Can a Christian Be Gay?: The New Question in Evangelicalism

There is a new book making waves in evangelicalism with its release today. God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships by Matthew Vines sets out to change 2,000 years of church history (and thousands more of Jewish history) regarding Scriptural teaching on homosexuality.

The promotional material for the book claims that it provides a way to interpret key biblical texts related to homosexuality that “honors those who are different and the authority of Scripture.” The unique feature of this book is that Vines claims to hold that Scripture is authoritative on this issue. He writes, “Like most theologically conservative Christians, I hold what is often called a ‘high view’ of the Bible. That means I believe all of Scripture is inspired by God and authoritative for my life. While some parts of the Bible address cultural norms that do not directly apply to modern societies, all of Scripture is ‘useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness’ (2 Timothy 3:16–17, NRSV)” (p. 2).

Vines first reached popularity when the video of his teaching in a church went viral. From that point forward, he has been the “go-to man” for affirming homosexuality within the text of Scripture.

As others have noted, Vines has not actually presented any new arguments for interpreting Scripture in support of homosexuality. Most of his arguments come from well-established books on this issue by John Boswell, Robin Scroggs, and others. The difference, however, is that he claims to believe the inspiration and authority of Scripture—unlike previous authors.

In contrast to what Vines claims, this book has the potential to do great damage to people’s faith in the authority and veracity of Scripture. Vines applies a cultural hermeneutic to the text of the Bible, interpreting God’s Word through the lens of the gay rights movement. In addition, he elevates personal experience—specifically his own story—to a place of authority over the text. If Scripture and experience come into tension, he believes that experience must win out.

I have interacted with Vines’ work before in a series of articles that can be found here. While I believe that Vines is wrong on the interpretation of Scripture, we cannot simply ignore his work. He stands to be a major voice for people who want to remove the tension between Scripture and homosexuality.

At the end of the day, however, I am always drawn back to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:9–11. He writes, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

I deal with the terms “effeminate” and “homosexuals” in other articles, but I want to note what Paul says at the end of this passage. After listing a number of sins that are condemned in Scripture, he states, “Such were some of you. . . .” We see here that members of the church in Corinth were former fornicators, former idolaters, former adulterers, former homosexuals, etc. The reason they are no longer these things is that they were washed, sanctified, and justified “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” These are no longer the behaviors of people who claim to be Christians. This is not where they find their identity anymore. The power of Christ can overcome these sins—including homosexuality.

Below are resources from me responding to Matthew Vines’ views on homosexuality and the Bible.

Is Being Alone a Sin?: Answering Matthew Vines Part 1

Are Homosexual Relationships “Unnatural”?: Answering Matthew Vines Part 2

Does the Denial of Same-Sex Marriage Inflict Undue Pain?: Answering Matthew Vines Part 3

What Did Jesus Teach about Homosexuality?: Answering Matthew Vines Part 4

Lillian Kwon, “Theologians Find Vines’ ‘Homosexuality Is Not a Sin’ Thesis Not Persuasive,” The Christian Post, September 28, 2012. (Quoted throughout article)

Abortion and Self-Ownership

Where does the right of self-ownership come from? Is the pro-abortion argument that a woman can do whatever she wishes with her body actually grounded in any theological or philosophical ideas? How does argument relate to the supposed right to abortion in the United States?

Canon & Culture, a project of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, published a piece I wrote on the issue of abortion and self-ownership. Here is an excerpt:

Last July I boarded a bus and drove down to Austin for a pro-life rally on the steps of the Texas State Capitol. We arrived more than an hour before the scheduled start time of the rally, so I had the opportunity to take in my surroundings and observe the arguments being made by the abortion-rights protestors. In what was often crass language, the abortion-rights argument being made at the Capitol that day essentially boiled down to one point—a woman has the right to do what she wants with her own body. This can be described as a right to privacy based upon self-ownership.

Since this right is not explicitly spelled out in the Constitution, where does it find its origin? In contemporary jurisprudence, the right to do what you want with your own body (i.e., the right to privacy) is drawn from the “penumbras” and “emanations” of the Bill of Rights according to Griswold v. Connecticut and out of the 14th Amendment’s restriction on the state from depriving “any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Applied to the abortion issue, these ideas regarding the right to privacy form the foundation of the Roe v. Wade decision that opened the door for abortion on demand. However, the supposed “right to privacy” found in the Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment still does not make self-ownership clear.

