THE FATAL FLAW IN THE MATTHEW VINES, ALBERT MOHLER GAY DEBATE
AN ARGUMENT OVER “AUTHORITY”
Matthew Vines, a young writer just published for God and the Gay Christian and then immediately critiqued (in over 100 pages!) by Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Seminary, belongs with a wider phenomenon not especially edifying for the (American) churches in the intensity of its obsession and the levels of alarmist statement it can engender. (According to how we respond the gospel itself is said to be at stake!).
American churches already have something to answer for in the way their beliefs and attitudes have poisoned public life from Africa to Russia as regards gays encouraging, however unintentionally, vigilante violence and open social and legal discrimination. The current conservative backlash is not helpful to the soul life of gays inside or outside the churches; if anything it is rather selfish and reduces things to some kind of theological boxing match that is no glory to God.
But faced with this latest round in the Christian-gay controversy it might sound strange, especially coming from someone who sufficiently esteems scripture not to count as a dyed in the wool theological liberal, to propose that a great flaw in the current debate is the approach to the “authority” of the Bible. This is something seen in their different ways by gay Matthew Vines and straight Albert Mohler as absolute, though of course Mohler is accusing Vines of undermining biblical “authority” even while he defends it.
Where understanding of homosexuality is concerned, Vines wants and is promoting a “New Reformation”. But what is really needed is a “New Reformation” away from a rigid, purely sola scriptura treatment of every subject towards a new position where at very least scripture is permitted to critique scripture and more importantly where the voice of Christ and the Spirit can be heard as per Revelation’s “Hear what the Spirit [not the Bible] says to the churches”, a refrain throughout Rev 2. And with this move we may hope to get away from the “By no means Lord” error of the apostle Peter at Joppa who refused divine vision itself because it appeared in his eyes to refute scripture and tradition (Acts 10:14). There would needless to say have been no bible, no Judaism or Christianity if every time a prophet spoke they would be denied a voice because they weren’t duplicating some word of scripture!
THE WEIGHT AND BURDEN OF OFTEN ILLUSORY “TRADITION”
Presently what I am getting at with all this will be explained and in a particularly absolute way. It will be insisted through something conventional commentary ignores or cannot answer, that not only did Jesus have certain views on the gay situation which prejudice and mistranslation and “tradition” have buried ( I have already somewhat covered this in my God and the Gay Gaps in Matthew Vines’ Vision at http://bit.ly/1izBz2C and various of my books like Temple Mysteries and Spiritual Efficiency http://bit.ly/Y42WZo), but that the risen Christ disapproved or at least warned Paul from the first about the kind of views he would express as in the first chapter of Romans, views subsequently often and damagingly repeated over the centuries.
Great men make great mistakes as the saying goes, and as Jesus warned, “the first shall be last”. And the fact is that not everything the prophets of God declare is either intended by God or good. Still less so are words of the Christian philosophers, and I notice that critics of Vines like Mohler and Andrew Walker add to their authority position the supposed “authority” of the centuries (as does sometimes Vines himself) via not just scripture but the likes of Augustine, Luther and John Chrysostom.
Can they and should they even do that? I take it these good Southern Baptists and others don’t accept with Augustine, virtual founder of Catholic medieval philosophy, that it is more humble to pray to Mary than Jesus or that unbaptised infants go to hell and numerous other errors. I hope that they don’t accept with Luther, great though he was in many ways, that we should burn down synagogues. Possibly they really do believe the nonsense of Bishop St John Chrysostom of the Greek church that homosexual behaviour is worse than murder. The tongue of this so-called golden mouthed bishop, much like the devil as an angel of light, almost single handedly invented and corrupted the church, especially the Eastern Churches, with a fanatical anti-Semitism which echoes to this day and has justified pogroms. Are these ‘saints’ and doctors of the church any guide to the true position of the churches on anything?
This use of “authorities” betrays the Calvinism of even American Baptists – Vines himself is Presbyterian, a Calvinistic church tradition – but Calvin himself was something of a monster who ran a virtual inquisition in Geneva. He was happy to burn a heretic and unforgivingly required very public penances of those who laughed at or opposed him in any way. His unprecedented doctrine of work and money has perverted American Christianity to this day and runs behind prosperity gospel heresies. All these people presumably would know God’s mind and will regarding gays?!
