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Conservative conundrum

Matthew Vines, gay news, Washington Blade

Author Matthew Vines says scripture must be considered from a historical context. (Photo by Jeremiah Cumberpatch; courtesy Convergent)

Coming to terms with being gay was especially difficult for Matthew Vines, as it is for many who not only grew up in conservative Christian households, but who also had embraced that kind of faith on their own.

It was such a heart-wrenching experience, in 2010 Vines took a leave of absence after finishing his second year pursuing a philosophy major at Harvard University and went back home to his native Wichita, Kansas, to study the issue of the Bible and homosexuality in depth. His parents at the time were both lay leaders at a local evangelical Presbyterian church, a church that would eventually, Vines says, break ties with the Presbyterian Church-USA denomination because members found it too liberal.

While the issue has certainly been written about by others, Vines says he was frustrated by what he says was a deficit of resources that addressed the matter while also maintaining the high level with which U.S. evangelicals hold scripture.

In March 2012, Vines gave a speech in another church in Wichita — he says merely finding a church willing to host the event took significant effort — in which he relayed his findings. A video of it was posted on YouTube as “The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality,” which now has nearly 700,000 views. A New York Times profile led to a book deal. Vines’ “God and the Gay Christian,” essentially his 67-minute speech in book form, was released last week from Convergent. The 224-page book retails for $22.99 in hardcover.

“The vast majority of resources I came across were either just too academically esoteric and inaccessible or they were written in more of a mainline or progressive kind of theological language that can be subtle, but have a big impact on the way people receive what you’re saying,” the 24-year-old says. “It’s not so much that the facts, evidence and data are new, it’s not. A lot of this has been out there for decades. … I think a lot of people (who saw the video), it was the first time they had encountered anything like this that explained it in a way that fit in with their broader approach to the Bible.”

Among his findings, Vines contends that:

• The issue of complementarity — the notion that homosexuality is wrong because of the way male and female bodies supposedly fit together — is not in the Bible and therefore should be a non-issue for those who subscribe to a “sola scriptura” (“by scripture alone”) brand of theology.

• The bizarre story of Lot and his guests in Genesis 19 (Sodom) was really an issue of hospitality and male honor, not sexual orientation as it’s understood today.

• New Testament passages such as I Corinthians 6 seem to be talking more about people who are overwhelmed by lust and desire to the point that they seek out same-sex activity but who are really straight. Vines calls it a “negative moral judgement that’s really about the subversion of patriarchal gender norms” that should have no bearing on “gay Christians today in committed, loving relationships.”

The book is already drawing controversy. Anti-gay blogger Matt Barber calls Vines a “homosexual activist and Bible revisionist known for manipulating Christian terminology to advance the counter-Christian homosexualist agenda.”

Vines chuckles at the charges and says he thinks the backlash and vitriol is probably “just getting started.”

Vines has big plans. Now engaged in religious LGBT advocacy work full time, he’s busy promoting his book and establishing his “Reformation Project,” a Bible-based, non-profit he hopes to use as a tool to reform teaching in conservative evangelical churches on the issue of homosexuality. He plans a conference in Washington at National City Christian Church in November (details at or to equip LGBT believers to take pro-gay biblical interpretations back to their home churches.

He admits significant change is “not inevitable” but says it “is conceivable.”

“If you have the right biblical foundation and if you have enough persistence, grit, patience and grace and fuel for the journey, I think it can be done,” Vines says.


Anti-gay groups denounce LGBT Pride, HRC

Peter LaBarbera, Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, gay news, Washington Blade

Peter LaBarbera of the anti-gay group Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, organized the Pride Week news conference. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Representatives of five organizations that oppose LGBT rights held a news conference on Tuesday outside the headquarters of the Human Rights Campaign in D.C. to express opposition to HRC’s advocacy for LGBT equality and the celebration of LGBT Pride.

“Our bottom line is that homosexuality is nothing to be proud of,” said Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, which organized the news conference.

“In fact, practicing homosexual behavior, a destructive sin, is something to be ashamed of,” LaBarbera said. “Out-and-proud homosexualism – far from being a human right – is actually a human wrong.”