Even though most abortion-rights proponents do not make the explicit connection, the right of self-ownership is typically attributed to the work of John Locke in The Second Treatise of Government. Locke writes, “Though the earth and all inferior creatures be common to all men, yet every man has property in his own person. This nobody has any right to but himself” (V.27). There is no doubt that John Locke’s work was very influential upon the Founders of the United States, and language from the Second Treatise appears directly in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. However, are we correct in inferring a right to self-ownership of our bodies from Locke?

You can read the rest of the article here.

*You may notice that this article is a little more academic than what I usually post on my website, but that is the purpose of Canon & Culture. Their purpose is “to help build and strengthen the church’s social, ethical, and moral witness by providing thoughtful content from leading thinkers that inspires a rising generation of evangelicals to think Christianly about the public square and the common good.”

Biblically Correct on RightNow Media

I have mentioned before that I worked last summer on a Bible study for my home church to use in the fall. At the end of November, Biblically Correct became available in book form. I am now happy to announce that the video series from the women’s ministry at Bellevue Baptist Church is now available on RightNow Media.

Biblically Correct is a 10-week study addressing issues of ethics and culture from a biblical perspective. My goal was to point others to Scripture as the source of authority in engaging culture with truth. The men’s and women’s ministries at Bellevue taught through the study in the fall, and the women’s ministry produced videos from their large-group teaching time. The teachers in the videos are Donna Gaines (wife of Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue) and Jean Stockdale (long-time MOMs teacher at Bellevue).

RightNow Media is a subscription based service providing high-quality Bible study materials for churches. A church can buy a subscription and have the entire RightNow Media library accessible to its members. Your church will need a subscription to view the videos, but the link to the study is available here.

If your church does not have a subscription but you would still like to see the videos, they are still available on Bellevue’s website.

If you are interested in purchasing the Biblically Correct book, you can find it on Amazon and the CreateSpace store.

Coming Soon: Biblically Sound: Embracing Doctrine for Life (should be available in May).

Guest Post: If My Work All Day Goes Unnoticed, Did It Really Matter?

This is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here.

We all know the age-old question, “If a tree falls in the middle of the forest, does it make any noise?” What is really being asked is this, “If something happens and a person does not see it, did it really happen?” Many days, this is a question that is unconsciously dancing in the back of my mind. As a wife and mom, many things I do are not observed by other people.

If no one sees my work, did I really do anything all day? And does it matter if I metaphorically “fall down” if no one witnesses it? The answer is a resounding YES in God’s eyes!

Even if no one is taking notice, we still have an audience of one.

Our culture presents a great temptation to constantly perform for others. The increased use of social media in the last few years has only heightened it. Everyone wants to stand out, be noticed, speak up, and have a voice. If we fade into the crowd, get overlooked, are ignored, or are silenced, we become discouraged and begin to believe that whatever we are doing must not matter. However, in God’s economy, the exact opposite is true.

All throughout Scripture, God shows favor on the unnoticed one. He uses the meek or common to make an extraordinary impact.

One of the greatest examples is the contrast set up between King Saul and King David. When Saul is first described, it is in comparison to other men. “There was not a more handsome person than he among the children of Israel. From his shoulders upward, he was taller than any of the people”  (1 Sam 9:2). Saul was a man that others noticed. However, in regard to his heart before God, Samuel describes it as rebellious and stubborn and declares, “because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king” (1 Sam 15:23).

Saul received the praise of men, but was rejected by God.

In contrast, when God chooses David to be king, he is lowly in comparison to his brothers. The fact that God had to instruct Samuel to “not look at his appearance or at his physical stature” (1 Sam 16:7) reveals that David might not have been too impressive in those categories. On the stage among peers, David might have been overlooked.

However, God is an audience of one, and he notices the heart and takes heed of actions and attitudes that go completely unnoticed by others. 

David wrote many of the Psalms from the inside of a cave as he ran and hid from Saul. No one was there to hear his words. It was only him crying out to God. Alone. Now, let’s use the proverbial question at the beginning of this article, “If David cried out in a cave alone in the wilderness, did anyone hear him?” According to scripture, the answer is YES God heard him. God heard him and thought that David’s raw emotions and words were so powerful that He saw it fit to place them in Scripture as a testimony for all eternity of how we too can cry out to God in the deepest and darkest places.

In college, I had the privilege of studying under Dr. Les Hughes who is now the pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. He wrote a book called, The Sound of God’s Applause that has been very powerful in my life and in the life of my husband.  In one of his chapters, he asks several questions that encourage the reader to reflect on the question “Am I seeking the approval of people?” As I have read through those questions many times, I am constantly convicted about how much stock I put in other’s opinions of me.

