May 11, 2012 2:12 PM GMT
Twitter: @VinesMatthew / Facebook: matthew.vines.
Alright, I’d just like to start by saying thank you to everybody for coming tonight – I really appreciate it – and for being interested in learning more about this subject. I also want to thank College Hill United Methodist for graciously agreeing to host the event. My name is Matthew Vines, I’m 21 years old, and I’m currently a student in college, although I’ve been on leave for most of the last two years in order to study the material that I’ll be presenting tonight. I was born and raised here in Wichita, in a loving Christian home and in a church community that holds to the traditional interpretation of Scripture on this subject.
Just to offer a brief outline for this presentation: I’ll start by considering some of the broader issues and divisions that are behind this debate; and then I’ll move to a closer examination of the main biblical texts that are involved in it; and then I’ll offer some concluding remarks. The issue of homosexuality, of the ordination of gay clergy and of the blessing of same-sex unions, has caused tremendous divisions in the church in recent decades, and the church remains substantially divided over the issue today. On the one hand, the most common themes voiced by those who support changing traditional church teaching on homosexuality are those of acceptance, inclusion, and love, while on the other hand, those who oppose these changes express concerns about sexual purity, holiness, and most fundamentally, the place of Scripture in our communities. Are we continuing to uphold the Bible as authoritative, and are we taking biblical teachings seriously, even if they make us uncomfortable?
I want to begin tonight by considering the traditional interpretation of Scripture on this subject, in part because its conclusions have a much longer history within the church, and also because I think that many who adhere to that position feel that those who are arguing for a new position haven’t yet put forth theological arguments that are as well-grounded in Scripture as their own, in which case the most biblically sound position should prevail.
The traditional interpretation, in summary form, is this: There are six passages in the Bible that refer in some way to same-sex behavior, and they are all negative. Three of them are direct and clear. In the Old Testament, in Leviticus, male same-sex relations are prohibited, and labeled an “abomination.” And in the New Testament, in Romans, Paul speaks of women “exchanging natural relations for unnatural ones,” and of men abandoning “natural relations with women and committing shameful acts with other men.” And so according to the traditional interpretation, both the Old and the New Testament are consistent in their rejection of same-sex relationships. But it’s not just those three verses, as well as three others that I’ll come to later. It’s true that 6 verses isn’t all that many out of Scripture’s 31,000. But not only are they all negative, from the traditional viewpoint, they gain broader meaning and coherence from the opening chapters of Genesis, in which God creates Adam and Eve, male and female. That was the original creation – before the fall, before sin entered the world. That was the way that things were supposed to be. And so according to this view, if someone is gay, then their sexual orientation is a sign of the fall, a sign of human fallenness and brokenness. That was not the way that things were supposed to be. And while having a same-sex orientation is not in and of itself a sin, according to the traditional interpretation, acting upon it is, because the Bible is clear, both in what it negatively prohibits and in what it positively approves. Christians who are gay – those who are only attracted to members of the same sex – are thus called to refrain from acting on those attractions, to deny themselves, to take up their crosses and to follow Christ. And though it may not seem fair to us, God’s ways are higher than our own, and it’s not our role to question, but to obey.
Within this framework, gay people have a problem, and that is that they want to have sex with the wrong people. They tend to be viewed as essentially lustful, sexual beings. So while straight people fall in love, get married, and start families, gay people just have sex. But everyone has a sexual orientation – and it isn’t just about sex. Straight people are never really forced to think about their sexual orientation as a distinctive characteristic, but it’s still a part of them, and it affects an enormous amount of their lives. What sexual orientation is for straight people is their capacity for romantic love and self-giving. It’s not just about sexual attraction and behavior. It’s because we have a sexual orientation that we’re able to fall in love with someone, to build a long-term, committed relationship with them, and to form a family. Family is not about sex, but for so many of us, it still depends upon having a companion, a spouse. And that’s true for gay people as well as for straight people. That is what sexual orientation means for them, too. Gay people have the very same capacity for romantic love and self-giving that straight people do. The emotional bond that gay couples share, the quality of love, is identical to that of straight couples. Gay people, like almost all of us, come from families, and they, too, long to build one of their own.
But the consequence of the traditional interpretation of the Bible is that, while straight people are told to avoid lust, casual relationships, and promiscuity, gay people are told to avoid romantic relationships entirely. Straight people’s sexuality is seen as a fundamentally good thing, as a gift. It can be used in sinful or irresponsible ways, but it can also be harnessed and oriented toward a loving marriage relationship that will be blessed and celebrated by their community. But gay people, though they are capable of and desire loving relationships that are just as important to them, are told that, for them, even lifelong, committed relationships would be sinful, because their sexual orientation is completely broken. It’s not an issue of lust versus love, or of casual versus committed relationships, because same-sex relationships are intrinsically sinful, no matter the quality and no matter the context. Gay people’s sexual orientation is so broken, so messed up that nothing good can come from it – no morally good, godly relationship could ever come from it. And so they are told that they will never have a romantic bond that will be celebrated by their community; they are told that they will never have a family.
Philippians 2:4 tells us to look not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others. And in Matthew 5, Jesus instructs that if someone makes you go one mile, go with them two miles. And so I’m going to ask you: Would you step into my shoes for a moment, and walk with me just one mile, even if it makes you a bit uncomfortable? I am gay. I didn’t choose to be gay. It’s not something that I would have chosen, not because it’s necessarily a bad thing to be, but because it’s extremely inconvenient, it’s stressful, it’s difficult, and it can often be isolating and lonely – to be different, to feel not understood, to feel not accepted. I grew up in as loving and stable of a family and home as I can imagine. I love my parents, and I have strong relationships with them both. No one ever molested or abused me growing up, and I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive and nurturing childhood than the one that I had. I’ve never been in a relationship, and I’ve always believed in abstinence until marriage. But I also have a deeply-rooted desire to one day be married, to share my life with someone, and to build a family of my own.
But according to the traditional interpretation of Scripture, as a Christian, I am uniquely excluded from that possibility for love, for companionship, and for fam