Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian—in which Mr. Vines claims to give the “biblical case in support of same-sex relationships”—recently posted “40 Questions for Christians Who Oppose Marriage Equality.” “Too often,” Mr. Vines laments,
LGBT-affirming Christians are the only ones asked to explain and defend their views. But there are many pressing questions that non-affirming Christians frequently do not address.
Oh, well, then! These questions have never been answered before! Let me correct this oversight for those who (like Mr. Vines) hath ears to hear.
- Do you accept that sexual orientation is not a choice?
First, Mr. Vines, I must object to how you phrase the question. “Do you accept?” implies that your view is normative, and it saves you the problem of proving what has yet to be proven. It is no more than a ploy to put those “non-affirming Christians” on an immediate defensive. Even the phrase “non-affirming” casts them in a negative light. The right way to phrase it would be “Do you believe.”
Nor, Mr. Vines, do you make clear what it would mean if sexual orientation were not a choice. Lots of things are not a choice; that does not mean they are good, or that God somehow meant for them to be. Sexual orientation could be “not a choice” because various environmental factors distort an individual’s psychosexual development. Or it could be “not a choice” because—and I think this is what you mean for us to believe—someone is “born that way.” In other words, the real motive of your question is to plant in people’s minds the idea that God makes certain people gay.
But even if (which has not been shown) people are born gay, that does not imply that God made them that way. All of us, gay or straight, are born with original sin. It’s called “concupiscence,” and the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines it in §405 as “an inclination to evil.” It is “a deprivation of original holiness and justice.” That is to say, it is not what God intended. The disobedience of Adam and Eve brought it into the world. The Catechism continues:
Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.
Simple observation of the world will tell us that consupiscence manifests itself in different ways in different people. One person may be prone to anger, while another is prone to gluttony. Where these particular lusts come from—whether a person is born a glutton, or whether environmental factors acted upon original sin and later inclined him to shove his mouth full of food—is not the real issue. The real issue is that we all have sinful impulses of one kind or another; we are all “born that way”; it is not what God intended; and therefore the right response is spiritual battle, not acquiescence.
- Do you accept that [homo]sexual orientation is highly resistant to attempts to change it?
Yes, but that’s not the point. The question is not whether it’s resistant to change but whether it’s disordered. All sin is resistant to change, as are all sinful desires, because “the heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:19). Here is what St. Paul says in Gal. 5:17: “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would.” Of course they’re resistant to change; that’s why it’s called spiritual battle. That’s why St. Paul again said that fighting one’s sinful desires requires him to “put on the full armor of God” against “all the flaming darts of the wicked one” (Eph. 6:11, 16). Do you think, Mr. Vines, he would have said those things if it were easy?
- How many meaningful relationships with LGBT people do you have? How many openly LGBT people would say you are one of their closest friends?
None, and I don’t know what difference it would make if I did. I suspect that the point of your question is this: If only you knew LGBT people, you would see that they’re not these awful people. In fact, I don’t need them to be “these awful people” to know that sodomy is a sin, any more than I need to think that I’m some awful person because I sin in different ways. Everyone I have a meaningful relationship with is a sinner. Just because I like them, that does not turn their sin into virtue. Nor am I required to have a “meaningful relationship” with everyone as a condition for being able to disagree with them, or call their sin by its name. I confess I don’t know where such an idea as that comes from.
- How much time have you spent in one-on-one conversation with LGBT Christians about their faith and sexuality?
None, and again I don’t know that I’m required to. I know all the arguments quite well. I will add, however, that I am very familiar with the writing of Eve Tushnet, a Patheos blogger, lesbian, and celibate Catholic who argues against same-sex “marriage.” Are you? She wrote a recent book called Gay and Catholic. Have you read it? She writes at length about her faith and sexuality, both in her book and on her blog. I don’t agree with everything she says, but she is an example of how a person with same-sex attraction can remain celibate, faithful to Church teaching, and not have to be “alone.” If you are not familiar with her work, you should be.
- Do you accept that heterosexual marriage is not a realistic option for most gay people?
Yes, I know that they don’t think it is, but that’s not the real question, Mr. Vines. The real question is this: So what if it’s not? The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that those with same-sex attraction are “called to chastity.
By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.
The idea that someone needs to be married, or needs to have sex, in order to have a fulfilled and happy life is a peculiar myth of our own time. As I said, Eve Tushnet has written a lot about this.
- Do you accept that lifelong celibacy is the only valid option for most gay people if all same-sex relationships are sinful?
