Matthew Vines’ disarming authenticity

Matthew Vines grew up in an Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Kirkwood, Missouri.  When he slowly came to the realization that he had a homosexual orientation, he was horrified by the fact that his Presbyterian church offered him no route whereby he might gain God’s blessing for his sexuality:

We affirm God’s design for the two sexes – male and female – and believe that each is a glorious gift from God.  Our sexuality is meant to be offered back to Him.  For some, this means joining in a one-man, one-woman marriage – for procreation, union and mutual delight.  For others, this means celibacy which allows for undivided devotion to Christ.  Sexual expression is designed for the marital relationship, and homosexual lust[i] and behavior are among the sexual sins that are outside God’s created intent and desire for us.

Vine, at the age of 21, realized that his divine salvation relied upon his willingness to accept God’s plan that sexual intimacy was exclusively reserved to heterosexual partners bound together in marriage.  Since Vines knew that he was not attracted to women, he faced the bleak prospect of trying “repairative therapies”[ii] and praying to God for a miracle that would “transform his sexual appetites.”[iii]  Should these options fail, he knew full well that he would be forced to maintain a lifelong celibacy, even though he honestly recognized that he was not naturally inclined in this direction either. Shaken by these bleak prospects for his future, Vines deliberately interrupted his college studies at Harvard (2008-2010) because he knew that he had to consult with biblical experts and come to a deeper understanding of why God opposes homosexuality as a divine calling for men like himself.

After doing some biblical research, he drafted a six-page summary of his results that he submitted to his father.  He trusted his father to have wisdom in this matter that exceeded his own.  When his father accepted his initial findings, he spent months expanded his study and made preparations to share his discoveries with members of his church who were concerned about this issue. In order to reach a wider audience, Vines spent $500 of his own money to have a professionally crafted five-minute video produced.  He distributed this online in March of 2012 under the YouTube title, “The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality.”  Given the largely positive response that his video received, Vines went ahead and prepared a full-hour video.

In April 2014, Vines published a book, God and the Gay Christian. He then entered into public debates with pastors and theologians.  Vines debated Dr. Michael Brown, author of Can You Be Gay and Christian? on Moody Radio on 28 June 2014.[iv]  Given the pain and confusion expressed by hundreds of young people who poured out their woes to him in emails, Vines felt called to initiate The Reformation Project—“a nonprofit organization designed to connect, train and empower LGBTQ Christians and their allies to actively promote changes in their churches on this issue.”[v]

Matthew Vines as a young man on fire

Make your choice for viewing either the short or the long exposure to Vines:

Click on your choice: Title Content
Five-minute version “God and the Gay Christian” (2012) His video went viral here: https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=gmp6lLct-fQ
Hour-long lecture “The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality” (2012) College Hill UM Church presentation with multi-lingual transcript https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyVvjAdbaaQ
What are your thoughts and feelings on what you have just heard from Matthew Vine?  I invite you to take a sheet of paper and to write them down for your future use.  I invite you to share your thoughts in the response box offered below.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~ footnotes ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[i] Notice that this evangelical statement terms all immoral sex as “lust.”  Ratzinger would prefer to say “self-indulgent passions” rather than “lust.”  Why so?  Because Ratzinger believes that the homosexual inclination is not chosen and, as such, in not to be considered in itself “sinful.”  Moreover, he allows that while all homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered,” the degree of guilt changes with the circumstances.  This is a much more nuanced position.   Here is the critical text: It has been argued that the homosexual orientation in certain cases is not the result of deliberate choice; and so the homosexual person would then have no choice but to behave in a homosexual fashion. Lacking freedom, such a person, even if engaged in homosexual activity, would not be culpable. Here, the Church’s wise moral tradition is necessary since it warns against generalizations in judging individual cases. In fact, circumstances may exist, or may have existed in the past, which would reduce or remove the culpability of the individual in a given instance; or other circumstances may increase it. What is at all costs to be avoided is the unfounded and demeaning assumption that the sexual behavior of homosexual persons is always and totally compulsive and therefore inculpable (The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, §11).

