The heart is an artist that paints over what profoundly disturbs us, leaving on the canvas a less dark, less sharp
version of the truth.
-Dean Koontz, Forever Od
When you love someone, you hope they’re right.
If they’re wrong, you can confront their wrong while praying they come to see the truth, or you can revisit the truth itself and see if might reconsider, be flexible, change its stance. The notorious story of comedian W.C. Fields comes to mind, in which someone sees him on his death bed perusing the Bible and asks him what he’s doing
“Just checkin’ to see if there are any loopholes.”
Enter Matthew Vines, an articulate, intelligent young man claiming to be both Christian and openly gay, whose new book God and the Gay Christian provides, to my thinking, just the sort of loopholes Fields had in mind. Having read then re-read Vines, I’m impressed by his verbal artistry, the kind which, as Koontz describes above, paints over the Bible’s clear condemnation of homosexuality and leaves on the canvas a more gay-friendly, but definitely less sharp, version of the truth.
No wonder it’s made such a splash. If you deeply love someone who’s homosexual, and are just as deeply convinced God disapproves, it could be a mighty relief to hear someone offer a new, improved version of the Bible assuring you that your loved one and God are just fine, thank you, and that his homosexuality is acceptable. No more worries about consequences in this life or the next; no more concerns about how or when the Prodigal will return. Who doesn’t want to
And in Vines, both the message and messenger are well packaged. His writing is clear and persuasive; his position as a Bible believing evangelical is stressed throughout the book. Whereas other pro-gay apologists admit to a liberal view of scripture, Vines defends the authority of the Bible and the basics of the faith quite well. I believe he’s sincere and that he cares deeply about the basics he defends, making him all the more credible to Christian readers who are susceptible to un-Biblical reassurances and not well grounded in sound doctrine. (Which describes, sad to say, way too many of today’s believers – the fact this book was published through evangelical channels is but one of many proofs of how doctrinally weak we’ve become.)
In two prior posts we’ve assessed his take on the complimentary nature of the male/female union, and on Levitcal references to male homosexuality. Today let’s look at Vine’s take on the teachings of Christ Himself
Did Jesus Say Anything About It? If So, What?
I was glad, when reading Vine’s remarks about the Gospels, to see he declined the standard revisionist arguments we’re accustomed to hearing when it comes to Jesus and homosexuality.
Frequently pro-gay apologists will claim Jesus said nothing about the subject, so it can’t have mattered to Him. That’s a weak defense, considering Jesus also said nothing (at least in the gospel accounts) about bestiality, spousal abuse, or incest, yet no one would claim His silence on those behaviors suggested approval of them. And since John said all the books ever written couldn’t contain all He did (John 21:25) we cannot know all of what He did or did not say, nor do the gospel accounts claim to have recorded all His words.
Besides which, while it’s true that in the gospels He didn’t mention certain sexual sins, homosexuality included, He did clarify God’s intention for the marital union as being monogamous, permanent, independent, and heterosexual. (Matthew 19:4-6) All of which makes the “Jesus said nothing” argument a flimsy one and, to his credit, Vines seems to realize this.
He also avoided what I consider to be a silly, modern attempt to sexualize the relationship between the Centurion who approached Jesus, and his servant who was seriously ill. (Matthew 8:5-10) Some have argued that since the Centurion loved his servant deeply, and since some Centurions allegedly had sexual relations with their servants, then it logically follows that the Centurion and his servant were lovers, and that Jesus both healed a gay man and commended the faith of his sexual partner. But reading sex into this account is as presumptuous as assuming that if a boss says he cares about his secretary, since some bosses sleep with their secretaries, he must also, therefore, be sleeping with her. Vines again shows good common sense by leaving this one alone.
Good Fruit, Good Tree, Case Closed
But he offers instead a curious argument for a pro-homosexual view of scripture, in which he confidently states:
“Jesus test is simple. If something bears bad fruit, it cannot be a good tree. And if something bears good fruit, then it cannot be a bad tree.” (p. 14)
He then goes on to explain that many homosexual people show evidence of good fruit in their lives. Conversely, when homosexual people try to suppress their sexual desires, it produces bad fruit, evidenced in the depression, dysfunction, and even suicides of some who’ve tried saying “no” to their same-sex inclinations.
