Browsing Tag

God and the Gay Christian

Social Issues

Complementarianism supports Bigotry

As I’ve become more involved in the LGBT community, especially as I’ve been forming relationships and connections with affirming Christians who want to see the American church live up to Jesus’ principle that they will know us by our love, I keep running across an idea that I think is a problem. We see it in Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian, and I saw it earlier this week in a blog post by Kathy Burdock, who wrote Walking the Bridgeless Canyon.

It looks like this in Matthew’s book:

I want you to notice the close link between Philo’s views on same-sex relations and his beliefs about women. Philo called the passive male partner in same-sex relations a “man-woman counterfeiting the coin of nature.” He condemned the active partner as well, on grounds that would offend both affirming and non-affirming Christians today. Philo said the active partner was “a guide and teacher of the greatest evils, unmanliness and effeminacy.”¬† …

Yes, the clear denigration of women is offensive. (90-91)

And like this in Kathy’s post:

The perception and cultural response to same-sex behavior between males has intractable roots in the social and sexual status of women throughout history. Because same-sex acts placed one male in the submissive, penetrated role of a woman, one male was invariably looked upon as if he were a woman …

As women rose in status, as cities formed, and as men began to explore sexual attractions, the interaction, which had always been associated with excess, lust and the reduction of one partner to the role of a woman, came to be seen differently.

I agree with the essentials of these arguments, and I think it’s extremely important to draw attention to the reasons why ancient writers condemned sex between two men. People like Philo and Plutarch and Clement wrote against gay sex because they were deeply misogynistic and femmephobic.

However, I think Matthew and Kathy made a mistake in presenting the argument this way, because their opposition– in this context, those who argue against marriage equality based on “gender complementarity”– does not agree with this premise. They argue these things from the viewpoint that ‘we can basically all agree’ that these horrifically misogynistic attitudes are “clearly offensive” or that women’s roles are “seen differently now.”

They’re not. Not in complementarianism.

For ease of discussion, I am not referring to a style of complementarianism practiced by many Christians, what I and John Piper call “functional egalitarianism”: those who live out equality in their marriages, but with a dash of gender essentialism thrown in. I am instead working with the definition laid out in the Danvers Statement— that men and women are relegated to specific roles, and that the man’s role is defined by leadership and decision-making, while the woman’s role is defined by submission.

When it comes to sex, Douglas Wilson lays these roles out in stark terms:

In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed …

True authority and true submission are therefore an erotic necessity.

This position was hailed and supported on The Gospel Coalition website, and I believe is fully supported by complementarian theology. To those who support complementarianism, a woman’s role even in sex has not budged an inch from the time of Paul and Clement. The woman is to be “conquered,” and she is required to accept this as her only biblically-supported role.

This is why I believe Christian feminism is of central necessity to the LGBT community and to the dialog with non-affirming Christians and churches. Without feminist theology, without people arguing against misogynistic interpretations of Scripture, affirming allies and queer Christians are going to be left spinning their wheels in the mud. The argument that biblical writers condemned gay sex not because of anything inherent to gay sex but because of misogyny isn’t going to get anywhere as long as so many conservatives are running around believing that misogynistic views of women and marriage are biblical.

We can’t afford to assume that anti-LGBT theologians agree with us on this. The second they encounter people like Matthew or Kathy saying that the submissive role for women is “clearly offensive” they’re going to roll their eyes and stop listening, because complementarianism is the only construct they have for understanding male-female relationships. Not only that, but they’ll be comfortable dismissing affirming arguments as unbiblical. In order to persuade anti-LGBT Christians, we have to address their assumptions (like heteronormativity), not just the arguments surrounding a mere six passages of Scripture.

Photo by Simon Powell.
Social Issues

opening the door to an affirming church?

Where I live, there are no LGBT-affirming churches. Most are outright hostile, and the ones that aren’t still preach from the pulpit that wanting to be in a loving relationship is a sin for a significant number of people. It’s just a deeply conservative area when it comes to religion, and because of that, I’ve been having a hard time finding a church. My politics and my theology puts me squarely outside what’s acceptable here … and occasionally that’s a little heartbreaking. I want so badly to be a part of a church, but nowhere feels at all safe.

Which is one of the reasons why I decided to attend The Reformation Project’s (TRP) Regional Training Conference in DC last weekend. I’ve recommended Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian, and he’s the founder of TRP.¬† I don’t agree with Matthew on a lot of things, but his theological positions put him in a unique place when it comes to “the gay debate“: he agrees that abstinence before marriage is a requirement for Christians, and he has what conservative evangelicals call “a high view of Scripture.” Those two things enable him to have conversations that a person like me can’t really have with conservative Christians.

And, because of where I live, if I’m going to be able to have conversations with pretty much anyone, I have to be able to have a conversation the way that Matthew would have it. I don’t personally believe the same things about the Bible that the people around me might believe, but what I can do is work with where they are. There’s a way to see the “clobber verses” in a new light– and, personally, I find arguments like Brownson’s and Matthew’s pretty convincing.

