Monday, August 10, 2015

The Suffering of LGBT People

“To all those who have suffered in silence for so long”

This is to whom Matthew Vines' new book is dedicated, and certainly caused me take a moment to consider the suffering of LGBT people.

I think Vines is on to something here. In fact, I agree with him that Lesbian / Gay / Bi-Sexual / Transgender people are suffering. Some suffering is caused by wicked people. For example, a man stabbed 6 people at a gay pride parade in Jerusalem a few weeks ago. That kind of violence is evil, and must be condemned by Christians. But most of the suffering LGBT people experience is brought on as a direct result of their sin. Sin produces suffering. It can only bring about misery and death: “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

In my Bible reading, I ran across this passage from Psalm 38:3-8 about our sin:
There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your indignation;
There is no health in my bones because of my sin.
For my iniquities are gone over my head;
As a heavy burden they weigh too much for me.
My wounds grow foul and fester
Because of my folly.
I am bent over and greatly bowed down;
I go mourning all day long.
For my loins are filled with burning,
And there is no soundness in my flesh.
I am benumbed and badly crushed;
I groan because of the agitation of my heart.

When we blatantly disobey God’s commands for our lives, this is the result. We lose sleep over our guilt. Sometimes we become sick because of how remorseful we feel. We mourn and groan, and become worse the more time goes on while we pretend everything’s A-Okay. I say all of this, not because I am better than homosexuals - because I’m not better than them. I’m just as sinful as they are. We both descended from Adam, the first man, and we both inherited our guilt from him. But I’m not surprised at all that LGBT people are miserable, because pretending that sin is a good thing will make you miserable! The only way to feel better is to make things right with your Maker.

My response to gay people is one of compassion. I can relate because I understand what it is to be tempted, and to sin. But it is because I love homosexuals that I will warn them of the truth: that God has prescribed for us a certain way to live, and that He is a holy God who is angry with sinners because of our sinful ways. I agree with John MacArthur who recently preached a sermon where he said that we need to warn unbelievers of the wrath to come. There is a final day of judgment coming where those who willfully remain in their sins will pay for their sins in Hell for all eternity.

If you love gay people, you will have compassion on them and warn them of God’s wrath to come. Their only hope is in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I’ll be completely honest with you: I’ve read some of the best books on both sides of this issue, and I was secretly hoping I could get by with listening to the audiobook version of Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. I was breezing through the book, when I realized about halfway through that it deserved even more attention from me. It isn’t that this book is revolutionary, or has a ton of new arguments - there’s really nothing new in his book. To be fair, Vines doesn’t claim to offer anything new. What he does try to do is make his arguments more accessible to a wider audience, and to help train people to infiltrate conservative churches to begin changing them from the inside. It’s because of his goals with this book, and the movement he’s helping along, that I decided to actually read the book.

Matthew Vines didn’t surprise me at all that he believes homosexuals can be true Christians. What threw me for a loop was that he claims to believe in a “high view” of Scripture:

"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, Vines).

Now having finished the book, I believe that Vines’ constant revisionism of Scripture, proves his above statement to be very very false.

"Instead of accepting the divide between more progressive Christians who support marriage equality and conservative Christians who oppose it, this book envisions a future in which all Christians come to embrace and affirm their LGBT brothers and sisters - without undermining their commitment to the authority of the Bible." (3, Vines).

If you’re not careful you might miss the fact that from beginning to end, Vines assumes what he never proves: there there is such a thing as “gay Christians.” He says later on:

"Same-sex attraction is completely natural to me. It's not something I chose or something I can change. And while I could act on my sexual orientation in lustful ways, I could also express it in the context of a committed, monogamous relationship. But based on the traditional interpretation of Scripture, I am uniquely excluded from the possibility of romantic love and intimacy." (29, Vines).

I’ll be the first to admit that I was wrong about how I thought of homosexuality for most of my adult life. Until the past few years, I oversimplified all homosexuals with this summary statement: “Homosexuality is a choice.” Now, I don’t completely disagree with this either, but it isn’t sufficient and doesn’t accurately explain every single person who experiences same-sex attraction. What I mean is that I believe there are those who willfully choose homosexual practices simply out of rebellion (consider teenage rebellion against their parents, as one example), and not primarily because they experience same-sex attractions. Others do have a predisposition to same-sex attractions, and have no opposite-sex attractions at all.

Having said this, it is important to point out that just because one experiences same-sex attractions, or has a particular predisposition for same-sex attractions, doesn’t make homosexuality a good and just thing. Not all attractions and/or predispositions are good, and everyone knows this. I know this. You know this. We all have our own particular sinful predispositions that we ought to struggle against. Some people have a short tempter, others steal, and some struggle against same-sex attraction.

How we feel is never a test for what is good and true. Sometimes I feel like hitting other drivers with my car … that is not a good feeling, and I am forbidden by God to act on this. In fact, the Scripture says this about us:

The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;

Who can understand it?
(Jeremiah 17:9)

One final point on the above quote from Vines: “But based on the traditional interpretation of Scripture, I am uniquely excluded from the possibility of romantic love and intimacy.” He is correct that God and the Bible condemn homosexual practice. This does mean that even if God did save Matthew Vines and he continued to only experience same-sex attractions, he would be required by God to remain celibate for life. Scripture never promises us that we will be married, or experience opposite-sex attractions.

