing looks like celibacy by our declaration' then I have a problem with that," Gushee stated.

Asked by Lyons if he would say the same thing to a single person who was not gay, Gushee responded that the difference is Christians tell gay persons that there is never a legitimate expression of their sexuality because it is irreparably misdirected, "but we say to straight people ' you might find that person someday, but until then, wait.'"

Gushee charged that waiting without hope is "a recipe for despair" and made an appeal to the church's missiology, arguing the church's mission is compromised, "because the only thing we are known for is this ongoing bloody fight – that has to stop."

Jeff Walton is Communications Manager for the Institute on Religion & Democracy and directs the Anglican program. He graduated in 2001 from Seattle Pacific University and is a member of Restoration Anglican Church in Arlington, VA.

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