God and the Gay Christian: An Evangelical Response

As an evangelical Christian who is also steeped in the deeply secular culture of academia (having spent nine years attending and going on seven years teaching at secular colleges and universities), the ability to rationalize and intellectualize my beliefs has proved an essential part of my Christian walk. From the moment I stepped onto the wonderfully-diverse campus of Johns Hopkins University as a freshman back in 2002, my Christianity—to which, at the time, I was 100% sold out spiritually and emotionally and 0% equipped to defend—was questioned from all directions. Through encounters ranging from good-humored and curious to truly hostile challenges posed by a Muslim suitemate, an atheist tennis partner, my roommate’s agnostic boyfriend, and countless professors on campus, I quickly realized my beliefs would need to shape up in the brains department or ship out. So the development of a scholarly faith–one affirmed by research, critical inquiry, and the great influence of respected theologians, historians, linguists, archaeologists, scientists, and any other number of intellectuals both within and outside of religious studies—was indeed born out of necessity. Never once in my Sunday School classes did we study apologetics. In fact, I’d never even heard the word. I had only my meticulously hand-written Bible verse notecards carefully taped to my dorm room desk to attest to my knowledge of the religion I had professed adamantly since a sixth grader at my Baptist church’s Vacation Bible School.

But thankfully, I had the Spirit and the good sense to not give up. Instead, I read through the downtown Baltimore Barnes & Noble’s Religion section; watched videos and devoured articles online; talked to and debated with people who disagreed with me on points ranging from evolution to the trinity to the accuracy of the Gospels; and signed up for classes like “Judaism and Christianity in Conflict” (taught by a rabbi) just for the opportunity to see an alternative view, test it out, and take what proved good if it was there for the taking. And most importantly of all, I read my Bible for the first time, all the way from “In the beginning” to “Amen.” I played devil’s advocate at every opportunity, and basically, from that freshman year on, my faith was and continues to be forged and affirmed via trial by fire. Words like “doctrine” or “tradition” suggesting a priori authority serve only as red flags for me to inspect more closely.

Which is why I was so excited to read Matthew Vines’ controversial God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in support of Same-Sex Relationships. Gay marriage, along with Creation, abortion, the death penalty, and feminism is one of the subjects I have gone through a period of near-obsession over in terms of determining a defensible biblical standpoint, one founded in my own Spirit-led interpretation of the text and supported by the best of contemporary and historic scholarship. Though I do not personally identify as homosexual as Vines does, I do feel that we share some motives in our interest in the subject: Like Vines, I have several homosexual friends—some Christian—who are in what appear from the outside to be happy, content, faithful, monogamous relationships. Like Vines, I have seen homosexuals treated poorly by Christians: rejected by Christian friends and exiled from Christian families. Like Vines, I have witnessed gay Christians leaving the church over the response they received after coming out. And like Vines, my experiences led me to some questions: If gay relationships are sinful, why do the gay people I know who are in relationships—particularly in the cases of those couples identifying as Christian—report feeling fulfilled and satisfied (traits I never have identified with long-term indulgence in sin)? When the Bible condemns homosexuality, is it even referring to such relationships? Is homosexuality innate, and if so, how does that reconcile with creation “in the image of God”? Does the Bible describe homosexuality as different from, worse than, more resilient than other sin? And if homosexuality is a sin, how might the church do a better job of addressing it with grace?

To be clear, my own independent research—which began with Robert Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics—and led me through works by both conservative and liberal scholars, left me affirming the “tradition” of exclusively male-female marriage as biblical, but, as with all of the particulars of my faith—and by “particulars” I mean any element not relating to the fundamental salvific element of belief that Jesus Christ died for our sins—I hold this position with an open hand, prepared for evidence or new Spirit-led revelation to guide me differently. And it was with such an open hand that I entered Matthew Vines’ text. As I cracked the first page, I let myself wonder if maybe I’d missed something, if maybe Vines—as the accolades he has received from various Christian leaders and writers express—knew something two millennia of Christian thinkers didn’t, if maybe he was led by the Spirit to open evangelicals’ eyes about homosexuality. The title of his book alone could leave a reader awash in curiosity.

I was especially eager to begin God and the Gay Christian as well because—though Vines has no formal credentials and though his personal stake in the matter as an open homosexual potentially weaken the claims of the text from the get-go—the evangelical church, before Vines’ book was even released, already felt so personally threatened by what he was going to say that The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler organized a formal response in the form of a free e-book to be released simultaneously with God and the Gay Christian. Several pages into Vines’ text, I saw why.

God and the Gay Christian is compelling. It is compelling because of Vines’ straightforward and matter-of-fact writing style, his ability to make the complex subjects of Bible translation and biblical history and cultural contextualization appear simple and comprehensible. It is compelling because of Vines’ excellence at weaving personal experience throughout textual exegesis. It is compelling because Vines is a unique voice: a self-proclaimed evangelical who claims avowed faith in the authority of the Bible and yet advocates a position traditionally deemed so liberal. And it is compelling because Vines presents his case for the biblical validation of homosexual marriage as a foregone conclusion, one which, if we would just do a little more research or look at our traditions from a slightly different perspective, will become imminently clear. His ability to make scholarship accessible and his personal testimony as an evangelical Christian who earnestly insists he is only interested in the truth (supported by the additional testimonies of his evangelical parents’ journeys to affirming gay marriage as biblical) could easily, I believe, prove incredibly convincing to a generation of readers whose world is already telling them that homosexuality is acceptable. It will validate what the culture has already validated for them, make them feel intelligent and informed in the process, and provide them a version of Christianity that is just a little less challenging to maintain, defend, and live out in today’s world.

For example: As I mentioned, my interest in apologetics began as a young college student. To be specific though, the first text that sparked this interest was The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. The appeal for me in this book was that the writer was a former atheist convinced “by the evidence” to become a Christian; that he took what, at the time, appeared to me to be a rigorous approach to scholarship (interviewing experts in various fields about the accuracy of the Gospels); and that he wrote with a colloquial, to-the-point voice that left me with the impression that the conclusions reached were not only simple but obvious to anyone willing to do a little studying. The style of this one book alone revolutionized my approach to my faith. I now know that there are much more scholarly sources available to validate Jesus’ divinity, but I also know that there is no definitive proof of this divinity that has been found in an archaeological dig or an ancient extra-biblical text. Mystery is part of faith as well, and the danger of popular versions of apologetics (which for the most part are wonderful and useful gateways to deeper research for readers) is that they oversimplify, making leaps in logic that evidence does not truly account for, refusing to acknowledge what can’t definitively be known but through faith, and depending on just enough scholarly authority to appear irrefutably credible to lay readers.

And that is ultimately what I struggled with in Vines’ work. As the SBTS response points out, by centering his argument on refuting the six primary “clobber passages” in the Bible about homosexuality (Genesis 1:26-28, Genesis 19:4-5, Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1, I Corinthians 6:9-10, and I Timothy 1:9-10), he risks losing the overarching biblical narrative. By name-dropping a few key evangelical intellectuals (John Piper, Tim Keller) while depending predominantly on liberal revisionist sources for his research, he creates the effect that both camps’ views might be simply reconciled and that his work depicts a bridge. For readers who want to believe homosexuality is affirmed by the Bible, for Christians who are on the fence and find it challenging to continue to defend the church’s traditional position, even for seasoned Christians who haven’t bothered to delve into the myriad work by scholars un-cited by Vines who do not ultimately affirm gay marriage, there is a great possibility that this book will persuade.

