I recently had the opportunity to listen to a presentation by Matthew Vines concerning the subject of Homosexuality in the Bible. Matthew is an intelligent, articulate, gay man who has obviously spent a great deal of time wrestling with this issue. He is also a professing Christian who understands that the question of sexual morality is central, not peripheral to this discussion. Matthew, a student at Harvard University, recently took two years off of school in order to research this topic. Vines passionately argues that each of the six passages in the Bible often cited to prove that homosexual behavior is sinful are either inapplicable or taken out of context. He presents an emotionally compelling talk that is designed to dismantle “every Bible based argument against homosexuality”.

It is certainly worth discussing his textual arguments, and others have certianly done so. here here here I have instead chosen to address two underlying beliefs that seem to drive him to reinterpret the passages on homosexuality. These beliefs are: 1. People are being damaged by the traditional Christian understanding of homosexuality. 2. It is unreasonable to ask someone who identifies as gay or lesbian to remain celibate and single. I would like to briefly address each of these claims.

Are people being damaged by the traditional Christian teaching about homosexuality?

Early on in his talk Vines lays out what seems to be his controlling principal of Biblical interpretation. He references Jesus words in Matthew 7:

“Jesus warns against false teachers, and he offers a principle that can be used to test good teaching from bad teaching… 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… 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.”

It is for this reason that the speaker calls us to question the historic Christian teaching on homosexuality – because this teaching is “destructive to human dignity”. He believes it to be an emotionally and spiritually devastating position that promotes the “loss of self-esteem and self-worth”. Many individuals who identify as gay or lesbian do experience profound inner turmoil because of their attractions. This is particularly true of those who have grown up in the conservative Christian subculture. Statistics are often cited giving evidence of increased rates of depression and suicide among those who experience same sex attraction.

It is true that many heterosexually inclined Christians have been woefully ignorant of the suffering their homosexually inclined brothers and sisters experience. This remains a serious problem in the Christian church and must be addressed.

Good teaching does produce good results when it is acted upon, and Christians, above all people, should be active in doing what they can to eliminate suffering. But is his larger point – that suffering gives evidence of poor teaching – an accurate one? Does the presence of emotional turmoil always indicate that poor teaching is at work within the life of a believer?

The speaker admits that some of the teachings of Jesus are not easy, and on that we certainly agree. But at some point he seems to draw a line and say certain types of mental and physical suffering are just too extreme to be in line with what God wants for his people. I do not believe that God ever promises us that we will be spared from any specific types of suffering.

In fact, if we look at the Bible we see that followers of God living within His will for them experienced sufferings of many differing types and durations. Abraham was called to leave his extended family and home country. Jacob was given a life altering injury. Joseph spent years in prison because of a false rape accusation. The prophets were called to do extreme things involving great personal discomfort. Jesus himself was emotionally devastated in the garden as he thought about the great suffering he was about to experience. The apostle Paul gives us a large list of his sufferings in Second Corinthians eleven; discussing hunger, thirst, shipwrecks, and beatings. Paul also describes an unnamed source of suffering which he called “a thorn in my flesh” (2 Cor 12:7). Though he pleaded with God repeatedly to take it away, God saw fit to allow Paul to continue to experience this pain.

Clearly suffering, whether physical, mental, or emotional can occur in the life of someone who is living within the bounds of God’s will for their life. This suffering can be overwhelming and feel crushing as Paul describes:

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. – 2 Cor 1:8-9a

The hope Christians have is not that living life God’s way will result in an easier life; in fact, living this way will often make life more difficult. The promise Christians cling to is that even in the midst of suffering God provides comfort and purpose. “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” (2 Cor 1:9b)

The Christian life cannot be lived with the ideal of immediate gratification. It must be evaluated in the light of eternity, and in light of a loving God who has the power to raise the dead.

We often experience suffering when we try to live within God’s will, and this does not always mean we have misunderstood his will for us. Suffering may actually prove the opposite. If our understanding of homosexuality is wrong, this must be proved through the biblical text, and not by the discomfort the teaching may cause.

Does the traditional Christian position on homosexuality condemn gay people to a life of being alone?

A large portion of Vine’s argument seems to rest of the belief that it is unreasonable to insist that someone remain unmarried and celibate for their entire life. He cites Genesis 2:18 of evidence for this: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” The speaker believes that while for most men a woman is the most suitable partner, for some men a man is the most suitable partner.

He also discusses Paul’s encouragement in 1 Corinthians 7 for believers to marry if they are overwhelmed with sexual desire, saying And so if the remedy against sexual sin for straight Christians is marriage, why should the remedy for gay Christians not be the same?” The speaker clearly believes that not offering marriage to gay individuals is an inconsistency in the Christian message on sexuality. If marriage is not offered as an option to Christians who experience same sex attraction how are they to deal with their romantic and sexual longings? This is a very important and very difficult question.

