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 family. But unlike someone who senses a calling from God to celibacy, or unlike a straight person who just can’t find the right partner, I don’t sense a special calling to celibacy, and I may well find someone I grow to love and would like to spend the rest of my life with.
But if that were to happen, following the traditional interpretation, if I were to fall in love with someone, and if those feelings were reciprocated, my only choice would be to walk away, to break my heart, and retreat into isolation, alone. And this wouldn’t be just a one-time heartbreak. It would continue throughout my entire life. Whenever I came to know someone whose company I really enjoyed, I would always fear that I might come to like them too much, that I might come to love them. And within the traditional interpretation of Scripture, falling in love is one of the worst things that could happen to a gay person.
Because you will necessarily be heartbroken, you will have to run away, and that will happen every single time that you come to care about someone else too much. So while you watch your friends fall in love, get married, and start families, you will always be left out. You will never share in those joys yourself – of a spouse and of children of your own. You will always be alone. Well, that’s certainly sad, some might say, and I’m sorry for that. But you cannot elevate your experience over the authority of Scripture in order to be happy. Christianity isn’t about you being happy. It’s not about your personal fulfillment.
Sacrifice and suffering were integral to the life of Christ, and as Christians, we’re called to deny ourselves, to take up our crosses, and to follow Him. This is true. But it assumes that there’s no doubt about the correctness of the traditional interpretation of Scripture on this subject, which I’m about to explore. And already, two major problems have presented themselves with that interpretation. The first problem is this: In Matthew 7, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns against false teachers, and he offers a principle that can be used to test good teaching from bad teaching.
By their fruit, you will recognize them, he says. Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Good teachings, according to Jesus, have good consequences. That doesn’t mean that following Christian teaching will or should be easy, and in fact, many of Jesus’s commands are not easy at all – turning the other cheek, loving your enemies, laying down your life for your friends.
But those are all profound acts of love that both reflect God’s love for us and that powerfully affirm the dignity and worth of human life and of human beings. Good teachings, even when they are very difficult, are not destructive to human dignity. They don’t lead to emotional and spiritual devastation, and to the loss of self-esteem and self-worth. But those have been the consequences for gay people of the traditional teaching on homosexuality. It has not borne good fruit in their lives, and it’s caused them incalculable pain and suffering.
If we’re taking Jesus seriously that bad fruit cannot come from a good tree, then that should cause us to question whether the traditional teaching is correct. The second problem that has already presented itself with the traditional interpretation comes from the opening chapters of Genesis, from the account of the creation of Adam and Eve. This story is often cited to argue against the blessing of same-sex unions: in the beginning, God created a man and a woman, and two men or two women would be a deviation from that design.
But this biblical story deserves closer attention. In the first two chapters of Genesis, God creates the heavens and the earth, plants, animals, man, and everything in the earth. And He declares everything in creation to be either good or very good – except for one thing. In Genesis 2:18, God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him. ” And yes, the suitable helper or partner that God makes for Adam is Eve, a woman. And a woman is a suitable partner for the vast majority of men – for straight men.
But for gay men, that isn’t the case. For them, a woman is not a suitable partner. And in all of the ways that a woman is a suitable partner for straight men—for gay men, it’s another gay man who is a suitable partner. And the same is true for lesbian women. For them, it is another lesbian woman who is a suitable partner. But the necessary consequence of the traditional teaching on homosexuality is that, even though gay people have suitable partners, they must reject them, and they must live alone for their whole lives, without a spouse or a family of their own.
We are now declaring good the very first thing in Scripture that God declared not good: for the man to be forced to be alone. And the fruit that this teaching has borne has been deeply wounding and destructive. This is a major problem. By holding to the traditional interpretation, we are now contradicting the Bible’s own teachings: the Bible teaches that it is not good for the man to be forced to be alone, and yet now, we are teaching that it is. Scripture says that good teachings will bear good fruit, but now, the reverse is occurring, and we say it’s not a problem.
Something here is off; something is out of place. And it’s because of these problems and these contradictions that more and more Christians have been going back to Scripture and re-examining the 6 verses that have formed the basis for an absolute condemnation of same-sex relationships. Can we go back, can we take a closer look at these verses, and see what we can learn from further study of them? What are these 6 verses? There are three in the Old Testament and three in the New Testament, so I’ll go in order of their appearance in Scripture.
In the Old Testament, we have the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 as well as two prohibitions in Leviticus 18 and 20. And in the New Testament, we have a passage by Paul in Romans 1, as well as two Greek terms in 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1. To begin, let’s look at Genesis 19, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In Genesis 18, God and two angels come in the form of men to visit Abraham and Sarah at their tent alongside the Dead Sea.
Abraham and Sarah do not yet realize who they are, but they show them lavish hospitality nonetheless. Halfway through the chapter, God – now beginning to be recognized by Abraham – tells him “[t]he outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. ” Abraham’s nephew, Lot, and Lot’s family, live in Sodom, and so Abraham bargains with God, and gets Him to agree not to destroy the city if He finds even 10 righteous people there.