Review: Gay marriage

In Christian circles, gay marriage is a current hot potato. Many evangelicals take the view that the Bible condemns homosexuality in every respect, and that’s the end of the matter. Others, including myself, would want to take a more nuanced view of the Bible and its interpretation, which might open the door to gay marriage. This book is in the latter category. It is

God and the Gay Christian—The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships by Matthew Vines (Convergent Books, 2014).

The author is a Christian with a high view of Scripture. He was raised by Christian parents, and realised he was gay when quite young. He tackles every aspect of the question with openness and integrity, including detailed analysis of the six key Bible passages. But he also addresses appeals to the larger narrative of Scripture. In fact you will be hard pressed to find any anti-homosexuality argument that he doesn’t face up to and examine in depth, and with grace.

In past generations, the church rejected the idea of a heliocentric solar system and accepted the legitimacy of slavery, both on the grounds of ‘the Bible says…’ It has rightly changed position on both those issues, and others. The whole homosexuality issue, the author maintains, is in the same category, for the same kind of reasons.

He concludes that God favours commitment and covenant in human relationships, and that the kind of commitment expressed in a same-sex marriage falls safely within that circle. If your initial reaction to this statement is to snort with derision, you are the very person this book is intended for.

Here’s a selection of quotations, with page numbers.

My core argument in this book is not simply that some Bible passages have been misinterpreted and others have been given undue weight. My larger argument is this: Christians who affirm the full authority of Scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationships. (p3)

Homosexuality, to the limited extent it was discussed in our church, was little more than a political football, a quick test of orthodoxy.  (p8)

Six passages in the Bible—Genesis 19:5; Leviticus 18:22; Leviticus 20:13; Romans 1:26–27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; and 1 Timothy 1:10—have stood in the way of countless gay people who long for acceptance from their Christian parents, friends, and churches.  (p11)

With most sins, it wasn’t hard to pinpoint the damage they cause. Adultery violates a commitment to your spouse. Lust objectifies others. Gossip degrades people. But committed same-sex relationships didn’t fit this pattern. Not only were they not harmful to anyone, they were characterized by positive motives and traits instead, like faithfulness, commitment, mutual love, and self-sacrifice. What other sin looked like that?  (p12)

Mandatory celibacy for gay Christians differs from any other kind of Christian self-denial, including involuntary celibacy for some straight Christians. Even when straight Christians seek a spouse but cannot find one, the church does not ask them to relinquish any future hope of marriage.  (p17)

Christians did not change their minds about the solar system because they lost respect for their Christian forebears or for the authority of Scripture. They changed their minds because they were confronted with evidence their predecessors had never considered.  (p24)

The trouble starts when we put names, faces, and outcomes to what the traditional interpretation means in practice.  (p28)

For the overwhelming majority of human history, homosexuality was not seen as a different sexual orientation that distinguished a minority of people from the heterosexual majority. It was considered instead to be a manifestation of normal sexual desire pursued to excess—a behavior anyone might engage in if he didn’t keep his passions in check.  (p31)

Prior to 1869, terms meaning “homosexual” and “homosexuality” didn’t exist in any language, and they weren’t translated into English until 1892.  (p40)

The new information we have about sexual orientation actually requires us to reinterpret Scripture no matter what stance we take on same-sex relationships.  (p42)

The account of Eve’s creation doesn’t emphasize Adam’s need to procreate. It emphasizes instead his need for relationship.  (p45)

For gay Christians, the challenge of mandatory celibacy goes far beyond their mere capacity to live it out. Mandatory celibacy corrodes gay Christians’ capacity for relationship in general. But it does something else equally harmful: by requiring gay Christians to view all their sexual desires as temptations to sin, it causes many of them to devalue, if not loathe, their bodies.  (p50)

Decades ago, biblical scholars on both sides of the issue dismissed the idea that homosexuality was the sin of Sodom. Yet that belief still pervades our broader cultural consciousness, fueling negative attitudes toward gay people among Christians and negative attitudes toward the Bible among gay people.  (p60)

No biblical writers suggested that the sin of Sodom was primarily or even partly engaging in same-sex behavior. That interpretation would only arise later, after originally being advanced by an influential Jew named Philo.  (p69)

The Old Testament doesn’t condemn either polygamy or concubinage. On the contrary, it often assumes them…  All this is to say that not all Old Testament sexual norms carry over to Christians.  (p84)

There’s no question that Romans 1:26–27 is the most significant biblical passage in this debate. It’s the longest reference to same-sex behavior in Scripture, and it appears in the New Testament.  (p96)

Paul’s description of same-sex behavior in this passage is indisputably negative. But he also explicitly described the behavior he condemned as lustful. He made no mention of love, fidelity, monogamy, or commitment.  (p99)

