Kurt Wallace: This is Kurt Wallace and our guest today on Rare is Matthew Vines, his new book God and the Gay Christian and Matthew thanks for being with us today.
Matthew Vines: Thanks so much for having me.
Kurt Wallace: Matthew, I have a friend, for 28 years we were friends. In the beginning, he has a beautiful girlfriend. Kind of a Barbie doll woman, and then one day he told me that he was gay, and that he had tried not to be gay. Can you talk about being homosexual and did you choose to be gay?
Matthew Vines: No, I did not choose to be gay. I grew up in a conservative church in Wichita, Kansas and then went off to Harvard for college when I was 18. That’s where I came to terms with the fact that I was gay. That wasn’t something that I was thrilled about at first.
But, it was openly something I came to accept. I then came home to come out to my parents and help them to understand that even evangelical Christians can both affirm the Bible and affirm same-sex relationships.
Kurt Wallace: My friend was in the Episcopal Church and just practiced that religion with all of his heart and throughout his life until today. He had a similar experience as what you’re talking about, when you say that you did not want to be. What do you mean by that? Is that because of society’s standards? Or, your wishes to be like other men?
Matthew Vines: Well, now I’m perfectly happy to be gay. But, at the time in the church that I grew up in there was strong taboo against same-sex relationships. And, one of the few people from our church who had come out had simply left and never came back home. Because he didn’t feel like there would be any room for him anymore. So, for me that was a huge concern of trying to navigate how my family and all of our friends from church would respond. That was something I was not initially pleased about.
But, both of my parents have very much changed their perspective — are now fully supportive of me. In the work that I’m doing now, I’m really encouraged by seeing how many Christians (even those who are more conservative in their theology) are really starting to open up to a more supportive position on same-sex relationships.
Kurt Wallace: Your book is titled “God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships’. Now, religion has created in scripture an atmosphere, and then through its practices, of condemning homosexuality and underground behavior that couldn’t foster honest relationships with commitment. Can you speak to that?
Matthew Vines: Well, you mean speak to the biblical case for same-sex relationships or the social consequences of rejection?
Kurt Wallace: The consequences of rejection and the case for same-sex relationships?
Matthew Vines: Well, in the Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew — Jesus says “you will know them by their fruits” in talking about false teachers and good trees, where bear good fruit and bad tress with bear bad fruit. Unfortunately, the evangelical churches’ rejection of same-sex relationships have caused profound harm for many gay people. It has led to relational devastation; family rejection and ostracism, increased depression and even suicide. None of those things are what we should be seeing from a faithful application of sound Christian teaching.
So, all of that is a red flag that we need to go back and reconsider how we are understanding these and there are six passages in scripture that have been used to reject all same-sex relationships. But, sort of the biblical case that I make in my book in support of same-sex relationships have two main components to it.
First of all, the Bible presents a foundation for what marriage should be. In the New Testament, it says that marriage is about keeping covenants with our spouse in order to reflect God’s covenant with us. That is something that same-sex couples can and do live out every day. But, a lot of people will say “Wait aren’t there these six passages in the Bible that prohibit all same-sex relationships?” and so prevent that from being a valid Christian option.
And, there are six texts in scripture, three in the old and three in the New Testament, that refer to same-sex behavior. But, as I argue in God and the Gay Christian, none of them refer to same-sex relationships that are based on long-term commitment, faithfulness and self-sacrifice.
The type of same-sex behavior that we see condemned in scripture are about fleeting excessive acts of self-gratification. They’re now in the context of long-term faithful relationships like we see so often today.
Kurt Wallace: What is it in the conscience of an individual that they can look at to determine that they’re in line with spirituality and what God’s will would be( so to speak in traditional terms) in looking at and accepting and understanding same-sex marriage?
Matthew Vines: Well, one thing that they can do is look at the fruits. Look at the consequences of their beliefs. As I was saying, rejecting same-sex relationships has caused harm. But, on the flip side of that, supporting and embracing gay Christians and same-sex relationships has led to what the Bible calls in the book of Galatians the fruit of the spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. And, that’s a pretty clear indicator that same-sex relationships cannot, should not, just be rejected out of hand.
Because of the way that most sins — if you continue to engage in that, they’re going to cause a lot of harm. And, if you turn away from them, then that will lead to flourishing. In this case it’s rejecting same-sex relationships that is causing harm and it’s embracing them that’s leading to flourishing. And, that’s not the end of the conversation. But, it’s certainly an important starting point.