WHAT AND WHERE IS THE IMMUTABLE BIBLE?
But let’s briefly consider the Bible as the immutable absolute it is for conservative Christians. What even constitutes this Bible? The only secure parts of it in strictly canonical terms are the Torah, the Gospels and a few prophets like Isaiah. The Septuagint Bible that was used and argued from by the early Church included some apocryphal books Southern Baptists would throw out as trashy, superstitious nonsense. It took a thousand years for the Eastern churches to accept Revelation was any revelation. The evangelical notion of a very fixed bible is a convenient fiction. The Apocrypha informs us that the legacy of Moses was destroyed at the fall of Jerusalem and Ezra employed the assistance of scribes to reconstruct what was lost. Almost certainly the version of the OT we possess is an edited “final” edition from around Ezra’s time and it is open to question whether elements of the Torah that seem objectionable to us like marrying a woman for life to her rapist, don’t owe something to the tampering scribes Jeremiah condemned.
The essential spiritual elevation of the Torah is evident, but conservative Christians who take the side of the OT as regards same sex, don’t care to stress the more primitive, almost Taliban-like features of the Torah on some subjects. Nor do they do stress how much the OT is anyway inconsistent on the same sex issue but suggestive of possibilities for development on the subject precisely through being so. Thus although Leviticus has the same sex couple supposedly executed, in Deuteronomy plainly it was not reckoned they would be so since the male prostitute (to whom the Leviticus ban probably originally first or chiefly applied) is not permitted to use the proceeds of his work as any temple offering. Also, though evangelicals like to stress that anything same sex is “abomination” (toevah a term indicating something closer to ritual impurity than “sin” as such), hence akin to and equal to incest and bestiality so categorized, evidently the writer(s)/editor(s) of the Torah weren’t so convinced. At any rate, while those other “abominations” were listed with the curses of Deuteronomy 27, same sex wasn’t included with them.
There is or should be some room for development and argument where scriptures are concerned. Such is the rabbinic position, and it is surely the sense of “come let us argue/reason together says the Lord” Is 1:18). (I have already been told in response to this article that any idea of arguing with God over the Torah is absurd, but surely the simple answer is that precisely that is what the daughters of Zelophehad do in Numbers 27 where their appeal gets the conditions changed. I don’t say they could do this to the core covenant and key ideas like the ten commandments but other things are less written in stone). Jesus alone was regarded as the Word, (“Word of God” means more Jesus as Logos than “Bible”) and he is recorded as speaking with authority and not like the rabbis (who argued and still reckon to). The Bible is not the Koran with every part of it and every word dictated from heaven. It has settings and it has mediums of delivery, some more or less efficient to convey things and let’s note as sola scriptura believers aren’t keen to do that St Paul in Romans 1 on gentile depravity and “homosexuality” (though that word isn’t used) pretty much lifted his argument out of the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon it was so much not dictated from heaven and not “biblical”. Jesus moreover observed that one searches scriptures in vain if you are not finding him there (Joh 5:39).
So what did Jesus hold about gay issues (which even gay theologians will usually tell you Jesus never referred to) and what may he have indicated to his chief apostle? As regards the gospels I will say no more here than what is suggested with a little more detail in the mentioned article (at http://bit.ly/1izBz2C) namely that Jesus in a way that undermines certain cure claims, maintains that some people are definitely born “different” and that this difference doesn’t automatically signify celibate vocation. I also pointed out concerning meanings of the racah passage in the Sermon on the Mount for condemnation of homophobia. There is more of relevance to gay issues within the gospels but I turn here to Jesus on Paul.
ST PAUL ON GAYS MAYBE, AND IF SO, WHAT?
