Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian, and the movement it represents, is a direct confrontation to the church’s traditional understanding of marriage. If the book falls into the hands of uninformed Christians, who are liable to succumb to cultural pressures and adopt the sexual standards of a secular world, then the rising generation of evangelicals may lose sight of God’s design for human sexuality.
What Are Vines’ Arguments?
In God and the Gay Christian, the 24-year-old Harvard graduate uses Scripture to purportedly show that “same-sex orientation is consistent with God’s image” and that “Christians who affirm the authority of Scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationships.” Vines, who is openly gay, reinterprets six biblical passages that are typically used by Christians to prove that same-sex relationships are sinful. However, Vines’ interpretation of these passages depends on some mistaken assumptions.
Below, we will review several of his points and provide a brief response to each.
Vines states that sexually exclusive gay relationships exhibit Christian virtues. Describing how he lost confidence in the sinfulness of same-sex relationships, Vines notes: “Not only were [same-sex relationships] not harmful to anyone, they were characterized by positive motives and traits instead, like faithfulness, commitment, mutual love, and self-sacrifice. What other sin looked like that?”
Response: Most sins look like this. Faithfulness and self-sacrifice, when used to justify something that does not honor God, become counterfeit virtues — and may be all the more dangerous. In Paradise Lost, Satan exhibits Christian virtues such as courage and self-sacrifice when he promises to undertake the treacherous journey from Pandemonium to the new world. But why does he exhibit these traits? Why does he go to the new world? As Milton describes it, he does so in order “to confound the race of mankind in one root, and Earth with Hell to mingle and involve, done all to spite the great Creator.” Virtuous means do not sanctify wayward ends. Are the virtues Vines mentions employed to honor the Creator or to spite his design?
Vines states that traditional Christian teaching has produced bad fruit. Those struggling with same-sex attraction are frequently tormented by depression, suicidal thoughts, misery, and self-loathing. In Vines’ opinion, such bad fruit is directly caused by the bad tree of traditional church teaching on sex.
Response: It is a shame if churches do not love people struggling with same-sex attraction, or any other struggle for that matter. Many of our struggles are characterized by a feeling that this is the “real me” and are therefore justified. This is how Paul — as a Christ-follower — described his struggles. He knew that he was responsible for adhering to God’s design, even though the battle between sin and holiness caused inner turmoil and wretchedness (Romans 7:22-24). He did not attempt to change God’s law to suit his preferences. Instead, he humbled himself before God’s law, regardless of what felt right to him. While we may undergo considerable torment when we can’t follow our impulses, we experience even greater torment when we make reason subject to desire and operate contrary to God’s design.
Vines states that the Bible does not speak to our current situation. Vines insists that the concept of a fixed sexual orientation is a modern development that was foreign to biblical writers, and thus we must develop a modern ethic to keep up with our developing understanding of human sexuality. “The new information we have about sexual orientation actually requires us to reinterpret Scripture,” Vines writes.
Response: It is an age-old temptation to reinterpret Scripture to make it fit the ideas of our age. This represents a low view of Scripture, not a high one — as Vines claims he possesses. In the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus was asked about marriage and divorce, he did not base his response on prevailing cultural norms. Instead, he referred his listeners to the Genesis creation account, which states that in the beginning, God created male and female. Within this marriage relationship, sexuality is properly exercised. That was the norm utilized by both Paul and Jesus in all of their discussions on sexual ethics. Indeed, Vines fails to take into account the entire biblical narrative, in which sexual ethics are based not on the shifting sands of modernity, but on God’s design before the fall.
Vines states that gender differences are not essential to marriage. According to Vines, “Adam and Eve’s sameness, not their gender difference, was what made them suitable partners.” Pressing his theory that marriage is primarily about companionship — and not physical complementarity — Vines writes, “In Jesus’ understanding of marriage, covenantal commitment is foundational. The ability to bear children is not. … In keeping with the focus on Ephesians 5, the essence of Christian marriage involves keeping covenant with one’s spouse in a relationship of mutual self-giving. That picture doesn’t exclude same-sex couples.”
Response: Vines’ entire thesis depends on his re-interpretation of the creation story. According to Vines, the Bible’s language of one-flesh union is figurative, not literal. Throughout the Bible, however, one-flesh union is considered to be both. In order for a couple to become one flesh, they must actually become a single organism in the procreative act. The literal physical union between husband and wife symbolizes and completes the spiritual, mental, and emotional bond that is based on a Christ-like, covenantal love. In the conjugal act, the male and female who commit to each other as though they are one flesh actually become one flesh. When the biblical writers mentioned one-flesh union, they did not forsake the common-sense meaning and completely spiritualize the concept in the process. Biology attests to the Creator’s design, indicating that his intention for a comprehensive one-flesh union between a man and a woman in marriage includes physical oneness.
In order to refute Matthew Vines’ interpretation of Adam and Eve’s marriage relationship, we must rediscover why human embodiment and gender difference is essential to our understanding of marriage, sexuality, and one-flesh union (see Sexual Brokenness: Why the Church Falters in Its Defense of Biblical Sexuality & What to Do About It-Part 1).
A fuller response to each challenge Vines poses may be found at:
- A Response to ‘God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships’