Matthew Vines: “God and the Gay Christian” | Talks at Google

ANNOUNCER: It is my pleasure
to welcome our illustrious speaker. And in particular, my church
pastor, Father Jack McClure from Most Holy
Redeemer in the Castro, who will be
moderating and helping move the conversation along. So I’m going to kick
it off for y’all. JACK MCCLURE: Thank you. Thank you, everybody,
for being here. Thank you, Matthew for
coming and joining us. We’re looking forward to hearing
your perspectives and how you came to them and sharing
with the group gathered here today ways that we
all can think with you and how our thinking might
need to change, as well, or we’ll be invited to. So, as a Roman
Catholic priest, I’m excited to listen
to how you present. Because it’s an important
topic in my church, right now. And my understanding is key,
so I join with this group here in looking forward
to your comment. So thank you for being here. Welcome. MATTHEW VINES: Well,
thank you so much. JACK MCCLURE: Tell us
about you a little bit so that we all know how
you came to the positions that you’re holding,
and enlighten us. MATTHEW VINES: All right. Well, first I want to say thank
you to Raymond for inviting me and the whole LGBT Pride
Week team for coordinating. I really appreciate that. It is wonderful to be here. So you want some
of my backstory, in terms of how I
got to this point? JACK MCCLURE: I
thought in your book– I got to look at your book
and to read some parts of it. I thought it was very
interesting, the beginning part, when you decided
you needed to come out, to go home and share with
your family and your parents. MATTHEW VINES: Right. So that was the fall 2009 that
I first acknowledged to myself that I was gay. The reason why
that was difficult was because I am from
Kansas, from Wichita, Kansas and grew up in a conservative,
evangelical Presbyterian church, there,
where there was just no open conversation around
being gay or anything other than straight. We actually had a good
friend who had grown up, just a couple years older
than me in our church, was really well regarded
until he came out his sophomore year of college. And then it was like
he had been erased from the memory
of the community. And nobody wanted to
talk about him anymore. It was very frustrating
to witness that. But also, those
are all the sorts of things that made it
difficult for me to accept the fact that I was gay. Because my parents would
not be OK with that. So many of our closest
family friends from church would not be OK with that. But if you are gay,
you kind of have to deal with it, eventually. Well, you don’t have to, but
it’s going to eat away at you, pretty significantly,
if you don’t. So it helped me a lot, going
away to Harvard for college. I think we have some– do
we have some Harvard 2012 people in the house? I know we have at
least one Harvard 2012 person in the house–
who’s not raising his hand. That’s OK. Yeah, so Harvard is a very, very
different place from Kansas. I don’t know if
people knew that. But they’re slightly different. And one of the biggest
differences– I mean, one of these
differences is that it was really cold and depressing. But apart from that– I think
that’s just an East Coast thing– there was much more
openness to LGBT students on campus, which was awesome. And that helped me
to really experience what life could look
like as a gay person, and be able to
actually see that it’s possible to have a dignified
future as a gay person. Which is something that– we
all read the same headlines in the newspapers about gay
rights and things like that. But the way that you
experience those headlines is shaped very much by your
immediate family and community context. So even though I knew that gay
marriage was being legalized in different places, I
still had no direct examples in my life of people who are
gay, where that did not result in complete ostracisation,
or ostracism, or rejection, or stigma attached to them. So growing up in
the community I did, if you wanted to be a
successful, respectable person, being gay was
incompatible with that. Now, obviously, that’s
just not true in so much of the rest of the country. But not only is that
steeped in your community, it’s also steeped in
your understanding of God and of faith and
Christianity, if you grew up in a Christian environment. So the barriers to sort
of reconsidering that are really steep. But being at a
place like Harvard was extremely helpful
for me in being able to process some
of these questions. First, at an impersonal level. I joined the only
groups at Harvard that would not be OK
with it if I came out, which were like the conservative
Christian ministries. Because that’s where I found the
most continuity with my faith community from back home. And those were some of
the best communities that I found it
school, actually. And so, the first year
that I was at school, I really sort of asking
a lot more questions to other people in
the group about– I’m not really sure I agree with
what this group is saying and what the church
I’d grew up in is saying about gay marriage. And so, we had some informal
gatherings about it. I read some. We had some discussions that
helped me to really change my mind on the issue. At that point, it
wasn’t a total 180. I already felt, very
strongly, like there was a– like I couldn’t accept
what I had been raised with, for just basic Christian
principles of justice and all of those things. But I still didn’t know
how to articulate that from the Bible-based
standpoint that I grew up with. And so, being able to learn
a little bit more about that helped me to decide that I was
convinced that LGBT issues were justice issues. And that there was something
I wanted to advocate for. And it was only after that point
that, then, I could ask myself whether or not I was gay,
which I wasn’t very thrilled about– even though I didn’t
think there was anything wrong with being gay anymore–
just because I didn’t want to deal with the potential
loss of so many relationships. So I ended up taking
a semester off school, going home, coming
out to my parents. And then just working
through the conversation around the Bible and same-sex
relationships with them. They were not thrilled
that I was gay. And they were also
totally shocked. It just wasn’t within their–
very few of my friends were all that shocked. But it wasn’t within their– the
realm of possibility for them, because they figured if
you raised your child well, then they’re not
going to be gay. Which we know is
not how it works. JACK MCCLURE: Right. MATTHEW VINES: But that’s how
a lot of Christian parents sort of approach it or
avoid thinking about it. But they end up
changing their minds. And for my dad, in
particular, studying the Bible and same-sex
relationships was pivotal for him changing his mind. And so, a lot people then– JACK MCCLURE: I like how
you did that in the book. Along that line,
what let you then move from– I think I gathered
that his probing and his looking in the scriptures
with you– see, that’s a tradition that your
particular faith community would have, not
always the tradition that some here are a part of. So biblically based,
then you went into strive and to delve more deeply. How did you move from that
place with your father and you coming to
that understanding? What let you get underneath