St Paul’s almost purple passage first chapter of Romans in which something relevant to same sex issues is involved, is celebrated. It almost stands out there like a key to his work that it nevertheless isn’t. After reading extensively over the years on the great variety of interpretive views both conservative and revisionist that scholarship offers on St Paul’s references to those who wilfully “exchanged” their nature, I remain unsure just who and what in terms of his society and times the apostle was really talking about. Vines’ stress upon the evil of sex as “excess” as the ancients understood it must however carry some weight.
Personally I don’t think we can ever now quite know the truth (gay, bisexual, recreationally bisexual, pederastic, male prostitution or what) when it comes to who and what Paul had chiefly in mind. But what we can know is that – practically – whether gays as we understand the word today were the intended object of Paul’s tirade or not, the fallout has been huge, and sometimes irreparable in terms of the suicide, nervous breakdown, depression, family splits, persecution, imprisonment, torture etc that his extreme words have managed to justify across the centuries. Whoever he refers to are people whose mind is so twisted and filled with evil, so given to shameful conduct they have exchanged all truth for a lie and exist to receive God’s wrath. Please! Is this what all gays who believe they are “born that way” really are if and when they seek in any way to express themselves?
Even Dr Michael Brown, that tiresome sower of every confusion (he is one of those who has approved bad policies in Africa) , a man who emphatically denies it is ever possible to be gay and Christian has recently conceded: “Some grew up feeling that God hated them, or there was something wrong with them. Some grew up feeling that they could never possibly serve God because they were under God’s condemnation…”. Well that’s some compliment to St Paul and a recommendation to read scripture uncritically isn’t it?! This, if ever, as Vines would have it referring to the gospel saying on the tree that bears corrupt fruit, is the bible as a voice for evil and sadly too with words which the apostle has mixed in and confused with what is a not bad argument for the Creator God and conscience. How can any Christian, if they are honest, call St Paul’s words in Romans 1, hugely influenced as said by the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon which links sex with idolatry, some kind of words uniquely inspired by the Holy Spirit and speaking to the churches for their good?
The apostle lived and travelled in a Roman world of widespread evil, great exploitation, slavery and torture for even entertainment. To have made “gays” or whatever sexual minority he had in mind, any linchpin for any argument about good and evil was unnecessary and even scandalous. It’s a bit like talking in racist fashion about blacks as an example of the “blackness” of human sin. Though we needn’t question there were some seriously decadent, orgiastic Romans and their exploitation of especially children could be very ugly, the apostle’s angry generalizations (all the more dangerous for being precisely generalizations that can’t quite be pinned down so they assume the force of rumour) do risk turning into just hate speech and I think Christians have to concede that unfortunate fact. At this point in his discourse the overall effect is to make the apostle stand less as a prophet of God to us than as a man of his times akin to certain pagan moralists and writers like Ptolemy the Egyptian astrologer who believed it didn’t matter if effeminates were bashed up in the streets.
Who is it opposes and persecutes gays today? The leader of Boko Haram (who is under the illusion not even animals act homosexually), North Korea (which has dismissed Justice Kirby’s evidence against the nation because the forty years partnered Kirby is “a filthy homosexual”) , and various Muslim and African nations with a bad reputation for justice and human rights generally. It is a pity that Paul should be thought near to them in any way. And are any Pauline and ancient world assumptions about “nature” anyway correct? We now know that homosexuality is in evidence throughout nature and the position of the male g spot itself raises some questions regarding how unnatural and unintended same sex activity intrinsically could be within the order of creation. That there is a distinctive gay mindset and inspiration any serious study of culture will attest to against the Pauline position, and certainly strongly enough for the likes of Mohler not to protest convincingly that Vines and gays should never raise personal experience of the self in theological arguments.
But just as we are indebted to the imperfect Luther, we are indebted to Paul for many positive things, and I do mean that (Christianity might not even exist without him); but for his sad failure in Romans, and recalling Jesus’ warning that the first will be last, we can be reasonably certain Paul won’t take any highest place in heaven and we can be sufficiently assured too that Jesus was no more pleased with him about this than God was pleased with Moses’ bad temper at the rock and that he even tried to prevent him. How can we tell?
