40 Answers to Matthew Vines (Part 1)
Matthew Vines, the author of "God and the Gay Christian" and founder of the Reformation Project, recently published an article entitled, "40 Questions for Christians Who Oppose Marriage Equality." This post was mainly in response to Kevin DeYoung's post entitled, "40 Questions for Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags."
I have engaged with Vines' position before, and have written a three part series addressing his talks and more directly, his book. The last installment and my response to the major claims of his book can be found in my post "Being Open Minded: A Response to Matthew Vines."
However, I would like to take this time to address some main areas of worry I have, as well as answer Matthew's questions directly from my perspective as an Evangelical, Bible believing Christian.
As was noted by Dr. Michael Brown in one of his recent articles, I find it interesting that in the entirety of Matthew's article the question of "what does the Bible say on this issue?" was never asked. The answer however, I believe to be self evident. The Bible is clear on this issue. Exegetically, historically, and linguistically, Scripture is consistent in both its positive affirmations as well as its negative implications. I believe Matthew Vines' defense (as well as John Boswell, James Brownson, and Justin Lee) to be a monologue rather than a dialogue. I believe this to be evident for the simple fact that three of the leading scholars engaging on this issue from the biblical perspective: Dr. James White, Dr. Michael Brown, and Dr. Robert Gagnon, all have standing invitations to debate Vines, Boswell, and Brownson 1. Invitations that have either been ignored or denied. Once again, a monologue not a dialogue.
So with that in mind, my answers to Matthew's 40 questions, starting with the first 20:
1. "Do you accept that sexual orientation is not a choice?"If by "sexual orientation," Matthew is speaking of the fact that homosexuals do not choose to be attracted to the same sex, than yes. I do believe that as fallen creatures, humanity has all sorts of in-born proclivities that we feel are deeply intrenched in our person. However, I think the question reduces the actual topic to a level that is much too simplistic in nature. One's proclivities, natural desires, and propensities are derived from many different factors. I also think this question has a number of false presuppositions. For starters, it implies that as individuals, our identity is linked to our natural inclinations, i.e. our "orientations." Biblically this is false, we are more than our natural desires and the sum of our actions. Each individual person is created in the Image of God, and therefore, has control over the the sum of our actions, no matter how intrenched those desires appear to be in one's life. I do not believe it to be a conscience choice on the part of the gay individual, nevertheless, I would argue the same for an individual who struggles with anger, a kleptomaniac who struggles with theft, or someone who wrestles with lust and adulterous tendencies. In the end, we all make conscience decisions to act on certain innate and "natural" desires. Our identity however, is not reduced to the sum of our actions and our choices to act upon the proclivities that we experience in this beautiful yet broken world we live in.
2. "Do you accept that sexual orientation is highly resistant to attempts to change"Of course. As previously stated I do think that many individuals struggle with innate and deeply intrenched desires. As many others have pointed out, this would apply to pedophilia, serial lust, addiction to pornography, kleptomania, anger, etc. However, just because our inborn desires are highly resistant to change does not mean that they cannot be controlled. I believe God to be bigger than these issues in the life of a created individual. As already noted, we are more than the sum of our actions. This is why, Paul, after recording a list of vices in 1 Corinthians 6 (a list that includes homosexuality), he declares, "Such were some of you; but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (NASB, 1 Cor. 6:11). The key statement in that passage being, "such were some of you."
3. "How many meaningful relationships with lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) people do you have?"I find it problematic to label an individual's identity by linking their proclivities and desires to their identified self. However, for arguments sake, I have many meaningful relationships with lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals. I know of transgendered individuals but I cannot truly say I have a "relationship" with them. In the past few years I have developed friendships with a number of people who identify as gay, lesbian, and bisexual. Specifically in the last few months, I have engaged in conversation on this exact topic with a number of them in very meaningful and fruitful depth on the issue.
4. "How many openly LGBT people would say you are one of their closest friends?"None, but it is not because of my disagreement with their self-identification or rejection of their actions and lifestyle. There has never been a point in time were I have refused friendship, dialogue, or discussion on an issue simply because of an area of contention or disagreement. I cannot however, say the same for many LGBT individuals I have talked to. If that was an issue, I would not be actively engaged in aplogetics and evangelism to the degree that I am. For I have many Muslim, Mormon, and atheist friends who would disagree fundamentally with many of my beliefs and assertions. Nonetheless, I do believe this question to be a bit of red herring. It implies an assumption that my position is made void if I have no individuals that I disagree with who are my closest friends. It assumes the position in order to promote it, which logically starts with its conclusion and works backwards to the thesis.
5. "How much time have you spent in one-on-one conversions with LGBT Christians about their faith and sexuality?"First, I believe the term "LGBT Christian" to be a bit of a misnomer. The LGBT movement is quite unique in its self-identification in regard to their actions (as noted already). In the same way, I have not spent very much time engaging with self-identified "adulterous Christians," "idolatrous Christians," "thieving Christians," etc. While the reality of those sins exist in the believers life because we live in a fallen world, the Christian no longer is a slave to sin and therefore does not associate their identity with or by it. However, for arguments sake, if the question is, how many people have I spent one-on-one time with who declare that they are indeed part of the LGBT movement and identify as Christian, the answer would be quite a bit of time. Not just engaging in discussion, but also reading stories and articles from such individuals.