the things that have let you come to the conclusions? But I think you state, very
interestingly, in your book, how did you get there? MATTHEW VINES: Well, so
it’s a couple things. One, growing up in a
Protestant evangelical home, sola scriptura is
kind of the mantra– JACK MCCLURE: Mhm. And say what that means. MATTHEW VINES: Only
scripture– scripture alone is how we learn about God and
how we discern what is true. In a sense that,
specifically, as in opposition to
the Catholic Church, and the idea that you
figure out what’s true about scripture through
the magisterium. Which I got through
the magisterium, instead, know– just going
back to the principles of the Reformation– we’re going
to figure it out on our own. Now, obviously that
spawned several 10s of thousands of denominations. But it also– JACK MCCLURE: And relative to
that, that’s important to us here, from a Roman
Catholic– or some of your more ritualistic
celebrations of church– would see the sacrament
as in combination with the magisterium, is
the way we would say that. And the Protestant
tradition would say, in scripture alone– sola
scriptura, as you called it. MATTHEW VINES: Right. JACK MCCLURE: In
scripture alone, and so actually, it
seems to me that we’re kind of moving toward a better
understanding, in the Roman Catholic side, of scripture. Because we had not studied it
as people, as the people of God. Our priests had and theologians. But you got into some
of that study, which I think has become very,
very important to you, to understand that
which is underneath some of the scriptural texts. Is that– MATTHEW VINES: Yes. And part of the reason why that
study is possible, or possible to be more effective
within my context, is because, theoretically,
at least, with Protestants, all you have to do
is convince someone of a different
interpretation of the text. JACK MCCLURE: Exactly. MATTHEW VINES: And
that is all, in theory, that is required in order to
change beliefs and then change doctrines. Now, obviously, there are
natural, institutional hurdles, as well. But they are not formal
institutional hurdles that’s anywhere like what you
have in the Catholic church. So what I end up doing
was finding every resource that I could get
my hands on about the Bible and homosexuality. And there are two main types
of resources that I found. One were very
academic texts, that often had a lot of
wonderful research in them, but were just quite
inaccessible for somebody who– for your average
person at church you might want to
ask to reconsider, who has a job and four kids. You can’t say, go
read this 500 page tome that is in six languages. And then, could you let me
know what you think about it? That’s not sufficient. But there’s a lot of
important things there. But I also found a lot of
more popular level literature that was easy to read but do not
speak to people like my parents in a way that was
going to be helpful. Because it would
start off, and it would express presuppositions
about the Bible from the very
beginning, that would be offensive to, say, my dad. If you start off
and you say, well, the Bible says a
lot of wacky things and we just need to take it
a little bit less seriously, or if that’s the impression
somebody gets in the first two pages of your book, my dad
won’t read beyond the first two pages of your book. Because the way
that this debate has been cast for a lot of
conservative Christians, and part of the reason why
LGBT issues remain so fraught in a lot of the country–
especially Middle America and the South– is
because many Christians have come to believe that if
they change what they think about same sex relationships,
they’re actually going to be required to change
the entire infrastructure for their faith. And it’s not just a
question of interpreting a select amount of
texts in the Bible, but it’s a question
of whether or not the Bible should carry the
same weight and significance in their lives at all. And so, if I were to give
a resource to somebody at my church that
basically indicates, change your mind on same-sex
relationships by taking by Bible
less seriously, that’s just not going to fly. Because you’re going to
the very heart of what is most important to
someone’s worldview and asking them to set it aside. Some people may be willing
to do that– not most people. And if that is all that
LGBT kids growing up in conservative Christian
homes have at their disposal, when they’re coming out, that’s
not nearly sufficient for them. And so, part of
what I wanted to do was to take a lot of– to
synthesize a lot of the best insights of academics
and biblical scholars, but then re-present them in both
a much more accessible form, but also, specifically, within
the theological framework that I grew up with. So sometimes that
requires revisions. There might be somebody– you
can have some of the– I mean, there are scholars I
cite in my book who are very progressive Christians,
who are atheists, agnostics. It doesn’t really
matter what your faith is in terms of how you
do historiography, right. So one of the best
historians of ancient, what we would call,
sexuality– even though it’s kind of anachronism–
is David Halpern, who’s not of any religion at all. But I would still happily
rely on a lot of this work to understand a lot of the
ancient constructs and contexts around sexuality. However, you can only rely
on that kind of work so far. And then you have to put
it within your own context and make sure that you’re
grounding it within principles around scripture that
are consistent with those of your community. So that was really what I
set out to do with my dad, initially just, like, over
dinner table conversations when I was home. Then, it turned into engaging
our church much more widely. Then, it led me to,
two years later, give an hour-long talk at a
church in Wichita, Kansas, where I’m from,
all about the Bible and homosexuality, specifically
within that framework for more conservative Christians. And then that talk led to
the book, “God and the Gay Christian,” which
came out last year. And so, all of it
is really designed. It’s about giving
the specific language and the specific approach
that can be persuasive to evangelicals and to
conservative Christians. Some people are not open to
being persuaded right now. However, they’re really
not my target audience. Because there are people–
they’re still a minority– but there is a
significant minority of people in the evangelical
Christian world who are open to being persuaded. JACK MCCLURE: OK. MATTHEW VINES: And
you simply have to give them a strong enough
biblical argument in order to succeed. JACK MCCLURE: I think
one of the things that I noted in your book,
that I really appreciated, is how you bring it
to the experience. How you let the lived
experience of what’s happening is what is happening within the
world of LGBT and transgendered and gay– the whole
population– I think you give good examples
of how they have experienced that separation. And I think you
addressed that, too. MATTHEW VINES: Yes. There are a couple
things about that. I think that experience
matters a lot. But especially
when you’re talking to conservative
Christians, it’s important that you don’t present
experience as somehow overriding scripture. Because we all
know that there are a lot of really heart rending
stories that LGBT people have, about how they’ve been