I have found that, as my desire to please others increases, my concern over pleasing God decreases. As I put more and more stock in what others know of me, I put less and less importance on how God deeply knows me.

Even if no one else sees the work or deeds that I do, God sees.

Even deeper, He sees the attitude of my heart. I want to learn to truly serve others, expecting nothing in return.  I desire to be content in doing good deeds, not for the applause of men, but for the pleasure of my Father.  It does not matter if no one else takes notice; it is God’s applause that I crave.

Are Corporations People Too?: Hobby Lobby and Religious Liberty

Supreme_Court_US_2010Who would have ever imagined that a craft store chain owned by a Christian family would be at the center of a Supreme Court case about sexuality, abortifacient drugs, the role of corporations, and religious liberty? Oral arguments were heard today in the Supreme Court case Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby. The central point of the case is whether or not the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby and Mardel Christian bookstores, has the right to exercise their religious freedom in opting out of the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate requiring employer-provided health plans to offer emergency birth control drugs at no charge to their employees. The Greens have objected on religious grounds that such emergency birth control options are tantamount to abortion and that providing abortion-inducing drugs is a violation of their deeply held religious beliefs.

Trying to predict what the Supreme Court will decide is an exercise in futility, so I will not go down that road. However, I do want to highlight a few interesting notes from today’s oral arguments.

The first is not all that surprising (and possibly not all that interesting)—the high court appears divided. From the best one can tell from the questioning, the Supreme Court is split 4-4 with Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor apparently siding with the government and Roberts, Thomas, Scalia, and Alito leaning towards Hobby Lobby. This leaves Justice Anthony Kennedy as the deciding vote in an otherwise divided Court. This is familiar territory for the current version of the Supreme Court.

The second item of note is that the role of a corporation seems to be a big question. Some of the liberal justices seemed to imply that corporations should simply be able to pick up the tab for the healthcare expenses or fees for not providing healthcare with no impact on the business or the economy. They did not seem to take into account that these healthcare costs have to be paid by someone and that the costs would most likely be passed along to the customer. Justices Kagan and Sotomayor also pressed Paul Clement, the attorney arguing for Hobby Lobby, about whether corporations could opt out of other healthcare options for their employees. Lyle Denniston reports that they “suggested that if corporations gain an exemption from having to provide birth-control services for their female employees, then the next complaint would be about vaccinations, blood transfusions, and a whole host of other medical and non-medical services that a company or its owners might find religiously objectionable.”

On the other hand, Justice Alito pushed back against Solicitor General Donald Verrilli regarding the purpose of corporations. He asked the Solicitor General if the only purpose of corporations was to “maximize profits.” If the object is only to maximize profits, then corporations would have no other rights. However, if corporations serve other purposes, then they might have the right to protection under the free exercise of religion clause in the First Amendment.

The third item is the most interesting development in my opinion. It relates to the rights of a corporation to make a claim regarding discrimination. The government argued that for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby have no standing to file a claim against the government based on religious discrimination. On the surface this seems to make sense because corporations are not churches, nor are they individuals with religious beliefs. However, the government has already held that corporations can file claims based on racial discrimination. In the same sense, corporations are not individuals of a particular race or ethnicity. The racial discrimination claims have typically been based on the race and ethnicity of the owners.

Applying the same standard to the religious freedom aspect of the Hobby Lobby case, it would appear that the Green family’s deeply held religious beliefs (and clear articulation of those beliefs in company documents) would provide the corporation with the same protections as those guaranteed to them as individuals. This argument could prove to be central in the upcoming decision of the Court.

Once again, we will be left to wait for months until hearing the decision of the Supreme Court that will most likely come in June. Until then, it is futile to speculate what the Court will decide. However, there is one thing that we can do. We can pray for the justices of the Supreme Court that God would grant them wisdom in judging these matters. We should pray for godly wisdom that they would rule according to God’s will. We should pray that they would value life in the way that God values life—seeing those in the womb as no different than a full-grown adult (Psalm 139:13–16).

I urge you to join me in prayer for John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. The future of religious liberty in the United States is in their hands.
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Lyle Denniston, “Argument recap: One hearing, two dramas,” SCOTUSblog, March 25, 2014.

Derrick Morgan, Hans von Spakovsky, and Elizabeth Slattery, “How the Supreme Court Justices Reacted to Today’s Hobby Lobby Arguments,” The Foundry, March 25, 2014.

Ilya Shapiro, “Is There No Alternative to Forcing People to Violate Their Religious Beliefs?” Cato Institute, March 25, 2014.