Unfulfilled longing can feel overpowering and debilitating. This effect is often compounded as the years go by.  For many people, singleness can be an incredibly difficult state. We must also remember that this state is occupied by many people who do not experience same sex attraction. Many Christians in other situations also fail to experience romantic and sexual fulfillment.  The undesired and rejected have this experience; the physically and mentally disabled have this experience; the divorced and abandoned also experience non-desired singleness. Many people who don’t want to be single remain single. There are certainly unique hardships that must be faced by those who deal with same sex attraction (such as the possibility of always remaining single,) but we must remember that God intends for many people in many different situations to remain single long term.

Following God’s will can also cause someone who is heterosexually oriented will remain single in spite of their desire for marriage. For instance, a Christian woman may be in a context where she does not have contact with eligible Christian men. Although she desires marriage and is fully capable of marriage, her circumstances make it impossible for her to enter into marriage. Getting romantically involved with a non-believer is not an option because it goes against God’s loving plan for his people (1 Cor 7:39, 2 Cor 6:14).

God’s will for us and our desires are not always as aligned we would wish. I do not believe that everyone who is called to singleness is immediately aware of this; many of them may not even want to be single. A call to singleness (permanent or temporary) does not imply asexuality or a lack of desire for companionship. In fact. in my many conversations on the subject, I have never had one person in a state of singleness, of any orientation, tell me that have ceased to desire either sex or companionship. The presence of a sex drive does not necessarily mean that marriage in the direction of that drive is what God wants for us.

So, is remaining unmarried really a lifelong sentence to being alone? The words of God in Genesis two echo deeply in our hearts, it is not good for man to be alone. Most of us know this on a core level. God designed us for relationship. So what hope can be offered to individuals who experience long term singleness either because of their choices or the because of the will of God?

Adam’s loneliness was not just a romantic or sexual loneliness; it was complete human isolation. He was the only human being in the garden. Although he had fellowship and communication with his Creator, he didn’t have a human community.  Eve certainly provided Adam with a romantic and sexual partner, but this was not all she was to him. She was a friend, she was a comrade, and she was another person Adam could share his humanness with. While Scripture holds up marriage as the only appropriate context for sexual fulfillment, marriage was never intended to be the absolute or even the primary means of relational fulfillment.

For Christians, the Church is to be our primary source of support and community.  A family is a beautiful thing, but Christ, during his time on this earth repeatedly emphasized Spiritual family over biological family (Luke 8:19-21, Mark 10:28-30). While marriage is only for this earth (Matthew 22:28), the Body of Christ will exist eternally. Experiencing Christian community as a single adult is not just a poor substitute for marriage. Singleness is not something to run past as quickly as possible; it will be the eternal reality for all who follow Christ.*

The biblical truth about singleness goes against the grain in many of our churches today. But we must reclaim this truth if we ever hope to make our churches a welcoming place for those who do not share in marriage. I deeply resonate with what Christopher Yuan says on this issue: “If we don’t get singleness right, I don’t even think we are ready to minister on the issue of sexuality.”  While God may ask many of us to live in long-term singleness, he does not condemn any of us to a life completely alone.

God is neither unaware nor unconcerned about the heartache that unmarried individuals often face.  In Isaiah 56:4-5, we find a comforting promise given to a group of people who would never have their own families or children:

For thus says the Lord:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
I will give in my house and within my walls
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.

Conclusion:

I believe that in these two areas of suffering and singleness Matthew Vines misunderstands the will of God. God does call believers to suffer, and sometimes to suffer intensely for long periods of time. He also calls some believers to be single, even when they strongly desire a marital relationship. There is no doubt that the message about homosexuality in Scripture is a hard message. All believers are called to lose their lives in order to find life in Christ (Matthew 16:25), and for a Christian with same-sex attraction this can be particularly hard.

In Matthew 13:44-46 Jesus shares two short stories about the Kingdom of God. In these parables the people involved sell all they have to gain a beautiful pearl and a buried treasure. Scripture proclaims that everything we give up to gain Christ is infinitely worth the exchange, and this is true regardless of our sexual orientation. As Sam Alberry says “Jesus is always worth it.” (How Can the Gospel be Good News to Gays?)

May God give each of us strength to choose Christ above all else.

All Scripture Quotations taken from the English Standard Version of the Bible.

*I would also encourage you to check out Brian Kammerzelt’s The Most Eligible Christian Bachelor for some great insights on singleness and Christian community.

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