Dr Michael Brown Exposes Flaws in Matthew Vines’ Arguments During Live DebatePosted: June 29, 2014
On June 28th 2014, what many of us have long hoped for, finally happened – the infamous Matthew Vines finally participated in a debate with a Christian who is well versed in the Bible and homosexuality. The debate lasted almost an hour and was hosted by Up for Debate, a programme on Moody Bible Radio.
The next day, Vines confided to friends in a facebook group that he wasnt initially aware that the show was to be a debate with Dr Brown, and inferred that he likely would not have agreed to participate so if he’d known. Vines added that after finding this was Moody’s plan, he didnt want to back out in case it made himself look bad.
A recording of the debate is available below. And here’s my take on how it went.
The host, Julie Roys, began saying the programme was “not a formal debate”, but rather an “open discussion.” All 3 parties were warm and welcoming. Julie invited Matthew to speak first, and let him speak for some time. She began by asking him why Christians should be open to re-examining what Scripture says about homosexuality.
Matthew responded saying that he is gay and Christian, implying that he is proof that you can be both. He then said that when he came out as gay, he was faced with two choices; “I had really two options; I could pursue lifelong celibacy or I could seek out a committed long-term same sex relationship.” He noted that the latter option would not be approved by his home church. But I think it’s notable that he presented only two options. He not did specify the more Biblical approach of a life-long monogamous relationship as an option, and he did not specify the pathway of most western gay males – short term and non-monogamous relationships. Why did he only present two options? Was he trying to mislead the audience about what his options were?
Speaking of those in his home church who regard homosexual relations as sinful, he said “Most of them ground their views in six passages in Scripture. Three in the old Testament and three in the New Testament that refer to same sex behaviour. And so when I … was in a fork in the road and needing to figure out where to go, I spent a lot of time studying those six passages” Reading between the lines, the sceptic in me would translate what he said to be: His home church was telling him that homosexual relationships were not allowed, so he spent a lot of time trying to explain away what the Bible says.
But if he was only looking at six passages, then that perhaps explains half of the problem – he hasnt spent enough time on the other Scriptures which talk of heterosexual relationships being the sole model for Christian relationships.
Vines continued “… and the basic conclusions that Ive come to and that I outline in my book are that while all six references in the Bible to same-sex behaviour are negative, none of them directly address or envision the prospect of long-term, faithful same-sex relationships that are based on commitment and love.” And how does he know that they dont envision long-term, faithful same-sex relationships that are based on love? He doesnt say, despite this being his fundamental argument! Nudge, nudge Dr Brown!
Vines then proceeded tells us that (contrary what many Christians would say) he doesnt believe Leviticus needs to be followed by Christians, and that Romans 1 doesnt relate to loving gay relationships. And we know from what he has said elsewhere that he doesnt believe that Gen. 19, 1 Cor. 6:9 or 1 Tim. 1:10 apply to loving gay relationships either. In other words, he believes that none of those 6 passages relate to loving gay relationships. Yep, although he believes that the Bible repeatedly refers to homosexual relations in the negative, he believes that the Bible provides says nothing specific about whether gay relationships are sanctioned. What kind of unlikely tortured logic is that, to say that the 6 most relevant passages are actually irrelevant? Unless Vines is arguing for gay relationships that are non-sexual (and Vines has never articulated such a stance), it’s a rather thin argument to say that gay relationships are okay despite the fact that the Bible repeatedly and only portrays gay relations as sinful.
Vines then said “… we then need to ask can same-sex unions be consistent with Scripture’s basic vision for marriage and human sexuality. I think according to the New Testament, the basic vision of marriage in the New Testament is about continental love and self-giving, which same-sex unions can be consistent with and that’s why I think Christians should support same-sex relationships for gay Christians.” Again, this is where Vines has focused far too much on six passages rather than the message of the Bible overall. In addition to being too quick and dogmatic in dismissing 6 of the most relevant passages, he’s missed or is ignoring the fact that the Bible consistently portrays Christian romantic relationships as either exclusively or inherently heterosexual (Eg Gen 2, Mat 19, Eph 6).
After Vines goes on to say that the belief that homosexual relations are sinful, is emotionally harmful to gays, Dr Brown was finally invited to speak. Brown made some very good points, including:
– the bible only ordains heterosexual relationships and under all circumstances condemns homosexual relationships
– many Scriptures dont fit well or seem unbalanced if Christian congregations are supposed to include gay couples, eg Ephesians 5 “husbands love your wives” or Mark 10:7. If Christian congregations are supposed to include gay couples, then surely the Scriptures which specifically refer to heterosexual couples, would also include reference to homosexual couples.
– interpreting the Bible through the lens of your sexuality as Matthew is doing, is a reversal of how we should instead interpret our sexuality through the lens of the Bible. IE we should deny ourselves and follow Jesus rather than firstly affirming ourselves and making the Gospel fit into that.
– It’s a peculiar idea to accept that the Bible can explicitly speak against an act, yet believe that if you commit that act repeatedly in a loving way, it becomes redeemed.