treated by families, churches, society at large. However, a lot of
conservative Christians have a kind of
built-in resistance to listening to those stories,
when the stories are presented in opposition to scripture,
even if not explicitly. Part the reason why many
conservative Christians, you might send them,
like, if you have friends who are evangelical or just
on the more– who are not, what I would call, are
not LGBT affirming. And then you might
send them a really heartwarming “It
gets better” video. And then they watch
it, and it really doesn’t seem to
have reached them. It doesn’t seem to
have engaged them. One reason why it doesn’t
reach them, many times, is because there is this kind of
wall built up that they filter things like that through. And that wall is this biblical
interpretation that says, this experience, in order for
me to accept its legitimacy in a meaningful enough way to
make you rethink what I think, is in conflict with this core
aspect of my world-view, which is the Bible. And so, what I’m trying to do,
when I talk about experience, is specifically
talk about why it doesn’t have to be in conflict. And so, at the very
beginning of my book, I talk about how, in
a sermon on the mount, in the book of Matthew,
Jesus offers his followers a kind of test for how to
discern false prophets. And he says, by their fruits
you will recognize them. A good tree bears good fruit,
and a bad tree bears bad fruit. And a good tree
cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot
bear good fruit. And the Bible talks about
what the fruit of the Spirit looks like, in the
book of Galatians. So love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness, self-control, those kinds of things,
those are the types of traits that we see in many
same-sex relationships, today. Conversely, when LGBT people
are rejected by their churches, by their families,
that doesn’t lead to the fruit of the Spirit,
as the Bible describes it. It leads to profound
devastation, isolation, harm, pain, suffering. And so that is kind
of a better way, I’ve found, to approach
the experience argument, is to put it in the context
of Jesus’ own teachings. And say, according to
Jesus’ own teachings, if we’re seeing bad fruit, then
that’s coming from a bad tree. And so, if the teaching that all
same-sex relationships are sin is producing bad
fruit, the teaching itself may be a bad tree. And so, that doesn’t mean
that alone solves the issue, but it helps to open
the door for people to maybe be more
willing to reconsider. But then you still
have to convince them of how to read the main
biblical texts that refer to same-sex relations. That’s doubtful. JACK MCCLURE: And isn’t that
what your father showed you, in his experience? You came home– in the telling
the story– you came home, and it upset both
of them, the way you explained it in your book. But in the final
analysis, they loved you. And in their experience,
that changed– that had to change
their perspective on, what does it mean
to have a gay son? What does it mean to
have that member be in my family, and he’s mine? MATTHEW VINES: Right. Well, they didn’t
have any perspective on having a gay son before,
because that wasn’t within what they thought was possible. But for my dad, I would say
that me coming out to him changed his heart. But his mind did not
change until we did an in-depth study of scripture. JACK MCCLURE: And
he would not have been open to that investigation
without that experience. MATTHEW VINES: Right. And so, experience
is very important. But also, rarely
is it sufficient– JACK MCCLURE: Exactly. MATTHEW VINES:
–for people coming from more conservative
faith backgrounds. JACK MCCLURE: And
I think that what we have in our population,
that’s here with us today is, a deeper understanding, a better
understanding of how people are people, different as we are,
variances are more– we talked at lunch, people from
all over, when you start bringing different
perspectives and views, changes the experience. And as you have
friends who are gay, and as you have family members
that are gay and lesbian, and all of that,
I think, then, you would take a different approach. Your research is really timely,
in terms of the conversation that’s happening. Because you went
under it from not just an academic point
of view, but it seems to me that you
tried to also look at the culture behind
it, in addition to just a literal academic
part– which, of culture, is extremely important. Would you share a
little bit about how that formed your thinking? MATTHEW VINES: Well,
part of– and this may not be the exact
question that you’re asking. So tell me if I’m
going off-track, here. But part of the cultural
analysis, for me, is about how to take a message
and really put it into action. So how do you actually get
into– if it is possible, and I do think it is
possible– so my dad, right, it’s kind of like what I was
seeking to fashion was, like, almost a key to unlock the
door to changing his mind. And relationships are a
critical piece of that. But the scriptural argument
is equally critical. And so, it’s like the book
is the scriptural argument. But then the question is,
from a cultural standpoint, even once you have that,
there’s still the question of, how do you actually
put that into practice to affect widespread change? And so, that’s really
what I’m seeking to do through the nonprofit
organization that I run. JACK MCCLURE: And
the name of it is? MATTHEW VINES: It’s called
the Reaffirmation Project, and I started it a
couple years ago. We run conferences around
the country for Christians, what we call LGBT
affirming Christians in non-affirming contexts. And it’s specifically
designed to give them the Bible based
tools that they need to empower them to
become vocal advocates for the LGBT community
in their churches. So we just did a big conference
in Atlanta, a week and a half ago. We had several hundred
people come from mostly across the South. And the goal through
these conferences is about training and equipping. So because there are what I
call “silent sympathizers,” in churches of almost all kinds,
no matter how conservative, a minority people who
feel the sense of conflict about their church’s posture. But the main reason
why they don’t so give voice to their sense
of internal conflict is because they don’t
know how to talk about the Bible and
same-sex relationships in a way that will
even potentially be persuasive to other
people in their church. And so, what we worked
to do is to identify those silent sympathizers,
and then to equip them, to give them the
messages that they need. And it doesn’t make it easy. It doesn’t make
them– that does not produce success with everyone. It probably only
produces success in a minority of people. But really, that’s all you need. Because in a church, like
the one that I grew up in, of 2,000 people, not a single
person, before I came out, had been willing to say
publicly that they did not believe that same-sex
relationships were sinful. And once I came out, we found
out that some of our friends, privately, did not believe
that same-sex relationships are wrong. But they would not give
voice to that publicly, because the pressure not
to do so was so great, and they didn’t know how to
really speak to people’s core concerns about that. So that’s really our goal,