What I liked most about God and the Gay Christian is that it sent me back to the Bible. When Vines cited a passage and suggested a context or a meaning I hadn’t considered, I immediately launched my YouVersion app to double-check different translations. Vines also sent me to the library. When he mentioned an historian or linguist I hadn’t read, I looked them up and now have a loaded-down-Amazon-shopping-cart’s worth of sources en route to my house to investigate firsthand. I liked God and the Gay Christian because it got me more engaged with my faith, inspired me to think, and pushed me to seek out the knowledge and the wisdom to better articulate my beliefs about the biblical position on gay marriage. Evangelicals are not usually known as intellectuals. God and the Gay Christian might push us to be more so.

What I didn’t like—and there were a variety of points I disagreed with, which have been dealt with in detail in the SBTS response and elsewhere, but what troubled me the most—was that ultimately, in his effort to affirm homosexuality, Vines throws women under the bus. I am certain this was not Vines’ intent, but here is how I, as a woman, read his argument: if contextualized appropriately, the problem the biblical writers have with homosexuality is either that it represents excess (akin to sins like gluttony or adultery) or that the crux of the sin is that it is inappropriate for men to be taking the “womanly” position during intercourse, not because of reasons related to anatomy but because to be like a woman is to take on an inferiority that is insulting to one’s manhood. While Vines cushions the latter point by saying that it was the culture at the time that believed in the inferiority of women, what he is actually saying is that the biblical writers believed in the inferiority of women, which is to say that if you believe their writing is the inspired word of God, as I do, then it is not just Moses or Paul but God Himself Who promotes a hierarchy of value in male-female relationships, a claim which is certainly not tenable for me or any other evangelical, I would imagine (different gender roles, perhaps; a superior-inferior dynamic, absolutely not). As a woman reading Vines’ interpretation of the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative, for example, a reading which depends on it being a lesser sin to give one’s daughter to be raped than to have one’s male guests raped (i.e., treated like a woman), every what-the-heck alarm in my body was sounding. That’s not the God I know. And it seems unlikely as well that the Hebrew people (who were aware of God’s high valuing of and ideal for women as established in the Creation account in Genesis) would be ranking sin in this way. I don’t think they were. I think Vines’ interpretation is wrong and dangerous in its implications for women in the church, and it was troubling to me that a man so clearly interested in extinguishing discrimination sees no issue in breeding confusion in terms of God’s view of women in his effort to promote God’s acceptance of homosexuals. This is a point I have not seen noted often enough or dealt with thoroughly enough in the criticism of God and the Gay Christian.

But, with that said, I’d also like to end with this: After reading Vines’ book, I immediately downloaded the SBTS response. As I anticipated, it makes all the necessary arguments to refute Vines’ claims and will prove helpful for anyone who, after reading God and the Gay Christian, seeks out a refutation. The response shows that the evangelical church takes its position seriously and can defend it readily and thoroughly. I will say this though: if the evangelical church really wants to get a counter message out there, an e-book written by traditional authority figures, with all the theological jargon of their field, for an audience already familiar with the Bible and its traditional interpretations is not the way to go. The SBTS response will affirm the audience of evangelicals who have already—with or without reading God and the Gay Christian—firmly placed themselves in the anti-Vine camp. The readership Vine has targeted though, the group to which I believe he will most appeal—young evangelicals, on-the-fence evangelicals, evangelicals with gay friends whom they love deeply, or evangelicals struggling with homosexual desires themselves—will likely find the response opaque, stilted, and stylistically out of touch. A YouTube video response, a social media campaign, or a public conversation with Vines himself even (he responded to one of my tweets about his book within minutes, so I know he’s up for dialogue!) might be more effective for this audience. Also, the near complete absence of young evangelicals writing and speaking for the traditional “non-affirming” position on homosexual marriage is notable. Where are these voices? And where are the evangelicals who have struggled with homosexuality and overcome? How about the lay evangelicals who have done the scholarly legwork to refute Vines’ claims? Or the evangelicals who are even just willing to have graceful public conversation directly engaging with Vines’ ideas? Do these voices exist? If so, why aren’t they speaking out more loudly and more visibly? Their silence at moments like this is deafening.

The evangelical church is right to be concerned about God and the Gay Christian. It will hit home with its target audience. And unless the church responds to this same audience in a language and with voices that will appeal to and show an understanding of their perspective, Vines’ claims may very well become the theological foundation for the next generation of evangelicals’ view on marriage.

To read an excerpt from God and the Gay Christian – and to view a live chat with the author – visit the Patheos Book Club!

Amber M. Stamper holds a Ph.D. in English (Rhetoric and Composition) and is an Assistant Professor of Language, Literature, and Communication at Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina. Her research and publications center on religious rhetoric and communication, especially issues of Christian evangelism and the digital church.

 

About Amber Stamper

Amber Stamper holds a Ph.D. in English (Rhetoric and Composition) and is an Assistant Professor of Language, Literature, and Communication at Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina. Her research and publications center on religious rhetoric and communication, especially issues of Christian evangelism and the digital church.

  • BJP

    Amber, thank you for the review. Near the end, you state and then ask, “the near complete absence of young evangelicals writing and speaking for the traditional “non-affirming” position on homosexual marriage is notable. Where are these voices?” Have you read “Is God Anti-Gay?” by Sam Allberry? And have you read his review of “God and the Gay Christian?” I do not know the age of Allberry, but he has a unique perspective regarding SSA.

    • Amber Stamper

      BJP–Thank you for your response! :) And thank you for the tip on Sam Allberry! I had not heard of him, but I just now ordered the book you mentioned, and I read his insightful review of the Vines text. He is definitely the type of voice I believe could be influential in turning the conversation, and I’m going to be following his ministry’s work and his future publications. It’s great that he has a social media presence too. Share, share, share to get an alternative perspective out there! :) Please let me know if you come across any more young evangelicals engaging in this way. I’d like to check out their work and follow them too! :)

      • BJP

        Amber, thanks for the response. If you are not already doing so, I would also recommend you follow Ryan T Anderson, who is the editor of “Public Discourse” and a fellow at the Heritage Foundation. I don’t know if He is evangelical and I don’t know that he is a Millennial (I suspect he is), but he has written a book: “What is Marriage: Man and Woman: A Defense” A lot of his contributions on the topic of marriage are specific to public policy, but still worth the follow.

        • Amber Stamper

          Thank you for the suggestion! Will do! :) If you ever come across any more Christians doing work like this, please continue to share. I appreciate your feedback and sources. :)

  • http://adelasteria.blogspot.com/ K. Elizabeth Danahy

    As someone who was non-affirming but is now on the fence (and admittedly would like to be on Vines’ side but isn’t certain), I found your review very helpful. Although, to be honest, I didn’t see the SBTS ebook response as out of touch…but I did think many of the arguments lacking.
    Anyways… Thanks for your review. :)

    • Amber Stamper

      Thank you for your kind words. :) I think the SBTS book will prove very relevant and convincing for those who know about it and take the time to read it. I just don’t know if it will reach the audience it needs to…both stylistically and because it’s not being promoted as positively as I think it could be. Even the title is worded so combatively! You’ve reminded me though: I need to share the link to it on Twitter! At least it’s online and has the potential for rapid and wide distribution. :) The info is definitely useful. Just need to get the right eyes on it. :)

  • Charles Thompson

    I found it interesting that you disagreed with Mathew Vine’s interpretation of what the bible says about the position of women in Old Testament times. I would agree with Matthews Vines arguments on this. You state ‘that’s not the God I know’. I suggest this is exactly the same stance that many Gay Christians take regarding their sexuality. The biblical texts seem to suggest that homosexuality is a sin but when placed in context they point in another direction. Many Gay Christians also experience the ‘every what-the- heck alarm in my body’ moments and ‘that’s not the God I know. I suggest you are standing up for women just as Matthew is standing up for Gay Christians.

