An Accurate Parody: On Andrew Wilson and Matthew Vines

Editor’s note:  Samuel James is a writer based in Louisville, Kentucky. He earned a BA in apologetics from Boyce College. He blogs regularly at Patheos and tweets regularly at @samwisejams.

Did Andrew Wilson’s parody misrepresent Matthew Vines?

Last week Andrew Wilson posted a brilliant and (in many minds) effective satire called “The Case for Idolatry.” The piece parodied many of the arguments used by progressive evangelicals advocating for a departure from traditional Christian teaching about homosexuality. Wilson opened his piece this way:

For many years, I was taught that idolatry was sinful. As a good Christian, I fought the desire to commit idolatry, and repented when I got it wrong. But the desire to worship idols never went away.

I wanted it to, but it didn’t.

So it has been such a blessing to discover that worshipping one God, and him alone, isn’t for everyone. There are thousands of Christians out there who have found faithful, loving ways of expressing worship both to God and to idols, without compromising either their faith or their view of Scripture.

god and the gay christianWhat makes Wilson’s piece so good is that anyone who is familiar with the rhetoric from the “LGBT-affirming” wing of evangelicalism will immediately notice that the only significant alteration Wilson has made to the standard talking points is to replace the word “Gay” with “idolater.” By doing so, Wilson illustrates the untenability of the logical progressions often utilized when advocating for Christian revisionism. Many (including myself) found the piece clever and well-written.

Matthew Vines, the author of God and the Gay Christian, disagrees. In fact, he disagrees so much that he thinks Wilson is “profoundly disrespectful and degrading to LGBT people,” and that his “mockery isn’t Christ-like.”

Vines went further, saying that the piece was a “caricature” that didn’t accurately represent the arguments he has made in God and the Gay Christian.

Now, Vines is welcome to believe that Wilson is mean and hates LGBT people and wants to demean them. That seems to be an uncharitable and demonstrably false claim, but Vines is entitled to that view. What Vines isn’t welcome to, however, is the statement that Wilson’s satire misrepresents Vines’s arguments. He isn’t welcome to that opinion for one very simple reason: He’s factually wrong.

Vines complains that Wilson is not qualified to write such a piece because he hasn’t read God and the Gay Christian. That’s a dubious claim at best, but let’s roll with it. As it happens, yours truly has in fact read and owns a copy of Vines’s book. Taking a very brief foray into the depths of God and the Gay Christian reveals almost immediately that Wilson’s satire was indeed accurate.

Before I dive into the quotes, a couple comments about parody are in order. The point of parody is not to produce a point-by-point rebuttal of someone’s claims. Instead of explicitly refuting the arguments of LGBT-affirming evangelicals, Wilson’s parody intends to expose the fragile underlying logical framework of LGBT-affirming rhetoric. If an absurd claim (in this case, that open idolatry is consistent with Christian belief and practice) can be supported using the same logical progression used by LGBT-affirming evangelicals like Vines, it is fair to question whether that logical progression is valid.

Secondly, let’s get the elephant out of the room: Yes, homosexuality and idolatry are different things that require particular responses. To understand Wilson’s piece we have to grasp what parody is: A genre that illustrates rather than explicates. Wilson is not saying that idolatry and homosexuality are basically interchangeable and whatever can be said of the one can be said of the other (at least, I don’t read him as saying that). The point of using “idolatry” in this case is that it is a practice that both Wilson and Vines would agree is sinful for essentially the same reasons (testimony of Scripture). If we agree with Wilson about the sinfulness of idolatry, and we find that applying the language of God and the Gay Christian to idolatry creates an argument very similar to what we have heard from Vines, we should pause and ask if Vines is using a valid theological approach.

Without further ado, let’s compare passages from Wilson’s piece to those from Vines’s book, and see if the two sound alike:

#1. Wilson writes:

But from childhood until today, my heart has been drawn to idolatry. In fact, if I’m honest, one of the defining features of my identity has been my desire to put something else – popularity, money, influence, sex, success – in place of God.

That’s just who I am.

The integration of idolatry into a person’s fundamental, unchangeable identity is obviously parodical to us because we identify the act of idolatry as necessarily sinful. Idolatry, we would say, is surely something we are drawn to in our sinful state, but nowhere does Scripture endorse our idolatrous feelings based on their integration into our identities.

This parody works because it is exactly the approach to sexuality that Vines exhibits in God and the Gay Christian. On page 5, Vines begins his personal narrative with two things: The realization that he is gay, and the effort he makes afterwards to convert his parents to his theology. At no point in God and the Gay Christian does Vines record a sort of questioning of his own feelings. He knows he is gay and has known for a long time. It’s who he is. On page 8, Vines says:

My parents nurtured a faith in Jesus in me and my sister, give us a moral and spiritual anchor as we grew up. Just as importantly, Mom and Dad lived out their faith in loving and authentic ways, daily confirming for us the value of placing Christ at the center of our lives. So even though I was now facing up to the fact of my sexual orientation, my faith in God was not in jeopardy. (emphasis added)

Vines refers to his “faith” in God and the “fact” of his sexual orientation. His feelings and desires are absolute and settled, and not once does he record any challenge to them. It’s part of his identity, and that is an unquestionable tenet of his theology.

VERDICT: Parody is fair.

#2. Wilson writes:

So it has been such a blessing to discover that worshipping one God, and him alone, isn’t for everyone. There are thousands of Christians out there who have found faithful, loving ways of expressing worship both to God and to idols, without compromising either their faith or their view of Scripture. In recent years, I have finally summoned the courage to admit that I am one of them. Let me give you a few reasons why I believe that idolatry and Christianity are compatible.