then, through the Reformation Project. We know we have– JACK MCCLURE: It seems like
it’s an opportunity, then, for people to give voice
to their own thoughts and their own experiences. So that’s a very important part
of unloosing, understanding, I think, about their difference. I think we’re seeing
that in religions, certainly from a Roman
Catholic point of view. I am very interested
in how we’re going to interface with our
Protestant brothers and sisters to finally become unified. The research that
you did, and the part that I found so interesting
and intriguing with what you were looking at
is, you not only looked at the culture of that time. Now, you’re trying to bring it
to the culture at this time. I thought that was significant. You gave an example of how
some things have been forbidden in “Old Testament” and they’re
not, in our understanding, today. Would that help any
clarity, bring clarity, do you think, to the people
about how texts can be used? I think it’s important for them
to understand that from you. MATTHEW VINES: OK, yeah. So part of the cultural
argument that I make, in terms of interpreting texts,
specifically ancient texts, requires a broader understanding
of ancient concepts and constructions of
what we call sexuality. JACK MCCLURE: Or any kind
of given communication. For instance– and this will
be really strange– but today, it’s hard for us not
to imagine people being able to read and write. And having access
to pencil and paper, with the computerization that
we have, it’s almost instant. But when we look back,
we realize just how much they relied on auditory, and
listening, and telling stories. And how those stories then
became part of scripture. And what caused that. I thought that the way you
presented your information about that was very telling. Because it opened up
that something that was extremely important to be
taboo with them at that time was hygiene related perhaps,
or related other things. And we don’t see
it that way today. We see difference, we see
a different understanding. You presented those
kind of understandings, for me, when you reinterpreted–
not reinterpreted. What’s the language
that you use? You re-con– the text. MATTHEW VINES: Well,
I mean, I certainly am arguing for a
reinterpretation. But I wouldn’t place that
agency primarily on me. Because part of my
goal with the book was not actually to be making
any original arguments, as odd as that may sound. Because what I’m trying to do is
to synthesize and to popularize the best of the arguments
and insights that have been pioneered,
debated, vetted, and refined by people with far
greater expertise in a lot of particular fields
than I could possibly have. JACK MCCLURE: You looked
very widely, though. MATTHEW VINES: Very widely. JACK MCCLURE: Yes. MATTHEW VINES: And so
that’s why my goal is, I didn’t want to–
if I was going to be making an argument that
actually hadn’t been made and challenged and then
supported again and further refined, I didn’t want
to make that argument, because that argument would
be likely to fall apart. So with all the
arguments that I make and all the historical
analyses, interpretations, I don’t want any of them
to be original to me. So in that sense, like, I am
arguing for a reinterpretation. But I’m also wanting
to argue– I’m also wanting to point people toward
the scholars, and the writers, and theologians who
I think have maybe done the best work on this
particular nook, right, in this particular cranny,
all these particular aspects. And then, bring
them all together into a more cohesive whole. JACK MCCLURE: Was it
evident to you, somewhere along the line of your
research and your reading and looking and talking with
your dad and looking forward, did it become evident to you,
sometime, that you said aha, this is different than
what I had thought? How did that come to you? I would be very interested,
if you could pinpoint it. It might be hard. MATTHEW VINES: Yeah. I mean, there are
a couple of things, and a couple of specific texts,
that I’m happy to go into. And then, if anybody
has questions we’d be happy to
take them that point. So think about it
if you have any. JACK MCCLURE: Yeah. MATTHEW VINES: So one
text is this famous text from the “Old Testament”
about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, which is no
longer really at the forefront of the conversation anymore. But it’s remarkable how
many Christians still associate Sodom and
Gomorrah with gayness. So, when I asked my
dad in high school why we were against
gay rights– because I knew that we were, but I wasn’t
really sure why– he just sat me down, opened his
Bible to Genesis, Chapter 19, and read to me this
story where God sends two angels, in the form
of men, into the city of Sodom. The men of Sodom attempt or
threaten to rape the angels. And God then destroys the
city with fire and brimstone. And so, because these men
were threatening to rape, at least what appeared
to be, other men, my dad said, well, these men
wanted to have sex with men. God destroyed them for it. That’s why we’re
against gay rights. That does not make my dad
sound like a very sophisticated person. But in fact, he really is. He just wasn’t on this
topic, because he didn’t know any openly gay people. He had never been forced to
think very deeply about it. But when I came out to him, that
was the first text that he went back to, and he
sort of said, hm, I may not as much as I thought
I knew about this subject. Because this text,
now, looking at it in the light of a broader
understanding of gay people, that is so different from
the type of relationship that you, Matthew, want, right? Like, we’re talking about
a threatened gang rape. JACK MCCLURE: Mhm. MATTHEW VINES: And for anybody
who knows any gay people, these distinctions are
incredibly obvious. But if you don’t know any gay
people, and you just know, well, I know
homosexuality is a sin. I know that’s because
of stuff in the Bible. I know people
bring up this text, so there must be connection. Then you go into the text
searching for the connection. And even though
it’s quite tenuous, you don’t worry
about it too much. Because that’s just the
way it’s supposed to be. So for my dad, recognizing
that that text was about a very different thing. And then also– and as I go
into much more depth in the book about the history of
interpretation of the Sodom story, how for
the first, really, 2,000 years of that story’s
existence– of course, it dates back probably
to about 1400 BC, at least in the oral
tradition– it was not understood by the Israelites
and the ancient Jews to be about same sex anything. And then the 20 other
references to Sodom and Gomorrah in the rest of the Bible do
not refer to same-sex behavior as part of the sin
of Sodom, but are quite explicit that
the sin of Sodom has to do with
arrogance and apathy toward the poor,
oppression, inhospitality, all sorts of those things. So for my dad, that really
was a door opener for him in going back to some
of these other texts. Because he figured,
if I could have been mistaken about
this text, then it’s possible I’ve been mistaken
about the other texts. And there’s another
really important text in the “New Testament,”
by the Apostle Paul, in Romans Chapter I, where
Paul describes and condemns lustful, same-sex behavior. He talks about how– without
