Last year, Matthew Vines of Wichita, Kansas gave an hour-long speech at a local church, arguing that, contrary to traditional interpretations of Scripture, the Bible is not anti-gay. Vines took time off from Harvard to study Scripture and write a research paper on the subject, which he eventually expanded into the following lecture:
The video has been watched nearly half a million times, and has been responded to by multiple evangelical theologians, e.g. this article and this link, the latter of which involves a five-hour podcast outlining the reasons why Vines’ interpretation is incorrect. (For the record, I cannot overemphasize how irritating I find the headline “Gay Christianity Refuted”. Also, writing “loving” in quotation marks? Really? I guess it’s not that surprising).
Now, Vines is launching his own non-profit organization called The Reformation Project, which aims to train LGBT Christians and then send them back to their home churches in the hopes of reforming traditional views of homosexuality. (Do yourself a favor and don’t read the YouTube comments).
I admit that these videos tug at my heartstrings
a little like nobody’s business. Not because I understand this sort of rejection for even a minute, but because there has been too much of it for this not to be an issue in Christian churches around the world.
In case I haven’t made it painfully obvious, I’m rooting for Vines to succeed, or at least make some inroads into the homophobia that exists in our churches. And yes, it is usually homophobia; “love the sinner, hate the sin” arguments in this area rarely come from a purely compassionate place. As I’ve written before, abstracting issues as personal as sexuality is incredibly hurtful. The following quotation from Vines’ speech demands that churches talk about – or at least think about – their stances on homosexual relationships:
Within the traditional interpretation of Scripture, falling in love is one of the worst things that could happen to a gay person. Because you will necessarily be heartbroken, you will have to run away, and that will happen every single time that you come to care about someone else too much. So while you watch your friends fall in love, get married, and start families, you will always be left out. You will never share in those joys yourself – of a spouse and of children of your own. You will always be alone.
Vines’ exhortations and Scriptural interpretations aren’t necessarily new ones, but the enduring homophobia in our churches means that these conversations still need to be had.
More than a few questions remain. It remains unclear as to what “changing church communities from within” will specifically entail. Will Reformation Project leaders be debating pastors in churches across the country? Will they be holding their own seminars? Given how different Christian churches are in the US and around the world, I worry that Vines’ team might not always be able to support their leaders in the most effective way. “Resources” are not nearly as useful if there is a dissonance between what they can provide and how each individual church works.
Second, I wonder if this could lead to both reformations and schisms. If a Reformation Project leader successfully transforms their church into a community that rejects the traditional view of homosexuality, what would that do to that church’s relationship with other churches? This is particularly relevant if said church is part of a denomination (e.g. Catholic). In any case, Vines has already demonstrated a tremendous amount of courage and ambition, and he already has a fair amount of press. If this becomes something big (as he hopes it to), we might be witnessing something of a split within modern Christianity – or, depending on how you choose to look at it, a “new front” in the culture wars.
I can’t say that the deck is stacked in Vines’ favor. If his project is to succeed, it won’t be enough to have the support of Dan Savage or an article in the New York Times. His ideas need to resonate strongly enough to reverse centuries of Christian history. And no doubt the same prominent theologians (and their friends) who rejected his original speech will be lined up and ready to fight his efforts.