An evangelical case for LGBT acceptance

by Robert Shine

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By Matthew Vines
Published by Convergent Books, $22.99

At 30-million strong, evangelical Christians possess a prominent position in the American religious landscape. It is a position from which they have strongly opposed equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, but deep changes are afoot regarding their views of same-sex relationships. Millennial adherents now demand greater inclusion for LGBT people in their faith communities and endorse marriage rights by a near majority.

Leading this charge is Matthew Vines, 20-something founder of the Reformation Project and author of God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. Vines' book is an attempt to systematically ground growing evangelical support for same-sex relationships on the basis of Scripture.

The book is the product of Vines' own family's struggle to accept him as a gay Christian, which comes after the author and his father concluded a yearlong study of homosexuality through their theologically conservative and scripturally based perspective. His conclusion is clear: Same-sex relationships are not only permissible within a conservative Christian paradigm, but must be affirmed as blessed and intended by God. Further, marriage equality is the pro-family, pro-God belief.

Vines unravels six biblical passages most commonly cited against homosexuality (Genesis 19:5, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10), discrediting each as a biblical condemnation of homosexuality. Concurrently, he highlights passages, like Paul's exhortation in Galatians that "in Christ all are one," to build up the biblical basis for same-sex relationships.

The author's theological reflection was sparked by personal pain, but the product is one of immense hope and healing. Vines writes warmly of his own marriage one day, yet is unwilling to condemn Christians who are not able to accept same-sex relationships or a gay orientation. Indeed, one senses a secondary mission in God and the Gay Christian: the reconciliation of affirming and non-affirming Christians, which is the terminology Vines uses for proponents and opponents of same-sex relationships.

God and the Gay Christian has value for the literate scholar of LGBT issues, the parent struggling to accept their newly out gay child, and the Christian striving to reconcile belief in Scripture with a desire to accept LGBT people. Vines' writing is scholarly without being prohibitively academic.

Catholics will find it beneficial to further understand how homosexuality relates to Scripture in an affirming way, though Vines' engagement with the Catholic tradition is understandably marginal. Parish-based LGBT ministries would do well to study this work, and church justice advocates might even ship a copy to their local bishop.

After all the exegesis is done and conclusions are drawn, Vines offers one final, important thought: The stakes are high when it comes to God and the gay Christian. Religious rejection inflicts tremendous suffering on LGBT people, including alarming rates of self-harm and suicide among youth. He writes in the conclusion:

When we tell people that their every desire for intimate, sexual bonding is shameful and disordered, we encourage them to hate a core part of who they are. And when we reject the desire of gay Christians to express their sexuality within a lifelong covenant, we separate them from our covenantal God, and we tarnish their ability to bear his image.

God and the Gay Christian is scholarship with purpose, seeking to uproot the alienation and rejection too often caused by misinformed religious belief. It confronts evangelical Christians and the entire Christian church with the damage caused by anti-gay teachings.

It is not, however, an exercise in guilt-ridden navel-gazing. Much like human sin is not the final word because of the Resurrection, Vines considers the church's failings as secondary to the "seeds of a modern reformation" he is witnessing.

Given the power that both evangelical Christianity and Catholicism possess to influence global culture and politics, I pray many will read God and the Gay Christian -- particularly those who struggle to accept same-sex relationships. Vines lays the foundation for Christians to create inclusive church communities where all are  welcomed as made in God's image.

[Bob Shine works for New Ways Ministry, a national Catholic ministry advancing LGBT justice, and studies at Boston College's School of Theology and Ministry.]

A version of this story appeared in the Oct 10-23, 2014 print issue under the headline: An evangelical case for LGBT acceptance.

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