6. "Do you accept that heterosexual marriage is not a realistic option for most gay people?"I believe there to be some truth in the statement. However, it has very little to do with what the biblical testimony about homosexuality as a whole. I think it is also important to mention that biblical marriage, both defined by God in the Old Testament and reiterated by Jesus in the New Testament can be defined in no other way than heterosexually. The definition throughout the entire testimony of Scripture, both positively and negatively, demands the existence of both a man and a woman, a husband and a wife. Anything outside of "heterosexual marriage" is not marriage if we are going by the guidelines of what God has revealed in His Word.
7. "Do you accept that lifelong celibacy is the only valid option for most gay people if all same-sex relationships are sinful?"I once again point out that the question implies that an individual is bound by, and cannot maintain self control over their innate inborn desires. I personally know Christians who have chosen to seek God's counsel and assistance with their same-sex attractions and have chosen to live outside of the perimeters of associating the sum of their actions with their identity. To quote Dr. Michael Brown,
"I accept that our Father knows best, that His ways are ways of life, and that if He does not enable someone to enter into a heterosexual relationship then He will give grace to the person to be celibate, just as He gives grace to a believer suffering with imprisonment, addiction, and heterosexuals who live in non-chosen celibacy.2"
8. "How many gay brothers and sisters in Christ have you walked with on the path of mandatory celibacy, and for how long?"I believe this question to be dishonest. It is most likely asked rhetorically, however, category error of "gay brothers and sisters in Christ" already mentioned aside, I have a problem with the tone of the question. It works on the basis of a modern presupposition, that is, an individual's ability to find fulfillment and desire is caught-up in their ability to have a romantic/sexual relationship with another individual. This is the modern issue of assuming a problem with singleness. One needs only to watch any "chick flick" or romantic comedy in the last decade to come to this conclusion. It usually involves an individual (male or female) who is lonely and insecure until they find that special person who comes into their life and fills that "fulfillment hole." However, this modern assumption is patently false. It would assume that individuals such as Mother Theresa, and Jesus Himself, lived very unfulfilled lives because of their inability to be in a romantic/sexual relationship with another. I believe that single individuals can find hope, fulfillment, and satisfaction in many other areas, most importantly, in Jesus Christ Himself. I know many people who have thrived and survived by God's grace in the midst of their singleness, whether chosen or imposed by their convictions.
9. "What is your answer for gay Christians who struggle for years to live out a celibacy mandate but were drive to suicidal despair in the process?"This is a very weighty question, one that needs to be dealt with very wisely and with careful discernment. However, for the reasons mentioned in the previous question, I believe the underlying assumption to be false. I would say that the individual has been lied to in thinking that their fulfillment in life can be wrapped up in a romantic/sexual relationship with another individual. I would say that someone who declares that they are going to comitt suicide unless they can have a romantic/sexual relationship with another must be carefully directed to the open arms of a God who loves them unconditionally. Likewise, I think that there may be further underlying causes to drive an individual into a state of suicidal despair, and that individual needs to seek help, spiritually, physically, and mentally, in order to deal with the gravity of such a state. Similarly, the question begs a question of its own: If applied consistently, are we to give credence and credibility to a cross-generational Christian, who seeks intimacy with a close relative in order to avoid suicidal despair? Are we to give a trans-species Christian credence and credibility who seeks intimacy with an animal in order to avoid suicidal despair? Are we to give kleptomaniac Christians the right to steal in order to avoid suicidal despair? I find a very large hole in the logic of such an argument. Fundamentally however, I do not believe that anyone standing before the throne of Almighty God will have much of a case with threats of, "I will kill myself unless you let me have the relationship I think will satisfy me."
10." Has mandatory celibacy produced good fruit in the lives of most gay Christians you know?"Once again, the term "gay Christian" I find to be a category error. That aside, in this case the idea of "mandatory celibacy" means that that individual is choosing to not engage in a sexual behavior that the Bible outlines as sinful. So yes, I believe that no matter how many individuals I personally know who have made that choice, it will always produce good fruit because it is a sign of devotion to their savior and love for Christ.
11." How many married same-sex couples do you know?"This begs the question what we mean by "married." For there is a religious and biblical definition and a governmental definition. Changing the latter no more changes the former than if the Supreme Court declared me to be an African-American woman, it would not change the fact that I am in fact a Caucasian male. So the answer is twofold: biblically, none. The definition of the verb "marry" carries with it the implication of a direct object, i.e. when a man gets married he is a husband, and the direct object is his wife. I do not believe logically or biblically that one can have a male wife, or a female husband. However, if we are going by the world's governmental definition, I know two.