Wilson parodies the arguments of affirming evangelicals by using the same kind of ethical pragmatism to talk about idolatry. Idolatry may sound like it is sinful, Wilson says, but actually there are many Christians who have discovered the love and joy of an idolatrous life. Wilson here intends to parody the approach used by many pro-homosexuality Christians: We should never condemn sexual behavior that is mutual, loving, and committed, no matter how much church teaching or Scripture might suggest otherwise.

Is this similar to what Vines does in God and the Gay Christian? Yes it is. For example:

But as I became more aware of same-sex relationships, I couldn’t understand why they were supposed to be sinful, or why the Bible apparently condemned them. With most sins, it wasn’t hard to pinpoint the damage they cause. Adultery violates a commitment to your spouse. Lust objectifies others. Gossip degrades people. But committed same-sex relationships didn’t fit this pattern. Not only were they not harmful to anyone, they were characterized by positive motives and traits instead, like faithfulness, commitment, mutual love, and self-sacrifice. (pg. 12)

Later on, Vines rips several biblical narratives out of their contexts in order to argue for an outcome-based metric of theology. His argument reaches a crescendo on pages 15 and 16: “Today, we are still responsible for testing our beliefs in light of their outcomes—a duty in line with Jesus’s teaching about trees and fruit.”

This is a particularly devastating parody by Wilson. It exposes the pandora’s box created by Vines’s theology of outcome. Because no earthly evidence of harm can be seen from either idolatry or homosexuality, the church should strongly reconsider its teachings on both. If people can bear the “good fruit” of faithfulness, love, mutuality and friendship while they are worshiping idols, then surely Jesus would have us encourage this good fruit, wouldn’t he?

VERDICT: Parody is fair.

#3. Wilson writes:

Firstly, the vast majority of references to idols and idolatry in the Bible come in the Old Testament – the same Old Testament that tells us we can’t eat shellfish or gather sticks on Saturdays. When advocates of monolatry eat bacon sandwiches and drive cars at the weekend, they indicate that we should move beyond Old Testament commandments in the new covenant, and rightly so.

To its credit, God and the Gay Christian isn’t this abrupt in dismissing the witness of the Old Testament. However, Wilson’s parody here is fair. On page 11, Vines writes:

Even become coming to terms with my sexual orientation, I had been studying the Bible’s references to same-sex behavior and discussing the issue with Christian friends. Some of what I learned seemed to undermine the traditional interpretation of those passages. For instance, Leviticus prohibits male same-sex relations, but it uses similar language to prohibit the eating of shellfish. And while Paul did describe same-sex relations as “unnatural,” he also wrote that for men to wear their hair long was contrary to “nature.” Yet Christians no longer regard eating shellfish or men having long hair as sinful. A more comprehensive exploration of Scripture was in order.

Vines continues this strategy later on. On page 83, he argues that since Christians don’t practice levirate marriage or see sexual intercourse during menstruation as sinful, it is unlikely that the sexual laws of the Old Testament should be seen as qualitatively more serious than the ceremonial laws. “All this is to say that not all Old Testament sexual norms carry over to Christians,” he concludes on page 84. Vines argument is again essentially pragmatic: Since Christians don’t practice laws B and C, the odds that law A is binding are pretty low.

VERDICT: Parody is fair.

#4 Wilson writes:

With all of these preliminary ideas in place, we can finally turn to Paul, who has sadly been used as a judgmental battering ram by monolaters for centuries. When we do, what immediately strikes us is that in the ultimate “clobber passage”, namely Romans 1, the problem isn’t really idol-worship at all! The problem, as Paul puts it, is not that people worship idols, but that they “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images” (1:23). Paul isn’t talking about people who are idolatrous by nature. He is talking about people who were naturally worshippers of Israel’s God, and exchanged it for the worship of idols. What else could the word “exchange” here possibly mean?

Not only that, but none of his references apply to idolatry as we know it today: putting something above God in our affections. Paul, as a Hellenistic Roman citizen, simply would not have had a category for that kind of thing. In his world, idolatry meant physically bowing down to tribal or household deities – statues and images made of bronze or wood or stone – and as such, the worship of power or money or sex or popularity had nothing to do with his prohibitions…

In other words, when Paul talks about idolatry, he is not talking about the worship of idols as we know it today. As a Christ-follower, he would be just as horrified as Jesus if he saw the way his words have been twisted to exclude modern idolaters like me, and like many friends of mine. For centuries, the church has silenced the voice of idolaters (just like it has silenced the voice of slaves, and women), and it is about time we recognised that neither Jesus, nor Paul, had any problem with idolatry.

I have saved this passage for last because those who have read Vines’s book will recognize it most clearly here. Wilson’s parody employs a simple argument: The idolatry prohibited by the Bible is of such a particular kind that that the authors of the Bible merely intended to address a species of it that was common in biblical culture. Therefore, not only is the Bible indefinite about idolatrous actions, it cannot possibly be talking about what we are talking about when we mention idolatry today.

I am truly clueless how Vines can claim with a straight face that Wilson’s parody misrepresents God and the Gay Christian. Not only is this exactly the argument that Vines makes, it is the central assertion on which his thesis hangs. It’s so central that Vines asserts it in multiple locations, such as:

Page 43: “The understanding that homosexuality is a fixed sexual orientation is a recent development. Prior the twentieth century, Christians didn’t write about same-sex orientation, so we don’ thave longstanding church tradition to guide us in this matter.”

Page 103: “Gay people cannot chose to follow opposite-sex attractions, because they have no opposite-sex attractions to follow…So, some might ask, does that mean Paul was wrong and the Bible is in error? No. We have to remember: what Paul was describing is fundamentally different from what we are discussing.”