[ii] Reparative Therapy (also known as Conversion Therapy) claims that adolescent homosexuality may arise from traumatic events in the past and that, with careful psychological counseling, part or all of same-sex attraction can be dispelled.  For a strong and persuasive advocate, see Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D., What Is Reparative Therapy? Examining the Controversy (http://www.josephnicolosi.com/what-is-reparative-therapy-exa/).  Please be aware, however, that this form of therapy has been widely shown to be non-productive and even harmful to the degree that even the American Psychiatric Association warns against crediting its claims.  See “The Lies and Dangers of Efforts to Change Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity” (http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/the-lies-and-dangers-of-reparative-therapy).

[iii] Matthew Vines writes in his book as follows: As a lawyer, my dad weighed the evidence for the possibility of orientation change.  Pointing to Matt. 19:26, he reminded me that all things are possible with God.  Yet after reading a fair amount about “ex-gay” ministries, he realized that none of the evidence seemed to show God was changing gay people’s sexual orientation (God and the Gay Christian, p. 10). A controversial Christian ministry devoted to changing people “affected by homosexuality” announced in April of 2014 that it was shutting its doors after operating for more than three decades.  The announcement by Exodus International came during its religious conference in Irvine and after its President Alan Chambers apologized to members of the gay community for “years of undue judgment by the organization and the Christian Church as a whole.” (http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2014/04/22/ god-gays-conversation-albert-mohler-matthew-vines/#sthash.ji8Nb8dn.dpuf). In October of 2011, John Smid, the former director of Love in Action, the country’s oldest and largest ex-gay ministry, acknowledged on his blog that, contrary to the claims of the movement he represented for decades, gay people cannot become straight. “I’ve never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual,” he wrote. He himself certainly has not.  Evangelicals used to insist that “change is possible,” says Warren Throckmorton, a Grove City College psychology professor once associated with the ex-gay movement. “The new paradigm, I believe, is no, it doesn’t look like that works, and so you go with it, you accept it, and you try to make the best life you can in congruence with the rest of your beliefs,” he says (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/10/13/ex-gay-leader-john-smid-s-about-face.html).

[iv] The Moody debate can be found online at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/adrianwarnock/2014/07/video-michael-l-brown-and-matthew-vine-debate-can-you-be-a-gay-christian/

[v] Matthew Vines writes, “My inbox serves as a daily reminder of the countless people who are still struggling, and who still feel voiceless and powerless in the face of overwhelming opposition [within their church].”  Matthew Vines, “The Reformation Project: Training Christians to Eradicate Homophobia from the Church,” The Huffpost Gay Voices, 05 March 2013 (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/matthew-vines/the-reformation-project-christians-homophobia_b_2790039.html).

Invitation to a lesbian vow ceremony

     I now jump forward to 1978.  Two women in my parish that were very well known to me (let me affectionately call them Martha and Mary) approached me and invited me to join with a dozen others at their home in order to witness their “vows of permanent friendship.”[i]  They asked me not to publicize this event since, for them, this was very private, “We don’t want to share our love with those in our faith community who might find this unsettling.”

My mind thought of a Jesus tradition

My mind thought of the Gospel story where Jesus was invited to heal the servant of a Roman officer in the occupying army.  Undoubtedly, Jesus did not agree with the brutality associated with Roman occupation; yet, since Jewish elders commended him saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he built us our synagogue” (Luke 7:5), he went.  He went not to approve the Roman occupation but to respond to an authentic human need.  He may have received flack for it later; yet, Jesus was accustomed to disapproval and didn’t act to get the applause of others.

Another Jesus tradition came to mind

My mind also thought of the Gospel story where a menstruating woman came up behind Jesus and touched the tassels of his cloak.  According to the Jewish tradition, menstruation was no light matter.  Leviticus makes it clear that any woman in this condition has no business touching anyone or she would instantly make them “unclean.” As for men, any man deliberately having sexual relations with a menstruating woman was to be sentenced to death (Lev. 18:19; 20:18). Yet, Jesus appears to have regarded menstruation much differently.