Yes, on the assumption that “most gay people” are not willing to concede the possibility of heterosexual marriage.
- How many gay brothers and sisters in Christ have you walked with on the path of mandatory celibacy, and for how long?
None, and if your point is that to do so would thereby make me more sensitive to how difficult celibacy is, you’re barking, as they say, up the wrong tree. I am celibate—not because I am gay (I’m not) but because I am not married and have no intention to marry. So I know perfectly well. I walk with myself every day. I doubt, Mr. Vines, that you would say that gay people somehow have a harder time with celibacy than straight people, so that my own experience is not enough. In any case, the real point is not whether something is hard, but whether it is right.
The Catholic Church, unlike the Protestant churches, has a more fully-developed theology of celibacy, and many models for how that works in practice (our clergy are celibate!), such that people with same-sex attraction have more resources for support there than elsewhere.
- What is your answer for gay Christians who struggled for years to live out a celibacy mandate but were driven to suicidal despair in the process?
Well, I reject the implication that one must be given a license to sin in order to avoid “suicidal despair.” God can not be blackmailed in that way. It’s like the kid who says to his parent, “Unless you let me go to that party, I’ll run away from home.” In this case, the ante is merely raised: “Unless you let me indulge in sodomy, I’ll kill myself.” That’s childish narcissism, Mr. Vines: It’s all about me and what I want; I’ll show you.
- Has mandatory celibacy produced good fruit in the lives of most gay Christians you know?
Yes. Eve Tushnet. The late Fr. Henri Nouwen. It has also produced good fruit in the lives of straight Catholics who are, for example, priests and religious. The married seek to please their spouse but the unmarried seek to please the Lord (1 Cor. 7:32-35).
- How many married same-sex couples do you know?
I reject the category. Marriage is one man and one woman by definition (Mark 10:6-7). You may as well ask me how many round squares I know.
- Do you believe that same-sex couples’ relationships can show the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?
No. In the very passage in Galatians 5 that you are citing, Mr. Vines, St. Paul makes it clear that these things are opposed to the flesh. They are the fruit of those who reject the flesh’s sinful desires. So your suggestion that such relationships can “show the fruit of the Spirit” is the very opposite of what St. Paul says. It’s an abuse of the text. To take just one example, giving in to an impulse to sodomy precludes “self-control.” Where’s the “control” if you’re giving in to lust of the flesh and lust of the eyes?
- Do you believe that it is possible to be a Christian and support same-sex marriage in the church?
You are a Christian so long as you are baptized in the name of the Trinity and are not guilty of apostasy or heresy. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is clear that Catholics have a duty to oppose same-sex “marriage,” so you certainly can not be a Catholic and support same-sex marriage. Also, Canon Law expert Dr. Edward N. Peters makes a serious and convincing case that support of it may constitute heresy since it is a denial of divine revelation about what marriage is. So that would preclude being a Christian of any kind and supporting same-sex “marriage.” Anyway, as I stated above, saying that one is “for” same-sex marriage is like saying that one is “for” round squares.
- Do you believe that it is possible to be a Christian and support slavery?
Do you mean penal slavery or chattel slavery? I can’t answer the question unless you clarify what kind of slavery you have in mind.
- If not, do you believe that Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards were not actually Christians because they supported slavery?
Well, I get that the question is intended as a trap, but you’ll have to direct that trap at Protestants. I’m Catholic. I will tell you—I go on the assumption that you mean chattel slavery—that it was specifically condemned by Pope Gregory XVI in 1839, in an apostolic letter entitled In Supremo Apostolatus. Catholic apologist Mark Brumley has more detail on the question of the Catholic Church and slavery here. But in addressing this question, Mr. Vines, one must be careful to distinguish between penal slavery and chattel slavery. You do not do that.
- Do you think supporting same-sex marriage is a more serious problem than supporting slavery?
Again, I can not answer the question unless you tell me whether you have in mind penal slavery or chattel slavery. I assume you have chattel slavery in mind. It is equally serious. All sin is equal in the eyes of God, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear that chattel slavery is a sin against the seventh commandment. “The seventh commandment,” it says, “forbids acts or enterprises that for any reason—selfish or ideological, commercial, or totalitarian—lead to the enslavement of human beings, to their being bought, sold and exchanged like merchandise, in disregard for their personal dignity” (§2414).
- Did you spend any time studying the Bible’s passages about slavery before you felt comfortable believing that slavery is wrong?
