A Few Thoughts About Matthew Vines Book:
God and the Gay Christian
Sorry. The title is misleading. There will not be much about canoeing in this post. However, if you want to read about canoeing, look back at some previous posts, or wait until a future post. A few people on facebook asked me to write my thoughts about this book. The note got too long, so I decided to make it into a blog post. I’ll probably try to make a lame canoeing reference at some point. I’m actually going to post my thoughts in two blog posts. This one will focus primarily on reviewing the book, and the next one will be more about my personal views.
In my opinion, Matthew Vines has written an excellent book, advocating for the inclusion of gay and lesbian couples in the tradition of Christian marriage. Matthew is a courageous, young gay man, who studied Biblical languages, considered multiple interpretations and researched the ancient cultures in which the Bible was written. His conclusion, that God would support loving, monogamous, same-sex marriages is well-defended.
At first, when Matthew dove into the theological discussions about the six passages in the Bible that seem to prohibit same-sex relationships, I was a little bit put off. I’m a fairly practical person, and not that into theology. However, as I learned about the Greek words translated into English and started to see Matthew’s train of thought, I grew more interested. His descriptions of ancient Greek and Roman societies reflected what I have previously read. Particularly relevant to Matthew’s topic is the type of same-sex conduct that the Bible writers would be addressing: pederasty (older men having sex with boys), prostitution and masters having sex with slaves. In ancient societies, a loving, monogamous marriage between two people of the same gender, was unheard of. Therefore, the apostle Paul, and other biblical writers could not have been passing judgement on such a relationship.
Another interesting point that Matthew brought up was concerning the idea of sexual orientation. I was unaware, that the concept of sexual orientation has only been around since the mid to late 1800s. Until then, it was assumed that a man who desired to have sex with another man was simply unable to control his sexual urges and be satisfied by women. That means that the Bible, which was written centuries before the 1800s, can’t be referring to sexual orientation, when it condemns certain same-sex acts. It would be referring to pederasty, prostitution and sex with slaves, all of which, would have been extramarital and most likely, exploitive.
How then can Romans even mention sexual orientation? This tidbit really angered me. According to Matthew, the Greek word (arsenokoites) that is used in Romans is somewhat ambiguous. All that can be said for sure, is that it involves exploitation. Here’s the part that really angered me: in early translations of the Bible, arsenokoites is translated as “buggerers,” “the brutal” and “sodomites,” words that carry connotations of aggression or exploitation. It wasn’t until the mid-twentieth century (a very recent development indeed!) that Paul’s words were changed to include sexual orientation. The RSV changed it to “homosexuals”, thereby condemning all gay people. The NIV and NAB tried to soften it by writing “homosexual offenders” and “practising homosexuals” respectively, providing celibate gay people some level of comfort. Bible translators are changing what the Bible says, based not on scholarship, but with a predetermined purpose in mind. That fact really frustrates me.
For me, Matthew’s point that carries the most weight concerns fruit. He quotes the New Testament, “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” The anti-gay and anti-lesbian stances of much of Christianity is bearing bad fruit. It is, at least partly, to blame for the increased suicide rate of gay and lesbian youth. It heaps condemnation on vulnerable teens, as they search for their identity. It drives families apart. It pushes people away from the God who created them. How can all this bad fruit be produced from “good” doctrine? The answer seems obvious to me.
Will God and the Gay Christian change the minds of conservative Christians regarding support for their gay brothers and lesbian sisters? Maybe. I guess it depends how tightly they hold onto their negative beliefs. At the very least, I hope this books causes people to start asking questions, to start thinking deeply, to move past the talking points of political Christianity and to look at gay and lesbian people with compassion instead of condemnation.