    • Caspian

      Amber, I too would like to see your response to this query. Vines did not make this up. Historians not ever even commenting on the subject of homosexuality have acknowledged that women were property in ancient times. Paul’s view of women is never particularly flattering.

      In Paul’s day women were considered primordial; completely governed
      by emotion with a tendency to be wholly illogical. (look up the derivation of the term hysteria) This is born out in the historical evidence available
      to us. It was only with the presence and guidance of a man that women could be structured.

      This pervasive attitude has colored cultures even up to the past 50 years and even to this day in some cultures and conservative circles.

      Just a FEW examples:

      Woman required (or now by ‘tradition’) to take the man’s last name.

      Tradition also required that the man asked the father for permission to take his daughter in marriage. (Derived from the tradition of property exchange.)

      Women were not to be in a position of leadership, according to Paul, especially they were forbidden to instruct men. Why? Because they are completely governed by emotion with a tendency to be wholly illogical and they could potentially lead a man to think equally in an emotional manor.

      Paul also believed that men and widows should remain single
      and should only marry to quench their passion. Can you imagine that ‘biblical’, ‘Pauline’ marriage proposal?

      “Sweetheart, I’m getting to the point that I can no longer keep it in my pants and I’m running out of cold water, would you please marry me so I don’t have to (cough) burn with passion (cough) all the time?

      Why do you think coaches would always tell star players to ‘stay away from women’? (they would weaken the player and his focus)

      Women weren’t allowed to vote; woman weren’t allowed to hold
      a political office, women weren’t allowed to hold property and if they somehow owned it, it would have to be managed (and could be sold) by their husbands. Why, because they wouldn’t know the first thing about managing property and couldn’t be expected to understand.

      Heavens, just look at any historical drama and you’ll see how woman were viewed.

      You say to yourself, ‘that’s not the God I know’, to which I say ‘AMEN
      Sister! Your biblical (and extra biblical) experience has taught you that all of the above is not true. Despite what some individual scripture verses may imply.

      Where you err is in this statement: “…that the biblical writers believed
      in the inferiority of women, which is to say that if you believe their writing
      is the inspired word of God, as I do, then it is not just Moses or Paul but God Himself Who promotes a hierarchy of value in male-female relationships…”

      With all due respect Amber, this is a very immature understanding of scripture and ‘biblical inspiration’. This tends to also promote a weakness of faith.

      Unless you hold that the biblical writers were taking dictation, or that they were in some trance and were ‘auto-writing’ while channeling the Holy Spirit. You have to concede that their own time and cultural perspective imbued their writings.

      Does this mean the bible cannot be trusted? By no means! But it depends on how you view the bible. If you see it as a guidebook/rule book on life. Do this, not this. Then yea, you may have reason to doubt scripture.

      However, if you see the bible as a way see how God has dealt with His people throughout time, then you can see how God dealt with all cultures while remaining steadfast in His care and guidance through many stages of humanities development. But keep in mind also, if God only spoke through scripture, we would only have to read it once. We can undoubtedly see some of the nature and character of God through scripture. (though darkly) But His nature is not revealed through any one, particular verse or book.

      My evangelical father taught me at a very young age that everything in the bible is true, but not everything in the bible is ‘Truth’.

      • Amber Stamper

        Caspian, thank you so much for your response! :) I may have addressed some of your questions in my reply to Charles above, so sorry if this is rehashing, but basically, I TOTALLY agree with you that for many millennia women have been devalued in many cultures, including the Greco-Roman one. However, when examining the cultural context for, say, the Sodom and Gomorrah story, it helps me to remember that Moses was writing to an audience of Israelites who would have known God’s high view of women and His original depiction of marriage between a man and a woman as established in the Creation account. This is the paradigm through which I believe cultural contextualization requires us to read and interpret the story because it is the one the Israelite readership would have had in mind. With this in mind, how could we say then that the “sin” was one of putting men in the position of being like women through homosexual rape? Wouldn’t that undercut God’s previously established position that men and women are equal? This is what leads me to the conclusion that it is the same-sex aspect of the relationship (which is not a relational model we have seen God affirm) that is of concern to Lot and why he would rather offer his daughters than his male guests (again, NOT a model father, but I think this might have been the thinking?). Again, as I stated in my review, I’m always open to new evidence, but this is where I am in my thinking currently. :)

        In regards to your point about Paul’s negative view of women, I will have to respectfully disagree. We could get into detail about various scriptures, but I do think historical context provides us with evidence to suggest Paul upholds the same standards God set for women as equals in the Creation account. He works with them as equals in ministry and praises and addresses them as equals in his letters, for example.

        And finally, you make some interesting points about the nature of biblical inspiration. I don’t believe that inspired writing means writing done without any relation to culture or audience. What is awesome (and I mean literally AWE-inspiring, not just “cool” ;) ) about biblical scripture is that it spoke both to the audience of the time it was written and continues to speak to audiences today. There is a transcendence to it that to me only affirms its Truth (capital T :) ) And you are right, God does not speak to us exclusively through the Bible. The Psalms tell us that He is known through the wonder of His Creation (Ps. 19:1), and He speaks to Christians through the still small voice of His Holy Spirit.

        I hope this clarifies where I’m coming from a little bit more. Thank you again for your thoughts! :)

        • Caspian

          WOW…

          Amber, I don’t mean to be contrary, but you are not nearly
          as openhearted to divergent theological viewpoints as you claim to be.

          In fact you appear to be more inclined to embrace the familiar then to walk with the ‘other’. It began with this statement on the OP.

          “After reading Vines’ book, I immediately downloaded the
          SBTS response. As I anticipated, it makes all the necessary arguments to refute Vines’ claims and will prove helpful for anyone who, after reading God and the
          Gay Christian, seeks out a refutation.”

          Your sigh of relief was almost audible.

          For a moment you were on that shaky ground of uncertainty; a place where you may have had to questions your understanding, step out in faith and perhaps learn something new. But you ‘immediately’ reached for the life vest of certainty in something that confirmed what you already WANTED to believe.

          However this is further demonstrated in your response to
          Charles T.

          “So it makes more sense to me that the crime Lot was
          attempting to avoid was the same-gender nature of homosexual rape rather than anything related problems of the “inferiority” of women being forced on a man.”

          This is the kind of statement that comes from someone INTENT on keeping homosexuality a sin. Your blinded by your own need to be right (even in regards to something that, unless you’re a lesbian, has no direct bearing or impact on your life.)

          In that one statement you’ve defeated your own argument.

          You’ve placed the violation of women (rape) as a ‘lesser’
          sin then homosexuality. Lot would rather allow his daughters to be raped then see homosexuality be committed? Most agree there is no hierarchy of sin.

          Regardless of whether Lot was ‘avoiding homosexuality’ or preventing his male guest from ‘being treated like women,’ his daughters were still reduced to cannon fodder. So much for the ‘cherished’ position of women.

          That’s just two immediate responses that I would have to
          that statement. There are more.

          I think after reading Vines book, rather then ‘struggle’
          with the morality of homosexuality; I think a better question to ask yourself would be something like this.

          ‘As a heterosexual woman, why is it so important to me that homosexuality be considered a sin?’