Page 114: “For Paul, same-sex desire did not characterize a small minority of people who were subject to special classification—and condemnation—on that basis. Rather, it represented an innate potential for excess within all of fallen humanity. When that potential was acted upon, it became “unnatural” in the sense that it subverted conventional, patriachial gender norms.”

Page 130: “The bottom line is this: The Bible doesn’t directly address the issue of same-sex orientation—or the expression of that orientation. While its six references to same-sex behavior are negative, the concept of same-sex behavior in the Bible is sexual excess, not sexual orientation.”

What makes Wilson’s parody effective is that it exposes the hermeneutical sleight-of-hand that Vines executes in order to make his point. How would Vines respond to Wilson’s parody? Given the fact that Vines has established in his discussion of homosexuality that the authors of Scripture wrote misleadingly about topics beyond their intellectual caliber, how could Vines object to an argument for idolatry based on the cultural distance between the idols of the biblical culture, and the ones of 21st century Western culture? On Vines’s own standards, he must prove—without using Scripture, since the authors were pre-modern—that idolatry is sinful even if it looks nothing like what the Bible prohibits.

VERDICT: Parody is fair.

As I mentioned at the outset, Wilson’s parody is not a comprehensive rebuttal to Vines or any other author’s arguments in favor of homosexuality. Rather, it simply uses the same arguments to create a reduction ad absurdum, in which something that is obviously wrong actually fits the theological framework created by Vines’s arguments. When falsity can be supported so well by a hermeneutical approach, the merits of that approach should be called into question.

Vines is welcome to his personal opinion on Wilson or others who disagree with him. He is not, however, entitled to falsely accuse anyone of misrepresenting him.

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  • Philmonomer

    Andrew Wilson’s piece can be effectively satirized by replacing idolatry with slavery.

    Would that be fair?

    • Sure! It would be wrong, but feel free! That’s how satire and the internet works: anyone can play!

      • Philmonomer

        It would be wrong,

        Nope. (But I feel we would never reach agreement on that point.)

        • Hah. Well, you could relent and say I’m right. Then we would agree! : )

          • Philmonomer

            Likewise. :)

          • Pseudonym.

            gaysexwise

          • Please go away. I would actually love to have responsible, reasonable conversations about this, and you’ve said nothing helpful.

        • Hermonta Godwin

          Philmonomer,
          Let us say that you are correct. Would your conclusion be that Wilson’s parody is unfair or that the Bible could be used to defend anything?

          If it is the latter, then I dont see how that works on either side because both sides, Wilson and Vines, accept that the Bible, properly interpreted cannot be used to say anything.

          • Philmonomer

            I’m not really sure how to answer your question.

            I don’t think Wilson’s parody is unfair.

            I do think the Bible can be used to defend lots of things (but probably not anything/everything).

            The question is, at what point does your defense stop being intellectually honest? That is the point where reasonable people can disagree.

          • Hermonta Godwin

            If you dont think Wilson’s parody is unfair, then why are you posting here, where that is the question being asked?

            The question of whether or not slavery can be defended Biblically is irrelevant to this question so it seems to be a red herring.

          • Philmonomer

            See my initial comment/post.

          • Hermonta Godwin

            Philmonomer,
            Let us imagine that your analogy works, what is the conclusion that you are going for? If you are going to write so much on a comment thread, you must have something, that is important to you, that you want other to accept/agree with.

        • Thursday1

          Write the parody or keep quiet.

          • Pseudonym.

            suck my dick or keep quiet?

          • Philmonomer

            Ok. I simultaneously 1) don’t approve 2) laugh.

        • wyclif

          If you can’t put up, then you know what the inevitable response is going to be.

          • Philmonomer

            I have responded. See above (or is it below)?

    • This is ridiculous and betrays a very poor grasp of Scripture and of Andrew Wilson’s piece. That is not to say that it is impervious to criticism, but, if you wanted to satirize it in the most obvious and rigorous of ways, you would replace idolatry with catchin’ crawdads in Crackleberry Creek with Opie and Sheriff Andy. Slavery. Hm! Typical irrelevant rhetoric, that suggestion.

      • Philmonomer

        That’s not true.

        In order to find that the Bible does not accept slavery, you have to hand-wave away the various texts that sanction slavery.

        In order to find that the Bible accepts homosexuality, you have to hand-wave away the verses that prohibit it. It is actually pretty much directly on point.

        • Hermonta Godwin

          I think that the Bible is consistent with Slavery, but I dont see how just changing the word from Idolatry and slavery would work at all. Saying that the belief in X is a bad interpretation of the Bible does not imply that any parody of any bad argument can be applied to any other bad interpretation.

          Such is akin to saying that someone who rejects the orthodox view of the trinity could be parodied by comparing their arguments to the arguments for homosexuality. Or in other words, not all errors can be parodied against all other errors.

          • Pseudonym.

            no offense but the bible is consistent with slavery, and worshiping god, but no offense or anything.

        • In fairness to the seriousness of your reply, I should point out that my comment included the phrase Crackleberry Creek.

    • Thursday1

      Then go ahead and do it.

      • Philmonomer

        [Told from the perspective of a slave in the American South]:

        For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to run away to the North. It’s not that my parents raised me that way, because they didn’t; I was brought up in a loving, secure, Christian home, where we were taught that slavery is a God-sanctioned institution, and I was to obey my master.

        But from childhood until today, my heart has been drawn to that freedom. In fact, if I’m honest, one of the defining features of my identity has been my desire to be free.

        That’s just who I am.

        For many years, I was taught that the desire to run away to freedom was wrong. As a good Christian, I fought the desire for freedom, and repented when I got it wrong. But the desire for freedom never went away.