Equally bad fruit, he claims, comes from anti-homosexual teaching and attitudes, both of which damage homosexuals.
Likewise, he claims, good fruit comes when gay Christians accept their orientation as normal and God given, and find partnership in marriage with someone of the same sex. It also comes when people affirm their homosexual friends and loved ones, rather than hold to the view that homosexuality is sin. Thereby everyone involved is happier, healthier, and more self-accepting, all of which points to good fruit, which can only come from good trees.
Pointing to happy, high functioning homosexual people who claim a Christian identity and lead respectable lives, Vines assumes the case is closed since they, as good fruit bearers, must likewise be good trees in God’s sight.
But is this either/or paradigm really what Jesus proposed?
If so, then common sense tells us everyone qualifies for both categories, because we all at times display good fruit, at other times, something less. Peter popped out some terrific fruit – getting the revelation of who Christ was, for example (Matthew 16:17) or walking on water with the Lord (Matthew 14:28) or preaching the seminal sermon of Church history in Acts 2. (Not to mention other great moments of ministry recorded in Acts, and his authorship of I and II Peter.) He also produced some pretty bad fruit when he denied the Lord (Mark 14: 66-72) rebuked Jesus for declaring His intention to die (Mark 18:32) and refused to eat with Gentiles for fear of Jewish disapproval. (Galatians 2:11-14) Hence the same Lord who said “Blessed art thou Simon Jonah” in Matthew 16:17 could, a mere seven verses later, thunder at him “Get behind me Satan.” (Matthew 16:23)
Peter brought forth both good and bad fruit, so which tree was he?
For that matter, what do we make of Paul, who admitted he at times did what he didn’t want to do, and at other times didn’t do what he should? (Romans 7:19) Or of the churches at Ephesus, Pergamos, Thyatira, and Sardis, all of whom got very mixed reviews from Jesus when He noted their good and bad points? (Revelation chapters 2-4) In all these cases, both good and bad fruit, to varying degrees, came from the same trees. So is the fruit question really “either/or?”
Each Fruit on its Own Merit
Comparing scripture to scripture, we see Jesus must have meant something less simplistic when He described trees and their fruit, a point Matthew Henry well makes in his commentary on Matthew 7:
“But then that must be reckoned the fruit of the tree which it brings forth naturally and which is its genuine product-which it brings forth plentifully and constantly and which is its usual product. Men are known, not by particular acts, but by the course and tenor of their conversation, and by the more frequent acts.”
In other words, the fact good fruit comes from someone cannot legitimize everything they do, no more than bad fruit discounts all other good blossoming in a man or woman’s life. Thereby, if someone is openly homosexual, no doubt good fruit can come from them, fruit which is indeed wholesome but cannot validate all other parts of their lives.
I saw this in play when I was part of a pro-gay church in the early 1980’s, a church attended mostly by people claiming to be both gay and Christian, and teaching a pro-gay version of the Bible. Many of us prayed together, did charitable works, worshipped regularly, studied the Bible weekly, and shared the gospel with non-believers. All the while claiming, and acting upon, an openly lesbian or gay identity.
I even remember one Halloween night when my male partner and I joined our lesbian pastor and her partner to pray – and I mean long, hard intercessory prayer – for the kids who were out trick or treating, and against any demonic influences coming into play during the evening. How many conservative pastors do
So good fruit can and does come from people who are wrong in critical areas, and bad fruit can likewise come from people whose lives are generally in line with sound doctrine. I’ll be the first to agree with Vines that many homosexuals bear good fruit in their lives, sometimes more than I’ve seen in many heterosexuals. I could say the same of people involved in other equally serious moral or doctrinal errors. But bad fruit – sin, for example, of any kind – cannot be justified by the fruit-bearer’s other good qualities. It’s got to be judged on its own, weighed against a higher and holier standard.
In our next posting we’ll look at Vine’s interpretation of Paul’s references to homosexuality, in Romans 1, I Corinthians, and I Timothy.
And in our final post we’ll examine more closely the claims that traditional teaching on homosexuality damages gay and lesbian people, and on other claims Vines has made about the modern church and its approach to the issue.
Please join us.
And for more information about the pro-gay interpretation of scripture see my book The Gay Gospel? How Pro-Gay Advocates Misread the Bible at joedallas.com.