          • Amber Stamper

            Caspian–Thank you for your reply. I do not believe biblical interpretation is a matter of personal preference, so ideally my sexuality, gender, or evangelical affiliation should not sway my interpretation of the Bible. I recognize, however, that we each read through our own lenses of experience from which it may be impossible to entirely detach, but we are told that in this world we are not guaranteed full revelation, and so–as I have reiterated–I am doing the best I can to be open to scrutinizing my biases as well as all “traditions” of the church, including the tradition that affirms marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman. I am not sure how you would have an individual go about challenging such views other than to study the Bible in its entirety and to read the work of a diversity of scholars and experts who can provide information about translation and cultural context, which are the methods through which I have arrived at my conclusions, but I would be happy to hear your suggestions! I am hardly “intent” on keeping homosexuality a sin, as you say, and I have no “need to be right”–I am not sure how that would be to my advantage as a Christian? If I saw the Bible affirming homosexuality–in the context of monogamous relationships or otherwise–in fact, if I even saw the Bible as asserting a position of neutrality on the issue, I would accept that just as confidently as I do my current position. I am intent only on fulfilling the duty to follow Christ and His Word, which I believe includes a duty to handle Scripture with as much integrity, responsibility, and care as possible. With that in mind, I would be happy to read any sources you could recommend to shed further light on your perspective. I would also be happy to talk with you about specific passages in Vines’ work that we may be reading differently. If you can show me more specifically–beyond accusations of bias and assumptions of intent–where you believe my reading is “off,” I would be more than willing to discuss.

            In regards to the one specific text to which you do direct us, my reading of Lot’s motive in offering his daughters over his guests in no way, as I stated, suggests that God is condoning Lot’s offering of his daughters. My point was that whereas I see biblical evidence to support the interpretation that the sin Lot fears is homosexuality, I do not see similar evidence to suggest that the sin he fears is one of putting the men in the position of women, as is Vines’ interpretation. This is not to say that God necessarily ranks sin, only that Lot appears to be ranking sin. I also see no reason to suggest that Lot was rewarded for offering his daughters or that God upholds his behavior as an ideal. Nevertheless, we are left with determining what the sins so horrible that cites were destroyed are, and i’m curious to hear how you read this episode–do you see no evidence of homosexuality as one of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah? What elements of the text and/or extra-Biblical evidence led you to this interpretation? Thank you again for continuing the conversation! :)

    • Amber Stamper

      Charles, thank you so much for your feedback! :) I think what I was getting at is that cultural contextualization is useful for telling us about audience expectations. The audience of Moses’ Genesis was presumably the early Israelites who would have been familiar with the view of women established and promoted by God in the Creation story (woman as companion for man, woman as equal to man, etc.). So, with this in mind, it seems “off” to me that, for example, in the Sodom and Gomorrah story, we should interpret Lot offering his daughters to be raped instead of his guests as a decision based on the cultural ideal that the rape of women is a lesser offense than putting the male guests in the sexual “position” of a woman (and thereby a position of inferiority, insulting to their manhood) as in the case of homosexual rape. I don’t see that the cultural contextualization supports such an interpretation. I see God clearly in the Creation account valuing the marriage bond between a man and a woman. I also see Him clearly asserting the value of women as equal to man. So it makes more sense to me that the crime Lot was attempting to avoid was the same-gender nature of homosexual rape rather than anything related problems of the “inferiority” of women being forced on a man. Not that Lot is the greatest role model for decision making regardless of culture, butttt….does that shed any light on where I was coming from? Would love to here more of your thoughts! I’m especially interested in knowing more about these “what the heck” moment for gay Bible readers!

      • cajaquarius

        [ The audience of Moses' Genesis was presumably the early Israelites who would have been familiar with the view of women established and promoted by God in the Creation story (woman as companion for man, woman as equal to man, etc.)]

        I agree that women play a higher role in the world than many misguided fundamentalists and some of the secular critics of religion would claim. Jesus first appeared to two women after his resurrection, after all (a point even many evangelicals don’t realize, I have found, but that supports your view of how God views women). That said, Jesus came long after Moses and such so it isn’t so strange to think that they might not have understood the value of women as much as we might with the value of our much longer hindsight. It is very difficult to reconcile things like levirate marriage, otherwise.

        [I'm especially interested in knowing more about these "what the heck" moment for gay Bible readers!]

        Not sure about Charles but I am a gay man raised in the Catholic Faith (a far cry from the Evangelical faith but after I left it I began to look down many different paths and did a lot more Bible reading). In general, I would say that we tend to view homosexuality much different then many of those one your side might view it, having lived it. As for “what the heck” moments, it is more when we hear your interpretations that we think this way. I will share my story as briefly as I can to illustrate (no worries, it is clean).

        When I was in my late twenties I fell in love with another man. He met me at a down point when I was recovering from a deadly illness. It was purely on the Internet. We were both authors and we began to work and edit together. Before this, I considered myself straight to asexual – just not generally interested in relationships at all. After this, I found myself opened not only to love of this other guy, but love generally. It was as if much of what I felt and what I was had been akin to a small plane crashed in a bog, where my whole life only the tail had stuck up from the mucky water with the rest concealed below. My love for him raised it up and revealed more of me than I ever realized was there. I began to cry, smile, empathize with others more, feel anger, and feel joy when before I felt general apathy (though at the time I considered it the way everyone was).

        The love scared him. I was and am a virgin yet he had had sex a lot. He was very effeminate and his first experience had been with a man twice his age who has used him for his feminine qualities in a fetishistic way and then discarded him. He said he had fallen in love with me and that he was afraid of hurting me and afraid of me seeing the real him. He logged off one last time, saying he might return when he got his life together. For all my talent as a published author, I couldn’t convince him that I knew the real him. My words were muddled and all I could do was listen and accept his decision to leave, promising to pray for him.

        When I was sick and on various medications, I remember a time that they had prescribed me Ambien – a rather potent sleeping aid that I underestimated. The first time I took it, it was a night that I had decided to stay up and chat to him until I felt tired from it (assuming, incorrectly, that it worked like a more powerful over the counter Tylenol PM). Needless to say, I only realized what I had said the next day when I woke up. He had mentioned money problems and, evidently, when under the influence of that drug I become something of a bleeding heart and offered to PayPal him way more money than I could afford. He had scolded me and told me to care for myself and sent me to bed, via messages, when he realized something was up. While embarrassing, it proved he was so much better than he realized. After a life of being used, sexually, and such low self esteem he could have easily taken me for everything that night and blocked me from his life but chose not to. From that point on, I knew I could trust him. That for all his problems, he was a good person and worth more than what he had experienced.

        I still miss him and pray for him. What I feel for him is not disordered or evil. If he came back to me tomorrow having found a faith and wanted to stay celibate I would still want to spend my life with him because I sincerely love and respect him and giving up sex is more than worth being with him. And even if he never comes back, I deeply hope and pray he finds happiness elsewhere and fulfillment. What motivates me (and I suspect, Vines) is as far from the men of Sodom as can be. It simply isn’t our experience or our reality. I was exiled from a faith that two of my childhood friends became priests in and that I once loved because I couldn’t ask forgiveness or repent from what I know isn’t evil.

        I will keep coming back to the traditional and evangelical side of things and I will keep checking to see if maybe I am wrong. If maybe there is some apologist I have yet to read who has the magic bullet that will convince me I am mistaken and that this intense love and empathy I have been opened to thanks to this special man I met at a low point in my life is wrong. Thus, the “what the heck” comes from the homosexuals you talk about (because they sound nothing like who we are). There is just no way that can be us that the Scripture is referring to, or at least that is my thought when reading.

