“I’ve heard all of the arguments before” I thought, as I scrolled through my Facebook feed noting a link to a video entitled “The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality” that seemed to have been circulating widely amongst my more religiously oriented friends. Half-interested I hit the play button and quickly took note of the length of the video (over an hour) and assumed it’d be the same old sentiment and emotion based argument that had been going back and forth in the limelight for years now – I was wrong.
The issues arising between what might be called “practicing Christians” and “practicing Homosexuals” have been both tense, and many. As has been well documented both here and elsewhere, in our modern society gay people are becoming more and more visible, and individuals are being able to be true to themselves at younger and younger ages. Whilst social media has been filled with heartwarming stories of LGBT teens being able to “come out” in high school, and with the full support of the majority of their classmates even being elected royalty at school dances, still shadows loom over a tremendous amount of individuals young and old alike who are shunned entirely on the basis of religion for being true to themselves with their families, friends and colleagues. Undoubtedly the progress happening in support of equal rights and treatment for LGBT peoples in our increasingly secular society is still being met with massive resistance from religious conservatives.
In what seemed to have passed in moments rather than minutes I found myself enthralled, exuberant and hopeful, having sat through some sixty-seven minutes of the aforementioned video, which I found to be filled with erudite and respectful address from a perspective seldom heard. Within the ensuing hour, I found myself sharing the video far and wide to all of my friends with any sort of interest in “The Gay Debate” as it were, and I was met in their responses with a reflection of my own enthusiasm. A twenty-something young man named Matthew Vines from the smallish metropolis of Wichita Kansas, having taken a break from his studies at Harvard to do the research for this video, had presented in just over and hour what scores of theologians haven’t been able to do in at least decades- present the issues in a manner not only respectful to all involved, but too in a form accessible to the majority of the individuals concerned, and with practically undeniable rhetoric.
A couple years have passed since I first heard Matthew Vines’ presentation, and in that time I’ve shared it frequently, and yet its impact has been somewhat limited in my opinion, as we still seem to be living in an age where type media is the defining mark of qualification for bona fide status and consideration. Thus, my original excitement and enthusiasm for Mr. Vines’ work was rekindled and doubled when I took note of the upcoming release of his book entitled God and the Gay Christian and perhaps even more so when an advanced review copy arrived in my mailbox.
As an infant, I was baptized into the Roman Catholic faith, and through a complex string of events was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and for numerous reasons, largely stemming from the mainline Christian condemnation of homosexuality I left the Christian faith and eventually became a Buddhist clergyman. Through my involvement with Buddhist practice my wounds incurred at the hand of what I would call bigoted theology had a chance to heal, and I now regularly find myself joyfully in attendance of services at various churches and interfaith events centered around Abrahamic faiths. None-the-less, I never thought that I’d find myself reading a book on Christian theology at an advanced Buddhist retreat, and yet that’s just the situation I found myself in only weeks ago.
From my retreat cabin in Austin Texas, in just a matter of hours pieced together in downtime between sessions of meditation, chanting, and teachings, I devoured God and the Gay Christian, page by page nodding in agreement and affirmation; Matthew Vines’ latest offering truly is a riveting page turner! While the research into the six scriptures of the Bible that seem to condemn same-sex behavior isn’t new, the presentation offered by Mr. Vines assuredly is. Unfortunately advanced doctrinal extrapolation has historically been much like trickle down economics, wherein little of the scholarly conclusions gleaned through anthropological survey and etymological inquiry within the greater scope of practical theology makes its way (let alone in any digestible form) to the common lay person. The mix of autobiographical narrative and Biblical analysis presented by Mr. Vines, combined with the overall patient, kind and respectful tone of this book make it duly accessible to the a wide array of audiences. God and the Gay Christian is sound and thorough from a secular-scholarly standpoint (the book is accented finely with extensive end notes), while simultaneously being written from and to the perspective of a practicing Christian with a conservative approach to the authority of scripture, which I feel makes this offering truly unique.
To be clear, Mr. Vines’ conclusions, shedding light on the Biblical case in support of same-sex relationships do not rely on any sort of allegorical interpretation of scripture but are rather rooted in the assertion presented in 2nd Timothy 3:16 that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” relying on Jesus’ words in John 10:35 that “scripture cannot be set aside.” Thus as a basis for his book’s biblical exegesis, Mr. Vines’ utilizes a simple bible based test given given by Christ himself in Matthew 7: 15-20 concerning “a tree and its fruit,” applying it continually to all evidence (equally weighed I might add) both for, and against same-sex relationships as found in scripture and supporting historical evidence alike.
As I wrapped up my first reading of God and the Gay Christian I found myself in awe and appreciation, filled with hope for the future of the Christian faith, and even encouraged enough to once again immerse myself in the religion of my upbringing, noting its place in my heart as a source for good not only there, but too in our increasingly desacralized and oft suffering world.
If I hold any criticisms for this book at all, it would be that I had hoped the final edition would include, separate from the end notes, a bibliography and index. While those resources don’t appear in the final edition, the book’s precision and therefore extremely manageable length make finding the information that might be contained in the aforementioned sources not too difficult. I am happy to recommend this book as a “must read” for any and all people concerned with LGBT issues in the church, it is certain to enlighten, inspire and build both faith and hope in and for the fulfillment of Christ’s message.
God and the Gay Christian will be released on April 22nd and is available for pre-order on Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/God-Gay-Christian-Biblical-Relationships/dp/1601425163)
~Sunyananda Dharma, D.Dh
Guiding Teacher, Dharmakaya Buddhist Association
Abbot, Five Mountain Zen Order