        I wanted it to, but it didn’t.

        So it has been such a blessing to discover that slavery isn’t for anyone. There are thousands of Christians out there who have found faithful, loving ways of worshiping the Biblical God and rejecting all slavery, without compromising either their faith or their view of Scripture. In recent years, I have finally summoned the courage to admit that I am
        one of them. Let me give you a few reasons why I believe that slavery and Christianity are incompatible.

        • Thursday1

          Go on.

          • Philmonomer

            I’ll leave it to you as an intellectual exercise.

            (Somehow, I don’t think you are going to do it, though. So maybe I’ll get back to it, sometime. Frankly, I’ve got other things to do with my day.)

          • Thursday1

            No, you cut out just when things would have gotten interesting. Beyond this point you simply can’t continue, because the analogies don’t work.

            So, continue or I call b******t.

          • Philmonomer

            The analogy keeps working.

            Next paragraph, say the slave is self taught, with a high view of the Bible. (Andrew Wilson talks about his degrees. Mathew Vines is self taught. This doesn’t matter.)

            Next paragraph, is directly on point as Biblical scholars were challenging slavery.

            Next paragraph, some will rush to the “slaves obey your master” and other passages (SAME THING). First, slavery as a god-sanctioned thing is in the old-testament.

            Second, (next paragraph), the “new covenant” language (and idea) is how we are now beyond slavery. In order to reject slavery, we have to look to the approach of Jesus. We need to look the freedom that Jesus brings. He said NOTHING about how one should own slaves.

            Next, we also know, based on science, that there are no such things as natural slaves. All brains are the same.

            Finally, (last several paragraphs) when Paul talks about slavery, he isn’t talking about the slavery we have today.

            ——-

            Look, if you don’t think this can be done, you 1) aren’t being intellectually honest or 2) don’t want to see how it can be done. In either case, I cannot really help you.

          • Thursday1

            Then do it. All the way through.

          • Thursday1

            Typical.

          • Really!? The “other things to do” is a fine reason to leave a comment section. C’mon, Thursday. Don’t be a jerk. I have other things to do, too. Demanding that people rewrite posts to prove that their sincere is silly, and Mere-O’s comments are historically much better than this demand suggests.

          • Thursday1

            Matthew, he left of just when things were getting interesting. It was a dirty rhetorical move, and he deserved the scorn.

          • I should think that scorn calls for a bit of a higher bar than someone’s merely feeling a bit reluctant to put forth considerable effort in a blog comment space: reluctance, mind you, due to the risk of the conversation turning out worthless or unpleasant (or due to it being unpleasant from the beginning). There’s no small reason to fear hostility. Philmonomer wrote quite a bit and still received scorn anyway. He didn’t write enough, it seems. Funny thing, Internet scorn over trifles: one can never be sure that one has done enough to avoid deserving it. All the more reason for a commentator to be cautious.

          • Thursday1

            It was a dirty rhetorical move. He put in enough effort to cherry pick some the paragraphs where the analogy would work, and conveniently left off several others where it wouldn’t.

          • Yes, you already said that. It’s why he deserved your scorn.

          • Thursday1, this kind of cynical “seeing through” everyone to discover the *real* rhetor within would be laughable if it wasn’t noxious. Not everyone is as rhetorically astute as you seem to be, and that means that not everyone is as nefarious as your rush to dispense scorn implies.

            Here’s an idea: if you think he needs to fill in the other areas and continue, why not ask him why he left them out?

            Otherwise, find some other comment-boxes to fill. You can email me at matthewleeanderson.84@gmail.com if you want to talk more.

            Matt

          • Thursday1

            I left specific suggestions above for him to attempt the analogy.

          • Thursday1

            Ok, why did he leave the paragraphs I listed above out?

    • Pseudonym.

      yer, you have to assume idolatry is wrong.. you could equally say “worshiping god” in place of “idolatry” which is in place of “homosexuality” – it’s about displaying ridiculousness, not proving it

    • Micah Latty

      There would be no point to doing so. The point of writing a piece like Wilson’s is to demonstrate that an argument form can be copied, replacing the original terms with others, resulting in an obviously false conclusion. Hence, if someone argued: “If it is raining, then you will wear a jacket. You will wear a jacket. Therefore it is raining”, I could demonstrate their logic to be faulty by stating: “If you are drinking coffee, you are ingesting caffeine. You are ingesting caffeine. Therefore, you are drinking coffee.” This is obviously false, since I could also just be drinking Coke, or some energy drink, or, alternately, eating chocolate. If the person fired back by trying to copy their original argument form so that it reaches a true conclusion, they are accomplishing nothing—I have already shown the *form* of their argument to be faulty.

      It is possible to attack Wilson’s post as an unfair or incomplete parody of arguments such as those presented by Matthew Vines. But simply presenting a parody of the parody (at least in the way you have suggested) accomplishes nothing.

  • Thursday1

    Shorter version of this article: if your hermeunetic can be used to defend any and all things, it’s probably a bad hermeunetic.

    I’ve used this example before: the trinity has less textual support than the sinfulness of gay sex. Arianism, it’s just an alternate position that reasonable people can agree to disagree about.

  • JustMe

    This is all starting to feel nasty. One person writes an article which feels like it is poking fun at discussion of how LBGT issues relate to the bible, someone else points out that isn’t very nice and could hurt people affected by these issues, a new person wades in and takes down the defender, calling him ‘uncharitable’. I’m so glad I left the church.

    • Peter Den Haan

      Wilson was not poking fun. If that’s what you think, you misread his aims, and you certainly didn’t read the introduction to the article above which addressed this very point.