        • Amber Stamper

          Cajaquarius–Thank you so much for your response and for sharing your story–I appreciate your willingness to publicly attest to the challenges you have faced personally as a gay man who felt you had no options in terms of reconciling your experience of homosexuality with Catholicism. That is a hard story to tell, I am sure, but the church should, in my opinion, be prepared to hear and respond to all hard stories. One of the very good points that Vines makes I think is that–regardless of the church’s position on gay marriage–there are just too many tales like yours of gay Christians experiencing “exile,” as you say, from their churches and being rejected by their religious family members. I hope greatly that you will continue to “keep coming back” to Christianity, but I hope also that you might consider not viewing any apologist as a “magic bullet.” As a Christian, you have been given the Spirit to guide you and that includes in the interpretation of and wisdom granted to you through the reading of Scripture. Though I have made a big deal about the importance of extra-biblical scholarship for biblical interpretation in this review, I acknowledge equally that man, in this life at least, will continue to “see through a glass, darkly,” and that the Holy Spirit is always our greatest guide. God gave His Spirit and His Word to us as individuals as much as He gave it to us as a church. This does not, I believe, mean we may each merely interpret it as we like, but it does mean that we are each equipped to interpret it accurately. Our “experiences” of truth may not always reconcile as we’d like them to with the behavioral ideals and requirements of faith laid out in the Bible, but it is never a Th.D. or a Ph.D. or any other degree that grants access to knowledge of right and wrong, and following the Spirit will never lead you into sin. :)

          (As a side note: based on your experience and your conclusion that celibacy would be the biblical option if the man you mentioned returned into your life, you might not find as much in common with Vines’ work as you would think. Vines does not interpret the Bible as encouraging celibacy for gay Christians and argues that Scripture fully affirms the option of homosexual marriage with all of the elements of physical, emotional, and spiritual union that characterize heterosexual marriage. You seem to hold an interesting position where you believe homosexuality (as you’ve experienced it) isn’t sinful, but that homosexuals who are Christians are required to be celibate–do I have that right? I’d love to know about how you arrived at this determination, what scriptures guided you or supported your experience, etc.:) )

          • cajaquarius

            [Cajaquarius--Thank you so ... to all hard stories.]

            Thank you. It is a bit hard to tell and I still get kind of choked up writing and speaking it, but I feel there is enough misunderstanding that it is important to add a human element to the discussion. Remind people that homosexuality is not merely about sex.

            [One of the very good points ... by their religious family members.]

            In my case, I felt no rejection but had to excommunicate myself, for the most part. For Catholics, Church is a celebration of the Eucharist and Christ but the Eucharist can only be taken by one who has repented their sins and is in agreement with the Church’s wisdom in interpreting Biblical texts. Because I cannot repent for what I feel isn’t wrong, truly, I ceased taking Eucharist and attending the Church. I am schismatic. It is because I have a very strong view and personal code of honor that I willingly abide the punishment for my heresy: latae excommunicae. At least until it is resolved.

            [I hope greatly that ... apologist as a "magic bullet."]

            Part of me wants to be convinced I am in error and return to the Church of my family and old friends but I won’t unless I can be convinced I am in error. Perhaps it is selfish to want a complete answer or something of that sort.

            [As a Christian, you have ... He gave it to us as a church.]

            I tend to agree. I have consumed evangelical, protestant, and even apocryphal texts in my search for understanding and I always test all against my conscience (the Law written on the Heart, as it were). But my conscience has led me to view my old Church family as being in error. Seeing through the glass darkly is a good way of putting it. Perhaps it will be good enough that I tried to find the truth, in the end, even if I am the one in error.

            [This does not, I ... to interpret it accurately.]

            The problem becomes when our interpretations differ. I agree though, testing it against logic or rationalization is a mistake as one can rationalize any degree of bad behavior. The conscience never fails, though.

            [Our "experiences" of truth ... lead you into sin. :)]

            I would agree with this too, though seem to be at odds with your interpretation. I suppose it will all become clear in the end and we will know for sure who it right and who is not.

            [You seem to hold an interesting position where you believe homosexuality (as you've experienced it) isn't sinful, but that homosexuals who are Christians are required to be celibate--do I have that right?]

            Close. I believe in monogamous love and I believe in the finality of marriage. The first person I get married to (or bind myself to in oath, if marriage is not an option) will be the last person. I have little interest in sex outside of love – it strikes me as using others as a means to an end and denying them their dignity. I fall fast in a sort of fellowship and love with other men I find are gay – not romantic but general, sort of as I might have once loved (and still do) a member of my former Church family.

            I am not all that driven, sexually. I am okay with it if the man I do fall in love with wants it and can even enjoy it, but I am very protective of those I love and would likely not engage in anything that might hurt him, even if he really wanted it (actual sodomy, for example). That said, I wouldn’t be against binding myself to him, sexually, if I was certain we were both coming at it from a healthy place. I am a bit old fashioned in that regard.

            [ I'd love to know about how you arrived at this determination, what scriptures guided you or supported your experience, etc.]

            Love always puts the needs of the other before the self. Fornication is simply self gratification, no different than gluttony or abuse of a drug. Worse in that it directly harms another person, however. You mentioned Lot before and the daughter thing. I disagree with both of you and Vines. Vines made it about gender and while I agree that the view of women may not have been as good back then as you believe, the crime was less about the gender and more about the rape,

            It is one of the most blatant expression of the Flesh devoid of the Spirit and completely focuses on the good of the self at the cost of others, ignoring boundaries and causing harm for personal gain and gratification. Sins, as I understand them in my own study, always carry that as a requirement. Name any sin and I can tell you how it directly harms the community or another (even the food laws we might see as silly in Leviticus were about protecting the community).

            In my understanding of sin, trespass always harms others. God is of us and within us – do unto the weakest and you do unto God; do them evil and it is returned with evil, do them well and it is returned with good. It is the quintessential prerequisite for it to be a sin. Hence, I simply can’t feel that how I loved this other guy was a sin – it doesn’t meet the prerequisites of sin as I understand it.

          • Amber Stamper

            Hi again, cajaquarius!

            Sorry for the delay! I have newborn twin boys, so my opportunities to write are few and far between, and I wanted to give your response the thought it deserved. :)

            I wish I could speak more knowledgeably about the Catholic Church, but (despite actually going through the full process of converting to Catholicism for a short period in high school–a story for another day! ;) ), all I can say is that it seems like dependence on an institution to satisfy us in all the finer points of theology is a recipe for disappointment. You seem resolved for now with your position in relation to the Church though, and I have to say that I really admire your integrity in not taking communion so as not to violate their traditions.

            I am very interested in what you had to say about the conscience and how it never leads us astray. I think this point is essential to identifying what behavior God affirms as good or rejects as sin. By “conscience,” are you referring to the Holy Spirit? I cannot remember the Catholic teaching on this, but I can testify that my “conscience” (by which I mean my sense of right and wrong) before I got saved directed my life much differently than the Holy Spirit now does. Before salvation, for example, my conscience justified all kinds of behavior that in retrospect I now see as sin, reminding me of Proverbs 14:12 that “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” At any rate, I believe that the Holy Spirit will never lead us in a way counter to Scripture but may direct us “beyond” Scripture in the sense that it can guide us rightly in situations which the Bible does not specifically address. Maybe I’m splitting hairs and by “conscience” you meant Holy Spirit, but I do think it’s a point worth clarifying. :)

            And, last thing, I just want to give a big AMEN to this: “I suppose it will all become clear in the end and we will know for sure who it right and who is not.” Can you imagine how many “What did you mean by…” questions Jesus gets asked in Heaven? ;) I continue to be grateful that what is required for salvation is made perfectly, completely, totally, crystal clear. With that squared away, my best hope is that where we otherwise differ we only do so with each other’s best interest as brothers and skated in Christ in mind and with a keen ear to the nudgings of the Holy Spirit and the definitive Word of God.