Do you have in mind Philemon 1:16? How about Exodus 9:1? What does the Bible teach about slavery, Mr. Vines, and how do you know, and what kind of slavery is at issue in this passage or that passage, and how is this all relevant to the topic of same-sex “marriage”? Or do you like red herrings?
- Does it cause you any concern that Christians throughout most of church history would have disagreed with you?
About what? Are you talking about penal slavery or chattel slavery? Or are you lumping the two together and failing to make important moral distinctions?
- Did you know that, for most of church history, Christians believed that the Bible taught the earth stood still at the center of the universe?
Using which biblical texts? How do those texts compare in clarity to those which treat same-sex attraction and behavior? I don’t need to believe that the Bible is equally clear about all things, or that passages from which the details of astronomy are inferred can be compared to passages which treat of moral right and wrong in very direct terms. To do that is to distract from the real issue by comparing apples and oranges. The Bible is not the Big Book of Everything; those who treat it that way are bound to abuse it. It was not written to inform us about astronomy. It does, however, have a lot to say about moral right and wrong.
- Does it cause you any concern that you disagree with their interpretation of the Bible?
None whatsoever. I am Catholic. The Catholic Church has never taught a belief in geocentrism. When you leave people with the Bible alone, without the guidance of the Church, they’re going to fall into error. That’s the very thing Christ founded the Church to guard against (John 16:13, 1 Tim. 3:15). What would concern me is if I disagreed with something the Church has taught to be revealed by God and the Scriptures. If 99% of Christians go off with their Bible alone and misread it, because they will not listen to the Church (cf. Matt. 18:17), that’s not my concern.
- Did you spend any time studying the Bible’s verses on the topic before you felt comfortable believing that the earth revolves around the sun?
There are no verses on the topic.
- Do you know of any Christian writers before the 20th century who acknowledged that gay people must be celibate for life due to the church’s rejection of same-sex relationships?
Do you know of any Christian writers before the 20th century who believed that sodomy was acceptable to God?
- If not, might it be fair to say that mandating celibacy for gay Christians is not a traditional position?
The belief that sodomy is always a sin is the traditional position. (See here for some examples.) Mr. Vines, you’re trying to make the issue whether Christians through the ages have demanded celibacy, and that’s a clever attempt to distract from the real question, which is not that celibacy is demanded but that sodomy is forbidden. No one ever forbade marriage, rightly understood as one man and one woman, which is the only context in which sexual activity can morally exist.
- Do you believe that the Bible explicitly teaches that all gay Christians must be single and celibate for life?
The Bible explicity teaches that sodomy is an abomination to God. If to you, Mr. Vines, this implies remaining single and celibate for life, then that is what it would mean. St. Paul says, “It is better to marry than to burn” (1 Cor. 7:9). The converse would also be true: It is better to be single and celibate than burn because of the sin of sodomy, if you cannot receive God’s design for marriage.
- If not, do you feel comfortable affirming something that is not explicitly affirmed in the Bible?
Since my answer is “yes,” this question does not apply. But I am Catholic and do not believe in sola scriptura, so I do not require that the Bible “explicitly affirm” something in order for me to believe that it has been revealed by God. The Bible is indeed the Word of God, but no one book can possibly address every question that will ever come up for Christians. That is why God gave us a living and teaching Church and not the Bible alone.
On the issue of sodomy, however, the Bible is very explicit in many places. It makes no distinction between married sodomy and unmarried sodomy. Possibly this is because there is no such thing as married sodomy.
- Do you believe that the moral distinction between lust and love matters for LGBT people’s romantic relationships?
I don’t believe that LGBT people who are in “romantic relationships” understand the distinction, so no. Love, in the romantic and sexual sense, implies difference. That’s true in the Bible (“he made them male and female”) as much as it is true in natural law. God did not design a man to fit with another man sexually, nor a woman with a woman. The design of sex and marriage in the Bible is for procreation (Gen. 1:27-28), and for that reason there can be no such thing as sexual love between two people of the same sex. We can know this is true by revelation as well as by the design of the human person.
- Do you think that loving same-sex relationships should be assessed in the same way as the same-sex behavior Paul explicitly describes as lustful in Romans 1?
Since there is no such thing as a “loving same-sex relationship” that includes the sexual act, this is a nonsense question.
- Do you believe that Paul’s use of the terms “shameful” and “unnatural” in Romans 1:26-27 means that all same-sex relationships are sinful?