I wrote a reflection of my experiences at the conference for Convergent Books, Matthew’s publisher, that you can read here.

Photo by GF Peck
Social Issues

Convergent Books and the Evangelical Imprimatur

censhorship

If you’re not familiar with the term imprimatur, it’s a Latin expression that means “let it be printed.” It’s associated with the Roman Catholic Church, and depending on the context, was used to actively censor books that either a) disagreed with the Church’s teaching, or b) could possibly damage the Church’s reputation. Many of these books– banned because they contained “doctrinal or moral error,” supposedly– would appear in the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. Books included in the Index could not be printed, and considering the influence that Roman Catholicism had over Europe during the dawn of movable-type printing, this religious censorship targeted many Protestants and early European scientists with brutal efficiency. They still issue imprimaturs, although the context is very different today.

A little while ago I reviewed Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian, and gave it my endorsement. I think it’s a good introduction to sexuality in the Bible, and when I read it I knew it was going spark an . . . interesting discussion. The day it came out, Albert Mohler put out a collection of essays by several contributors titled God and the Gay Christian? — which, honestly, throwing on a question mark to the end of someone else’s book title in this digital publishing age seems really dirty and underhanded. But hey, they contributed to the conversation, so good on them I suppose.

Convergent Books, Vines’ publisher, has recently come under fire for daring to publish his book. Not only that, but the talking heads have gone after Waterbrook-Multnomah, too– because Convergent is a sister imprint.

If you’re not super familiar with how publishing houses work, an imprint is essentially a marketing method. W-M is a well-known Christian imprint owned by Crown, which is owned by Penguin-Random House, and they’ve published everything from Francine River’s Redeeming Love to David Platt’s Radical. Crown decided to create Convergent alongside W-M, in order to “explore the contemporary faith experience for a broad range of Christians who are drawn to an open, inclusive and culturally engaged exploration of faith.” Crown also owns a Catholic imprint, too– Image Books.

As seems to be pretty typical– of new imprints, especially– there’s a lot of overlap in the staff between W-M and Convergent. They’re just getting started, and no one goes into book publishing for the money. As a freelance editor, I can swear to that.

Frustratingly, the National Religious Broadcasters has forced W-M to resign from their organization because they published “unbiblical material.” Albert Mohler, who’s been published by W-M, said that Cobb’s decision to publish Vines puts W-M “in serious danger of crashing its brand in terms of evangelical trust,” and Robert Jeffress, who has not even read the book, said that ” it is a mistake for any Christian publisher to legitimize a point of view that is a clear perversion of Scripture.”

It’s a mistake. It should not have been published.

While American evangelical culture doesn’t have the ability to enforce censorship the same way that the Roman Catholic Church did during dawn of modern printing, they hold an unbelievably massive amount of power when it comes to communication and media. LifeWay and Family Christian have refused to even put books written by more progressive authors (like Rachel Held Evans and Sarah Bessey) on their shelves. God and the Gay Christian isn’t even listed anywhere at christianbook.com.

They are like the Sanhedrin, who would rather stuff their fingers in their ears and scream than listen to Stephen.

This isn’t government censorship and technically these organizations and companies have every right to enforce whatever standard they want, but it doesn’t change the fact that what they’re doing is wrong. They are stifling discussion and blatantly refusing to even have a conversation about difficult and charged subjects– like marriage equality and feminism, for example.

It’s like evangelicals don’t even understand the purpose of books.

Christian publishing is extremely difficult because of this. A few years ago, I spoke with Dani Pettrey, a Christian fiction writer, and one of the things that came up was how careful she had to be as she was editing Submerged— evangelical consumers are notorious for being easily offended by content. When I was in undergrad I fell in love with Karen Hancock’s Legend of the Guardian-King quartet, and I asked a local independent Christian book store if they had any copies. The store owner said they had decided not to carry any of her books because so many people had returned them (they had allegorical “magic”).

I understand the desire to maintain an ideological bubble. I have trouble not isolating myself from differing points of view in the media I consume and the people I talk to, especially because I’m an ISTJ. Being black-and-white is second nature to me, and it’s something I deliberately make an effort to overcome every day.

But while I can understand this impulse, it angers me that evangelicals, collectively, hold so much power over what can be written, published, sold, and broadcasted. Books exist in order to expose us to new ideas. If people like Jeffress declare books to be a “clear perversion of Scripture” when they haven’t even read the damn book can get away with not just silence, but open applause, it’s a clear sign that the evangelical community is broken. Evangelical culture, evangelical leaders, seem wholly and entirely incapable of even listening to people who disagree with them. Instead, they become “heretics”– for simple things, like using “Herself” in a poem or emphasizing the eternal, long-suffering Grace of God.

*full disclosure: I’ve written for the Convergent Books blog, and will continue to write for them. They do not pay me for those posts.