          • cajaquarius

            Not a worry. Family and real life concerns should always come first.

            [I am very interested in what you had to say about the conscience and how it never leads us astray. I think this point is essential to identifying what behavior God affirms as good or rejects as sin. By "conscience," are you referring to the Holy Spirit?]

            I would agree with this sentiment and have come to believe that the conscience and the Holy Spirit are one and the same and that having an informed conscience (informed by empathy, primarily) is important for understanding the truth hidden within Scripture.

            [ I cannot remember the Catholic teaching on this, but I can testify that my "conscience" (by which I mean my sense of right and wrong) before I got saved directed my life much differently than the Holy Spirit now does.]

            I believe you are mistaken on this point. The conscience doesn’t fail, but it cannot control or force you to act either. It can torment you, quietly, but it never forces. We as humans rationalize our evil well and we only get better at it as we get older. Children know right and wrong early on; having worked with mentor programs and such I can say that all evil a child exhibits in my experience is learned from their parents and their world. This meshes with the story of Jesus and the children, chastising his followers and reminding them that heaven was “made for ones such as these”.

            Children don’t need to be taught good. In fact, I would take it a step further and say that they *can’t* be taught good – all you can do as a parent is attempt to assuage the evil they sponge up alongside it and ensure it doesn’t overwhelm their goodness.

            [Before salvation, for example, my conscience justified all kinds of behavior that in retrospect I now see as sin, reminding me of Proverbs 14:12 that "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death."]

            This quote from Proverbs, in my view, is a reference to rationalization.

            For example, what is wrong with adultery?

            Adultery is a betrayal of trust. It hurts someone you claim to love and/or involves using another human being as an object for sexual gratification. Even if you think you might get away with it, you are taking the chance of doing grievous harm to someone you claim to love in exchange for momentary pleasure/reward. Would you take a six chambered revolver pistol with one bullet randomly placed in one of the six chambers, point it at your husband’s head, and pull the trigger if I offered you $200 to do it? It is only a one in six chance, after all. No, of course you wouldn’t. So why do the exact same thing by committing adultery?

            That is my answer based on my conscience but now let’s apply rationalization to it:

            “If my husband doesn’t find out then it won’t hurt him. So all I have to do is make sure he never finds out. If I don’t hurt him then it won’t be a big deal.”

            “My husband has been cold to me, recently, and keeps saying he has a headache when I try to make love to him. He is taking a new martial arts class with a young female instructor. That lady is in better shape than me, too, and younger… I bet he is cheating on me with her! Yeah, that would explain everything! He was late last night too… I bet he was with her! Well, then I will cheat on him and see how he likes it.”

            “It isn’t really cheating if I pay money for it. Hey, it is Las Vegas!”

            “It isn’t really cheating if there is no penetration.”

            “It isn’t really cheating if it is just flirting online with the guy on Facebook.”

            And I could go on and on, despite being a gay guy who has never been married. We often mistake rationalization with our conscience speaking to us but I think this is in error and, if you think back, I bet on some level you knew when you were doing evil where you should have been doing good. And I bet your conscience punished you for it. Maybe you ate extra junk food, drank a bit too much, or engaged in some other form of well hidden self injury to reduce the anxiety.

            [At any rate, I believe that the Holy Spirit will never lead us in a way counter to Scripture but may direct us "beyond" Scripture in the sense that it can guide us rightly in situations which the Bible does not specifically address. Maybe I'm splitting hairs and by "conscience" you meant Holy Spirit, but I do think it's a point worth clarifying. :)]

            I would say that the Holy Spirit never leads us in a way to counter the truth in Scripture, but that the truth is hidden from things like reason as evidenced by how many differing interpretations of those texts exist. In this instance, I tend to combine my former Catholicism and some aspects of Evangelicalism into a single entity.

            In the view of the Catholic Church, the Bible is like a sort of cipher that is not for individual interpretation and the Church’s authority granted by Peter allows them the privilege of interpreting that cipher.

            Evangelicals look at the Bible, as I understand them, as being very clear so that anyone should be able to read it and understand it. That one needs no institution, only the earnest wish to understand and that these texts will become clear to you.

            I have come to believe that both are partially right. The Catholic Church is correct in the view that the Bible is a cipher. Reading it literally, the Bible makes God seem like a monster and seems filled with impossible mythologies and uncomfortably close parallels to similar pagan ideas. Read the Bible as you read a text book and your faith will either be shattered or it will become a complicated lattice work of sterile legalisms and endless apologetic vagary (because the wise shall be as fools, and so on). I disagree that the Church is the code breaker for the cipher, however. I believe that the conscience (eg or Holy Spirit) is the code breaker. I measure all truth against my conscience and my love of other people and if it falls short, I scrutinize it.

  • Alyson Holt

    If you are looking for an insightful, erudite young voice on homosexuality and Christianity, you must acquaint yourselves with Wesley Hill’s writings, most particularly his book, “Washed and Waiting” and his blogging at spiritualfriendship.org. He self-identifies as gay, holds to the traditional definition of sexual morality of the church, and is also a professor of New Testament at Trinity School for Ministry. He is a very gifted writer and his insights into friendship and loneliness in “Washed and Waiting” would speak to any believer struggling with loneliness and/or a sense of alienation. If I may be so bold, he adds a great deal to the current discussion of homosexuality within the Church, as do his fellow writers at Spiritual Friendship.

    I too agree that the tone of what I read of the e-book by SBTS being quite alien to some young Christians. Seriously, check out Wesley Hill!

    • Amber Stamper

      Awesome! Thank you so much, Alyson! Wesley Hill looks great. I’m going to check him out and start putting together a list of all the writer-thinker-speaker-scholar Christians I should be recommending and encouraging more! :)

      • Alyson Holt

        Great to hear. In the meantime, the other writers at SpiritualFriendship.org, as well as Wesley Hill, are hosting an ongoing conversation not just about homosexuality, but also about friendship, loneliness, celibacy, the idolatry of the nuclear family, singleness, community, and other issues pertinent to all the Body of Christ.

        • Amber Stamper

          Very interesting website! Thank you for sharing. I will definitely be following the posts. :)

  • Robert VandenBerg

    I really enjoyed your review. Here are some accessible books from young evangelicals on the topic that I think would fit the bill for what you’re looking for:
    “Washed and Waiting” by Wesley Hill (the best, in my opinion)
    “Loving Homosexuals as Jesus Would” by Chad Thompson
    “Out of a Far Country” by Christopher Yuan and Angela Yuan.
    Thanks again!

    • Amber Stamper

      Yes! Thank you so much, Robert! :) Every single one of these is going into my Amazon shopping card. Do you happen to know if the audience for these books has extended beyond “the choir”? I think the way young evangelicals affirming traditional marriage market their work is going to be key. Matthew Vines, for example, first got his foot in the door with a video.

      • Robert VandenBerg

        I think those books do a good job reaching beyond the choir, although I guess it depends on how you define “choir.” The core readership probably consists of young, sexually conservative evangelicals who are nevertheless a little bit more conciliatory toward the culture at large than many of the older evangelical leaders who hand down their pronouncements from on high. That being said, I did give a copy of “Washed and Waiting” to an atheist friend once, and she said she enjoyed reading it and that it really helped her understand the Christian view of sexuality a lot better. So in a sense, that’s one of the strongest endorsements you could hope for.

