As one of fifty online writers chosen to review “God and the Gay Christian” by Matthew Vines prior to publication, I admit, I had some preconceptions. I thought I would be reading a book by a “progressive Christian,” that would agree with my own beliefs. Matthew Vines has not written that book. “God and the Gay Christian” is a conversation-changer.
Matthew Vines accepted his own sexuality while a student at Harvard. But as a young man raised by evangelical parents, in an evangelical church, he had no idea how to be a gay Christian. It made no sense to him that the God who had loved him, and who Matthew loved, would suddenly consider his life an abomination, evil, less than. And then there were Matthew’s parents. They loved him, they tried to accept his homosexuality, but they were burdened by the same information that Matthew was: the Bible considers homosexuality a sin.
What if it didn’t? What if the Bible, a book Matthew and his family believed and trusted, hadn’t said anything about same-sex love, or same-sex relationships? Was it possible that everything Matthew and his family had been taught was misread and misinterpreted? Matthew began a journey to discover the truth about “God and the Gay Christian,” both for himself, and for his father. Early in the book, Matthew writes that this was a path along which his father would travel as well. Reading that passage changed my views, it removed my preconceptions, and it made reading “God and the Gay Christian” more moving and more profound.
Using the six passages in Scripture that speak directly about same-sex behavior-Genesis 19:15, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, and Timothy 1:10-Matthew Vines shows that Christianity does not condemn homosexuals. In order to understand how important this is to Matthew, you need to realize where he and his father were emotionally after he came out. His father loved him, and was compassionate towards him, but expressed no support for “a future romantic relationship.” This was the path Matthew and his father would travel; using the Bible, and their mutual love of Scripture, to discover the truth about God and the gay Christian.
The traditional interpretation of the Bible, according to Matthew, requires gay Christians to be single and celibate for life. But:
The modern understanding of homosexuality as an orientation didn’t develop until the late 19th century, among an elite group of German psychiatrists.
We are told about pederasty in ancient Greece, which was practiced by heterosexual, often married men. Having sexual relations with the same sex, at least for men, meant nothing about their sexual orientation. However, there were stigmas attached to same-sex relations, primarily for the recipient. Patriarchal societies looked down on men who “feminized” themselves, as they do today. Matthew posits that the issues many in the ancient world had with same-sex relations were not due to anatomy, but the perceived effeminate behavior of the passive partner. Perceptions also play a role in the interpretation of the most widely quoted story in the Bible, allegedly about same-sex relations-the story of Sodom.
Non-affirming Christians often use the story of Sodom to bolster their belief that God punishes homosexuals. “God and the Gay Christian” painstakingly looks at the true nature of Sodom’s sin, in the eyes of God, using passages from scripture. Ezekiel 16:49-50 offers what Matthew Vines calls “the most detailed description of the city’s sins:”
Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore, I did away with them as you have seen.
There is no mention of sexuality in Ezekiel, nor in the other passages that reference Sodom. Matthew shares quotes from apocryphal books (those accepted by Catholics, but not Protestants), written between the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, that declare Sodom’s sin was arrogance and inhospitality. Sirach 16:8 states God loathed the people of Sodom “on account of their arrogance,” while Wisdom 19:15 places great emphasis on a lack of hospitality, “teaching that God punished Sodom for ‘having received strangers with hostility.’ ”
For each of the six Scripture passages that address same-sex behavior, “God and the Gay Christian” systematically, but gently, points out the truth. Leviticus, Matthew writes, never speaks to the design of male and female bodies; the writers base their rejection of same-sex relations “on a different belief: Because women are inferior to men, it is degrading for a man to be treated like a woman.” In Romans 1:26-27, the passage written by Paul that non-affirming Christians turn to when challenged on the New Testament’s statements about homosexuality, Matthew quotes historian John Boswell, opening up the reader’s eyes and heart to a new possibility. Boswell contended that Paul condemned same-sex behavior only when practiced by heterosexual people; in Paul’s day, “same-sex relations were a potent symbol of sexual excess,” something against which Paul wrote. Remember, there was no such thing as homosexuality in Paul’s time, all his information on same-sex relations came from Grecian and Roman behavior.
“God and the Gay Christian” will change the conversation we are having about being gay in the Christian church. Matthew Vines has written a moving, profound, intelligent, and extraordinary book. He uses the terms “affirming” and “non-affirming” to denote the differences between what we normally call progressive Christians and fundamentalist Christians. But as Matthew so eloquently states, it’s not that simple. Matthew and his family are evangelicals, so to label them as fundamentalists (our description) would not only be unfair, it would be untrue. I have many friends who are affirming, evangelical Christians, who love and support the LGBT community, and who also follow the Scriptures. Perhaps we “progressive” Christians need this book as much as everyone else.
It was an honor to be chosen to read and review “God and the Gay Christian” by Matthew Vines. I encourage everyone to purchase a copy when it publishes this coming Tuesday, April 22, via the links below. You can find Matthew Vines on Facebook, Twitter, and his website, Matthew Vines.com, and please visit Amazon.com and Random House.com to purchase “God and the Gay Christian” April 22.
Thank you to Convergence Books, a division of Penguin Random House, for this opportunity.