going into all the detail– he talks about how
women exchanged natural for unnatural relations, and
men abandoned natural relations with women, became inflamed
with lust, one for another, and committed indecent
acts with other men. And I remember
just sitting down. For a lot of
evangelicals, that text is perhaps the
most important one, in terms of what would be
a stumbling block for them for reconsidering. I just remember
telling my dad, I was like, Dad– like, over
our dinner table one night– like, these people are
consumed with their lusts. It specifically is
talking about people who are just, like, lust-filled. And I was like, that is
not my goal or my vision for my future, right. Like, I want to have
a relationship that’s like the relationship
you have with Mom, that’s a stable, long-term
relationship with the basis of a home and a family. I was just, like, to me, these
are really different issues. And that text is a
very complicated text. So there’s a lot more the
could be said about it. But for my dad, just recognizing
that distinction, you’re right, he was saying. This is explicitly
talking about people who were consumed with lustfulness. And he just never
really considered that it’s possible that there
are same-sex relationships that don’t fit into that paradigm. JACK MCCLURE: Mhm. MATTHEW VINES: I know that
can sound very ignorant. I mean, in a sense,
because it is ignorant. But it’s not
necessarily hateful. Like, a lot of people
assume that Christians who are against same-sex
marriage must be, like, terribly bigoted,
hateful people. And you can always
find some examples of truly hateful people. JACK MCCLURE: Right. MATTHEW VINES: But in the
main, that’s not true. It’s like, my dad never had
any malice toward anyone. It doesn’t mean
that he was right. It doesn’t mean
that his position was accurate or helpful. It’s inaccurate and
does harm to people. But if you start with a posture
of anger toward the harm that people’s beliefs do, then
you put them on the defensive. Because then they typically
feel like their characters being maligned. And so, I find it
much more helpful to start a posture
of relationship, of genuine affection or
respect for the person, especially if you know them. And respect for their
heart and their motives. But then, within
that context, really earnestly asking them
to look more critically at the consequences
of their beliefs. And say, even though
I know you’re not coming from a place
of wanting to do harm, these beliefs, they still have
this harmful impact on my life. And so, would you be willing
to look at this a bit more closely with me? I found that to be vastly more
effective than an approach to just sort of
assumes that everybody who’s against gay
marriage is hateful. It’s much more effective not to
try to ascribe a single motive to a very wide group of people. But instead to meet
people on their own terms in the context of
relationship and community. And then focus on the impact,
rather than the intention. So that’s sort of a– JACK MCCLURE: Thanks. MATTHEW VINES: Yeah. JACK MCCLURE: Questions? Yes? AUDIENCE: I was kind
of interested to see what your experience in your
discussions with other people, those that you say that have
the Bible in high regard, and in terms of the
discussions that you’ve with them to kind of see
things in a different light. Because from my
experience, talking with these so-called “Bible
thumpers,” quote, unquote, I think a lot of
passages and scriptures are cherry picked to
formulate their belief system. And so, if you then provide
them with other passages that aren’t taken as seriously, like
polyester or so forth– wearing polyester– then it’s
like, oh that’s pish posh. So I’m just kind of
curious to see what– like, what your experience
with talking to other people about that. MATTHEW VINES: So I think
part of my experience, part of what’s
helped me, is I feel like I have a pretty
strong understanding of why those Christians
who disagree with me believe what they believe. And that is rare,
in their experience. So I don’t know if you’ve
seen– you may have, I’m sure some people
here have– there’s a famous clip from “The West
Wing,” from probably 2007, where the president
on “The West Wing” gets into this debate with this
conservative radio host about, you say that homosexuality
is an abomination. Then he goes and he lists
all these other things from the “Old
Testament” about, oh, but do you sell your daughter
into slavery, et cetera. And there’s, like, a mic drop
at the end– not literally. And that clip has had
millions of views. And a lot of people
just assume, oh, like, such a hypocrisy
for Christians to wear polyester but to be
against same-sex relationships. But that’s really not the
heart of the theological issue for most Christians. So it is true that
the book of Leviticus prohibits male, same-sex sex. And of course, it also
prohibits a ton of other things that Christians
don’t follow anymore. But that’s not really
hypocrisy, because Christians who are being more
informed about it are not going to
ground their opposition to same-sex relationships
primarily in Leviticus or in the “Old Testament.” Because the “New
Testament” talks extensively about how Jesus
fulfilled the “Old Testament” law. And Jesus says, not
one jot or tittle will fall away from the law. But the way that the “New
Testament” authors interpret that is in the context
of the “Old Testament” law no longer
having force, longer applying to God’s people,
under the New Covenant, in the same way that it did
to the ancient Israelites. So most Christians who are being
more thoughtful about it would ground their opposition to
same-sex relationships in “New Testament” texts that are
part of the New Covenant, or in sort of a
broader– what they say is a broader narrative
arc, within scripture, from the Genesis
creation texts, then through to how the
“New Testament,” they believe, interprets
or uses those texts. So in that sense, yeah. Part of what I’m trying
to do is to persuade conservative Christians to
rethink their interpretation. Another part of what
I’m trying to do is to persuade more
progressive Christians to make better arguments
when they’re in conversations with conservative Christians. And so, I don’t think, if
your argument to somebody is, why are you
against gay marriage when you’re not
against polyester? I’ve seen that argument persuade
people about 0% of the time. Because it doesn’t
demonstrate an awareness of why they actually believe
what they believe, right. So you’re kind of just
working around the edges. What’s much more
interesting, though, is that same
principle– it’s not say that there is no
inconsistency in how things are being applied, but you
have to be really careful how you approach that. So, much more interesting
text than the polyester texts, or than any of the
prohibitions in Leviticus, is from 1 Corinthians, Chapter
11, Versus 14 and 15, where it specifically says, Do
you not know that nature itself teaches that for
a man to have long hair is a disgrace to him, but
for a woman to have long hair is to her glory? The reason why this
is so fascinating is because the text
of Romans 1, which is the longest “New
Testament” text, or longest biblical text
referring to same-sex behavior, uses two of the very
same Greek words– words for nature and for disgrace. That’s phusis and [? atomia. ?]
