This is part two of a three-part series on the Church and our LGBT brothers and sisters. This post focuses on Matthew Vines' and the Reformation Project, a new organization working towards ending homophobia in the Church. This issue has been very close to my heart for years...
I first heard about Matthew Vines through an article on the Huffington Post, which highlighted an hour long video of a speech he gave at a church in Kansas. The speech was basically a dissertation on how one can read the Bible and, based on the historical context and understanding of the original language, come to the conclusion that homosexuality as an orientation (specifically in the form of monogamous, committed relationships) is not a sin. Later in the video he asks the Church to reconsider its traditional views and accept gay Christians and their marriages.
As I watched the video, a few things were apparent. Matthew Vines is a highly educated individual who spent a lot of time researching the Bible and its history. I later learned he spent so much time on this speech that he took a two-year leave of absence from his studies at Harvard. It was also clear that Matthew understood the arguments against same-sex relationships and marriage and was confident in his findings to address those arguments head on. He was not political about it, just straight to the point. He shared the six scriptures people use to claim homosexuality is a sin and spoke about the traditional interpretation. He went on to speak about what he believes the proper interpretation should be based on his research.
One thing that was also glaringly obvious in the video was the trepidation in Matthew's eyes as he gave his speech. He was a gay man speaking in a church (whose denomination still lists homosexuality as incompatible with the Bible), and he was arguing how the Bible doesn’t necessarily say homosexuality is a sin. Suffice to say, I do not think many churches would allow a conversation like this to take place. I certainly understood how he could be apprehensive, or maybe even fearful, of what type of reaction he would receive.
The last thing I noticed was how Matthew waited until the end to interject personal privilege. He finally asked people to consider how the traditional interpretation of the Bible is causing so many people to miss out on some basic aspects of life. Basically, it denies homosexuals the right to “not just a wedding day, but a lifetime of love and commitment and family… inflict[ing] on them a devastating level of hurt and anguish.”
These are a few of the main points that stood out to me as I listened to Matthew’s incredibly well-researched arguments:
- The six passages in scripture which people use to argue homosexuality as a sin can be interpreted in new ways based on the historical context, and original language in which they were written. Matthew specifically argues that there are no scriptures that say committed, monogamous homosexual relationships are sinful, and that the scriptures that speak to same-sex relations in the Bible have been taken out of context, but actually refer to very specific situations within the culture at the time.
- Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of sexual immorality, including men raping other men – this has nothing to do with committed same-sex relationships
- The scripture in Leviticus which speaks about men laying with other men being an “abomination” was part of a long list of ritualistic laws designated for the Jewish people at that time, a list that no longer remained applicable once Jesus was on earth and the Church was established. Another example of an “abomination” in this section is having sex with a woman during her period. This was one of many Jewish laws that Christians no longer adhered to.
- In Romans where Paul speaks of women and men exchanging natural relations for unnatural relations, and being lustful with one another, Vines interprets this based on the words “natural” and “unnatural.” He believes this scripture has more to do with idolatry of sex than it does with whether one is heterosexual or homosexual. Paul also speaks of men with long hair as going against nature, which Matthew states is a scripture hardly any Christians take literally.
- Matthew Vines also focuses on how the Bible teaches that forced loneliness is not God’s will for people, and even though some, like Paul, may have the gift of celibacy, not all do.
There is the whole debate about whether or not homosexuals choose their orientation or are born that way. The assumption in Matthew’s research is that they are born that way and, as such, the idea that the Church may ask them to change goes against their natural orientation, or the way God created them. Many in the Church, however, believe that homosexuality is a choice and that gay people can either choose to engage to heterosexual relationships (i.e. change their orientation), or be celibate, and there is no in between.
Matthew’s research of the Bible reveals this idea that God doesn’t want man to be alone and that for homosexuals, someone of the same gender is actually his/her suitable helper. In this section he speaks to how not all homosexual Christians are called to a life of celibacy:
The Bible never directly addresses, and it certainly does not condemn, loving, committed same-sex relationships. There is no biblical teaching about sexual orientation, nor is there any call to lifelong celibacy for gay people. But the Bible does explicitly reject forced loneliness as God’s will for human beings, not just in the Old Testament, when God says that “[i]t is not good for the man to be alone,” but in the New Testament as well. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul writes about marriage and celibacy. He was celibate himself, and he says that he wishes that everyone else could be celibate as well. But, he says, each person has their own gift. For Paul, celibacy is a spiritual gift, and one that he realizes that many Christians don’t have. However, because many of them lack the gift of celibacy, Paul observes that sexual immorality is rampant. And so he prescribes marriage as a kind of remedy or protection against sexual sin for Christians who lack the gift of celibacy. “It is better to marry than to burn with passion,” he says. And today, the vast majority of Christians do not sense either the gift of celibacy or the call to it. This is true for both straight and gay Christians. And so if the remedy against sexual sin for straight Christians is marriage, why should the remedy for gay Christians not be the same? – Matthew Vines
I would encourage everyone reading this to set aside an hour, maybe right when you wake up in the morning, or before you go to bed one night, and watch the video of Matthew Vines giving his speech. Listen to him, to his wisdom and intellect; listen to his heart and personhood. Understand that what he is asking for is simply acceptance to be who he was created to be: a person with a desire to have a loving, committed relationship with another human being and build a family, all within the confines of his faith in Jesus Christ
Click here to read the transcript of the video or watch the full video below.
When I first watched this video I felt the urge to share it with every Christian I knew. I wanted to share it with those who continue to hold a traditional interpretation of homosexuality as a sin so they could be made aware of some of these contextual nuances that should at least be considered. I also wanted to share it with those who I knew supported equality for homosexuals in the church, so they might be motivated to join the dialogue and have educational material to help them in their position.
But I held off on posting this video. I realized how heavy and even controversial this subject is within the Church. I wanted to make sure I did it right and said what I really wanted to say on the topic. Once the equality signs began popping up on Facebook, including many from my Christian brothers and sisters, I realized now was as good a time as any to talk about this topic.
Recently I learned about Matthew Vines’ organization called the Reformation Project which is a brand new Christian non-profit with the sole purpose of training leaders to seek reforms on how the Church teaches about sexual orientation and gender identity. It is my understanding that this project will include intense master-level classes studying the Bible and how homosexuality is not a sin. The project will help equip leaders to bring the information they learned back to their churches to create real reform. I’m super excited about the work they will be doing, as this is critical not just to the future of the Church, but to millions of LGBT Christians who currently feel they are not welcome in a house of God.
The first year the Reformation Project will be training 50 Church leaders and it hopes to expand that in each additional year. As it states on its website, these church leaders will be people who “support the full equality and inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the church.” I would love to eventually be a part of a project like this.
There are other organizations out there also working towards reconciliation, dialogue, and, in some cases, full inclusion within the Church. They include the following:
There are also several major denominations where local churches and/or the entire denomination have become open and affirming, many just in the past few years. They include:
- Disciples of Christ
- Evangelical Lutheran Church in American (ELCA)
- Episcopal Church
- Presbyterian Church (USA)
- United Church of Christ
Now this excited me - there are even affirming Pentecostals and Baptists!
Go here to check out part 1 of this series, on how I progressed in my thinking on LGBT equality.
In my next post I will address how the Church (especially Evangelicals) has failed in engaging with our LGBT brothers and sisters and how the Church can better welcome and share the love of Jesus Christ with people who were rejected by it in the past.
I would love to hear your comments! What was your reaction to the conclusions Matthew Vines made in his speech? Do you agree or disagree with him? Even if you disagreed, what can the Church take away from what he presented to better engage LGBT Christians?