Turned Away, He Turned to the Bible

LISTEN TO MATTHEW VINES by copying and pasting this link:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezQjNJUSraY

This outstanding young man’s heartbreaking talk, seen by thousands on YouTube, presents an unemotional and rational argument based on extremely  well-researched scholarship.   Then read the NY Times story below.

The New York Times,    September 14, 2012


ONE year after Matthew Vines was forced to leave the Wichita, Kan., church he had attended since birth — not because he is gay, but because he tried to convince people there was nothing wrong with that — he was sitting facing a crowd of 235 Christians, most of them gay or lesbian, at the Marble Collegiate Church on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

Throughout the evening, various guests called him an inspiration and a messenger. One woman suggested he is an angel.

“Last year I felt like the only gay Christian,” Mr. Vines told the crowd last month, his hands noticeably shaking. “Now I feel like all Christians are gay. I suddenly have hundreds of Facebook friends who are gay Christians. So all right, we’re doing great!”

It was a rare moment of levity from a serious young man. At 22, Mr. Vines has emerged as an unlikely advocate (and lightning rod) for those straddling one of the most volatile fault lines in America’s culture war: homosexual Christians. As the country rushed to take sides over Chick-fil-A, J. C. Penney, the Boy Scouts and Michele Bachmann, Mr. Vines took a leave of absence from Harvard, where he was studying philosophy, to offer a lesson on the Bible and same-sex relations.

“It is simply a fact that the Bible does not discuss or condemn loving, gay relationships,” said Mr. Vines, eating an omelet at Tom’s Restaurant in Brooklyn the day after his church appearance. “The point is that these texts have a meaning, and the traditional reading of them is wrong. It is incorrect — biblically, historically, linguistically.”

The medium for Mr. Vines’s message is a lecture that he delivered, videotaped and posted to YouTube in March. In it, Mr. Vines tackles the traditional interpretations of all six Bible passages that refer to homosexual acts, arguing that they don’t actually condemn, or even address, the modern understanding of homosexuality.

It is a dense and scholarly presentation, drawing from history, theology, hermeneutics and ancient Greek. It is also suffused with emotion, particularly when Mr. Vines pleads with viewers to consider the plight of the modern gay Christian, who is effectively forced into celibacy.

“Falling in love is one of the worst things that could happen to a gay person,” Mr. Vines says early in the video, “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.”

In the six months it has been on YouTube, “The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality” has been viewed 350,000 times and generated nearly 7,000 comments — not bad given its 67-minute run time and lack of music, humor or even a second camera angle. It has been translated into six different languages, including French, German and Spanish, with Japanese, Korean and Arabic versions in the works. Churches as far away as Australia and South Africa have held public screenings of the video, and Mr. Vines has been invited to speak at churches from Washington, D.C., to Washington state.

“I had basically become a closeted Christian,” said Jim Augustine, 32, a member of Marble Collegiate Church who was instrumental in bringing Mr. Vines there to speak in August. “When I came into sexuality, I came out of Christianity. Matthew gave me the intellectual tools to get past that cognitive dissonance.”

FOR the devoutly religious Mr. Vines — who is small-framed and pale with dark, narrow eyes — convincing people that there is no contradiction in being gay and Christian has deep, personal roots.

In late 2009, just weeks after accepting that he was, in fact, homosexual, Mr. Vines decided to take a semester off from college so he could come out to his family and friends in Wichita. Knowing that his father would have trouble reconciling his sexual orientation with Scripture, Mr. Vines decided to arm himself with all available scholarship on the Bible and homosexuality.

He studied scholars like Martti Nissinen, professor of Old Testament studies at the University of Helsinki; Dale Martin, a professor of religious studies at Yale; and John Boswell, author of the seminal book on the topic, “Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality.” Eventually, at the request of a classmate, Mr. Vines compiled the information into a six-page research paper.

Some of the arguments were well known (Leviticus does not apply to Christians, for example); others less so, like the more plausible translations for the Greek term malakos, long interpreted as “effeminate” in the Corinthians passage listing those who won’t inherit the kingdom of God.

But key for Mr. Vines was the realization that every instance of homosexuality in the Bible represented excess lust, gang rape or “unnatural” acts committed by heterosexual men. Portrayals — much less condemnations — of naturally gay men, for whom opposite-sex relationships are not an option, simply never appear.

“That’s huge, that argument,” he said. “It’s key. It’s being made, but it needs to be made more, and more often.”

In 2011, Mr. Vines began using his knowledge to seek acceptance from his childhood church. One by one, he took parishioners to dinner and made his case. His father even helped him distribute his now eight-page paper to the church’s governing board.

