Sometimes, people hide inside the Bible.
That is, they use the Christian holy book as authority and excuse for biases that have nothing to do with God. They did this when women sought to vote and when African-Americans sought freedom.
They are doing it now, as gay men and lesbians seek the right to be married.
The latest battleground in that fight is North Carolina, where voters go to the polls Tuesday to render a verdict on Amendment One, which would add to the state constitution the following stipulation: “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.”
Mind you, the Tarheel State already has a law on the books banning same-sex marriage. The would-be constitutional amendment is meant to double down on exclusion. And if you read the language carefully, you saw what many observers have seen — that it can also be interpreted as denying legal recognition to unmarried heterosexuals.
Not that this holds any sway with those who hide inside the Bible. “God has defined marriage,” said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins in a Sunday sermon quoted in the Charlotte Observer. “It is not up to us to redefine it.” In a letter to the editor, an Observer reader put it thusly: “You either believe (the Bible) or not.”
One wishes those people could spend a little quality time with Matthew Vines.
Vines is a Christian, a 22-year-old Harvard undergrad raised in a conservative evangelical church in Kansas. He is also gay and says he grew up being taught that the Bible condemns his sexual orientation. He took two years off from school to research and study whether or not that assertion is true.
The result is “The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality.” It’s a video — you can find it online with a simple Google search — of a speech he gave in March at a church in Wichita that has become a minor sensation. Small wonder. Vines’ speech is a masterwork of scriptural exegesis and a marvel of patient logic, slicing and dicing with surgical precision the claim that homophobia is God ordained. So effective is the video that after viewing it, Sandra Delemares, a Christian blogger from the United Kingdom who had, for years, spoken in staunch opposition to same-sex marriage, wrote that it “revolutionized” her thinking.
Vines points out, for instance, that the frequently quoted condemnation (homosexuality is an “abomination”) from the Old Testament lawbook of Leviticus has no application to Christians, who are bound by the teachings of the New Testament. He explains that St. Paul’s admonitions about the “effeminate” and “abusers of themselves with mankind” stem from modern mis-translations of ancient Greek terminology.
It is fascinating stuff, and there is not nearly enough space here to do it justice, but the salient point is this: Matthew Vines is not some godless heathen lobbing bombs at Christianity from outside its walls. No, he lives inside Christianity’s walls, still holds the faith in which he was raised. So this is not an outsider’s attack. It is an insider’s plea.
One hopes that plea is heeded. Vines’ speech is long — a little over an hour — but well worth the time, particularly for those seeking to reconcile first-century faith with 21st-century social concerns.
Many in North Carolina — many around the country — are swimming against the tide of human freedom and blaming God for it. Again, this is not a new thing. We saw it back when God was for segregation and against women’s suffrage.
How convenient it must be to lay your own narrowness and smallness off on God, to accept no responsibility for the niggardly nature of your own soul. Vines’ video is a welcome, overdue and eloquent rebuke of the moral and intellectual laziness of throwing rocks, then hiding inside Scripture. It is a reminder, too.
You don’t go to the Bible to hide. You go there to seek.
(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)