Matthew Vines is the author of the bestseller God and the Gay Christian. Vines calls the book “an open letter to modern Christians” about why they should support same-sex relationships, and what the Bible really says about homosexuality.
In the wake of June’s Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage, some conservative Christians, seeing the writing on the wall, have actually stepped up their denunciations of all things LGBT. So we asked Vines to provide us with some thoughtful Bible-based responses to their arguments. Here’s what he had to say…
Many Christians have changed their minds about the LGBT community, but not all—and those who haven’t can be pretty vocal.
Whether it’s your parent, your co-worker, or a childhood friend who posts a Bible verse on social media to say that same-sex relationships are wrong, here are constructive ways you can respond to five commonly-repeated points…
Argument #1: God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for being gay, so he’ll surely judge America soon.
Actually, God didn’t destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for being gay. According to Genesis 19, the men of Sodom threatened to gang rape God’s messengers. Their threat was about power and humiliation, not sexual orientation.
Not only does the Bible never connect the sin of Sodom to same-sex relationships, it explicitly teaches that the sin of Sodom was about something else entirely. Ezekiel 16:49 says, “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”
It’s worth pointing out that America has been guilty of those kinds of sins of oppression since our founding, from our brutal treatment of indigenous peoples to our practice of slavery and segregation. The Bible’s teachings about Sodom certainly highlight some of America’s sins—but marriage equality isn’t one of them. (Nor is it a sin at all!)
Argument #2: The Bible says that being gay is an abomination.
Leviticus 18:22 is the Bible verse most frequently quoted by opponents of same-sex marriage: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” But Leviticus is part of the Old Testament law, and the New Testament teaches that Christians should live under the new covenant, not the old one.
Jesus said in Matthew 5:17 that he came to fulfill the Old Testament law, and the author of Hebrews wrote that the law is “obsolete and outdated” and “will soon disappear” (Hebrews 8:13). That’s why Christians today widely accept other things that the Old Testament calls “abominations,” like charging interest on loans (Ezekiel 18:13), sex during a woman’s menstrual period (Leviticus 18:19), and eating pork (Deuteronomy 14:8).
Argument #3: The Bible says that being gay is unnatural.
While Leviticus may be the most commonly quoted verse, the most important one for many non-affirming Christians is in the New Testament. In Romans 1:26-27, the apostle Paul condemns same-sex behavior he describes as lustful, unnatural, and shameful. “We can’t accept something that the Bible says is unnatural and shameful,” many people say. But in fact, most Christians already do.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:14 that for a man to have long hair violates what “nature” teaches and is “a disgrace to him.” But most Christians who oppose same-sex marriage wouldn’t condemn long hair in men. In fact, the Bible itself speaks highly of long hair in men in the Old Testament (see Numbers 6:5, 2 Samuel 14:26, and 2 Kings 2:23). That’s why most Christians interpret “nature” in 1 Corinthians 11 as referring to cultural conventions of Paul’s day.
But if “nature” really means “custom” in 1 Corinthians 11, might it also mean “custom” in Romans 1? There’s good reason to think so. In the ancient world, same-sex relations were widely considered “unnatural” largely due to the fact that same-sex partners violated customary, patriarchal gender norms: Men were passive instead of active, and women were dominant instead of submissive. That’s a cultural convention in a similar way to norms about hair length.
So the next time someone says they can’t accept something the Bible calls unnatural, point them to 1 Corinthians 11:14 and ask: Do you feel the same way about long hair in men?
Argument #4: The Bible says “homosexuals” won’t go to heaven.
Before 1946, no Bible translation had ever used the word “homosexual” at all. But starting in the mid-20th century, many translations of 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 changed to say that “homosexuals” will not “inherit the kingdom of God.” Fortunately, many New Testament scholars have been pushing back against those translations in recent years, from Dale Martin to James Brownson. Their case is simple: The word “homosexual” didn’t even exist in any language until 1869, nor did the concept of sexual orientation as we think of it today.
It’s perfectly possible that the apostle Paul was condemning certain forms of same-sex behavior in 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1, but the types of behavior that were most widely practiced in his day were things like prostitution, sex between masters and slaves, and pederasty (sex between men and adolescent boys). Same-sex marriages between equal-status partners weren’t on the radar screen at all, so the idea that he was condemning those kinds of relationships can’t be right.
Neither the word “homosexual” nor the concept it represents existed when the Bible was written, so it’s simply not true to say that the Bible teaches that gay people won’t go to heaven.
Argument #5: Jesus defined marriage as between one man and one woman.
Jesus actually never defined marriage in the Bible. In Matthew 19, some Pharisees ask Jesus whether a man can divorce his wife “for any and every reason,” and Jesus says no. He responds to their question—a question specifically about a man and his wife—by saying that God “made them male and female” and that “what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Jesus wasn’t asked about same-sex marriage. That’s to be expected given that no one was talking about same-sex marriage in the first century. But while Jesus didn’t directly address same-sex relationships, the core principles of his teachings on marriage can be applied to same-sex couples today. Both Matthew 19 and Ephesians 5 teach that marriage is fundamentally about the self-giving covenant that spouses make and keep with one another, reflecting God’s self-giving love for us.
That’s something everyone—straight, gay, or bi—can live out.