And so, for people — for Christians that are very concerned as I am about wanting to stay committed to scripture and to the truth of scripture — that’s why I make a detailed argument in my book for how Christians can reconcile this reality about same-sex relationships with our understanding of the Bible.
Matthew Vines: Yes it can. There’s a parallel in the history of the church between the issue of sexual orientation of today and our new understanding about same-sex orientation. And, the way that the church looks at the issue of heliocentrism or whether or not the Earth was at the center of the universe or whether we revolved around the sun.
So, the first 1500 years of the church, all church leader thought that the Bible clearing taught that the Earth was at the center of the universe. But, when the telescope was invented, that gave us new data and new evidence to show that couldn’t be the case anymore. So, Christians went back to scripture and came to a new and better understanding of passage that talked about the sun, the moon and the stars.
In a similar way, today we have new information and new understandings about what it means to be gay. For a long time and if you look at ancient writing — same-sex behavior is not described as something that a small minority of people might pursue because of their different sexual orientation.
Instead same-sex behavior was widely described as a vice of excess, like gluttony or drunkenness, that any person could engage in if they didn’t keep sufficient control of their passion. But, that’s very different from what we’re talking about today. We’re not talking about people who engage in same-sex behavior because they’re just looking for any new challenge or pleasure to slake their growing appetite.
We’re looking for people who simply are gay. They have a different sexual orientation. And, who can live that out in faithful, stable self-sacrificial relationships that are consistent with the core of what the Bible presents marriage as being about. So, that’s why this new understanding of same-sex orientation really does shape the way that Christians can look at same-sex relationships today.
Kurt Wallace: Can you speak to the recent turn of event in the Catholic Church with Pope Francis’ efforts towards gays?
Matthew Vines: Well, I’m a protestant evangelical so that is not entirely the same thing but certainly the Pope’s statements and posture has been a great improvement over where the Catholic Church has been before that. Saying that it is true when he said “who am I to judge”, he was talking about gay priests who are celibate. But, even under the prior Pope there was no room even for celibate gay men to be priests. So, there has been a significant change in the tone — in the openness.
What I’d like to see, eventually, is an actual change in doctrine as well in a path to support same-sex relationships on par with opposite sex relationships. Now, the Catholic Church does not change doctrine quickly. So, I’m not banking on that happening any time soon. But, in Protestant Evangelical churches, doctrines can change in theory much faster. Because, it is all about the individual interpretations of the church and of the communities. And, I’ve been very encouraged.
I’ve started a non-profit organization, it’s called the Reformation Project. And, we host training conferences all around the country. Our next conferences are in Atlanta this June 11th-13th and in Kansas City this November. And, I’ve been really encouraged by seeing all the people we’ve been working to train at those conferences. Christians with the Bible based tools that they need to go back to those churches and help to change people’s minds. And, ultimately change the churches teachings about same-sex relationships.
Kurt Wallace: Now in your view, should churches be forced to perform same-sex marriages?
Matthew Vines: Nobody should be forced to do anything. The churches should not be forced to change their beliefs, absolutely not. At the same time churches should change their beliefs based on better understandings of scripture. And, that change should happen from within — from other Christians who clearly care about the community.
And, who care about the church and the body of Christ. And, want it to be the most faithful witness of God’s love to the world that it can be. That’s why churches should embrace and bless same-sex marriage. Although, nobody should be forced to do that.
Kurt Wallace: What’s amazing to me and what I’m pleased about is that we can have a conversation about this subject. You’re able to write a book about this subject and go on and live your life. 100 years ago this wouldn’t have happened.
Matthew Vines: Absolutely, there’s been a tremendous shift in our culture and certainly the success of the gay rights movement more broadly is what has opened the door for even conservative Christian communities — like those that I’m working with through the Reformation Project, to be having these conversations in a way that even 10 years ago we would not have been able to have.
So, certainly change is coming and what I’m trying to do through my book God and the Gay Christian and through the reformation project is help accelerate that change by showing evangelical Christians that they can affirm both the Bible and same-sex marriage.
Kurt Wallace: Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian is your book the Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships — thanks for being with us today on Rare.
Matthew Vines: Thanks so much for having me.