“It was not well received,” Mr. Vines said. “So then I added six more pages to address some of their concerns and criticisms.” But it made no difference, and the Vineses eventually severed their relationship with the church they had attended for decades, a devastating move for the conservative Christian family.

Sad but not defeated, Mr. Vines resolved to take his message to a larger stage. He said he would turn his paper into “a resource that every gay Christian anywhere in the world who is struggling with this can access and can learn from.”

Within a few months, Mr. Vines had written a presentation, practiced it in front of his family, found a church that would let him speak and paid a local production company $500 to tape it. Once uploaded to YouTube, “The Gay Debate” quickly found an audience, admiring and otherwise.

In March, Dan Savage posted it on his blog and called it “brilliant.” Leonard Pitts Jr., syndicated columnist with The Miami Herald, called it “a masterwork of scriptural exegesis” in a column in May. In July, Mark Sandlin, a founder of The Christian Left, called it “the final nail in the ‘you’re being homophobic coffin’ ” in an article for The Huffington Post.

Less admiringly, James White, director of the Alpha and Omega Ministries in Phoenix, dedicated five hourlong podcasts to refuting, and sometimes belittling, Mr. Vines’s arguments. Matt Moore, a Christian blogger from Louisiana and self-described reformed homosexual, published a blistering 1,700-word rebuttal. Several YouTube commenters compared Mr. Vines to Satan.

Such responses are not surprising, said Terry Todd, associate professor of American religious studies at Drew University in Madison, N.J. While Mr. Vines’s arguments are based in solid religious scholarship, they have been argued before, and rarely to much effect.

“I think Matt’s arguments are unlikely to change many minds, especially among the leadership in the conservative Christian communities to which they are addressed,” Mr. Todd, who otherwise praises Mr. Vines’s bravery, wrote in an e-mail. “These same arguments, largely taken from a generation of biblical scholarship from mainstream academics, have circulated for decades in those communities.”

It is a criticism Mr. Vines has heard before, and one he does not entirely refute. “I’m not making new arguments,” he said, “and I would hope not to be, because you want them to be well substantiated scholarly.”

Novel or not, Mr. Vines’s arguments have made a difference to many young gay Christians struggling with issues of sexual identity. James Gooch, 21, from Princeton, W.Va., had just given up trying to “pray away the gay,” as he put it, and was struggling with depression when he came upon Mr. Vines’s video on Facebook two months ago.

“I was just compelled to tears,” he said in an interview. “I found my faith all over again in that video.” Mr. Gooch showed it to his parents as well, and says “it’s made all the difference for our family.” He has since come out to the rest of his family and friends, largely to “positive feedback.”

Beth Buchanan, a lesbian Christian in Miami, Okla., recently showed the video to her mother. “My mom cried at the end,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Since then she has been comfortable talking about homosexuality.”

Some heterosexual Christians say it has changed their minds, as well. Betsy Burns Johnson, 51, of Ottawa wrote a note on her Facebook page in May saying she was no longer so sure the Bible condemned homosexuality.

“Does it make me nervous to take such a radical stand against such a long standing belief in favour of that of a 21 year old gay boy from Kansas? YOU BET IT DOES,” she wrote. But “lets face it, many Biblical stands we take on issues are based very much on how these scriptures have been interpreted over the centuries by people other than ourselves.”

As long as Mr. Vines keeps hearing reactions like these (he said he has received thousands of e-mails, Twitter messages and Facebook friend requests), it is hard for him to imagine returning to Harvard anytime soon. For now, his plan is to continue promoting the video, be it through talk shows (supporters have been tweeting his video to Ellen DeGeneres), DVD sales or church appearances. “We need to get these arguments into the hands of people who need them,” he said.

But he is not yet comfortable in the spotlight, either. At a reception after his appearance at Marble Collegiate Church, Mr. Vines looked overwhelmed as he stood shaking hands with a line of well-wishers that stretched out the door.

“One woman asked me how to convince her parents that being gay wasn’t a choice,” Mr. Vines said the next day. “I wish I had time to answer a question like that.” He admits he has given up trying to answer all his e-mail.

For a sensitive and soft-spoken young man who spends most of his free time with his parents and said he had never had a boyfriend, such admiration poses a challenge of its own.

“I find it extremely fulfilling, but it’s not like I’m having a fun time,” Mr. Vines said. “I don’t want this to be a decades-long undertaking.”

In what could be as much a sign of his youth as his determination, Mr. Vines doesn’t think it needs to be.

“The base line for this issue should be no one in the world anywhere should be homophobic at all,” he said. “Once we get there, we can move on to other things.”

This entry was posted in Personal Stories. Bookmark the permalink.