And in the Romans 1, a lot of conservative
Christians want to say that those words about
what goes against nature refer to what they call
the “creational order.” Or something that
was established at the very beginning in
Genesis 1 and 2 and, therefore, something that is normative
for Christians today. But ask them how they
interpret 1 Corinthians 11, and most Christians
today will tell you that they think
nature in that text refers to social
custom or convention. And that what makes
it disgraceful has to do with what the given
cultural norms of the day are. And I happen to agree with
them in 1 Corinthians 11. The term “nature” has
a really wide range of potential uses
in ancient Greek, and in a lot of contemporaneous
texts, extra-biblical texts, and within the
biblical canon itself. What that means,
though, is, if they’re willing to read those very same
terms in the “New Testament” in a way that is culturally
conditioned and confined, then that’s a much better
text to use for saying, well, why didn’t you read
Romans 1 the same way? Because it’s actually
operating within the world that they’re operating within. So it’s much better to make
sure you know what they believe their strongest arguments to be,
or their most important texts to be going into it. And then focus on
texts and arguments that are relevant
to those things. So that’s part of
what’s actually made a lot of my conversations
really good and effective, is because a lot of
evangelicals have never been engaged on their own terms
in a really meaningful way before, on this topic. And so, all that they’ve ever–
the only sort of paradigm that they’ve had is
a combat paradigm of, like, the secular
LGBT activists versus the faithful
conservative Christians. And so, it’s very easy,
then, to people– for them to just sort of stay entrenched
in their belief system. And say, look, our
whole belief system is under attack by
people who think that the whole idea of God
and religion is stupid. And so, that way
it’s much more of a, we’re keeping our community,
we’re keeping our identity and our values
intact and preserved. But the conversation
shifts radically when you actually have a
member of the community who shares all those
core beliefs, who cares about the community, who
has relationships with people in the community, who
is simply asking people to reconsider their
interpretation of a select amount of texts. Not to reconsider the
importance of the Bible, the importance of
God or their faith. That’s just a very
different conversation. As you actually have the
privilege, as I’ve had, of being able to take
the time to really do your homework before you go
into those conversations, a lot of people are just–
it’s unprecedented for a lot of people. And not for the
majority– at least, not initially– but
for a minority, those types of arguments can
change their minds. And all you need is a
minority, especially within the evangelical world. But what does that
word mean, right? It’s about spreading
the good news. So evangelicals love to let
people know what they believe. And so, if you can change what
they believe about a topic, it’s awesome. Because then they’re
going to let, like, 1,000 people know about
their new belief about it. So that’s part of the– Yeah
it’s not easy, it’s not fast. But it’s definitely
possible and worthwhile. MATTHEW VINES: Great question. Thanks. AUDIENCE: I really
appreciate what you’re trying to do in engaging
conservative evangelicals. And it’s really
encouraging to hear a lesson, or more than
theologically superficial, like Leviticus. And that’s really great. In terms of furthering
the dialogue, James White has offered to
debate with you several times. I was curious what the reasons
are that that hasn’t happened? MATTHEW VINES: Yeah. So when I posted
my initial talk, three years ago, there was
a Southern Baptist minister in Phoenix who recorded
a four-hour rebuttal, podcast rebuttal, to my talk. So here’s what I would say. I When I’m thinking
about Christians who disagree with
me on this topic, they lie along a spectrum. Or rather, Christians
who don’t vocally agree with me on this topic,
they lie along a spectrum. You have a minority
of people who are silent sympathizers, who may
not fully agree with me– who may, may not– but
those are the people who really, if you reach them
with these arguments, it’s like you’ve liberated them. And they finally, like, feel
free to express their beliefs, and they can become really
passionate advocates. Then there are a lot of
people in the middle– I’d say the majority of people in
the middle– who passively hold negative beliefs, what I would
call non-affirming beliefs, about same-sex relationships. And who truly
believe those things, but don’t think about
it a ton, would never write a letter to
the editor about it, would never call up a
radio show about it. That’s where my dad was. Then you have a
substantial minority of people who I
would say are deeply entrenched and passionate
about their opposition. And those people tend to be
the most established people in any given church
community, especially the more conservative churches. They tend to make institutional
change very difficult, because they will
threaten to pull their financial
giving from a church, if it shifts at
all on the topic. And so, what I’m trying
to do– and they also give the impression,
to a lot of people, that everyone in the community
not only shares their belief, but also shares that
passion with which they hold their belief. Because no one else is
actually saying anything, so they kind of
have the megaphone. When I’m engaging
people in this topic, I am most interested in
engaging the people who are the silent sympathizers
and the people in the middle. Because most people who are
in that place of entrenched passion to opposition
cannot be reached right now. I try never to write
people often entirely, but I do postpone people. And I will postpone
engagement with some people, because the way that they think
and talk about these topics is so unhelpful and so devoid
of any kind of relational care or understanding, that
they’re just not really worth my energy. So James White, in
his talk, I mean, he compared being gay to
wanting to have sex with dogs, and things that are so
absurd and so offensive. And he was so
passionate about it, and saw no reason– talked
about comparisons to pedophilia, and said that only 1% of gay
people actually want monogamy. I don’t know where he
got that statistic. And I mean, it was a highly
vitriolic four hours. And honestly, that’s
not worth my time. Because there are so many people
who are worth my time and who are thoughtful and kind. And there are some people
who are truly vitriolic and who are not kind,
are not compassionate. And my time is
worth so much more than wasting it, going down
into a gutter with people who want to compare me to people
who want to have sex with dogs. So that’s the
reason why I haven’t engaged James White, because
he’s not worth engaging. But there are many people
who are worth engaging. So Tim Keller is a pastor from
New York, a pretty well-known pastor, evangelical pastor,
who I’ve learned a lot from. I think he’s a great
writer and preacher. He just reviewed my
book a couple weeks ago. And I didn’t really– I mean,
it was a negative review, which wasn’t surprising,
because I know what he thinks about this topic. But I really
appreciated that he did, that he reviewed my book
with a tone of civility. He didn’t say horrendous
things about gay people. And he was focusing on
my actual arguments, and in a way that was a
lot more level-headed. So that allowed me– I
wrote a response to it about things that I agreed
with and a lot of things that I didn’t agree with,
and thought that he actually misrepresented in my book. But through that
process, that is what opens the door to
genuine conversation. It doesn’t mean he’s going to
agree with me anytime soon. But I want to focus on people
who are engaging thoughtfully. And there are enough of
them, I can spend all my time doing that. AUDIENCE: My question
is specifically referring to your arguments
