Review: Gay marriage

17 June 2021

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)


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