…the cultural context in which Paul’s original audience would have read Romans 1:26–27. Paul wasn’t condemning the expression of a same-sex orientation as opposed to the expression of an opposite-sex orientation. He was condemning excess as opposed to moderation.  (p105)

In the ancient world, if a man took the active role in sex, his behavior generally was deemed to be “natural.” But if he took the passive role, he was derided for engaging in “unnatural” sex. The opposite was true for women: sexual passivity was termed “natural,” while sexual dominance was “unnatural.”  (p108)

From the church’s early centuries through the nineteenth century, commentators consistently identified the moral problem in Romans 1:26–27 as “unbridled passions,” not the expression of a same-sex orientation. Furthermore, no biblical interpreter prior to the twentieth century even hinted that Paul’s statements were intended to consign a whole group of people to lifelong celibacy.  (p116)

The bottom line is this: The Bible doesn’t directly address the issue of same-sex orientation—or the expression of that orientation. While its six references to same-sex behavior are negative, the concept of same-sex behavior in the Bible is sexual excess, not sexual orientation. What’s more, the main reason that non-affirming Christians believe the Bible’s statements should apply to all same-sex relationships—men and women’s anatomical complementarity—is not mentioned in any of the texts.  (p130)

Now that many of us recognize that same-sex orientation is both fixed and unchosen, we need to modify one of two Christian teachings: either the voluntary nature of lifelong celibacy or the scope of marriage.  (p134)

In Jesus’s understanding of marriage, covenantal commitment is foundational. The ability to bear children is not.  (p141)

Becoming “one flesh” encompasses much more than the act of sex. It includes the entire covenantal context in which God intends for sex to take place.  (p145)

Because same-sex orientation contains the potential for self-giving, covenantal love, it’s consistent with the image of God in us.  (p156)

If 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 were created to be. And if we reject the desires 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.  (p158)

David Matthew note: My own journey towards being in favour of same-sex marriage is outlined in my free ebook, A Poke In The Faith, chapters 8 and 9. Chapter 8 sets out some principles of biblical interpretation (hermeneutics), and Chapter 9 applies them to aspects of sexuality, specifically gay marriage. You can download the book for free here: Download ‘A Poke In the Faith’ (davidmatthew.org.uk)

11 Responses to Review: Gay marriage

  1. John Maggos says:

    Very sad to read about your “more nuanced view of the Bible”, but not at all surprising. Hope your view doesn’t extend to the relationship between Jesus and John? But I suppose that wouldn’t be surprising either. Again, very sad.

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    • Good to hear from you, as always, John. There’s no need to be sad. And no, I am horrified at the ‘Jesus and John’ idea. This topic seems to be one that makes people think in extremes, which is why I chose the word ‘nuanced’ carefullly. Certainly, my approach to Scripture has undergone some fundamental changes, which have been truly liberating and have given my walk with the Lord a whole new dimension of depth and enthusiasm. But I fully understand your reaction, which ten years ago would have been my own. Every blessing to you and yours.

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  2. Richard Robinson says:

    A homosexual lifestyle would have made fulfilling God’s command in the Garden of Eden to “Be fruitful and increase in number.” to put it mildly. Similar difficulties with the fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham to have descendants as numerous as the sand on the seashore. As Jesus Himself was a descendant of both Adam and Abraham, the threat to His lineage that homosexuality would cause doesn’t bear thinking about for those who trust in His birth, death and resurrection for their own forgiveness, rebirth and eventual salvation.

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    • Quite right, Richard. But that’s speculative. In reality, both promises found fulfilment OK. Homosexual marriage will always be a minority situation, a bit like being left-handed, perhaps.

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  3. Richard Robinson says:

    Missed out the word “difficult” in the first sentence above sorry. Maybe “impossible” would have been a better choice.

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  4. Richard Robinson says:

    Logically though, if something is approved by God as being totally in His will for one person, then it would have to be that way for all mankind. If it was His perfect design, now it would have been His perfect design then too. The women would have been working overtime acting as surrogates to keep the human race going for male and female gay couples to carry on the human race. Not sustainable. And if animals followed suit … well, I guess we’d hear less about climate change being the main threat to the extinction of species. Laws favouring homosexuality come at the end of a line of other harmful legislation over the last 70 years or so relating to capital punishment, abortion, corporal punishment in schools, easy contraception, easy divorce and so on … All aimed either consciously or unconsciously at undermining divine infrastructure. Apologies for any typos in this or words missed out … am using a very old IPad that’s hard to review and correct.

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    • The word ‘if’ crops up a lot there, Richard. And the fact is that most of those ifs didn’t materialise. I myself have found it all too easy, in times past, to talk in terms of general principles on subjects like this. But having met real live homosexual people, whose commitment to the Lord is no less than my own, I have been obliged to look at this topic more from a ‘people perspective’ and let that shed light on the generalities and inform my interpretation of Scripture. The latest edition of my ‘A Poke In The Faith’, referenced at the end of the book review, outlines the details of this journey, if you’re interested to know more.

