Matthew Vines’ Gay Reformation
April 29th, 2014
Matthew Vines takes us to the end of the rainbow – the only question is if we really want to be there.
There have been books on gay apologetics for as long as there have been openly gay Christians, ever since 1972 when Troy Perry, who founded the first gay-affirming Christian church in Los Angeles in 1968, wrote “The Lord Is My Shepherd and He Knows I’m Gay.” Performing same-sex unions as early as 1970, Perry started a conversation largely ignored by the queer liberation movement that followed in the footsteps of Stonewall. By 1980, John Boswell was giving academic grounding to what was still a very new idea, that homosexuality and Christianity were not necessarily incompatible, and since the mid-90s we have seen an explosion of books telling the story of gay people who found a way to come out of the closet and maintain their faith: Mel White, Gene Robinson, Andrew Sullivan, and so on (Rosaria Butterfield is one published lesbian example). All of these men and women, however, were to some degree a part of gay culture as it has been generally understood for almost 100 years – they keep queer company, have no qualms getting a drink at a gay bar, and even in their faith hold fairly nuanced, progressive views.
Where a demand for gay civil rights was once joined to a general demand for a sexual revolution, Vines extends to its furthest point the position of Sullivan and Evan Wolfson who argued that gay people do not by their very nature upend the status quo. For Sullivan, this status quo was East Coast gay culture; he met his husband at the Black Party in New York. What’s different about Matthew Vines is that, for him, the status quo was his upbringing in a very conservative Presbyterian church in Wichita, Kansas, a congregation he has never formally left and to which he presumably hopes to return. It’s safe to assume that Vines has never stepped foot inside a gay bar and would not be ok with the general licentious and sexually libidinous atmosphere usually found there. Vines was a student at Harvard when he came out but, instead of staying on the East Coast and embracing a culture that felt foreign to him, he quit school and began a mission that now includes his new book God and the Gay Christian” and The Reformation Project , an annual gathering training conservative Christians how to take the conservative gay gospel to their churches back home.
Thus far, most attempts to ask conservative Christians to reconsider their beliefs regarding same-sex couples have appealed either to the heart, on the progressive end, or the mind, on the academic end, but both approaches fail to understand how change in the conservative Christian church occurs. Appeals to the heart, however deeply expressed, often fall on deaf ears because bearing the cross is seen as a difficult task: any tale of hardship regarding an attempt to follow Scripture will often only buttresses the importance of the struggle itself. Appeals to the mind can also fail because conservative Christians do not come to their faith primarily through intellect nor do they approach the Bible as a book that can be put under a microscope and dissected with reason and logic. At the end of the day, the Bible and the experience of Christianity for conservatives is a walk of faith borne out in testimony, prayer, fellowship, and service: tribalism, at its most basic.
This is where all previous attempts have failed to sway conservative Christians: gay apologetics have been written from the outside of this tribe looking in and the writers have been open to attack for their “lifestyle,” the focus of character assassination rather than argument. Vines is open to no such attacks and fundamentalists are already getting the memo – aside from the usual reviews, Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has already published a 100-page ebook rebuttal. The difficulty here is that if they are too strident or crude in their attacks they will alienate younger evangelicals already sympathetic to Vines’ project. If character assassination won’t work and the theological debate comes across as splitting hairs, Vines wins by default, resetting the debate as a member of the tribe – as a voice from within, not from without.
There are two positions Vines’ book hinges on: 1, that celibacy has never been forced on Christians but instead has always been a choice, seen as a “gift” that some have but that most do not, and, 2, that orientation cannot be changed. This second point is helped by the fact that Exodus International, the last major organization promising that orientation could be changed, closed its doors while Vines was writing his book — with the closing of Exodus and the thorough debunking of Mark Regnerus’ problematic research there is no longer any institutional level of support for the idea that orientation can be changed. While many among the oldest generations of conservative Americans will not accept this in their lifetime, younger generations are already living in a world where the status quo regarding orientation is that it cannot be altered. Thus, the checkmate – if you believe orientation cannot be changed and you are also persuaded by Vines that celibacy has never been forced on Christians, it follows that there must be a Christian expression of sexuality for gay people. There must be and, according to Vines, there is: covenantal marriage.
What’s somewhat unsettling to me as a former evangelical is to watch a very intelligent gay man accept the entire framework of the most conservative Christian churches in America. For many, the siren song of gay rights was really queer rights, the right to be different, to be outré, to buck norms. The marriage equality movement and the dismantling of DADT are two legs of a very different stool and Vines provides the last leg, a way for gay people to completely assimilate within even the most conservative Christian communities if they so choose. In this sense, Rachel Maddow was right when she expressed her fear that the fight for marriage equality would end gay culture as we know it. What Vines will represent for some is the last nail in the coffin for Harry Hay’s idea that gay people are their own separate culture with their own distinct mores and attributes.
This leaves us with an existential debate of our own – if we can be gay and live within any community in America, how do we want that community to look?
Gay GOP woman of faith
March 21st, 2014
Ashley Rooney, an executive assistant at Log Cabin Republicans, wrote an opinion piece for TownHall arguing that Republican Party holds a place of promise for gay and lesbian people of faith.
