Matthew Vines is completely honest about the video he posted that went viral. That’s exactly what he intended would happen.
The video, first posted in 2012, showed Vines addressing his Wichita, Kansas, Presbyterian Church congregation, making a powerful argument that Christian scripture in no way condemns homosexuality nor homosexual relationships. The video went viral, racking up views by those who were cheering him on and by those who took issue with his arguments.
Vines’s appeal was a very personal one — he grew up in a conservative Christian family (they have come to accept and embrace him). But it was also something he saw as a schism in American society. “A lot of people in other parts of our culture have moved ahead in their thinking on the rights of LGBTQ people,” he says. “But many Christians have remained unmoved. There really hasn’t been any shift yet. It’s about theology: their clear and consistent understanding of the Bible makes no room for any other way of understanding it.”
His video convinced publishers that a book was in order. The result is God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships, an accessible, focused dissection of the Christian-right arguments against the recognition of same-sex relationships. These arguments, of course, have been made before, but Vines’s book has received attention precisely because he is speaking directly to conservative Christians — people who wouldn’t normally have the time nor energy to engage with the same-sex rights issue and debate. Vines addresses issues LGBT activists have been arguing about for a long time, but he makes an impassioned plea — in a way he clearly means to be non-threatening — to his own conservative Christian community to embrace. Whether the reader is Christian or not, his attention to theological detail and rigorous argumentation is impressive.
“My book is not incompatible with scripture,” he insists. “I actually believe that within church congregations, there is far more diversity in thought than we’ve been led to believe. There’s actually a spectrum of opinion on LGBTQ issues. I would say a majority are opposed, but a solid minority are silently supportive. They are silent because they don’t know how to articulate their views about homosexuality and the church. My aim is to show the silent majority how they can talk about the issue. I acknowledge it’s a long-term process and will take time.”
Some would understandably argue that, given the rather unbending position of so many evangelical churches, wouldn’t it just make more sense to race to the nearest church emergency and exit, bail and never return? “Many in the LGBT communities have been burned by Christian churches, so there’s a lot of very understandable wariness of religion altogether. But for me, walking away wasn’t really a choice. I couldn’t let go of my personal faith — it wasn’t something I felt I could choose to relinquish. I took what seemed like the only path to take: do the very best I can to change the culture of the church.”
The book is part of The Reformation Project, Vines’s initiative to alter church thinking from the ground up. Not shockingly, his book has had some frosty reception. One southern Baptist, Albert Mohler, actually wrote a book condemning Vines’s book before it was even released. So, the irony: the very people Vines has written his book for are the ones who are least likely to accept his arguments. “That’s entirely predictable but not frustrating at all. My book is coming from the perspective of how you can affirm the Bible and affirm same-sex relationships at the same time. The only way for this stance to unfold is if people begin a dialogue. Progressive Christians have already been engaged in this debate for a while. Conservative Christians have a much higher bar for biblical interpretation. It would be far worse to be ignored. Engagement is actual progress to me.”
Vines’s arguments are focused on the acceptance of same-sex unions that are long-term and monogamous. Is he concerned at all about neglecting or excluding sluts? “I’m trying to make an argument in Christian scripture. Part of what I’m looking at is that sex is a sign of the covenant. Arguments for open relationships are fine, but I’m arguing for recognition of long-term relationships. Arguing for other kinds of relationships is outside of the Christian context, and I’m not arguing in that context.”