“My Presbyterian church, in particular, was filled with kindhearted, caring Christians,” wrote Matthew Vines in his new book, God and the Gay Christian, the biblical case in support of same-sex relationships. “But when it came to homosexuality, their views were set. If you were in a gay relationship, you were living in sin. Period…Our pastor lamented from the pulpit that progressives in our denomination were advocating for the ordination of ‘practicing homosexuals.’ Heads shook in dismay and disappointment.”
After the Presbyterian Church (USA) removed barriers to the ordination of openly lesbian and gay candidates, Vines’ church in Wichita, Kansas left the denomination.
Matthew Vines brings something critically important to the conversation about welcoming and affirming LGBTQ people. He cherishes his evangelical heritage that “all of Scripture is inspired by God and authoritative for my life,” while acknowledging that this “view of the Bible lies at the heart of our culture’s polarization over same-sex relationships.” His message to evangelicals is: “Christians who affirm the full authority of Scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationships.” Instead of maintaining a divide between progressive Christians who support the freedom to marry and conservative Christians who don’t, Vines “envisions a future in which all Christians come to embrace and affirm their LGBT brothers and sisters.”
While it is no secret that a larger percentage of the More Light movement falls in the progressive Christian camp, our mission is that all Christians embrace LGBTQ people as made in God’s image. Theological diversity has always characterized the Church and we share much in common with our evangelical sisters and brothers: an affirmation of God’s presence in the world; the centrality of the Bible and Jesus; the importance of a relationship with God through Jesus; and, a need for transformation. We firmly believe a deep relationship with God can be nourished in different understandings of the Christian tradition.
For Vines, the message in his book is not just about how we hold our beliefs, whether evangelical or progressive, but about seeing LGBTQ people as people. “I want you to see how sexual orientation and deeply held beliefs are at odds in the ways that injure those we love. This debate is not simply about beliefs and rights; it’s about people who are created in God’s image.”
Josh is one of those LGBTQ people Vines wants us to see. “This was a young man who often shared his musical talents with our church singing and playing original songs in front of hundreds on Sunday mornings.” Josh waited until he went to college to come out about his sexuality, afraid of widespread rejection in his family, church and community. When the news arrived home that he was gay, the rejection Josh feared became a reality. “Feeling rejected by our church and alienated from God, Josh started much of his life over on the West Coast. In time, he found it impossible to keep believing in God…Thankfully, his family came around over time…but much of the damage from our church’s stance had already been done. Josh’s faith, along with the church community that first nurtured it, was already lost.”
Woven into his own story, Vines shares the results of his own Bible study about homosexuality. “This book is the product of four years of meticulous research, building on four decades of high-level scholarship. I am not a biblical scholar, so I have relied on the work of dozens of scholars whose expertise is far greater than my own…My goal is to synthesize those insights in clear and accessible ways for a broad audience.”
New Testament professor James Brownson from Western Theological Seminary writes that, “Matthew Vines has accomplished a rare feat in this book, combining a detailed mastery of a wide range of material from the ancient world and the Christian tradition.” Hebrew Bible professor Martti Nissinen from the University of Helsinki writes, “He reads the Bible and biblical scholarship as an evangelical gay Christian, giving a voice both to the biblical texts and its readers.” Presbyterian theologian Dr. Mark Achtemeier writes, “Matthew Vines brings within reach of non-specialists the rich store of scholarly work on what Scripture does and does not say about same-sex relationships.”
As we head to the 221st General Assembly in Detroit, we hope this book demonstrates that conversations about same-sex marriage do not need to divide our denomination. All Christians can embrace LGBTQ people as made in the image of God and as full members of the Presbyterian Church (USA). We also hope these tidings of good news will spread far beyond our own shores, even into places like Nigeria, Russia and Uganda, where undergirded by religious fundamentalism, the precious lives of LGBTQ people have been criminalized.