      • JustMe

        ” *Feels* like it is poking fun”. He can vouch for his intention in writing it, and I can vouch for my feelings on reading it.

        • Peter Den Haan

          That is fair enough. Wilson is an experienced communicator, and he should have realised the piece could be read in a way that makes it hurtful rather than insightful (‘SS activity is basically idolatry, right, so let’s plug that in and poke fun at it’: I can entirely see how you could read that, and get quite angry).

          You seem to read the article above as piling hurt upon hurt and “nasty… I’m so glad I left the church.”

          What the article here is quite explicitly defending, though, is not the hurtful reading, but the validity of the parody _as intended_ (“Wilson is not saying that idolatry and homosexuality are basically interchangeable”). Vines has come out robustly saying that the analogy with his argument was not a valid one, and the riposte here is that it is. That seems to me an entirely reasonable discussion to have.

          The alternative would be not to allow anyone to answer Vines’ assertions, because Wilson’s piece can regrettably be read as hurtful. That’d be a bit odd, wouldn’t it?

  • For the first time in just about forever at Mere-O I’ve considered both banning people and shutting down the comments. Seriously, people. I share some responsibility, as I responded to the first comment with what I hoped would be a lighthearted way of acknowledging that we’re going to disagree. But this has so laughably fit the stereotype of awful comment sections that I will consider turning them off it off if it continues.

    We talk reasonably and make arguments around here. That’s what we do. If you can’t do that without being a jerk, please go elsewhere.

    • samueljames

      I need to copy this, replace Mere-O with my blog name, and simply use it as the comment policy.

  • brainjdubs

    Vines claims that mockery is not an argument. But isn’t Wilson running a reductio ad absurdum here? He is showing the absurdity of Vines’s arguments. That is not a deductive or inductive argument (or even an abductive one!), but there is a point to his exercise. Now, Vines may still think such an approach is uncharitable, but I thought Wilson made a very powerful statement. It seems to me that the apostle Paul makes a sardonic jab at his opponents in Galatians 5:13 (if the circumcizers are so into cutting the flesh, why don’t they finish the job?), so perhaps there is a biblical basis for such a thing. Isaiah 44:9-20 also comes to mind.

  • Thursday1

    OK, let’s get specific. These are paragraphs where the analogy doesn’t work:

    1. Paragraph beginning: Some, on hearing this . . .

    2. Paragraph beginning: We should remember that . . . (P.S. the Bible nowhere makes arguments that anyone is a natural slave. Which shows just how strained the anaologies are.)

    3. Paragraph beginning: With all of these preliminary ideas in place . . .

    4. Paragraph beginning: Not only that, but none of his references apply to idolatry as we know it today . . .

    5. Paragraph beginning: In other words, when Paul talks about idolatry . . .

    If you can’t do them all, try doing a couple, instead of cherry picking.

    • Philmonomer

      Ok. The analogy isn’t perfect. (No analogy is.) You win. :)

  • Thursday1

    14 minutes, first approximation of applying parody to escaping from slavery. Some things work, others don’t:

    For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to escape slavery. It’s not that my parents raised me that way, because they didn’t; I was brought up in a loving, secure, Christian home. But from childhood until today, my heart has been drawn to freedom from slavery. In fact, if I’m honest, one of the defining features of my identity has been my desire to esecape from being a slave.

    That’s just who I am.

    For many years, I was taught that escaping from slavery was sinful. As a good Christian, I fought the desire to escape from slavery, and repented when I got it wrong. But the desire to escape never went away.

    I wanted it to, but it didn’t.

    So it has been such a blessing to discover that being a slave, isn’t for everyone. There are thousands of Christians out there who have found faithful, loving ways of escaping from slavery, without compromising either their faith or their view of Scripture. In recent years, I have finally summoned the courage to admit that I am one of them. Let me give you a few reasons why I believe that escaping and Christianity are compatible.

    I start with my own story, and the stories of many others like me. I am an evangelical, and I have a very high view of the Bible – I am currently a highly educated slave who teaches Biblical languages to my master’s children. Yet, after much prayerful study, I have discovered the liberating truth that it is possible to be an escaped slave Christian. That, at least, is evidence that you can be an evangelical and an escaped slave.

    Not only that, but a number of evangelical writers have been challenging the narrative that you can’t be an escaped slave and a good Christian in a series of scholarly books. A number of these provide a powerful case for listening to the diversity of the ancient witnesses in their original contexts, and call for a Christlike approach of humility, openness and inclusion towards our escaped brothers and sisters.

    Some, on hearing this, will of course want to rush straight to the “clobber passages” in Paul’s letters (which we will consider in a moment), in a bid to secure the fundamentalist ramparts and shut down future dialogue. But as we consider the scriptural material, two things stand out. Firstly, the vast majority of passages to do with escaped slaves in the Bible come in the Old Testament – the same Old Testament that tells us we can’t eat shellfish or gather sticks on Saturdays. When people who argue against slaves escaping eat bacon sandwiches and drive cars at the weekend, they indicate that we should move beyond Old Testament commandments in the new covenant, and rightly so.

    Secondly, and even more significantly, we need to read the whole Bible with reference to the approach of Jesus. To be a Christian is to be a Jesus-person: one whose life is based on his priorities, not on the priorities of subsequent theologians. And when we look at Jesus, we notice that he welcomed everyone who came to him, including those people that the (one-God worshipping) religious leaders rejected – and that Jesus said absolutely nothing about idols in any of the four Gospels. Conservative theologians, many of whom are friends of mine, often miss this point in the cut-and-thrust of debate, but for those who love Jesus, it should be at the very heart of the discussion.