THE MYSTERY OF JESUS’ WORDS TO ST PAUL
It has always been a mystery beyond the power of theologians to explain and mostly just avoided by them, that the presence and introduction of Jesus to Saul/Paul at his conversion is as a semi-Dionysius, the wine god of ecstasy – Jesus is self declared in the gospels as “the true vine” – widely seen as a kind of gay or bisexual deity. Improbably, Paul’s Jesus even employs to the correct metre the words of the gay playwright Euripides in The Bacchae for this outlaw god (recall my other Vines article stressed the so-called “eunuch” figure is the outsider), whom the God of Israel’s Temple, due perhaps to its vine leaf designs pagans widely believed Yahweh to be. The question posed in the play by Dionysius to Euripides’ heteronormative anti-woman( and we may imagine homophobic) persecuting King Pentheus, the Gentile mirror image of Paul, becomes Christ’s to the heteronormative Saul: Why are you persecuting me, why will you kick against the goads?
The old KJ “kick against the pricks” accidentally reflects something of the ambiguity and polyvalence of the Greek expression which has several meanings including “the necessity” or sexual drive. St Paul is surely being told he really must stop persecuting the Christians but he needs to stop persecuting people altogether, if need be on a sexual basis. (We may assume a few unresolved sex problems in the apostle though I don’t follow the Bishop Spong line he was closet gay – there aren’t enough gay traits in him and he had almost certainly been married and divorced – he could not have had his evident one time association with the Sanhedrin if he had not been married). Just as it seems Paul didn’t heed the warning of the prophet Agabus, so Paul the stubborn ox resisting the goads (though we appreciate he needed to be stubborn to take on the Roman Empire and the Jewish establishment!) never quite learned this particular lesson, never recognized Jesus for who he was, Jesus in his own ambiguities and because of this failure there will be problems for everyone….A chance towards visionary understanding at deep unconscious levels was given and refused. And historically Christ has continued to be persecuted by Christians in some of their attitudes and dealings with gays and almost anyone on the social margins.
THE TRUE “NEW REFORMATION” BEYOND MATTHEW VINES’ APPEAL
In the failure of St Paul and its dire historical consequences, let us learn a major lesson and make it an opportunity for insight and renewal. Matthew Vines wants a New Reformation. He won’t have it if he continues to peddle the “total” authority of scripture line (even while he is accused of undermining by reinterpreting it). The “New Reformation” so badly needed is one that, while still retaining a high view of scripture, releases us from its absolute authority, a kind of enslavement like that Paul described in relation to the Law. Christianity is not just, or not only, a tradition; tradition itself can be imperfect, it is a faith we are still living and forming.
Yes scripture is important, but no person is perfect nor is any witness to God. Christ, not the Bible is the primary “Word of God”. It is in light of the general sense and drift of scripture and Christ’s words we are bound to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” and it is not for evangelicals rigidly to refuse the possibility that God is speaking on this issue and to suppress all witness to it. My A Special Illumination on gay spiritualities ( http://amzn.to/17b8z1b ) did if only briefly include (since this was a doctoral study) concerning alleged divine declarations about the gay situation. But currently there is no attempt at hearing what the Spirit says to the churches on anything unless at the lowest possible level, even in a counterfeit form among a charismatic movement. This has promoted heresies like prosperity gospels which seriously do contradict the Bible it claims to follow and contradict it far more than persons questioning a few teachings on a rarely biblically mentioned “homosexuality” issue could possibly do. As stressed in my other article, we stand at the end of the era, and in conformity with the new influences of the era, the churches must dynamically change on this entire subject of same sex relations.
[June 21st: My points about sola scriptura, Calvinism and and hearing the Spirit are unexpectedly confirmed in the way that popular Californian Calvinist preacher John MacArthur has now shockingly declared that parents of “come out” gays should hand them over to the devil. This is the same person who has been condemning any spiritual gifts and charismatic Christianity as unbiblical]
See the also relevant, related article: Can You be Dr Michael Brown and a Christian? at http://bit.ly/Tu1LWz
A poem of this theme A Saint’s Mistake: A Poem of St Paul can be found at http://goo.gl/gBL4oA