It’s among the hottest of the hot button issues in American culture, but increasingly same-sex marriage is also a matter of dispute within Christian churches. This week, the temperature rose once again with the release of “God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships” by Matthew Vines. The book, written by a former Harvard University student whose “The Bible and Homosexuality” lecture went viral on YouTube two years ago, was met with swift criticism from conservative Christians who oppose same-sex marriage and behaviors.
One such critic was Dr. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary who is considered an intellectual paragon by many on Christendom’s right flank. In a response to Matthew Vines posted on his blog, Mohler issued a rallying cry for Christians to resist Vines’ attempt to “overthrow two millennia of Christian moral wisdom and biblical understanding.” He also announced the release of an e-book entitled, “God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines.”
Because of the importance of this debate, I decided to invite both Albert Mohler and Matthew Vines to answer some questions on the topic. Because Albert Mohler was the first to respond to my inquiry, his answers are listed first.
RNS: In 2012, Laurie Goodstein of “The New York Times” reported on churches splitting over the issue of gay unions. Do you think this issue threatens to split, not just individual congregations, but the larger Christian church?
AM: Among the vast majority of the Christians in the world – now estimated at more than 2 billion – this is not a controversial question. The question is localized largely in Europe and North America, and it is especially controversial now in the United States and the United Kingdom. In both of these nations it is clear that the question of gay unions and same-sex marriage (and the larger question of the morality of same-sex sexuality) will divide many churches and denominations, and at every level. This question lands right at the most basic teachings of the church on morality, biblical authority, and the gospel. Splits are inevitable.
MV: This issue already has been splitting the church. The church I grew up in left the Presbyterian Church (USA) over this issue, as a number of more conservative churches did. So I think the more pertinent question is not whether splits are happening, but how we can move forward in the most unifying, conciliatory ways given that there already is significant division. At my childhood church, most people’s primary concern wasn’t same-sex relationships themselves, but what they thought gay acceptance pointed toward: a devaluation of the role of Scripture in Christian faith. Most evangelicals haven’t been seriously engaged on theological terms on this issue yet, which is part of why the chasm between affirming and non-affirming Christians seems so wide right now. By focusing firmly on Scripture from an evangelical theological framework, I’m doing my best to help repair the existing divides rather than exacerbate them.
RNS: Many note that Christians for millennia have held to a traditional view on this issue. But the church also held to certain positions on matters of race before some challenged prevailing and accepted interpretations of scripture. How does Church history and tradition factor into your thinking?