    Jesus had no problem with escaped slaves.

    He included everyone, however many times they escaped from their slave masters.

    If we want to be like him, then we should adopt the same inclusive approach.

    We should also remember that, as we have discovered more about the human brain, we have found out all sorts of things about slavery that the biblical writers simply did not know. The prophets and apostles knew nothing of cortexes and neurons, and had no idea that some people are pre-wired to escape from slavery, so they never talked about it. But as we have learned more about genetics, neural pathways, hormones and so on, we have come to realise that some tendencies – alcoholism, for example – scientifically result from the way we are made, and therefore cannot be the basis for moral disapproval or condemnation. To disregard the findings of science on this point is like continuing to insist that the world is flat.

    With all of these preliminary ideas in place, we can finally turn to Paul, who has sadly been used as a judgmental battering ram by people opposed to escaping slaves for centuries. When we do, what immediately strikes us is that in the ultimate “clobber passage”, namely Philemon, the problem isn’t really about escaping slaves at all! The problem, as Paul puts it, is not that slaves escape, but [analogy totally breaks down here].

    Not only that, but none of his references apply to escaping slavery as we know it today: [analogy has total broken down]. Paul, as a Hellenistic Roman citizen, simply would not have had a category for that kind of thing. In his world, escaping from slavery meant physically getting away from the control of your master – and as such, had nothing to do with his prohibitions.

    In other words, when Paul talks about escaping slaves, he is not talking about the escaping from slavery as we know it today. As a Christ-follower, he would be just as horrified as Jesus if he saw the way his words have been twisted to exclude modern escaped slaves like me, and like many friends of mine. For centuries, the church has silenced the voice of escaped slaves (just like it has silenced the voice of women), and it is about time we recognised that neither Jesus, nor Paul, had any problem with escaping from slavery.

    Obviously this is a contribution to an ongoing conversation, rather than the last word on the subject. But I hope you will all search the scriptures, search your hearts, and consider the evidence afresh – and avoid judging those who disagree in the meantime! Maybe, just maybe, we can make space in the church for those who, like me, have spent a lifetime wrestling with the challenge of escaping slavery.

    • Thanks, Thursday1. People have *lives* that do not move in internet time. If you expect someone to respond in 14 minutes… I don’t know what to tell you.

      This is my final plea. If you can’t be a decent member of the commenting community, then you should go elsewhere. I think I’ve maybe banned one person the past decade, but if you persist I will do so.

      Matt

      • Sorry. I just realized I misread your “14 minutes” claim. Either way, your “point” is not obviously helpful, and I’d encourage you to go read elsewhere.

  • Erica

    The last part is where the parody goes off the rails. It’s clear that idolatry leads to people abandoning their natural orientation and not vice versa. Discerning the difference between immoral and moral relationships is similar to discerning the difference between greed and ambition. It’s easy for an outsider to misjudge someone’s heart.

    The Bible is extremely clear about money being an idol, yet if the author replaced “idolatry” with “ambition” people wouldn’t realize it was a parody.

  • Luke W

    Couldn’t this parody be redirected to show the “absurdity” of interracial marriage as once held by many evangelicals? I can remember similar comparisons made by teachers/preachers from my Christian school experience. Doesn’t mean the satire is inaccurate here. Only saying it follows the same thinking as those opposed to interracial marriage a few decades back.

    • Clinton

      The parody is meant to expose the fallacies of this line of reasoning. It’s not meant to argue against same-sex marriage. So no, the parody couldn’t be redirected to show the “absurdity” of interracial marriage because those who agree with interracial marriage don’t use this line of reasoning. Interracial marriage should be allowed because race is irrelevant to the concept of marriage, whereas sex *is* relevant. But these are the kinds of arguments that same-sex “marriage” proponents put forth to try to justify why it should be allowed.

      • Luke W

        Sadly, a previous generation of evangelicals did not agree with your assessment that “interracial marriage should be allowed because race is irrelevant to the concept of marriage.” Nevertheless, your point that the parody couldn’t carry to the topic is accurate. Rhetorical apples and oranges.

        Maybe we need a comparison of the arguments some evangelicals once made against interracial marriage and the current arguments against gay marriage? It could relieve the fear some (including me) have that we’re committing a similar error here.

        • Clinton

          It’s not true that they say race as relevant. comparing same-sex “marriage” to interracial marriage is a false analogy. They prevented interracial marriage because of racist attitudes — they didn’t want the races mixing. But interracial marriage was still seen as marriage qua marriage.

          • Luke W

            In a statement addressing interracial marriage, Bob Jones University said “God made racial differences as He made sexual differences.” While you’re right that they ultimately fear a different social outcome (something about a one-world government and the Antichrist) they were still using biblical principles to declare what kind of marriages are allowable so there’s some relevance here.

            Since you and I agree (I think) theirs is a flawed argument that misuses scripture, wouldn’t it be valuable to contrast that argument with the current argument against gay marriage demonstrate exactly how we’re not making the same error? We’ve dressed up bigotry with bible verses before – if that’s not what we’re doing now, we should welcome the comparison.

        • geoffrobinson

          People who were against interracial marriage still believed people of different sexes who got married were still married. Traditional marriage proponents don’t believe same-sex marriage is real.

          • Luke W

            True. Gay marriage is a fundamental redefinition of the institution of marriage, while interracial marriage is not. But in both cases, we have evangelicals declaring some marriages unbiblical. And because of our egregious use of Scripture in the recent past, we should at least exercise some humble consideration before simply shouting our long-held position. Some of our long-held positions have proven bigoted and based on culturally biased readings of scripture.

