by Matthew Vines
Convergent Books, New York, N.Y. 224 pages
REVIEWED BY JONATHAN SAUR
When I was 20 years old, I asked a professor at the community college I was attending to recommend a book on the history of AIDS. Like many young evangelicals at the time, I had become interested in the AIDS crisis in Africa and wanted to learn more. Knowing my religious commitments and wanting to broaden my perspective, my professor slyly referred me to “ … And the Band Played On” by Randy Shilts. Trusting the professor, I purchased and read the book — though it was clearly not about AIDS in Africa.
The book chronicles the early years of AIDS in the United States, from around 1979 to the death of actor Rock Hudson. The book also chronicles the ways in which evangelicals were either largely indifferent towards AIDS in those early years or openly antagonistic to the gay communities being ravaged by the disease.
Since then, rightly or wrongly (I think rightly), I have viewed the interaction between evangelical culture and LGBTQ culture through the tragic lens of Shilts’ book. In the 11 years since I read the book, I have continued to watch evangelicals fail to realize the context in which many in the LGBTQ community receive the anti-gay rhetoric. And, until recently, I had failed to see any reason to believe the situation would change in any significant way.
However, Matthew Vines’ recent book, “God and the Gay Christian,” has given me hope that the dynamics are finally changing. Vines is an openly gay Christian who professes the vast majority of the tenets of evangelical Christianity, yet argues for full inclusion of monogamous same-sex marriages throughout the church.
Vines freshens a stale debate. Rather than assuming that one stance on same-sex marriage is “traditional” while the other is “progressive,” Vines asserts that a new category has emerged due to our understanding of human sexual orientation. Arguing that our understanding of sexual orientation is new and was completely absent from the world of Scripture, Vines argues that one of our traditions must change, either celibacy or marriage. Therefore, no stance on same-sex marriage is truly “traditional,” but any stance represents a departure from the church’s traditions.
If one adopts the traditional view of marriage, then one must adopt an unorthodox view of celibacy. Vines displays how celibacy has never been something forced upon believers, but was always a way of life freely chosen by believers. Gay Christians, however, have celibacy forced upon them by the church’s current position on same-sex marriage. Therefore, according to Vines, whatever we do, we are deviating from the church’s traditions, either on marriage or on celibacy. Vines offers arguments for why marriage should be the tradition adjusted, and not celibacy.
Regardless of whether or not one accepts Vines’ argument, the tone in which he writes is a sign of hope. I have prayed that evangelicals would stop seeing themselves as victims in the “culture wars,” but would instead become aware of the wrongs done by an earlier evangelical generation to the LGBTQ community, as chronicled by Shilts. I have become convinced that it will take a new generation coming into power before the two communities are able to be truly reconciled. My prayer is that Vines’ book is a step in that process.
JONATHAN SAUR is a candidate for ministry in Los Ranchos Presbytery and a student at Fuller Seminary.