        • Amber Stamper

          Agreed! And you have nicely pointed out another simple thing we can do to broaden the conversation: share our sources! The vast majority of books I read are ones that came recommended, and I read books all the time that I expect to disagree with or that I’d never have picked up on my own just because someone I respect or like or trust suggested them. Some of my best conversations have started this way. :)

  • Craig Wright

    Amber,you say that Vines depends “predominantly on liberal revisionist sources for his research.” He depended a lot on James Brownson’s “Bible, Gender, Sexuality”. Brownson is not a liberal. Neither is Jack Rogers.

    • Amber Stamper

      You’re absolutely right! :) But did you feel that the sources cited represented enough diversity and objectivity overall?

      • Craig Wright

        Vines took on and answered conservatives: Robert Gagnon, Simon Gathercole, Richard Hayes, and William Webb. His one liberal was John Boswell. In reading Al Mohler’s essay responding to Vines, I think that Mohler made too much of claiming that egalitarians change gender roles in the Bible, and thus are in alignment with the new perspective on homosexuality. This opened my eyes to how good, conservatives can disagree on the role of women, because of interpretation of the same scriptures, and so we need to be open to new understandings of scripture on other topics (homosexuality, hell, creation…), in light of more research in history, culture, and language.

        • Amber Stamper

          Craig, I appreciate where you’re coming from with this response so much. I think you’re absolutely right that it’s important to always be prepared for new revelation from the Spirit and new evidence to guide our scriptural interpretation. One of the most interesting parts of Vines’ work for me was his examples of how the church has changed positions on various interpretations of scripture throughout history. As I mentioned, the only subject that will remain non-negotiable for me is what is required to be saved. :)

  • http://www.fordswords.net/ Ford1968

    Hi Amber –

    You make the claim that you hold your traditionalist theology with an open hand, then you go on to insisit that it would somehow be problematic for people to be convinced by Vines’ arguments. From this post, it seems like you think it’s improper to treat the sinfulness of gay covenant relationships as a disputable matter. I’m curious as to why.

    On a seperate note – elsewhere in this thread, you ask about those “what the heck” moments for gay bible readers…I am a man who is Christain and married to a man. There are several “what the heck” approaches to the public examination of my humanity.

    First, many Christians look into my life and can see only “sin”; they are unwilling or unable to see or acknolwlege anything virtuous in my marriage. But the reality is that 1 Cor type, mutually self-sacrificial, Christ-honoring love indeed exists in covenant gay relationships. There is objective good in these unions, even if you believe gay sex to be sinful.

    Second, there is a strong tendancy to get stuck at the clobber passages. “If gay sex is sinful, then the rest of the conversation is moot…right?” NO, it’s not moot. If we look beyond Romans 1 and we ask about how sexuality fits into the human experience, we see that we are created by God to be in relationship and sexuality helps us relate to the world and, ultimately, sex creates a profound bond with the person we pledge our life to. Traditionalist theology demands that people who are gay live contrary to God’s creative intention. I seldom hear traditionalists acknowledge this reality.

    Third, once the chruch began to understand that sexual orientation is innate and mostly (exclusively?) immutable, they developed new ways to shame gay people. The one that drives me the most nuts is “if you identify as gay, you are making your sexuality your identity rather than making your identity in Christ.” It’s an infuriating indictment which is also a doulble standard. Like straight people, just because I chose to marry does not mean I make an idol out of sex or sexuality.

    On yet a different note, if you’re ever looking for an excellent affirming book on theology and homosexuality, I highly recommend A Time To Embrace by William Stacy Johnson.

    My very best to you,
    David

    • Amber Stamper

      Hi, David! Thank you for your response. :)

      I would first like to clarify that when I say I hold my beliefs with an open hand (and, to be fair, the only “traditionalist” viewpoint I’ve laid claim to in this review is regarding gay marriage ;) ), I do not mean that my beliefs are weak or that I am dissatisfied with them, unsure of them, or actively looking for alternatives. I am, however, open to having my beliefs challenged, and, in fact, I welcome such challenges because they result in either affirmation and further confidence in these beliefs or the sloughing away of elements of the beliefs that were off target or unnecessary. The only view I hold that is beyond dispute is that Jesus died to save sinners, a truth I have experienced so deeply as to make it irrefutable. So even though I find some of Vines’ arguments less convincing than that of other scholars, I am still very much open to disputing these more convincing arguments as well. Truth (with a capital T), in my opinion, always survives even the harshest of firing squads and is the stronger for it. :)

      As for your first point, I would very much agree with you that it is wrong for any Christian to look into another Christian’s life and see “nothing but sin.” This is not how Jesus views His children. Even when dealing with our Christian friends who appear to be living in sin, I would hope that we would show charity and offer aid rather than show condemnation and offer judgment.

      Your second point is one Vines makes (though Vines does depend heavily on “clobber passages” for his argument, a move which I agree with you is a weakness), but I’m curious to know more about what you mean when you say that traditionalist views require gay men and women to love contrary to God’s creative intentions. I take the model of God’s creative intentions to be that established in the Garden of Eden, and I’m curious to know what the model you believe in looks like and how this model is reflected in Scripture.

      As for your third point: I agree. For Christians who view homosexuality as sin, to say “If you identify as gay, you are making your sexuality your identity rather than making your identity in Christ” is as silly as saying “If you identify as an adulterer, a glutton, a gossip, etc. you are making this your identity rather than making your identity in Christ.” Once we are saved, we are no longer identified in God’s eyes by our sin but by by our redemption. Certainly we have a responsibility to brothers and sisters in Christ who struggle with sin, but the the approach you describe makes no sense and is unbiblical!

      With that said, I am really truly glad you engaged with this conversation because—as a married, gay Christian—you have a voice that needs to be added to the conversation, and I would love—if you don’t mind—to ask you a few questions. :) One of the critiques of Vines’ work is that he started from the perspective of his own experience—that he has seen positive, Christ-centered, monogamous gay relationships in practice—and interprets texts through the lens of this experience rather than letting Scripture be the lens through which he experiences. This may or may not be the case, but I’d love to know more about how you arrived at the point where you are certain that your understanding of Scripture discussing homosexuality is correct. You mentioned that the church now acknowledges that gays cannot be converted to heterosexuality, but I’m not entirely certain this is the case, and I wonder what you would say to the Christians who appear to genuinely be ex-gay or who experience same-sex attraction but have chosen celibacy (see cajaquarius’ post on my review, for example). And last thing: if you were to discover that you had somehow misinterpreted Scripture and that God does not affirm homosexuality in any form, would you continue to identify as Christian? I hope you will take these questions as they are intended—meant to learn more about your perspective—and I apologize ahead of time if they represent any kind of ignorance on my part. I do truly want to understand where you are coming from, so keep in mind that I’m an English professor and book review blogger, not a theologian or Biblical scholar. I also have not had the opportunity to speak to ANY married gay Christians, so I’m happy to have the chance to speak with you. ;)

      And last thing: I just pressed “place your order” on Amazon for A Time to Embrace. Thank you so much for the recommendation. If you’re looking for something to read too, I’ve had the book “Washed and Waiting” recommended to me multiple times since writing this review, and maybe it would be one to check out for an alternate perspective, if you’re interested? I know I’m looking forward to reading it. :)

      • http://www.fordswords.net/ Ford1968

        Hi Amber –

        Thank you for your very thoughtful reply. I too enjoy opportunities to trade respectful thoughts with those who believe differently than I do. There’s a lot to unpack here, so forgive me if this response is lengthy.

        I’d love to know more about how you arrived at the point where you are certain that your understanding of Scripture discussing homosexuality is correct.