Maybe his own parents, Mary and Joseph, already had a private opinion whereby they judged that the needs of others allowed them to override the rule of menstrual impurity.  Mary, for instance, may have visited a sick friend during her period “because she needed her” and was quite confident “that God would understand.”  In any case, Jesus does not upbraid the woman and use this occasion to enforce the importance of God’s commandments regarding menstrual impurity. The unexpected happens.  Instead of contaminating Jesus with her “impurity,” healing power flows from him to her.   He congratulates her saying, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace” (Luke 8:48 and par.).  Jesus names her as “Daughter of Israel” and applauds “her faith” that made her well.

This was not just an ordinary menstrual flow, to be sure.  She had been afflicted with an unregulated menses for the last twelve years.  In effect, she was a shut-in and unable to touch her husband or her children or her parents for that whole period.  When she spots Jesus, she can’t afford to speak or to be recognized by anyone who might know her.  She shouldn’t be out.  If discovered, she might be stoned.  Her journey out of her home is nothing short of an act of desperation.  She risks concealing herself in her garments, and she persuades herself that touching the fringes of his garment will go unnoticed.  This is “the faith” that impels her act of courage.

Martha and Mary exchange vows as permanent partners

So, prompted by these thoughts, I accepted the invitation of Martha and Mary.  When I arrived at their home, the couple greeted me warmly.  I enjoyed meeting others who were invited.  Most were already known to me.  Their ceremony was simple.  They emphasized that what they were promising to each other was not “marriage”[ii] but a “permanent partnership.”  They also mentioned that they were living in dangerous times wherein they could be easily punished for what they were now doing; yet, it seemed to them that, after twelve years, there should at least be a few whom they trusted who could witness “before God who they were and who they intended to be for each other.”  Accordingly, they joined hands and faced each other and promised an exclusive friendship and fidelity in sickness and in health for the rest of their lives.  They then exchanged rings as “a visible sign” of their permanent partnership.

During the rite, I imagined the fear and foreboding which Christians of the early centuries might have felt when they gathered together to witness marriages between free persons and slaves–a situation punishable by death according to Roman Law.  The early Christians felt that, within the community, the distinction between “Jew and Gentile, freeborn and slave” (Col. 3:11, Gal. 3:28) had been abolished by Christ.  Therefore, in their determination to serve God rather than men (Acts 3), they decided to witness and honor marriages of love which, in the eyes of Roman law, were acts of infamy.

666

[i] They thought of themselves as exchanging “vows of permanent friendship” because, in this period, “marriage” was not yet seen as a possibility for same-sex couples.  These “vows” had no legal status.  If I were to speak for them, what they needed was a sense that, in an antagonistic society, at least a few people knew who they were and what their intentions were for each other.

[ii]The language of “marriage” was embraced because it would be advantageous to give same-sex unions an equal status before the law with heterosexual unions.  If this were not done, then every aspect of “same-sex unions” would have to be debated and voted on piece by piece—income tax law, visitation rights in hospitals, adoption rights, inheritance rights, etc.   This would have taken years.  To prevent this, all the rights of heterosexual couples had to be transferred whole and entire.

An early encounter with a lesbian couple

An early encounter with a lesbian couple

     My second encounter took place in 1968 when I was doing graduate  studies in Berkeley, California, the hotbed of social experimentation.  In the context of a course, Human Sexuality, our professor invited a lesbian couple in their late 20s to share their stories.  Both women gave detailed accounts of growing up in middle-class families, of dating boys, and of discovering that they had little or no emotional interest in getting closer to boys.  What they did relish, however, was a series of crushes with girls.  As such, they gradually realized that they were “abnormal.” Then, they met each other on the Berkeley campus and secretly felt strongly attracted to each other.  With time, this hesitantly revealed the “abnormality” of their mutual attraction to each other.  This was a great relief and jubilation because they finally had found someone who validated their same-sex attraction.  The explosive sex that followed was a confirmation of what they had always dreamed of and never thought possible.  Even before they had a word to describe themselves, therefore, they had plunged into a committed union. I thank God that I had this very positive experience at a time when I was still only mildly hostile toward lesbians and gays. Here are some of the ways that I was touched by this encounter:

  1. The stories of these two women persuaded me that most or all lesbians are not scratching messages on bathroom walls nor answering ads for sexual encounters. Indeed, it illustrated for me how most lesbians are initially confused and afraid when they discover how “out of step”  they are with respect to the rest of their companions, whom they would describe as “normal” in so far as they embody the “norm” as far as sexual attraction is concerned.
  2. Prior to this encounter, I was under the impression that a “normal” person could spot a “queer” a mile away.  All one had to do was to notice the effeminate gestures in boys or the absence of femininity in girls.  With these two normally attractive women, there was nothing about the way they dressed, moved, or behaved that allowed me to even get a hint that they identified themselves as lesbians.  They had to tell me, or else I would never have known.  Hence, this encounter enabled me to challenge and to give up a stereotype that was dangerous and misleading.
  3. Thirdly, this experience opened up a whole new world that had been hitherto “closed to me.”  I was now talking and listening across the boundaries.  I was now hearing how these two women had moved from “trying desperately to fit in”[i] by imitating the coy and flirtatious mannerisms exhibited by their female friends.  Then, after years of frustration due to their inability to have a deep, emotional bond with a male, they slowly came to the frightening realization that they were “queer.” This destroyed any positive self-image that was left to them.  Now they hated who they were.  They cringed at the prospect of having to tell their closest friends or their parents that they were “lesbians.”
  4. Fourthly, there was the “ecstatic realization” that there were others out there like themselves who might welcome an intimate relationship with them.  After many trials and errors, they eventually recognized their “soul mate” for the first time.  This realization came so naturally and so spontaneously—without any effort.  They were overwhelmingly surprised that another human being could mutually feel what they feel and cherish them to the core of their being.  Mutual love blossomed and ushering in a self-acceptance and self-surrender that exceeded human understanding.  This is what “falling in love” is all about.
  5. Fifthly, I came to realize from their stories that, even given the healing power of love, this lesbian couple still had disagreements, they sometimes hurt each other, and they felt pangs of jealousy–the whole host of human emotions that heterosexual romances pass through.
  6. Sixthly, in the months following this encounter, I realized how tragically mistaken it was for the hierarchy of my Church to presume that they could accurately judge what was lawful before God and what were the appropriate life-style choices for lesbians.  Deeply listening to these two women made me feel humble and utterly unable to offer them any sound guidance whatsoever.  Anyone who listens deeply to their story knows first-hand how inappropriate and dangerous it would be to rush forward and propose “solutions” or “judgments” that originate in my male, heterosexual way of seeing things.
  7. Finally, after a few years, I realized that for me, as a heterosexual male, it was far easier to imagine lesbian sex than to imagine gay sex.  I remember the shock that I felt when, in my late-twenties, I first saw a handsome Black man walking in the park with his arm around a blond White girl.  My head told me that a man’s ability to love and to cherish someone is not determined by the color of his skin.  My gut, on the other hand, was churning and screaming out, “Something is very wrong here!”  I had to deliberately imagine myself as being that Black man and imagining for myself the pride and joy of having a companion like the girl I saw that day.  Gradually, over a period of months, I was able to quiet my gut feelings and to replace them with feelings of pride and joy.  I share this experience because it indicates the route whereby I was able to gradually diminish the “utter disgust” that male-to-male sex evoked in my gut.

Those who want to interact with this blog are invited to “Leave a Reply” below.  A solid way to begin doing this is to offer “readback lines.”  To do this, quickly glace back over the entire blog and pick out the one or two lines that have made a deep impression upon you.  Copy them [CTRL-C] and then paste them [CTRL-V] into an empty comment box below.  If you wish, signal the emotion that you feel when reading your readback lines.  The primary emotions are anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise.   No need to further explain yourself.  It is enough to identify the text important to you and to name the emotion(s) that it evokes.  All of this normally takes less than a few minutes.

I and others will “thank you” for your contribution.  If you are tempted to say more, I urge you to hold back.  Your sense of safety and the safety of others is best protected by not getting overly wordy in the beginning.  This will come after a few days or weeks.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Endnotes and Leave a Reply~~~~~~~~

[i] To appreciate the full scope of “fitting in” to the dominant heterosexual culture, consider reflecting on “30+ Examples of Heterosexual Privilege in the US” (http://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2012/01/29-examples-of-heterosexual-privilege/).