• Review: Torn/God and the Gay Christian

    July 20, 2015

    god-and-the-gay-christianI’m finally getting around to writing a review of Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. The short and sweet is that Vines does a fine job walking the reader through all the Bible passages dealing with same-sex behavior, as have other authors before him. What’s new here, and what I enjoyed most about the book, is how well Vines presents the dilemma the church faces if it chooses to reject all gay relationships and prescribe celibacy for all non-heterosexual church members.

    For most of the church’s two thousand years, celibacy has been understood as a free choice in response to a gift from God. Jesus emphasized this, as well as the difficulty of living out that gift, when he said, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given … He who is able to accept it, let him accept it” (Matt. 19, emphasis mine). Apparently, Jesus saw celibacy as a gift that not everyone had and that not everyone was able to accept.

    The Apostle Paul seemed to love the gift of celibacy that he had, and wished everyone else had it too, but he somewhat regretfully acknowledged that they did not. “For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that” (1 Cor. 7:7, emphasis mine).

    The so-called church fathers affirmed this understanding of celibacy, as a free choice in response to God’s gift. The Reformers were adamant about it as they objected to mandated priestly celibacy, and indeed in our own time we can see the problems of forced celibacy in the sex scandals of the Catholic Church. But even here, it’s important to note, the Catholic Church asserts that celibacy is a gift from God that the priest freely accepts upon entering the ministry. Celibacy is not a sentence, therefore; it is a grace received and entered into by an act of one’s own volition.

    Until the late 1800s, when the concept of sexual orientation developed, it was assumed that everyone was capable of heterosexual desire and that homosexual desire was the result of lusts out of control. The prescription was not celibacy, but reigning in those desires and channeling them in a “normal” (i.e., heterosexual) manner. Even after the 1800s, once it was clear that some people simply are not wired for intimacy with the opposite sex, the assumption was that a rewiring was possible. Homosexuality was a disorder, something that went wrong in childhood, and with the right therapy and a good dose of determination, the homosexual person could develop their heterosexual potential. This was called reparative therapy. Different versions of it sprouted and gained popularity throughout the twentieth century, and wild claims of change and healing were purported. Only in 2012 did the last major so-called ex-gay ministry shut its doors, announcing what the psychological community had said for decades, that reparative therapy doesn’t work. In the last few years, most of the church has accepted this. But that’s put the church in a place it hasn’t been before: what to do with people who don’t have a “heterosexual potential” but also don’t have a gift of celibacy? One of two things has to change, and Matthew Vines does a good job illustrating the choice the church has.

    We can embrace gay relationships and maintain a traditional view of celibacy, or we can change our understanding of celibacy and keep a traditional view of gay relationships. But we cannot do both. Christians who hold, as I do, to a high view of Scripture must decide which tradition to modify.

    From there, Vines walks the reader through a historical understanding of the six Bible passages referencing same-sex behavior and demonstrating why these verses should not be understood as condemning the type of mutual, covenantal gay relationships we see today. A lot depends on whether you buy his interpretation, but again, the question is not if tradition must change, but which tradition must change.

    All in all God and the Gay Christian is a wonderful introduction to the gay debate within Christendom. It’s concise—just 224 pages—but fairly comprehensive, and with an accessible style that doesn’t require you be a Bible scholar to follow along. Having just released last year, it’s also one of the most current books on the topic.

    For those Christians who worry that altering our tradition regarding gay relationships means overturning the fundamentals of the faith, Vines offers a spirited defense of the traditional understanding of the Gospel and illustrates how it is perfectly consistent with embracing covenanted, lifelong gay relationships.

    If I were to quibble with anything in this book, it would be that sometimes Vines writes as though his conclusions are obviousTorn-book once we simply read the Bible with an understanding of its historical context. But many readers, even after understanding what Paul was likely addressing regarding same-sex practices in his time, may feel uncertain what conclusion to reach regarding gay relationships in our own time. This was true for Justin Lee, executive director of The Gay Christian Network and author of Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate. Lee writes,

    After going through all the passages, I felt like I was back where I had started, confused and frustrated. Once more, I reviewed the evidence.

    I was torn.

    On one hand, yes, there was a potential explanation for each of these passages that meant it wouldn’t apply to a modern-day committed gay relationship.

    On the other hand, every explicit mention of homosexuality in the Bible was negative.

    How to resolve the tension? At the risk of sounding like clickbait, in chapter 12 of Torn, Lee takes us through the famous Bible passages dealing with same-sex practices, but what he does in chapter 13 is one of the most brilliant things I’ve read in my twenty-plus years as a Christian. And it’s so simple that you’ll wonder how you’ve missed it for so long. I won’t give it away. You really ought to read it for yourself. I’ve recommended Torn before, and it remains my favorite book on the topic as a good introductory volume. Read Torn alongside God and the Gay Christian, and you’ll have a good foundation for making a decision regarding gay relationships in the church.

    Some critics of these books have objected to the authors’ ages (Lee is 37 and Vines is 25). How can they know so much when they’re so young? “How can we trust these youngins?” I’ve never understood this concern. Honestly, it sounds like jealous snobbery to me on the part of those who wonder how these young whippersnappers could know something the aged don’t. But Jesus died at 33. Do we discount his ministry because it didn’t happen in his 60s? Mozart, likewise, was a genius who died at 35. Should we look askance at his powerful Requiem because he composed it at 35, not 65? Sheer jealous snobbery, I tell ya. Read these books. They’re good. The value of a book’s contents has nothing to do with its author’s age.

     

    Posted in: Book Reviews, General

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