Atonement and the Gay Christian

By Adam Ericksen 05-28-2014

Matthew Vines' book: "God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships."

Editor's Note: Don't miss the Sojo Story original video of Matthew Vines discussing his journey as a gay evangelical Christian who has immersed himself in seeking new and deeper understandings of what the Word has to say to us today on these profoundly important issues.

Matthew Vines has done us an incredible service by writing his book God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. Matthew’s book is an articulate and engaging argument for Christians to support same-sex relationships. It is a great book and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in debate over Christianity and the support of same-sex relationships.

I appreciate this book for primarily two reasons. First, Matthew presents scholarship on the topic in a thoughtful way that won’t bore you to death. If you’ve already done your homework on the topic you probably won’t find anything new, but by reading this book you will encounter scholarly arguments in an engaging way. There are other books on the topic, of course, but what makes Matthew’s book different than most of them is that this is an engaging page turner.

Matthew skillfully debunks many of the arguments against same-sex marriage throughout the book and replaces them with arguments to support same-sex marriage. He not only takes a look at the biblical “clobber texts,” the six passages in the Bible often used to denounce same-sex relationships, but he also takes a look at the historical and cultural context of the ancient world’s view of sexuality. His argument is convincing. I encourage you to buy the book for yourself and for anyone you know who is open to hearing his side of the debate.

Which leads me to the second reason that I appreciate God and the Gay Christian. Matthew’s arguments, which I find convincing, won’t be convincing to others. (That may sound like a criticism of the book, but stick with me.) Matthew’s arguments that the ancient view of sexuality is not like our modern view of sexual orientation, that the biblical passages aren’t talking about committed same-sex relationships but rather abusive relationships, and that the meaning of biblical marriage is fully compatible with same-sex marriage won’t be convincing to those on the other side of the debate. Extended members of my family wouldn’t be convinced by those arguments. That they find those arguments unconvincing is not due to the fact that they are bad, homophobic people; it’s due to the fact that they are human.

Facts and arguments rarely change anyone’s mind. In fact, at least one study shows that when presented with facts people become “even more strongly set in their beliefs.” Why? Because nobody wants to be wrong. This is true for liberals, conservatives, and everyone in between. Arguments don’t work because nobody wants to be wrong. Being wrong threatens our sense of self, our very identity. In most cases arguments only serve to reinforce someone’s previously held position. Arguments simply don’t work to convince people on the other side of this, or any other, debate.

Matthew, I think, knows this. For those looking for arguments for supporting same-sex relationships, the book is worth reading. But throughout the book Matthew provides us with something more important than intellectual arguments.

God and the Gay Christian is delightfully personal. Interspersed between the scholarly arguments, Matthew tells the story of how he came out to his parents. His personal story is worth the price of the book because Matthew models how to be in loving, committed relationships with people on the other side of the debate.

Matthew’s parents were strict conservatives on this topic and at first were disappointed in Matthew. His dad even stated that the day Matthew came out “was the worst day of his life.” And yet, his parents continued to love Matthew. People who affirm same-sex relationship can often demonize those who don’t affirm it, but Matthew won’t let us do that. He says that, “Ours is a Christian family story. It is also a loving loyal, confused church story.” If that sounds like every Christian family and church story to you, that’s because it is. Families and churches are messy places because humans tend to be messy. And yet, Matthew never demonizes the other side. Rather, he beautifully models how to be in a compassionate relationship with the “other,” those with whom we disagree.

Atonement and the Same-Sex Marriage Debate

I’m convinced that the relational aspect that Matthew models is the most important aspect of his book, and I’d like to talk about it in terms of the Christian doctrine of Atonement. Christian tradition claims the primary place we find atonement, or reconciliation, with God, one another, and creation is on the cross. The Atonement changes our pattern of relating to our fellow human beings. The pattern that it changes is the sinful pattern of scapegoating. We have a natural ability of creating an “other,” either someone or a group that we label as “bad.” Jesus, for example, was labeled “bad” by the religious and political establishment. He was determined to be a heretic and a threat to the political order, so he was crucified.

Now, normal human relationships tend to be tit for tat, eye for an eye, life for a life. Jesus would have had every right to respond to the violence against him with violence of his own. If he would have done that he would have created atonement by the rules of the old order that influenced every human culture. But Jesus created a new order for a new human culture through nonviolence and forgiveness. His words of forgiveness from the cross changes our pattern of scapegoating others into a new pattern of compassionate forgiveness that extends to all people.

Jesus atoned for our sin and brought reconciliation, not through intellectual argument, but through revealing a new pattern of relating to others through compassion, love, and forgiveness.

So buy the book for an engaging presentation of the scholarly arguments for a Christian support of same-sex relationships, but even more importantly, buy the book to read how Matthew and his dad model Christ’s reconciling atonement. But beware, because if you do your presuppositions and scapegoating of the other side will be challenged.

For both sides of this debate, that challenge is a good thing.

Adam Ericksen blogs at the Raven Foundation, where he uses mimetic theory to provide social commentary on religion, politics, and pop culture. Follow Adam on Twitter@adamericksen.

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