Yes, if you mean to imply, as I think you do, that sex is part of that relationship. But nothing precludes two gay men from friendship. What’s “shameful” and “unnatural” is sex between two men or two women, in every context you wish to name.
- Would you say the same about Paul’s description of long hair in men as “shameful” and against “nature” in 1 Corinthians 11:14, or would you say he was describing cultural norms of his time?
I’m sorry, Mr. Vines, that you are unable to differentiate between the use of the same word in two different senses. Paul uses the word “nature” in Romans 1 in the sense of natural law as defined by the creation (Rom. 1:20). In 1 Corinthians 11—a different letter, different audience, and different context—he uses the word “nature” in the sense of custom (see 1 Cor. 11:2, where he sets the context). If you honestly believe, Mr. Vines, that an abstract word like “nature” admits of only one possible usage, and you cannot discern between different uses of the same word, then I am afraid you are just not the right person to be cross-examining anyone about the proper reading of a text.
- Do you believe that the capacity for procreation is essential to marriage?
No, but you’re trying to confuse the issue by your careful use of the word “capacity.” Some people get married but are no longer able to procreate because of age. Some people get married but are not able to procreate because of some physical defect. That does not touch on the validity of the marriage. But two men or two women are not able to procreate by design. The relevant issue is how God designed the human person, not what some particular person becomes incapable of due to defect or age.
- If so, what does that mean for infertile heterosexual couples?
See my response to the prior question.
- How much time have you spent engaging with the writings of LGBT-affirming Christians like Justin Lee, James Brownson, and Rachel Murr?
Not as much as some others you refuse to debate, but you can find several posts on this blog in which I do so. To name just one, I have engaged Dr. Candida Moss of Notre Dame in this post. I refer you to it because I spend a good deal of time there exegeting the relevant biblical texts on the question of how marriage is to be defined.
- What relationship recognition rights short of marriage do you support for same-sex couples?
None. Eve Tushnet, who I have mentioned above, does support the Catholic Church formally blessing celibate same-sex friendships as a special form of love, but I think she is wrong, and the Church has already rejected the possibility of any such thing.
- What are you doing to advocate for those rights?
In light of my answer to the prior question, I actively advocate against those “rights.” There is no such right.
- Do you know who Tyler Clementi, Leelah Alcorn, and Blake Brockington are, and did your church offer any kind of prayer for them when their deaths made national news?
I know who Josh Alcorn was but have not heard of the other two. I do not recall my own parish offering a public prayer for him by name after he killed himself; it may have. I pray, as my Church does at every Mass, for the souls of everyone who has died “in hope of the Resurrection”, as well as for “all the departed.” That includes Josh Alcorn.
- Do you know that LGBT youth whose families reject them are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide than LGBT youth whose families support them?
What do you mean by “reject them”? Do you mean reject them as persons? Do you mean disown them? Or do you mean reject their sin? And what is the source of this statistic?
In any case, Mr. Vines, you need to review my answer to question #9 above, since this is essentially a rehash of the tactic of emotional blackmail you used there: “Accept my sin or I’ll kill myself”; “Accept my sin or I’ll make you responsible for my suicide.”
- Have you vocally objected when church leaders and other Christians have compared same-sex relationships to things like bestiality, incest, and pedophilia?
- How certain are you that God’s will for all gay Christians is lifelong celibacy?
100%. I give this number on the assumption that their sexual perversion is not corrected and they do not enter into heterosexual marriage (a redundant expression, by the way). And I base my certainty on both the Bible and the passage of the Catechism I quoted above.
- What do you think the result would be if we told all straight teenagers in the church that if they ever dated someone they liked, held someone’s hand, kissed someone, or got married, they would be rebelling against God?
This is a ridiculous question, Mr. Vines, because those things are not rebellion against God. What do you think would happen if we told all those who didn’t steal that their failure to steal was rebellion against God? What if we told Christians that they could be obedient to God only by indulging in gluttony? The assumption behind the question is that no one can ever be told that anything they do, no matter what it is, constitutes rebellion against God. It’s nonsense to turn a sin on its head and say: But what if the opposite were a sin?
- Are you willing to be in fellowship with Christians who disagree with you on this topic?
I have no authority to excommunicate anyone. That authority belongs to duly-ordained bishops in my Church. However, for the reasons stated by Dr. Peters in the article I linked to above, I believe that supporting same-sex “marriage” constitutes a rejection of divine revelation, and is therefore heresy. Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. What fellowship hath light with darkness? (2 Cor. 6:14-17)