– You cant judge Scriptures based on how they make you feel. EG the rich young ruler in the gospels, went away sad due to the need to follow Christian principles he didnt like
– Some homosexuals do turn straight
Julie then took a phone call from someone claiming to be an ex-lesbian, which tied in nicely. Matthew responded, kinda contradicting what he said in his classic video, saying that some may change their orientation. However, he cites ex-gay leader Alan Chambers saying that 99.9% dont. Matthew then developed a more focused tone and clarified; “This entire conversation that we are having about gay Christians and their committed relationships is not a conversation that the Christian tradition has been having before the mid 20th century. It’s not a conversation that Scripture directly addresses. In that sense Im not arguing for the overturning of 2000 years of church history. Im simply acknowledging that we are in a new situation, faced with a new issue of gay Christians. And I think that the best evidence for that claim is the fact that until the mid 20th century, [in] all Christian writings pertaining to same-sex behaviour, there is no recognition of the fact that mandatory lifelong celibacy would be the consequence for anyone of a total rejection of same-sex relationships. Once we realise that that’s the consequence even for some people, that puts us in a new interpretative environment that makes us ask that same fork-in-the-road style question that I was posting earlier.”
Dr Brown then responded – “Yea that’s the whole fatal flaw of Matthew’s argument. It’s saying that God himself did not understand the concept of sexual orientation. Which is outrageous. And that He inspired the writers of the Scripture to write things that would be terribly harmful to same-sex attracted people. Because if sexual orientation is a true concept, it’s existed through the ages. So God inspired people to write the opposite of that, to hurt people for 3000 years until somehow the aftermath of the sexual revolution when our sexual morality is in massive decline all around us we discover this new thing called sexual orientation which allegedly Jesus, when he looked into the heart and soul of human beings – John 2:25 – he knew what was in men, he didnt get this. He didnt understand this. And Paul, who in his culture saw long term male-male commitments as historians will tell you, loving long-term commitments, that he didnt get it right either and he wrote things that were so destructive. You have to overturn the Bible to hold Matthew’s position. Because Paul says “yes, not everyone be celibate, therefore let every man have a wife and let every woman have a husband.” That’s his solution, which remarkably, Matthew doesnt quote in his book because it undermines his whole position.”
And Dr Brown has a good point here, cutting through Vines’ central thesis. IE Vines claims that we are dealing with something new. But how could that make sense? Surely if there are gay people today, then there would have equally been gay people in Jesus’ day. So as Brown indicates, how can this be new? And if gay relationships are not sinful, it doesnt make sense that neither Jesus nor Paul catered to them at the time. If Vines is right, it seems very odd that Jesus isnt specifically on record as saying that the Leviticus passages are to no longer be regarded as valid. If Vines is right, it is very odd that St Paul’s apparent allusion to homosexual sex in Rom 1:27 is worded “shameful acts” as though it’s the act that is shameful rather than the context as Vines suggests. If Vines is right, it’s very odd that an omniscient god would allow the Bible to appear to oppose homosexual sex for millennia.
Dr Brown soon raises the example of a man who is only attracted to young girls, asking whether such a man should proceed with his attractions on the grounds that he cant be celibate for life. Dr Brown said some are celibate and happy and others who have turned straight, but ultimately we must surrender to God. Dr Brown also said that Alan Chambers statement was an exaggeration, and that Chambers had lost his way – hence some of his partner ministries left him. Dr Brown said that whether you are gay or straight, in Jesus you have everything you need. Dr Brown continued, saying “Again Paul was fully aware of long term committed male-male relationships in his day. It was not all abusive, it was not all pederasty.” And he added “... the Bible is not just against homosexual practise when it’s excessive or lustful or pederastic. It’s against it at its very core. That’s why Leviticus 18 – by the way this is a universal prohibition – Levitcus 18 is for all people for all time. Read the text from beginning to end. God judged the pagans for this, not just Israel for this. This was not like food laws and things like that which were given to them to keep them separate which were abominations for them but not for everyone. Homosexual practise is universal abomination …”
Vines responded by saying Leviticus 18 existed to promote patriarchy, and does not apply to Christians today. Not a comment that will endear him to evangelicals.
By this point, the show was reaching the end of its timeslot. In the wrap up, Vines raised doubt on whether there exists any text contemporaneous to St Paul, referring to homosexual relationships where the partners were of equal status. And it seems that yes, such evidence is thin on the ground. But does that prove anything? An argument from silence, casts some doubt, but the 99.x% of us who have little idea how extensive the first century historical record actually is, are left simply guessing whether this is a compelling argument. A comment from the book A Little Gay History, is relevant here; “… censorship, persecution and simple silence have often written same-sex desire out of history, not only concealing it from contemporaries but also making it inaccessible to historians in the following centuries.” (p. 26)
[Update: After the debate, Brown posted links to here and here, writing that these reference the evidence that Vines challenged him to provide. And did Vines kinda actually answer his own question, here when he refers to NT Wright and Vases?]
Julie’s concluding statement indicated that she was not convinced by Vine’s arguments. Neither am I. I doubt many of the audience were either. After the debate, various friends of Matthew commented online. Some of these people were more advanced in years and experience of such public discussions, and several advised him that it would not be worthwhile to engage in further such debates on the topic.
After the debate was over, Brown wrote an article about it, titled “A ‘Gay Christian’ Advocate Sinks His Own Ship.”