God said it, I believe it, that settles it.
For Christians who still in 2014 do not accept that God created some people gay and some straight, this is the crux of their argument. The six (or seven) verses in the Bible that seem to refer in some way to homosexuality must be read literally because God's message is clear. Somehow.
God said it, I believe it, that settles it.
Some Christians have understood for decades that God didn't really intend to endorse the ownership of other human beings and the subservience of women, even though there are verses in the Bible describing these practices as normative. Neither could we read these seven verses as reflecting God's attitude toward some of God's Children. If God is loving, if God is just, then how can we square these things from the Bible with our understanding of God? Why would God create some people with desires for love and companionship that could never be realized?
Answer: We couldn't. Evangelical Christians like Matthew Vines are wrestling with this transition now. For them the journey is a little more startling because of the longtime paradigm: How can one read the Bible unless one reads it like a divinely-inspired rulebook in which every verse matters?
Answer: A better way.
Vines, a devout gay Christian, left Harvard after two years to do intensive study on homosexuality in the Bible. The conclusions he reached, thoughtfully and beautifully stated in his new book God and the Gay Christian, mirror those reached by writers like Brian McLaren and Marcus Borg: There has to be a better way to read the Bible, an overarching approach that focuses less on individual proscriptions and more on properly representing the God of love and justice.
For Matthew Vines, that angle of vision begins with Jesus' words about good fruits and bad fruits. No bad vine can give good fruits, and vice versa. Conservative readers of the Bible have been faithfully trying—or at least appearing—to adhere to the approach that every verse matters, that even if something is unpopular or seems culturally insensitive, if God said it, I believe it.
But the fruits of that approach have clearly been bad ones. They have built a growing perception that conservative Christians don't live in the same century as the rest of us. They have alienated non-Christians, and convinced seekers that Christianity is about prejudice and intolerance instead of love and mercy. They have made Christianity reviled, and not for the reasons we ought to be—our opposition to a consumerist and superficial culture.
What Matthew Vines does so well in his new book is to help fellow evangelicals move from "transparency" (the commonly-held belief that the Bible "says what it means and means what it says") to a rubric in which tradition, logic, Spirit, and our communities help us discern what scripture ought to mean for us today.
This approach is not—and Vines is clear about this—de-centering scripture. It is an approach that says we should read, revere, and follow the Bible. But we need to read the Bible better. We need to understand that the sin of Sodom was nothomosexuality, but a failure to love and welcome the stranger, that the proscription in Leviticus against a male having sex with another male must be interpreted as bound up in the Hebrews' patriarchal revulsion of men behaving like women, and so on.
Vines reads—and writes—about the Bible as a good evangelical does. Every position is supported from the scriptures, and his close readings of these problematic texts demonstrate proper reference to contemporary scholarship and proper deference to the belief that the Bible is our greatest source of information about who God is and what God wants.
He also offers a good evangelical witness, that of his own faithful life. He is a gay man who loves Jesus, reveres the Bible, and wants his Church to accept him as a fellow Christian, not as an abomination. And this witness convinces his conservative father and members of his church, and will convince many, many more, that he is a Child of God who deserves to be welcomed with open arms. God and the Gay Christian could likewise convince anyone wrestling with a biblical reason to support gay marriage and full gay inclusion in churches—and everyone who ought to be.
For more conversation on God and the Gay Christian, visit the Patheos Book Club here.