Feminism, Social Issues

"God and the Gay Christian" by Matthew Vines

vines book cover

I’ve posted Matthew Vine’s video “The Gay Debate” before, and I’m planning to watch it with my small group this Thursday. The first time I watched it, I was deeply compelled by the idea he opened his talk with: that a good tree cannot bear bad fruit. To me, the idea was remarkably similar to something Augustine said:

Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought.

I appreciated this emphasis on the consequences of what we believe and teach, and I’ve tried to incorporate it as I’ve been delving into my theology. If my “theology tree” would result in harm and damage to people, then I really need to re-think it and maybe go and plant another tree.

I did feel, however, that the video, while effective, wasn’t complete. There are limits to what a videotaped talk can do, and it left with me more questions than I had answers. I started looking into what Vines’ opponents had to say in response, and while their counterarguments were lacking, they did raise some important points.

When I found out that Vines would be writing God and the Gay Christian (set to release April 22), I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I knew that a book was a much better format for his argument, and I thought it might answer some of the questions I still had.

It’s a well-researched book, but obviously not exhaustive– or exhausting. While a book like Torn helps illuminate the reality of being both a Christian and gay, God and the Gay Christian moves just beyond that and gives a substantive argument for why the two are not just compatible, but healthy and good. By the time I set it down, I was absolutely convinced: being gay is not a sin. Being gay and being in a relationship is not a sin. Sex between same-sex partners is not inherently sinful, although Vines takes the traditional evangelical stance of reserving sex for marriage.

One of the most interesting things about reading this was the approach he took– very often, people who believe that God doesn’t condemn a gay person who wants to be in a relationship are accused of “dismissing” or “ignoring” the Bible. It happened here on my blog last week– I was told that I was “cherry picking” Bible verses because I was obviously ignoring what the Bible had to say about homosexuality. I insisted that I was not ignoring the presence of those passages, but that I did not agree with the “typical” interpretation¬†of those passages. Vines could never be accused of not taking the Bible seriously or of ignoring the passages (although I’m positive some people will still try to say exactly that), since the book is devoted to those verses.

But, more importantly than that, Vines has something I certainly don’t: a traditional evangelical “high” view of Scripture as inspired and inerrant. I lost that a long time ago, so it was fascinating to watch him unfold his argument from that perspective– and it helped me feel more comfortable with those who also believe in inspiration and inerrancy. It helped reassure me that just because someone believes that the Bible is “inerrant” it doesn’t mean they’re going to fling it around like a weapon.

I think the one issue that I have with the book is that I personally feel that it participates in bi erasure. Just like there are only so many things you can do in a video, there are also only so many things you can do in a book, but I think one element of his argument is troubling, and since it’s a rather core part of his argument, it’s worth mentioning.

Vines points out that, historically speaking, sexuality wasn’t understood in terms of orientation, and that ancient societies tended to perceive sexuality as a matter of appetite. Men who had sex with other men weren’t gay– they were seeking “more challenging” experiences in order to satiate an enormous appetite for sex. Vines argues that was a central part of what Paul, especially, was writing about: not orientation, but excessive and uncontrollable (possibly abusive or exploitative) appetites.

In the midst of presenting all of that, however, he spends a lot of time talking about how ancient Greek society saw everyone as being capable of wanting sex with opposite-sex and same-sex partners, and how that was generally understood to be a result of excess. In bringing that up, he does nothing to mention that bisexuality, just like gayness, doesn’t correspond to that model. Being bisexual is just as much a matter of orientation as being gay or lesbian, and it has absolutely nothing to do with being “greedy”– which is a common misconception hurled at bi people.

He doesn’t actively lump in bi people with that historical conception, but that conception lingers today, and he didn’t address it at all. I personally felt that he did what straight people commonly do; being bi isn’t a part of his lived experience, so he . . . just forgot. This is not an egregious failing and I still think his book needs to be read and shared and discussed, but it bothered me.

There is, however, something I really appreciated about Vines’ approach. I just finished reading Boyd’s Benefit of the Doubt, and one of the central focuses of the book is reading the Bible not as a legal contract but as an illustration of the covenantal, trust-based relationship God wants to have with us. I think God and the Gay Christian is an excellent example of how to do that– even with his “high view of Scripture,” he wrote out a way for us to stop seeing the Bible as a legal contract to constrain our behavior and put boundaries on our relationships, but as the open, loving, give-and-take conversation with God that it was intended to be.

That all said, I think God and the Gay Christian needs to go on every Christian’s to-read shelf. I think that the biggest reason why bigotry seems to be such an integral part of the evangelical cultural experience is simply because many people have never encountered what Vines argues. Not everyone is going to be convinced, of course, but at least they’d be more aware– hopefully they’d even stop telling people like me that we’re “clearly ignoring the Bible” and understand that there is more than one way to interpret the Bible, even when it comes to LGBTQIA persons and their lives.

*edit: I talked to Vines, and he said that one of the things he tried to correct in the final version was about my concern here– I only have the ARC, so I haven’t read the final version.