Today is the official release of Matthew Vines’ volume, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. Vines has gotten a lot of press as a spokesman within the Evangelical church for ssm. He is soft-spoken, articulate, kind, and speaks the lingo Evangelicals want to hear – including a supposedly high view of Scripture. Vines’ publisher — Convergent Books — is closely related in organization and leadership to evangelical publisher WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group. This would seem to present ssm as some sort of option among Evangelicals. Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, responds, “What is new is the packaging of the argument and the fact that this is being published — at least to some extent — within evangelicalism by an imprint associated with WaterBrook Multnomah that is targeting itself toward the evangelical community.”
Also released today is God and the Gay Christian? is a 100-page critique of Vines, edited by Al Mohler, who also contributes a chapter. Other contributors are: James M. Hamilton Jr., professor of biblical theology; Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies; Owen Strachan, assistant professor of Christian theology and church history; and Heath Lambert, assistant professor of biblical counseling. Burk, Strachan and Lambert teach primarily for Boyce College, the undergraduate school of Southern Seminary.
Here we go folks. The players are getting into the ring. Many of the blows that have been landed on Evangelicals are from those outside Evangelical camp and vice versa. This is within! It won’t be so much about Vines. It will be more about Evangelicals who are looking for an off-ramp to move away from this issue, diminish its significance, consider it as just one among many issues we are allowed to disagree on, and then move on to other things. It is not going to be that easy. Those who will not declare themselves one way or another, who refuse to address the morality of ssm, will be safe for awhile. But ultimately the rift is only beginning. And the rift, as it almost always is, is about the nature and authority of the Bible.
Of course, this debate will not touch the Roman Catholic Church or the Orthodox Church. Their acceptance of historic Christian morality is a done deal. They are not even having this discussion, even as they are not discussing the ordaining of women to the priesthood. Watch as Evangelicals continue to slip into these communions due to their strong moral commitments. Evangelicals who do so will have to seek ways to diminish some of the doctrinal barriers that continue to exist between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, particularly over justification by faith alone. Evangelicalism in the West might have to shrink for awhile as it clarifies what its moral commitments really are. SSM won’t be the only topic. The Evangelical comfort with easy divorce and cohabitation is going to come into the crosshairs, too. It will be hard for the Evangelicals to isolate ssm from its own looseness on other issues of sexual morality. It is already happening and will only pick up speed. Western Evangelicals better be quick to settle this one or increasingly be marginalized by the worldwide communion of the Evangelical church.
In my own ministry I have made it clear that I stand with the historic church on what constitutes marriage. But I have so far not publicly taught on ssm for the simple reason that the Evangelical church needs to be clear on its own acceptance of divorce as normative, a de facto state of affairs, if not exactly a doctrinal surrender. Let’s start there. The church as it is made up of 50% of its marriages dissolving and then remarrying or cohabiting, often with multiple remarriages and multiple partners. Given this state of moral condition, it does not have much of a platform to address the sexual immorality of anybody.
We all fall short. No arguments there. But it’s not about that. It’s about the teaching position of the church, its moral aspirations and vision. Does the church teach, support and expect “one man, one woman, with children, together for a lifetime”? Hardly. As far as I can see, it is the Roman Catholic church alone which nurtures this vision. While I do not support many of the ways it seeks to enforce this vision and its often heavy-handed authoritarianism and legalistic process for annulments, it has not accommodated the cultural pressures to diminish the sanctity of marriage. There are a thousand qualifications I would want to make about this, but the broad outlines are clear. I regularly hear the horror stories of how the church has handled those divorcing and the piling on of unnecessary pain. It often, maybe even most often, is not very redemptive.
I am hopeful concerning this purifying process. The deep Christ-followers in the pews have grown tired of the waffling leadership of their churches. They will be encouraged that now choices will be forced and their leadership pressed out into the open on these moral issues. It will be dramatically clear if these leaders do not want to come into the open. Churches which are clear will be blessed with growing numbers of Christians who want to follow the Lord.
Of course, churches must not slip into legalism or harsh authoritarianism and must tenderly and mercifully exhort the flock of God. Some will be unwise and think that their stand of this or that moral issue will ipso facto make them a good church. Not so. At the heart of the church is love of God and love for people. This must be the root from which the church takes growth.