            That being said, I think the redefinition of marriage is an excellent point of discussion as we engage the current culture. Just writing parodies about idolatry doesn’t help the already tense conversation.

          • geoffrobinson

            Sometimes you need to be perfectly clear with people. The situation is tense because people love their sin and are trying to twist Scripture.

            But you miss the point. It’s not a parody about idolatry. It’s lampooning horrible arguments.

          • Luke W

            I understood the parody. I’m just saying on a previous generation of evangelicals believed interracial marriage was wrong with the same confidence you just displayed about gay marriage. They too said “people love their sin and are trying to twist Scripture.”

            I’m not saying we’re wrong on gay marriage. I’m only saying we should take care to demonstrate that we are not using the same bigoted hermeneutics we used in the recent past.

            Pointing out the “horrible arguments” of the other side would carry more weight if we acknowledge our own horrible arguments and make the effort to rise above. The parody sounded much like the arguments I heard in my Christian school in the 1980’s(!) in Detroit(!!) about interracial marriage. We can do better.

      • Philmonomer

        Interracial marriage should be allowed because race is irrelevant to the concept of marriage, whereas sex *is* relevant.

        Proponents of SSM disagree that sex *is* relevant to the concept of marriage.

        • Clinton

          I don’t see how that’s relevant, though. What is relevant is whether or not it’s true. Sex is relevant to the concept of marriage because marriage has a special link to children. This is how marriage has *always* been seen by virtually all societies since the beginning of human civilization. Marriage has a special link to children because male/female sex produces children. The government has a vested stake in marriage because it provides a stable environment in which to raise children to become productive members of society. This is also the reason that marriage is seen as requiring monogamy and permanence.

          • Philmonomer

            Sex is relevant to the concept of marriage because marriage has a special link to children

            Some heterosexual marriages produce children. Some heterosexual marriages do not–some by choice, some by biology. Given that some heterosexual marriages cannot produce children, why exclude homosexual couples from marriage on the grounds that they cannot produce children?

            The government has a vested stake in marriage because it provides a stable environment in which to raise children to become productive members of society.

            Under this logic, you’d be ok with the government prohibiting marriages where the woman is too old to bear children.

          • RobD

            As Judge Posner noted, that argument actually works in favor of same-sex marriage. If legal recognition creates a more stable environment in which to raise children, then it would behoove the state to give civil recognition to same-sex marriages.

            If you’re suggesting that marriage has a special connection to procreation, then we ought to be opposing a lot of other marital arrangements: any marriage where procreative intent is lacking, any marriage where procreative capability is lacking, etc.

            As Carl Trueman noted some time ago, our main problem in opposing same-sex marriage lies with our refusal to examine the ways in which our practice of opposite-sex marriage departs radically from traditional marriage. Same-sex marriage is simply the logical conclusion of the premises that we have already largely accepted as a culture, and, sadly, as a church.

  • LA Green

    Satire is helpful and I think it actually captured the ‘argument’ quite well.

    Gay Christians and unbelievers, well before they figure out the way the system of logic they’ll use to approach Scripture and their sexuality, have really complex and often bad experiences they need to navigate. Surely, one can look at the original article and accept their room for an interpretation, given a particular experience, of cruelty and mockery.

    But as far as the rhetoric implored by most folks talk for gay marriage in the church, the article nailed it. Having spent a lot of time in the gay community as a straight Christian, it lacks because gay Christians are reading this, and their argument is a lot deeper than mere reason.

  • paganmegan

    The problem with the analogy is that idolatry isn’t relational. We’re not attracted to idols, we’re led astray by others into following them. The biblical route to idolatry started with a sexual attraction by political or religious leaders to worshippers of a different god, ultimately leading their followers into worshipping the same false god. The followers didn’t “choose” their idol, but obediently submitted to the authority of their leaders. This is why the prophets were so much harsher in their judgement toward bad shepherds than toward their flocks.

    To the extent idolatry is relational, it’s motivated by our relationship with religious leaders and the level of trust we place in them. The only way to truly avoid idolatry is to engage in a postmodern mindset that questions all institutions and authority figures.

    Another problem with the analogy is that, like many religious leaders, Andrew Wilson applies the term idolatry in a broader sense than does Scripture, confusing it with covetousness. Following false spiritual beings is idolatry, even if those beings are represented as physical objects such as a golden calf. Lusting for tangible things like money, sex and power is covetousness, not idolatry.

    • C. Quinn-Jones

      Hi, ‘paganmegan’, Yes, ‘lusting for …money, sex and power is covetousness…’. Attaching more importance to them than we do to God is idolatry, according to Merrium-Webster’s second definition of idolatry:
      ‘immoderate attachment or devotion to something’.

      ‘Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’.

      ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart…’
      Christine

      • paganmegan

        Nowadays it means that, but I doubt the authors of the Bible would recognize that definition. The problem is we no longer call false gods by name. Instead we wrap them in sheepskin and represent them as Christ. For example, a few years ago I saw a bumper sticker that said, “God is Pro-Life.” The first image that popped into my head was of Jesus dying on the cross. Pro-life? Which god is that? It took me some time to realize that Baal is pro-life. Yahweh is not. This, my friend, is idolatry.

        • C. Quinn-Jones

          I am not a theologian, but I am a praying Christian. I am at peace with what I wrote in my previous post.

  • RobD

    Although I disagree with Vines’s ultimate conclusion, I would judge Wilson’s response as falling short of the way that Scripture commends us to speak to each other. Moreover, Wilson’s “argument” would be entirely unpersuasive to anyone who wasn’t already committed to defending the standard evangelical…errr Freudian…ways of thinking about sex, gender roles, and family.

