Discussion of the role of gay Christians within the church is fraught with difficulty. Any position is the wrong one with a significant group of Christians. But this is not something that can really be ignored. As pointed out in the very helpful book The End of White Christian America, culture has broadly moved on from gay marriage as a debatable topic. But within the conservative Evangelical world where a sizable minority supports same sex relationships, explicitly admitting it out loud can create a significant debate (as Jen Hatmaker’s recent interview and its fallout has shown.)
I picked up God and the Gay Christian reluctantly. I do not particularly want to wade into current hot button issues. But I thought it was something that I personally needed to explore more directly. And even though I seriously considered not blogging about it, I decided Bookwi.se had little left to lose (traffic is already down more than 90% from its high of a few years ago.) My one real concern is unintentional harm to those that I know personally that are on one side or another of the issue. That was a real concern before writing. But I decided that the potential for help is worth the potential for harm. But also please remember that I process through reading and writing. So all comments are about processing, not really a final position. So in the end I picked up God and the Gay Christian at the library on audiobook because it was there.
One of the weaknesses of this debate is the state of Protestantism as a whole. Christianity has always had placed a very strong value on individual affirmation of theological truth. Especially after the Reformation, and then with the decline of the state church and the rise of the free church, individual affirmation became the dominant form of decision making within the church. Catholic theology has a formal magisterium system with defined Catholic teaching. And other episcopal or presbyterian systems have a system of affirming the theology of the denomination. But those systems still operate within the broader culture of individualism that pervades Christianity in the United States.
Because of our theological free agency system of church membership, if we disagree we can simply move to another congregation, or stop attending church all together. So at this point, a 24 year old (the age he was when this book came out 2 years ago) without formal theological training, ordination or church position, can write a book about his theological ideas, and it can influence those who are willing to be influenced. That is not fundamentally different from many others that came before him. But it is different from the system of councils that was in place in the early church.
What most struck me about God and the Gay Christian was that it was far better than what I thought it would be. It is a memoir-ish look at how he, and his family and some others around him, have shifted on their understanding of how scripture deals with homosexuality. Vines grew up in a conservative midwestern church. It was not until mid-college that he admitted to himself that he was gay. He came out to his family and took a year off of college to explore the issue deeply.
Vines’ primary focus is how to reconcile scripture with his sexual orientation. Much of the book is devoted to understanding culture of the time various passages were written and different options of meaning for the actual text. What he fairly easily succeeds in doing, is making a strong case that the thing we now understand as sexual orientation did not existing in biblical times. That is significant because what some present as clear reading of scripture is not particularly clear if the concepts that we read into scripture now did not exist at the time of writing.
Vines explicitly says that we need to reinterpret how we understand scripture in light of new science and understanding about sexuality. His illustration is the changes in our understanding of scripture that has happened on the basis of the Earth not being the center of the universe. There was a change there, but it is a very different type of change than the full inclusion of sexually active (presumably monogamous, married) gay Christians within the church.
I am not ready to say that this book (as opposed to others) is worth reading. I need to read more widely other books similar books. But I will say it is quite readable, brief, and better than I expected it to be. (Low expectations can be helpful occasionally.)
At this point the only other full length books I have read on the matter is the excellent Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill. Wesley Hill is now a bible professor at Trinity School of Ministry (an Anglican seminary outside of Pittsburgh.) Hill makes the case that Gay Christians need not deny their sexuality for full inclusion in the church, but must remain celibate.
Vines on the other hand is making the argument that really the only option is for full inclusion. He says this is a ‘third way’ but to many it does not feel like a third way. It feels like a rejection of their theological understanding of marriage, which regardless of whether they are egalitarian or complementarian, is one of the central illustrations of how the church and Christ related. I really do wish some of the rhetoric that Vines uses were toned down. I understand why this is such an important topic for him. But ratcheting up the rhetoric around the importance of everyone (instead of calling on at least some) to accept full inclusion of gay Christians I do not think helps his cause long term. Instead it causes people to ignore his larger argument and flatly deny that anyone can come to his conclusion and still remain faithful to scripture.
God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships by Matthew Vines Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audible.com Audiobook