using Matthew 7, verses 15 through 20 on false prophets
and good fruit versus bad fruit. I in particular find that
argument very compelling. Do you think that same
argument could also be used to, perhaps,
get the church to reexamine its traditional
stances on things like woman’s rules in the church and
other social equality issues for which there may be
other silent sympathizers– such as gender roles–
seeing as how, traditionally, these teachings may have had a
bit more of a negative impact on those members of the
congregation who would like to voices those opinions? And do you think
that can be done in the way that presents a
theological framework that is also, as you said,
persuasive to evangelicals? MATTHEW VINES: That’s
a good question. I think that that type
of experience argument certainly played a key role
in Christians reevaluating their beliefs about slavery. Because a lot of
Christians, today, will try to say, oh,
slavery in the first century Rome was so different than
slavery in 19 century America. And there are some differences. Slavery, 19 century
America was race-based. And it was not, in the same
way, in the first century. But slavery in the first
century Rome was brutal. I mean, this is not
like, a benign form of actually voluntary
servitude for seven years, and then you get to go
on and live your life. That’s not what it was. And there’s ample
historical evidence showing how horrific slavery in
the biblical era actually was. So while there are
some differences, they’re not really–
they don’t really get to the core of what we find
abhorrent about slavery, today. So it’s not like what slavery
was changed in a radical way. But more Christians became
more empathetic to the cries of the oppressed. And from a Christian
standpoint, that looking at the narrative
arc of scripture, so much of which does
focus on the liberation of captives, freedom
for the oppressed, the kind of radical
dignity that should be bestowed upon every person
within a Judeo-Christian worldview. Not just upon,
like, kings, right? But that all people are created
equally in the image of God. That should have
these implications for how we think
about and how much we care about listening to
marginalized and oppressed voices. Unfortunately, that’s
not often been reflected in the history of the Church. But when the
abolitionist movement began to gain traction
in the Church, especially in the 19
century, listening– I mean, that type of experience, people
pleading for other people to simply look
others in the eyes and really consider
their struggles, was a big part of that. In terms of women’s roles–
but at the same time, it’s never a
sufficient part of it. I think that there should
always– I kind of am torn. Because on the one hand, I
think there should generally be a bias in favor of
tradition, in the sense that, from a
Christian standpoint, even though we know
that the tradition got a number of important things
wrong– slavery, heliocentrism, the subjugation of
women, anti-semitism– the vast majority of things
that Christians recite, like, every Sunday in
the creeds, those are all part of the
Christian tradition. The core things that we believe
about Christian orthodoxy, about the trinity, about God,
about Jesus, about Holy Spirit, these are all
traditional beliefs. And the idea of, if you always
have a bias against tradition, it’s exhausting at one level
to be constantly throwing up in the air all these things. But also, there can be a
presumptuousness to it, there can be an arrogance to it. Not always. But there can be, just
assuming that there is not great wisdom in– not just
a generation before you– but in generation, after
generation, after generation, and all of the wisdom that can
be accumulated through that. However, at the
same time, I also feel like there should be a
bias in favor of the oppressed. And those two things
do clash, right? Because a bias in
favor of tradition that has no qualifications is
also a bias in favor of well, straight, cisgender,
land-owning white men. Right? And so, how do you
make that balance? There’s can be a
tendency, then, looking at so much of the harm and
oppression it’s caused, then, to just swing against
tradition entirely. And while I’m sympathetic
to why people do that, I think that can lead to, well– JACK MCCLURE: Another
set of problems. MATTHEW VINES:
Yeah, it just leads to an entirely
different set of issues that I’m not really sure
are the key to liberation for oppressed peoples. So it’s kind of like holding
those things tension. So I would say, like,
I think they experience paradigm matters a lot. But because I think that
tradition matters a lot, because I think
that scripture has to be– because I think that
the authority of scripture matters a lot. You kind of have to hold
those things in tension. So with something
like women’s roles, you can definitely make
the case from experience. I mean, this is what we
see in the book of Acts, where they say, look, we know
that you don’t think Gentiles can be part of God’s people. But we see the
fruit– we see them. We see the fruit of
the spirit, right. And we see that they have
the spirit at work in them. Therefore, they can be part
of the Christian community. So that was a pretty
experienced-based argument. And so people, certainly, you
can make that type of argument about saying, look, we
see women who are serving in leadership positions. We see all these gift that they
are offering to the church. We see their ministries
being blessed, or something. At the same time,
you want to buttress that, you want to
supplement that with making a scriptural
case, as well, for, here is where
we see movement in scripture toward women
occupying more leadership positions, or toward greater
equality in roles for men women, those sorts of things. So I think it’s
like a both, and. AUDIENCE: This is
a little bit more of sort of a personal question. So you can decide how
personal you want to be. But for me, one
of the challenges of being gay and
Christian, I spent a lot of time kind
of reconciling how I could be both. And I wish I had had
your book 10 years ago. But now, one of the
things that I actually shared with my pastor
a few weeks ago was struggling with how to
be gay and Christian in 2015, in San Francisco. And so, there’s so many
cultural norms around sexuality, for example. And it’s sort of a gay
stereotype where you have sex, and then you go
on the first date. And so, how do you think
about other teachings around sexuality, around
how we express that. And how do you kind of live
a godly, Christian life in the context of a culture
that is highly sexualized? MATTHEW VINES: Yeah, that’s
a really good question. I would say my
first answer to it is, the way that I approach that
is that it’s really sensitive. And so, I am always–
especially issues around sex and
sexual ethics, when you are talking about a
community of people that has been rejected by
the church, there just has to be so much sensitivity
around that and a lot of grace around that. I think that really conservative
Christians, in particular, if they want to say all same-sex
relationships are wrong, and they want to offer no
support for LGBT people living out hope for their
relational future– a romantic future or
family– then what place do they really have to
criticize people who they think aren’t living in a sufficiently
chased way, or something. Because it’s like, look,
you’re offering people nothing. And then just going
to condemn them when they’re just trying to
find their own way in the world. So I’m very sympathetic to that. At the same time,
I think that that’s a totally non-ideal situation. Ideally, you shouldn’t
have millions of gay kids being rejected by
their Christian families, all of the world, in
the name of Jesus. And then made two loath
themselves and loath their sexuality, and
then seek to swing the pendulum in
the other direction by totally embracing
every potential aspect of your sexuality you could
conceive of for, like, five years and then
getting tired of it. And then swinging it back
to the middle, right. That’s not really ideal. So what I’m trying