12. "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?"From an outside worldly perspective, I believe that many couples can exhibit ideal and exemplary characteristics. This would be true for many Muslim couples, atheist couples, etc. However, the relationship is specifically defined by the biblical testimony as sinful and therefore is defined as an act of rebellion and suppression of the knowledge of God.
13. "Do you believe that it is possible to be a Christian and support same-sex marriage in the church?"I do. I know many Christians who support and condone all sorts of unbiblical (or counter biblical) notions because of ignorance, tradition, or misguided worldly wisdom. Many Christians are taught to respond to emotions rather than rational and God's Word, and because of this there are many believers who sadly follow the world more than they do the Bible. I believe there will be many who will appear before their Creator to find out that they did far more to handicap the Kingdom of God rather than promote it.
14. "Do you believe that it is possible to be Christian and support slavery?"I believe this question (as well as the next one) to be knowingly deceitful. They work on the assumption that slavery in the modern context is similar and comparable to slavery in the biblical context, which it is not. The question fails to differentiate both reasons for, and types of slavery, and because of this traps the reader ignorant of the biblical context dishonestly. Slavery in the Old Testament was not painted with a single, wide brush. Slaves were to be set free on the Year of Jubilee, and often stayed on as servants and members of the Jewish household. This type of slavery is vastly different from the slavery that took place both in the Roman Empire, as well as that of slaves being taken from Africa to Europe and North America in the 16th-19th centuries. Biblically, slavery was often a last-resort economic option which would allow a person to keep themselves and their family alive in times of economic hardship. Those that sought to abolish modern slavery were nearly all Christians, understanding the contexts of biblical slavery and the gross distortion of the texts of Scripture to condone it. Those like William Wilberforce who spent their entire lives fighting against it did so because of their biblical convictions, not in spite of them.
15. "If not, do you believe that Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Johnathan Edwards were not actually Christians because they supported slavery?"The basis of this (and the previous) question is revisionist at its foundation. It ignores a great deal of basic history, and as previously pointed out, a great deal of context on the subject. Luther, Calvin, and Edwards all lived prior to the slavery of the 16th and 17th century and would have encountered many different forms of slavery in the context of their own day. But even for arguments sake, Luther, Calvin, and Edwards were all men of their day. As much as we would like the great heroes of the faith to step outside of the abuses that existed in their own contexts, many did not. They were great men who did tremendous work for the faith, but they were fallen, and not infallible by any means. To pass judgement on them in this manner is to declare ourselves in our day-and-age outside of, and beyond our own social and global abuses. The question puts itself on a moral high-ground that it neither deserves nor merits.
16. "Do you think that supporting same-sex marriage is a more serious problem than supporting slavery?"Without repeating a great deal from the two previous questions, once again I find this question dishonest. While it is true that historically many verses from the Bible have been taken out of context, devoid of original meaning and intention in order to support slavery, the same cannot be said for the comparison to homosexuality. Out of the entire testimony of the 66 books of the Bible there is not a single verse that can be used positively in the affirmation of "same-sex marriage." The Old Testament laws, as well as the New Testament guidelines concerning the slavery of their day all speak to the liberation of slavery as a positive, even being used in the promotion of the gospel. In contrast, there is no such comparison that promoters of "same-sex marriage" can use in affirmation of their position.
17. "Did you spend any time studying the Bible's passages about slavery before you felt comfortable believing slavery was wrong?"Yes. A great deal.
18. "Does it cause you any concern that Christians throughout most of church history would have disagreed with you?"This statement paints with such a broad brush it almost makes it irrelevant. As previously stated, the use of the word "slavery" being used here has been disconnected from its historical meaning and understanding. I do not believe this statement could be documented or proven in any honest way. As noted before, the abolitionists were Christians and broke down the arguments of modern slavery because of the biblical testimony not in spite of it.
19. "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."I'm afraid this question is absurd on its face. While being completely irrelevant to the topic of LGBT anything, it is once again a misleading ploy. The Bible was never a scientific textbook, no matter what some Christians argue, it was never meant to teach us science. The Bible is a book on theology, a narrative of God to teach broken humanity about Himself. The reality that many Christians have misinterpreted biblical passages means very little in the grand scheme of the truth that it does reveal. A Christian can believe that the moon is made of cheese and that President Barack Obama is a lizard, and while being stupid and illogical, it holds no bearing on their salvation. In contrast, the biblical message is clear that those who engage in unrepentant and habitual sin, whether that be adultery, fornication, homosexual practice, theft, etc. will not inherit the kingdom of God.
20. "Does it cause you any concern that you disagree with their interpretation of the Bible?"Irrelevant, illogical, misleading, and a very underscored example of arguments that are devoid of true meaning and absent from being based in logical or biblical support.
Read Part 2 here.
1. Justin Lee did do a debate with James White in September of 2014 but his position has since changed over the past year in regard to his direct assertion on the biblical position and its affirmations of homosexual behavior.
2. Brown, Michael. "Can You Be Gay and Christian?", Florida: FrontLine Publishers. (2014). pg. 201