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  5. Richard Robinson says:

    Thank you for your patient and gentle replies again, David.

    One more exchange, if you would permit as your own book that you mentioned doesn’t seem to address these things apart from 1 Corinthians 7.
    Essentially, it’s one question, one blast from the past and one Youtube suggestion.
    It’s quite long this time, so apologies in advance for that.

    1) References to marriage in the New Testament do seem pretty gender-specific …

    Ephesians 5: 22-25 and 30-31 NKJV
    22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. 24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,
    30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. 31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

    1 Timothy 3: 2 and 12 NKJV
    A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife,
    Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.

    Titus 1: 5-6 NKJV
    and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you— 6 if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. (Yes, the “husband one of one wife” bits were probably aimed at avoiding polygamist leaders but the genders at least remain clear)

    1 Peter 3: 1 and 7
    Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands,
    Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife,

    Jesus said the following in Matthew 19:4-6 NKJV
    4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

    The question then would be … do not verses such as these make it very difficult to conclude that God’s design for marriage (and also the married state of church leaders) would be anything other than one man and one woman?

    I happen to be reading a short evangelistically-aimed book by Terry Virgo called “Life Tastes Better” (2018) and his comment on the above scripture from Matthew runs as follows:”Marriage is God’s idea, from way back in the mists of time. He says what part sex plays in marriage, and he says how long marriage is to last. God is for this one-man, one-woman, one-flesh-physically life-long marriage.”
    The “one-flesh” notion being a feature of marriage seems quite strong in view of the logistical and/or health and hygiene difficulties which it naturally poses to gay couples.

    2) I know your current views on this have changed much in recent years and they do seem pretty much at odds with your own 1985 book “Christian Manhood” which is still available here and there and mentioned briefly on your own site.

    Page 41 quotes 1 Corinthians 7:2 (each man should have his own wife) and verse 9 from the same chapter and also 1 Timothy 5:22. It also lists examples of “perversion” as “homosexual acts, transexuality and transvestism”

    Page 43-44 asserts that our appearance and mannerisms “should express our male identity” and goes on to encourage sticking to clothing and hair length that befit respective genders. Deuteronomy 22:5 and 1 Corinthians 11:14 are quoted. Page 44 includes:” Ensure that your mannerisms, style of walking and tone of voice are manly rather than effeminate.”

    It is interesting to see what your views were when writing that book.

    3) Finally, going through Romans in a Youtube sermon, David Pawson, who I know you disagree with on other matters, when approaching the verses near the end of Romans 1 about homosexuality said “We are all capable of homosexuality“ – not condoning it, but saying effectively that the ability to commit every kind of sin is there within each human and those who reject God are given over to those desires. He seems quite gracious in how he handles it and warns against being judgmental. One cannot help but especially feel sympathy for anyone who is beset by any kind of sin or addiction whose root came through early abuse in some way and David Pawson mentions an example of that. His comments about the topic as a whole start at the 28th minute https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qhbfTocHkUQ

    Thank you for taking the time to read this and for any answer that you give. Much respect, sir.

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    • Thank you, Richard. Re the ‘Christian Manhood’ study booklet: I have moved on in some of my views since I wrote that many moons ago, and my current position is reflected in ‘A Poke In The Faith’. I used to think that ‘standing still’ in my mainline evangelical views was a virtue, but have come to see that, for me, it was a ball and chain holding me back from embarking on further stages of the adventure of walking with God in the world we live in. It has been a delight for me to find that, though I now interpret the Bible in some different ways, my respect for it has not diminished but increased.
      The NT refs to marriage are certainly gender-specific, and man/woman will always be the basic marriage situation. What has changed for me is my attitude towards the Bible in general, and the NT in particular. The cultural background when it was written 2000 years ago is very different from our current one. The big question is whether the NT represents a ‘frozen in time’ statement of God’s attitude towards things like homosexuality, one that is valid for every subsequent generation. I used to think it did, but (as I have explained in APITF) am now totally convinced that it is not, and that we need to look at its spirit and trend rather than its letter. I’m no longer interested in lobbing ‘proof-texts’ at people with different views.
      I haven’t read/listened to David Pawson on the subject of homosexuality. I would agree that we are all, perhaps, capable of homosexual acts, as he says, but don’t think that’s the issue. The heart of the matter is how we should treat people who have nil sexual interest in the opposite sex, and the answer, for me at least, is to allow them a same-sex relationship in the context of covenant commitment.

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  6. Richard Robinson says:

    Thank you again, David, for your detailed, measured reply. I am unable to go beyond what scripture appears to sanction and model, supported also by the apparent fruits of not doing so. I pray that God will make it clear to all of us any area where we’ve misunderstood His will.

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