to do is twofold. One is the pastoral
lens, which is about how much grace and
sensitivity you have to have. And you just can’t
preach at people. You have to listen. You have to build
a relationship. You have to be willing to
learn and grow from people. But that’s the pastoral lens. Then there’s also this kind of
theological or doctrinal lens, which is the
question of, ideally, what should the
church be teaching? And even though there has to be
a whole lot of space and grace in the midst of recovering
from, really, the church’s sins against the
LGBT community, what would be the theological ideal? And so, the ideal that I
present– and so, basically, I grew up being taught
that sex is for marriage. And I never really had
an issue with that. So from when I– when I learned
about sex– however old I was. I don’t even remember. I was just, like, all right. That’s something I’ll
do when I get married. It’s going to be great, and
never really thought about it. I mean, not that I
didn’t think about it. I’m saying I never
thought about– that was never a source of
stress for me, or anything. That was something
I wanted to do. And it was just a part
of who I wanted to be and how I wanted to live. And so, when I realized that I
was gay, I was just like, well, I don’t really want to
radically change who I am. I don’t think being
gay should require you to overturn value systems
that are important to you. And so, I was like,
well, honestly, I just want to live
in the same way that I would if I
hadn’t been gay. Is there the same
support for it? Not really. But that’s what
I’m always seeking to live into– oftentimes
in Christian theology, there’s this conversation around
the already and the not yet, right, around eschatology. And that’s like the
end times theology. But also just the
question of, we’re living into this
new creation that’s been inaugurated by Jesus
in which all things will be redeemed, and all
things will be made new. But we’re not there yet. And so there’s that tension. But I think we need
some people who are seeking to live
into the not-yet, or seeking to live
into– seeking to bring more of the
not-yet into the already. In the sense of,
if I want churches to be creating the
support system for people like me to be able to pursue
a relationship in a family in the same way that we thought
we could back when we didn’t realize we were gay,
then we’re going to need some people who are
just living into– living in the anticipation of that. And so, that’s why that is
still how I want to live. And I think that there are
good theological reasons for that being and ideal that
I sort of discuss in the book. And I hope that by–
and I know there are a number of gay Christians
who feel the same way. But there are plenty of people
who don’t feel the same way. And other gay
Christians– or maybe did feel the same, feel
it’s practically impossible, or something. And so, that’s why
people– I just feel like there’s been enough
of a kind of shame-based culture around these topics that I’m
much more interested in saying, look– especially for people
who are LGBT Christians. I think people
should do their best. Strive to do your best. Do the best that you can. And that’s going to look
different for different people. Our goal is to be
modeling and showing, like, this is what really
positive, meaningful same-sex relationships
can look like. And so, I want people
to do their best to seek to live that out. But sometimes people’s
relationships will fail, or they’re going to
really bad relationships. And there’s no need for people
to feel like overwhelming shame about that. I just think it is helpful when
we have some gay Christians who have enough support, or
are just able to live more into anticipation of that. To be able to model
for people, like, this is what an option could be. And then to be able to present
that model in a much more non in-your-face, non
you-must-do-this or we’re going to bang a hammer
over your head way. But I would have just loved to
have seen actual role models doing that, when I came out. To say, I knew
that’s what I wanted, but I couldn’t find anybody
who’s doing that, right. And so, it’s still
kind of a tiny niche. But that’s at least how
I’m seeking to approach it. But I also think
that there has to be a lot of grace in
light of how much harm the church has directly
done on these very topics. AUDIENCE: Have you
had much experience talking with Christians who are
not evangelicals, or perhaps from traditions that are
far away from your own? Maybe Christians from
the orthodox tradition or far afield from your own? And is there any difference
in the sorts of conversations you have with them? MATTHEW VINES: There
is a lot of difference. And so, most of the
conversations I have will kind of be
in my wheelhouse. Theologically, I try not to
overstep my bounds, too much. So I’m much more interested
in a meeting– for instance, when it comes to Catholics, I’m
much more interested in meeting other LGBT Catholics
who are interested in and who care about
reforming their church, and helping equip them with–
I mean, the scriptures are not identical, of course, for
Catholics and Protestants. But on this issue,
the scriptural issues are pretty much the same. Of course, Catholics
have additional layers of theological discourse
around all issues. So there are important
areas of overlap. So I’m interested in
building those relationships and helping to equip
people in those contexts with a lot of the scriptural
resources that they need. But then, they’re
really going to have to be the ones who take that
and run with it– in terms of tailoring it to their
specific environment and denomination or theological
context, adding to it, refining it, adapting it. So I am rarely going
to be the person having– in terms of a lot of
the conversations that I have, it’s mostly going to be with
Protestant evangelical pastors and leaders. And once you get
to other contexts– I don’t want to be trying
to represent people when I know that there
are other people who know a lot more about their
particular context than I do. So that’s why I want to be just
building those relationships, seeking to equip and empower
to the extent that I can, to the extent that
it makes sense. But then, letting LGBT
Catholics or LGBT Orthodox Christians really take
the initiative on that. And so, then, the
last thing I would say is, that is a lot of what we do
with the Reformation Project, is bringing people from a
wide variety of backgrounds, equip them with these scriptural
resources and arguments. But then allow that
and seek to help them and empower them, as
they are the best people in their particular context. So we’re doing a conference. Our next big conference is
in Kansas City, November 5 through the 7. And we’re doing one in
LA, actually, next year. So if you’re interested,
you can follow us on Facebook or Twitter. You can sign up
for the conferences at Or if you can’t go but you
know family or friends you think would benefit from
it, you should send them. Because it’s really
sort of a great melting pot of traditions. And even though
the dominant group there would still probably
be evangelical Protestants. Of course, we have Catholics
and Orthodox Christians there, as well, who can really enrich
our understandings, too. JACK MCCLURE: Thanks
for that question. Thank you for being
with us today. I really appreciate the
integrity of the bring to the conversation, because
you’re open to other ideas, instead of being here to kind
of forcing anything on anybody. I appreciate that,
and especially from a perspective that’s a
little different, in terms of our trying to understand. But I think every
congregation, everybody is really coming together
in real interesting ways. At least we’re
having a discussion. And I appreciate that you
want a discussion and not an argument or a
fisticuffs, you know. MATTHEW VINES: Right. JACK MCCLURE: Thanks very
much for bringing that to the conversation. And with you, I am appreciative. Aren’t you, as well? So, thank you. [APPLAUSE] MATTHEW VINES: Well,
thank you so much.

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