LaBarbera, whose organization is based in Chicago, said he and the other LGBT rights opponents chose to hold their news conference at the HRC building during LGBT Pride Month in June to voice their opposition to what they called a harmful “lifestyle.”

In anticipation of the news conference HRC displayed a large banner from a first-floor window stating, “Welcome Peter.”

Two members of the groups participating in the news conference displayed their own banner behind a podium where the representatives spoke stating, “Homosexuality is nothing to be proud of – but overcoming it is.”

Linda Harvey, Mission: America, gay news, Washington Blade

Linda Harvey (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Others speaking at the news conference included Matt Barber, vice president of Liberty Counsel Action, a legal group that opposes same-sex marriage and LGBT rights; Linda Harvey, founder of Mission America, a conservative Christian group; Diane Gramley, president of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania; and Eric Holmberg, identified as a member of the Apologetics Group and producer of a documentary, “Is Gay the New Black? Homosexuality and the Civil Rights Movement.”

Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president for communications, was among several HRC employees who came out to observe the news conference.

“[T]hese are individuals who are out of the mainstream even within anti-equality activists circles,” Sainz said in a statement to the Blade. “Fringe is too polite a term for them.”

He added, “The unfortunate reality is that there are still Americans – a diminishing number every day – who will believe what these folks have to say and will pass on their beliefs in the form of discrimination and maybe even violence.”

Barber, an attorney, accused HRC of being part of a possible conspiracy with IRS officials whom Barber said appear to have illegally leaked a confidential tax filing from the anti-gay National Organization of Marriage (NOM) in March 2012.

The leaked 990 IRS report, among other things, included the names of 50 contributors to NOM’s 2008 campaign in support of California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the state. Among the contributors on the list was a political action committee formed by 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

At the time of the leak, NOM President Brian Brown noted that then HRC President Joe Solmonese was among the ceremonial co-chairs of President Obama’s re-election committee and the IRS leak suggested that high-level Obama administration officials could be behind the leak.

At a hearing last month before the House Ways and Means Committee, Acting IRS Commissioner Steve Miller testified that the IRS investigated the leaked NOM 990 report and determined a low-level IRS employee inadvertently released the document. Miller said disciplinary action was taken against the employee for not following proper procedures.

Harvey of the Mission America group said at the news conference gay rights leaders were jeopardizing young people with same-sex attractions by pushing for laws that ban therapists and others from performing so called gay conversion therapy on people below the age of 18. Harvey said consenting youth should be allowed to undergo conversation therapy at any age to eliminate same-sex attractions.

“Is homosexuality a human right? No it’s not,” Harvey said. “But the organization in the building behind me thinks it is…The Human Rights Campaign is spreading sweeping lies across America.”

“If the charges being made weren’t so laughable, they’d be sad,” HRC’s Sainz said in his statement.

At various times during the news conference the voices of Harvey and other speakers were drowned out by loud engine noise from large dump trucks lined up in front of the HRC building waiting to haul away debris from a construction site next to the HRC building.


Year in review: Blade publishes names of petition signers

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Washington Blade’s decision to publish the names of the more than 100,000 Marylanders who signed the petition that prompted the state’s same-sex marriage referendum sparked outrage among opponents of nuptials for gays and lesbians.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins described this newspaper’s decision to publish the names of those who signed the petition as “nothing short of intimidation.” Matt Barber, vice president of Liberty Action Counsel, accused the Blade of “homo terrorism.” The Blade also received threatening phone calls and e-mails after it published the names on its website on July 12.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley told the Blade last month when asked about the controversy that he didn’t know whether “I’m qualified to comment on journalistic ethics.” Transgender activist Dana Beyer also questioned the Blade’s decision to publish the names of those who signed the petition that were publicly available on July 12, but gay columnist Andrew Sullivan defended the Blade.

“Some argue that this is a tool for intimidation or a violation of privacy,” he wrote. “I’m afraid I cannot see that. Signing a political petition is a public act. If you are ashamed of trying to deny your fellow citizens their civil rights, you probably shouldn’t have signed the petition in the first place.”

Opponents of the same-sex marriage law eventually collected more than 160,000 signatures that prompted a Nov. 6 referendum on the issue. Maryland voters upheld the statute that O’Malley signed in March by a 52-48 percent margin.