    Although it’s not his main point, Vines does do a somewhat effective job of addressing the problems associated with squaring Paul with the Freudian view of sexuality that is so often proffered as “traditional” in evangelical contexts. Homosexuality, after all, derives itself entirely from heterosexuality. Without heterosexuality and the creation of a privileged in-class of heterosexuals, there is no out-class. In that sense, homosexuality and its explicit absurdity are simply a reflection of heterosexuality and its implicit absurdity. The absurdity of the former reveals the absurdity of the latter. And that’s likely why the defenders of heteronormativity have difficulty mounting a robust critique of Vines and must instead resort to juvenile mockery.

    Our answer is to disabuse ourselves of Freud and return to Paul. Not just the Paul of Romans 1. But the Paul of I Corinthians 7 as well. After all, Paul is no less critical of the modern evangelical valorization of heterosexual desire than he is of the emerging efforts to valorize homosexual desire. But if we’re going to ignore the Paul of I Corinthians 7–as evangelicals have done for 60 years or more–it probably makes little sense to give credence to the Paul of Romans 1.

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  • Nickolas Steffen

    I would rather like to see Matt Vines’ response to this. Did you tag him on your Twitter link?

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  • Guest

    Being a Christian = following the ways of Christ, Jesus was only in loving intimate relationships with men., “Come and i will make you fishers of Men”., , all 12 of Jesus’s companions (apostles) were (male)

    a straight person is Not a true christian,

    Jesus was never in hetero relationships

    Jesus (a male) was only in loving intimate close relationships with (men.),

    Jesus never spoke a word of gay sexuality in any of his gospels,

    the word homosexual was made up in the 1800’s & was added to the bible in 1946,

    in fact there are over 500 verses in bible where God, Jesus & the prophets condemn heterosexuality ,…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

    satan is straight-an

    (God) is (Gay).

  • Guest

    Being a Christian = following the ways of Christ, Jesus was only in loving intimate relationships with men., “Come and i will make you fishers of Men”., , all 12 of Jesus’s companions (apostles) were (male)

    a straight person is Not a true christian,

    Jesus was never in hetero relationships

    Jesus (a male) was only in loving intimate close relationships with (men.),

    Jesus never spoke a word of gay sexuality in any of his gospels,

    the word homosexual was made up in the 1800’s & was added to the bible in 1946,

    in fact there are over 500 verses in bible where God, Jesus & the prophets condemn heterosexuality ,…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

    satan is straight-an

    (God) is (Gay)

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  • “Wilson and Vines would agree is sinful for essentially the same reasons (testimony of Scripture).”

    Don’t forget the other (arguably more) important half: the thousands of years of tradition of Judeo-Christianity, which leaves no wiggle room for idolatry nor homosexuality.

    Why a change in culture suddenly invalidates all of that shouldn’t be baffling, but it is.

  • Tim Unbounded

    I found the parody very compelling as it showed me how it is so easy to be seduced by worldly methods of creating arguments. We know how Paul preached the gospel : “my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:4).

    I really did begin to think that may be one day we will be able to show that idolatry, murder, lying, adultery, stealing, polygamy and other sins could be argued to be perfectly acceptable and yet we can still work out our salvation with fear and trembling. We know that there will be a great falling away and people will turn to teachers who tickle their ears. For the last two years I have seen the vast array of different doctrines that have sprouted across the world, and I have become more compelled to become more like the Bereans. “10 And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” Acts 17 verses 10 to 11

  • 50 shades of pilgrims progress

    no offense but andy is hilarious, he doesn’t even believe in the fire of hell.. he just says it’s psychological torment, and all the while he tries to moan at postmodernists… LOL,… the guy said in a post it’s ok to desire same sex but not to do it… what on earth??? and he said jesus desired himself to sin sometimes and that was not SINful – wow wow wow.

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  • Stib

    I’m a gay Christian teen who hasn’t quite reached a conclusion on the subject of whether same-sex relationships are OK with God. Personally, though, I didn’t find the above article very convincing in arguing that the parody was fair/accurate (and indeed I felt pretty hurt by it, as well as by the parody itself, but that’s beside the point). I find it hard to lay out exactly what I find seems wrong, but here are a few hastily written notes:
    The article makes the statement that Christians’ avoidance of idolatry follows from the “testimony of Scripture.” This seems quite inaccurate. If we need to cite a passage to demonstrate that we should not worship idols, I do not think we are treating God in a way that glorifies him. It strikes me as tragically off in the same way that the lyric “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so” does – if we do not first accept the love of God and his primacy on trust, but derive it from the written text, our faith becomes meaningless. If we accept the authority/inspiration of scripture, we should accept it as a consequence of the faithfulness of God, not the other way around.
    In a similar way, I do not think that a rule is beyond questioning if it simply appears as a command in scripture with no foundation in, e.g., the nature of God. So, arguments that same sex relationships are wrong must go back to the fact that God created male and female to be complementary, and we should live in reflection of God’s design. This is where we can lead into Vines’ argument referring to, well, modern discoveries of how attraction works biologically. It’s not just an argument isomorphic to “these are different variations of actions from those previously condemned;” it’s more like, “the world is more complicated than previously assumed, and directly applying good provisions meant to institute order in a previous time may not result in the same good effects in the present time; the principles behind those provisions still hold, but we need to think more about how to apply them now.”
    Feel free to disagree with me (in particular, if the principles behind evolutionary biology and complex systems theory are not accepted, I do not expect sympathy with parts of my above comment), but I just wanted to suggest that there are disagreeable things about the parody and the above article, and perhaps there are more effective ways of holding such important discussions that invite open discussion (e.g. not declaring one’s opinions as verdicts) and allow greater glory to God.