The article itself is mostly twaddle, a sort of blind stabbing at “liberals” and “the left” and and extolling of the theoretical virtues of the Republican Party.
But, nevertheless, the message – if heard by the right ears – is an important one. Too often people on both sides of the political divide assume that orientation dictates ones political ideology. And too often both sides of the political divide assume that matters of faith do the same. Rooney argues that this need not be the case.
Similarly, LGBT Republicans need to expose the inaccuracy of the liberal claim that the LGBT community is “overwhelmingly” Democrat. According to a Gallup poll conducted in 2012, one in four LGBT people consider themselves to be conservative or very conservative, and a deeper look into these numbers reveals that the demographic breakdown of LGBT voter preferences is similar to that of the overall population.
Relatedly, we need to stop assuming that being a person of faith and being a supporter of LGBT equality are mutually exclusive. The left’s smears against religious Americans as anti-LGBT not only outcast LGBT people of faith but also ignore the reality that many religious communities are increasingly supportive of LGBT equality. A 2013 Public Religion Research Institute survey found that a majority of white mainline Protestants, 62 percent of Catholics, and over one in four white evangelical Protestants support marriage equality. A strong majority in every major religious group favors protections from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, and there are a growing number of religious groups dedicated to advancing LGBT equality.
Now I know that the first reaction of many will be to think, “but she’s wrong, Republicans are vile and any gay person so registered is delusional and self-loathing.” And undoubtedly some will find it impossible to skip an opportunity to weigh in on their own political leanings.
But setting aside Rooney’s partisanship and the perhaps idealistic rose-glassed view of her political affiliation, there is value in her statement. Primarily because it is something that flies in the face of the assumptions of a certain target audience.
Which makes where I read this all the more important. Rooney’s TownHall opinion piece was picked up by the Christian Post.
The Christian Post has, to the best of my recollection, only ever presented one variation of gay person before: the kind that advances an anti-gay crusade. They’ve had “former homosexuals” declare that no one is born gay. They’ve had bitter and emotionally stunted gay people rant on about the horrors of the “homosexual lifestyle”. They’ve presented the wacky two or three that buddy up with NOM to argue that gay marriage will be the end of the world as we know it.
But I don’t recall ever seeing a gay person on the Christian Post insisting that gay people should live openly and honestly, irrespective of their political leanings. Nor have I seen there an appeal to readers to find commonality or recognize support for gay people from within their own community.
I don’t know that this is a major capitulation on the part of the Christian Post. Nor will it likely change the minds of those who pretend that gay people either don’t exist or are demon possessed or are out to destroy America and civilization. But it might jar some who have simply accepted the easy stereotypes about gay people being “them” and perhaps plant the seeds of thought.
And it will, without doubt, piss off the LaBarberas and Stavers and Donahues who assume that all people of faith should and will rally around them and their campaign for bigotry. And that, if nothing else, is always a good thing.
February 14th, 2014
In something out of Kansas called The Rolla Daily News, Jim Brock rants about the proposed pro-discrimination bill. He doesn’t think it’s very Christian:
I guess some members of the Kansas House never read Matthew 25:40-45: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'”
The holy words of Bible can be so inconvenient, especially when they don’t come from Exodus or Leviticus.
Osteen’s take on homosexuality
January 14th, 2014
I’ve discussed before the odd place that Joel Osteen, pastor of the country’s largest church, has staked out on the issue of homosexuality. It’s not one that many people like. It doesn’t play well into the good guy / bad guy dichotomy that is demanded by the Culture War.
And yet again he has been asked his opinion, and again he has given his answer. (Edge)
“What are your views on homosexuality?” King asked Osteen.
“The same that they’ve been. I believe that scripture says that it’s a sin but I always follow that up by saying you know what, we’re not against anybody,” Osteen replied.
King asked about his theory of the cause of homosexuality. “How can it be if we don’t know what causes it? You don’t know why you’re a heterosexual.”
“There’s a lot of things Larry that I don’t understand- so I just don’t want to preach on it, preach about it,” Osteen replied.
And that’s about as qualified an answer as you can get. He believes that the scripture says its and sin but he has no clue why or what that means.
So he goes with what I thin is a pretty good policy. If you don’t understand something, it’s probably best not to preach about it.
Identifying your (dwindling) opposition
January 4th, 2013
On NomBlog, the National Organization for Marriage describes a letter issued in opposition to equality as “An extraordinary show of support for true marriage by a wide spectrum of faith communities in Illinois”. But that letter illustrates just how narrow that spectrum has become.
Our denominational opposition in Illinois consists of:
* Catholic Conference of Illinois
* Anglican Church in North America
* The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
* The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago
* The Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod
That may seem like a “wide spectrum” at first glance, and quite diverse, but when you look closer it reveals how few denominations have signed on to oppose civil marriage in the state. Our opponents are the Catholic hierarchy (lay Catholics support equality), Mormons, Muslims, and two Protestant denominations: the churches that left the Episcopal Church when she became pro-gay, and the smaller of the two major Lutheran churches (the other blesses same-sex unions).
It can no longer be said that the battle over civil marriage is between the gay community and people of faith. Far too many in the religious community have either disengaged or defected to our side.