Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Vines Twisting Same Biblical Sex Debate

Same song, different verse.

Bristling against the Bible's perceived tyranny, somebody new has come up with yet another plausible-sounding convolution of Christianity's sacred text.  Such exercises have been going on ever since Moses started writing the documents which became the Bible's first five books.  And with our sin nature being what it is, we mortals seem obsessed with trying to find escape clauses, secret codes, VIP passes, and get-out-of-jail-free cards to get us out of having to agree with things God says that we don't like.

This time, it's a bright, young Harvard scholar named Matthew Vines, who's intent on advancing his claim that the Bible can be re-interpreted to support same-sex romance.  Vines has written a deliberately controversial new book, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships, to argue for a more benign way of understanding Bible passages pertaining to homosexuality.

Vines isn't simply hoping to commercially exploit America's intense debate over gay marriage.  He's a professing homosexual who also claims to be a born-again Christian, and he wants to not only mesh his sexual identity with his faith, but also diffuse the hurtful rancor on this subject that is robbing Christ's faithful of peace and relevance within our society.

He took a leave of absence from Harvard to try and accomplish what nobody else in the history of Christianity has been able to do.  Vines even established a non-profit called the Reformation Project to help reverse thousands of years of what he considers to be erroneous theology on the subject.  Two years later, he says he has the answer.

According to the New York Times, "[the] key for Mr. Vines was the realization that every instance of homosexuality in the Bible represented excess lust, gang rape or 'unnatural' acts committed by heterosexual men.  Portrayals — much less condemnations — of naturally gay men, for whom opposite-sex relationships are not an option, simply never appear [in the Bible]."

Or, as Baptist seminarian Al Mohler has described Vines' view, "his main argument is that the Bible simply has no category of sexual orientation.  Thus, when the Bible condemns same-sex acts, it is actually condemning 'sexual excess,' hierarchy, oppression or abuse — not the possibility of permanent, monogamous, same-sex unions."

If you're interested in a detailed, evangelical, and orthodox rebuttal to Vines and his book, you might consider reading this PDF published online by Mohler's seminary, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky.  It's written by several conservative professors who pick apart Vines' thesis from a variety of angles.  And since Vines has based his book largely on the previously-refuted scholarship of several liberal theologians - people who appear to be using the naive Vines as a fresh, compelling voice for their otherwise unconvincing theories - the fact that Mohler and has peers have been able to respond so quickly to Vines' book should not be interpreted as sloppy, knee-jerk reactionism on their part.

De-sinning Sins in the Bible?

Indeed, there's little here that is entirely, profoundly, and disturbingly new.  The more I learn about Vines' book - and no, with all of the reviews out there, I don't need to read it - the more obvious it becomes that he's simply taking the same old page out of the secular manual for dealing with Biblical teachings we don't like.  And the parts of the Bible Vines doesn't like are the parts dealing with homosexuality as a sin.

It's not particularly surprising that a professed homosexual who wants to participate in orthodox Christianity would want to be accepted in the broader Christian culture.  If we all admitted it, who wouldn't want our private sexual desires to be embraced within the church?  Who wouldn't want to love whomever we want to love, whether doing so would be considered moral, appropriate, or even legal?  If you could find a handful of liberal theologians to help you hammer together the kind of doctrine of sexuality you wish the Bible taught, wouldn't that be awfully tempting?

We could call it "de-sin-itization:"  the process of de-sinning something.

Hey - forget about sex (as if we could!) for a moment.  I wish I could figure out a way to "de-sin-itize" gluttony.  Being self-controlled with my diet is a burdensome exercise in denial, with a punitive effect on my desired lifestyle.  Vines claims that same-sex-attraction is part of his identity, but as they say, aren't we what we eat?  Would Vines support my efforts at trying to wring new interpretations of Bible passages about gluttony from his apparently malleable version of it?

After all, what Vines is doing is re-writing God's holy word.  It's the gospel of Matthew Vines, in which monogamy stars as God's sexual standard, instead of heterosexuality.  Much of his argument hinges on the theory that it's adultery against which the Bible teaches, not same-sex sex.  But if monogamy was more important than heterosexuality, why did God create a man and a woman in the first place?  Simply for diversity?  If it was just for diversity, why does the perpetuation of our species depend on two different genders?  Why is it two different genders who marry and become "one flesh?"  Why are the sexual organs of each gender so complimentary?  Doesn't ordinary biology stands in contrast to what Vines wants the Bible to say?

Love is More Than Just a Game For Two

Granted, homosexuality isn't just about sex.  I have homosexual friends and acquaintances who are in committed, strong, loving, and enduring relationships, and frankly, their relationships are more robust than some heterosexual, Christian marriages I know.  How does that compute?  Well, honestly, I'm not sure, except to say that all romantic love shouldn't necessarily be expressed sexually, or even demonstrated verbally. 