        I was raised in a conservative Presbyterian church, but I have become much more theologically liberal than what’s usually considered evangelical now. I take scripture very seriously (in fact, I spent years studying and meditating on the sinfulness of homosexuality before coming to an accomodating perspective) but I no longer believe in biblical inerrancy. I believe the cannon has essential revelations about the nature of God and His relationship to humankind; but, to me, it’s intellectually dishonest to pretend there are no contradicitons in the bible or that the bible is “absolutely clear” on almost anything. So my discernment process relys on reason and experience (and community) in addition to scripture. What I discovered was that my biggest sin – the thing that was keeping me far away from God – was living my life inauthentically and not living into the whole person He created me to be.

        Of course I have a vested interest in what the text says (as does Mattew Vines), that’s why I worked faithfully to try to understand God’s will before I came to an affirming position. Am I certain my beliefs are correct? I’m as certain as any of us can be. And if I’m wrong, I know I acted in good faith and find assurance in God’s grace.

        I’m curious to know more about what you mean when you say that traditionalist views require gay men and women to [live] contrary to God’s creative intentions.

        I believe that humankind is a relational creation – we are meant to live in relationship (in it’s various forms) with one another. Sexuality is an essential part of being human that informs how we all relate to the world. Traditionalist theology insists that gay people are called to shut down their sexuality. But nowhere does the bible say that the human condition is different for people who are gay. It doesn’t say “it’s not good for man to be alone unless you’re gay.” Paul didn’t say “it’s better to marry than burn with passion unless you’re gay.” Traditionalists like to believe that all gay people are somehow gifted with celebacy or that family formation is somehow unimportant. That’s clearly not the case.

        I wonder what you would say to the Christians who appear to genuinely be ex-gay or who experience same-sex attraction but have chosen celibacy

        While the causes of homosexuality are unclear (in the same way that the causes of handedness are unknown), there’s pretty conclusive research that shows that sexual orientation is fixed and mostly immutable (there are some caveats regarding sexual abuse, and women may have a little more fluidity). Even the most conservative Christian researchers do not claim that true change in sexual orientation is possible (see Jones/Yarhouse). Alan Chambers of Exodus International (the now-defunct SOCE organization) said that change efforts were unsuccessful in 99.9 percent of the people he’d encountered (panal discussion – GCN Conference 2012). So while each person’s story is their own, the overwhelming testimony of people who have studied this is that change is rarely possible (see John Paulk’s story: http://www.newsweek.com/ex-ex-gay-pride-249282).

        I read Washed and Waiting a couple of times. The first time I wept. It’s heartbreaking. Wes Hill does a fantastic job of describing the isolation and lonliness that comes from choosing celibacy. I related. There is real suffering in pursuing celebacy – it is a heavy, cumbersome load indeed. I interact frequently with celebate gay Christians. While I see their suffering as unnecessary and unjust, I’m often inspired by the faith that sustains them. (I can recommend several very good blogs if you have any interest in understanding the celibate gay world any better).

        if you were to discover that you had somehow misinterpreted Scripture and that God does not affirm homosexuality in any form, would you continue to identify as Christian?

        Into my mid-thirtys I lived a celibate life primarily as an effort to be faithful. It wasn’t until after a period of discernment and a new conviction that I decided to pursue a romantic relationship. I did not put intimacy above God in the past. I don’t think I do so now and hope not to in the future.

        Amber, I have one last thought for you. The traditional sexual ethic about the sinfulness of homosexuality has caused demonstrable harm. It has engendered self-loathing, detachment and depression in people who are gay. It has caused desperation to the point of self-harm and suicide. It has been the imputus for families and communities being torn apart (including the Body of Christ). If the Church is serious about loving people who are gay better, we must change our theology – we must believe in a way that doesn’t cause harm. I invite you to join me in praying that God shows us how to do that.

        I wish you peace,
        David

        • Amber Stamper

          Hi, David!

          Thank you again for your response! :) I think you have shed some light on the root of our differences in approach to biblical interpretation. You mentioned that you do not believe in biblical inerrancy, your reason being that you find contradictions in the Bible and that the Bible is not “absolutely clear” on any point. I, as you might have already guessed, do believe in biblical inerrancy (and, strangely, I arrived at this place because I have found great unity in the text and have not seen evidence of contradictions that–upon closer examination–were not reconcilable! (I also am not convinced that just because it is not always possible to have absolute clarity that the authority of the text is undermined.)).I do have to wonder how you determine which parts of scripture are reliable and which aren’t though. Whereas you say that you rely on “reason and experience (and community)” to aid your interpretation of scripture, I’d be additionally curious to know what role you find the Holy Spirit playing in the process. For me, this is essential and the prime means by which I distinguish my worldly interests and desires from God’s will and meaning. Whereas we are never promised full clarity of interpretation or full knowledge of why God works things the way He does sometimes, we are promised that the Holy Spirit will not lead us astray.

          I also would challenge your assertion that “Traditionalists like to believe that all gay people are somehow gifted with celibacy or that family formation is somehow unimportant.” In my experience, evangelicals as much as anyone else understand that God will not always take away our desire towards or the appeal of some sin. Sometimes He will: a friend of mine went from an alcoholic to completely sober the night he was saved and says he has never craved even so much as a beer since. And sometimes He won’t: the same friend, though no longer cheating on his wife, admits to fighting the thorn of lust in his flesh on a daily basis. He said to me one time that he thinks if he were to indulge, he probably would still feel great, and he said he could easily see himself getting caught back up in it and finding all kinds of ways to justify it, but he resists daily regardless because it’s God’s will. In other words: Sometimes God takes away our sinful desires, showing His supremacy, but sometimes He lets us fight, showing His sufficiency. I think probably none of us are “gifted” at giving up the sins that appeal to us most…it’s only through God and our undying commitment to and prioritization of Him that the relinquishment of ANY sin is possible.

          You make a good point, I think, when you say that “The traditional sexual ethic about the sinfulness of homosexuality has caused demonstrable harm. It has engendered self-loathing, detachment and depression in people who are gay. It has caused desperation to the point of self-harm and suicide. It has been the imputus for families and communities being torn apart (including the Body of Christ).” Any role the Church or individual Christians have played in any of these affronts is, in my opinion, not to be blamed on a problem with theology but with an un-Christlike approach to ministry. I completely agree with you that “loving better” should always be a goal we strive for and an ideal upheld as Christians and communally as the Body of Christ. And I agree with you that, for whatever reason, homosexuality may have been disproportionately targeted as and condemned above other sins to this generation. I’m reading Naomi Riley’s Got Religion right now, and she makes the good point that in the early 20th century the big targets were communism and “juvenile delinquency,” and that what is perceived to be the WORST sin changes generationally, but this doesn’t make it right. If there is a theological error at work here it may be only that one needs more saving from some sins than others…

          And, last thing: YES to blog recommendations! Please do share these and any other sources you think are helpful!

  • BrainyPirate

    Of course, for queer Christians, the real, lived, day-to-day question is what to do once God makes it clear to them that God has no plans to make them heterosexual (and the closure of most ex-gay ministries in recent years suggests that God is not, in fact, interested in making gay folks straight). Unless God actively gives them the spiritual gift of sexual chastity (and Luther was right that chastity is not a human task), asking them to remain chaste is like asking the Greeks to take on all the dietary laws, etc.

    Similarly, for churches with gay members, the real, lived, day-to-day question is what to do when it becomes clear that the gay couples in their midst demonstrate signs of God’s anointing for ministry.

    We can argue scripture all we like, but we’re left with Peter’s predicament in Acts: When God demonstrates by clear signs that God accepts someone, the church needs to accept it and move forward with a new understanding of what God is doing.

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