However, there is hope for the Christian because our identity isn’t found in our sexual attractions. We are so much more than that. We are made in God’s image, and if you’re a Christian you are a redeemed child of God! Your purpose is to glorify Him, not to satisfy your sexual desires. Jesus said: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth, some who also were named as homosexuals: “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” (1 Corinthians 6:11). In other words, God radically transforms His redeemed saints. No longer are Christians known for their sin: it doesn’t (and can’t) define us, because the Lord has set us free from bondage to sin. The Scripture doesn’t promise that all sinful desire is removed from us in this life. Christians may well continue to have same-sex attractions after coming to personally know Jesus Christ. Even so, it would be completely inappropriate for Christians to identify themselves as homosexuals, because that is identifying with sin.

Vines’ primary argument recognizes that the Bible has nothing positive to say about homosexual practice. Instead, he tries to demonstrate that what the biblical writers addressed on this subject has nothing to do with our modern understanding of homosexuality:

"But let me say it again: When we study biblical writings about marriage and celibacy, the question is not whether Jesus, Paul, or anyone else endorsed same-sex marriage or whether they instead enjoined gay people to lifelong celibacy. They didn't directly do either one. As we saw in chapter 2, our understanding of same-sex orientation is uniquely modern, so the question we face is how to apply the basic principles of the Bible's teachings to this new situation." (48, Vines).
“We have to remember: what Paul was describing is fundamentally different from what we are discussing.” (103, Vines).

“Our question isn’t whether the Bible addresses the modern concepts of sexual orientation and same-sex marriage. We know it doesn’t. Instead, our question is: Can we translate basic biblical principles about marriage to this new situation without losing something essential in the process?”  (137, Vines).

What is truly amazing about this, and other similar statements in the book, is that he basically argues that the biblical writers (and ultimately God) didn’t understand our modern understanding of homosexuality and sexual orientation. Such a small god Matthew Vines claims to worship! Our heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can know it? Seemingly, according to Vines, with up-to-date psychology and our current cultural context, we can! The Scriptures have a different answer, however: “I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind” (Jeremiah 17:10). Isn’t the point of Scripture that we don’t know our hearts as well as we think, and instead we are to depend on the God who made us, because He made our heart and mind? 

Vines does spend a good portion of the book attempting to revise traditional interpretations of many of the common condemnations of homosexuality in Scripture. I believe he spent the most time on Romans 1, and for good reason. Paul is incredibly clear: homosexuality is a sin, just like other sins. It is the primary example that the Apostle used to demonstrate what happens to people when God removes His restraining hand. Matthew Vines says over and over again that Paul wasn't aware of loving, committed, monogamous same-sex relationships. He couldn't have had in mind our modern understanding of sexual orientation because pederasty and slave abuse was the most common form of same-sex relationships in Roman culture. 

Well, first off, Robert Gagnon demonstrates this argument to be utterly untrue in his book on the subject. Historically, Vines is simply wrong. There are documented cases of same-sex non-coercive relationships in ancient times. Biblically, Paul wasn't only condemning coercive homosexual practice (though that is certainly included), but the discussion in Romans 1 is regarding those who were mutually choosing to be involved. Paul said that they "burned in their desire toward one another." Clearly this can't be limited to coercive relationships between adults and boys, or slave-owners with slaves. 

“If the essence of marriage involves a covenant-keeping relationship of mutual self-giving, then two men or two women can fulfill that purpose as well as a man and a woman can.” (Page 137).

I wrote this in the margins next to this quote: “The words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ are haunting your argument throughout the entire book.” The essence of marriage is not defined in the way Vines attempts to redefine it. Jesus - God in human flesh - when asked about marriage in Matthew 19 (and surely knew of our future context), explained that marriage was between one man and one woman. He explained the gift of gender, and that we were created male and female from the beginning. As inconvenient as it is for Vines, and other revisionists like him, Jesus said that a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife. These two shall become one flesh. He cited the Genesis account as authoritative, and argued for its truthfulness, which we must still do today.

Our culture has changed so quickly on this and other issues, that at times I feel like just giving up, as though we had no hope. But then the Holy Spirit uses the Scriptures to convict me of my poor attitude and reminds of the promises of our God: “For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a skillful psalm. God reigns over the nations, God sits on His holy throne.” (Psalm 47:7-8). I believe we have a wonderful opportunity in this dark time, and that is to be bold and faithful witnesses for our King. We have been redeemed from our sins, and if we really believe the truth then we must speak of what we know to be true. The message we preach is foolishness to the world, but we have this promise also: “Many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord” (Psalm 40:3).

I couldn’t resist but adding and concluding with these words from Paul:
Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. (Philippians 2:14-16).

No comments:

Post a Comment