I'm certainly no expert in this department, but I'm told that romance can be a minefield, especially when the person towards whom you're feeling a particular affection is already married to somebody else.  Vines wants the freedom to love whomever he will, but even if he was heterosexual, he wouldn't be free to love whomever he wanted to.  He wouldn't be free, for example, to love somebody else's wife.  Even from afar.  Respecting boundaries isn't just a religious scruple.  Respecting boundaries is an ordinary, virtuous, and healthy metric for anybody living in any semblance of civilized society.  We can't always have what we think we want, or need.  Morality exists whether we like it or not.  Rules?  We can bend them, and break them, and encourage others to do the same.  But does doing so invalidate that which is eternal, true, and righteous?

Besides, romantic love isn't the end unto itself that we like to hope it is.  Forget what our culture says about romance; is it ever guaranteed anybody?  Should we ever expect it?  How are our civil rights violated if we can't have it?  How often might we think we have it, and it turns out to be simply a case of rose-colored lust?

Can we agree that man has been made in the image of God?  If Vines believes that part of the Bible, then to maintain the integrity of his faith, he needs to accept a variety of corollaries that follow from believing man's being made in God's image.  We have emotions?  Yes.  We have the ability to think and create?  Yes.  We have the ability to love, and not just procreate?  Yes.  We can love whomever we want?  No.

No?  Well, think about it:  what is Christ's bride?  The church, right?  We have been betrothed to Him, and He is committed to us.  God has made a covenant with His people upon which He cannot renege.  He cannot love another.  And by the way, this marriage is between a groom (Christ) and His bride (the church), not a groom and a groom, or a bride and a bride.  This models a pretty obvious pattern God expects of us when it comes to matrimony, does it not?

Vines Hopes for at Least One Good Thing

Meanwhile, I'm willing to agree with Vines on one of his deepest hopes, and that is for the evangelical church to let God dilute what many of us display as outright animosity towards homosexuals.  It's such a cliche, but it's still so true:  we're to love the sinner, not the sin.  Yet with homosexuality, it's particularly easy for Christians to ignore the Fruit of the Spirit when we encounter same-sex-attracted people, especially in a religious context.  We may joke about fat people, who may be fat because of the sin of gluttony, and we likely gossip about all sorts of things, yet all of these - homosexuality, hating people, making fun of people, gluttony, and gossip - are offensive to God.  We sin when we do them.  Yes, different sins have different consequences, but God doesn't let sin slide whether you're heterosexual or homosexual.

Many Christians will persist in justifying their animosity towards gays because they claim theirs is a righteous anger.  Like Christ in the temple, they'll say, violently overturning the tables of the moneychangers.  But let's revisit that passage quickly, shall we?  In Mark 11, there's a short verse that tends to get lost in the broader narrative of Holy Week.  It's verse 11, before the moneychanger scene, and after His "triumphal" entry into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday.  He goes into the temple.  He looks around at everything, but it was already late in the day.  So He and His disciples went out to Bethany and spent the night.

Do you see it?  Jesus didn't just enter the temple and wreak havoc.  He didn't stumble onto the scene of the moneychangers and go ballistic.  We don't know how often Christ had witnessed the moneychangers in the temple before, but we know for a fact that He saw them the very evening before.  The Bible tells us that He looked around at everything!  Besides, since this had become such an entrenched practice for templegoers, it likely had existed for years.  Christ was not reacting to His surprise or a sudden burst of rage when He evicted the moneychangers.  His actions were premeditated, calculated, purposeful, and targeted.  We're not even explicitly told that Jesus was "angry!''  All of the texts say He entered the temple and began to turn over the tables.  He was acting out of holiness on behalf of God; not out of fear, or prejudice.

Yes, Vines is wrong in trying to twist Scripture to support what he wants to believe.  But so are all of us when we try to make Scripture support sinful actions and attitudes that we merely consider more conventional.  Not that we're to be doormats, abdicate from the truth, and capitulate to social pressure.  After all, Christ still kicked the moneychangers out of His Father's house.  Nevertheless, just as we hope that Vines - who claims that Jesus is Lord of his life - will repent of his attempts to deceive God's people, let us not presume that correcting Vines' misinterpretations will itself suffice as the safeguarding of God's holiness.

God expects all of His people to display the Fruit of the Spirit in their lives.  Which in this case, particularly pertains to love, kindness, faithfulness, and gentleness.

Remember, this Fruit is also part of the same Gospel that we claim to believe isn't open to reinterpretation.

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