First Steps on a Pilgrimage: A Reflection on the Thinking of Lee and Vines
The pilgrim’s journey has been central to Christian tradition from the beginning. It’s a helpful image for the still unresolved discernment among Christians about the place of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in God’s heart and in the church. We inherited the spiritual practice from the Jews: remember Jesus’ repeated treks to Jerusalem for holy days? Many still walk the medieval pilgrimage trails across Europe. John Bunyan’s account of the spiritual journey called “Pilgrim’s Progress” was, for centuries, an essential guide to faith formation for Protestant Christians.
This ancient spiritual practice sprang to mind when I read with great appreciation Justin Lee’s 2012 book, “Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate,” and Matthew Vines’ hot-off-the-presses, “God and the Gay Christian.” Both approach the prayerful inquiries of evangelical Christians into how they understand God’s will for LGBT people as a faith journey—a pilgrimage of their souls.
Justin Lee is leader of the thriving Gay Christian Network, an online community for evangelical LGBT Christians and an educational resource for everyone. “Torn” is, first and foremost, a spiritual memoir in which Justin shares his journey as a gay evangelical Christian: his experience of faithful, spiritual wrestling with the tradition of his beloved evangelical heritage and with God.
Justin’s honesty is inspiring as he outlines his sincere exploration of his church’s approach to being gay. We arrive with him, after helpful theological discussion and Biblical study, at the one step he invites us to take: recognize that being gay—the word he uses to capture the rich diversity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, asexual and words yet to take hold—is not a choice.
When Justin calls evangelical Christians to accept that being gay is not a choice, he invites them to set out upon a rich pilgrimage toward an answer to the questions about LGBT people that have roiled the church for three generations.
With “God and the Gay Christian,” Matthew Vines brings an earnest, intelligent new voice to this long Christian family discussion. When he came out as gay to himself, Vines took a leave of absence from college to embark on a quest to integrate his deep evangelical faith and his sexuality. He never returned to school. After he shared his findings in a video on YouTube, it went viral. He continued to speak, founded The Reformation Project and now works to further conversation on these matters.
Matthew shares his story in the book, but his pilgrimage road leads primarily into the Bible. His logic is this: if the Church was able to clarify its understanding of Scripture based on Galileo’s new information about the heavens, then we can surely clarify our reading of the Bible based on new information about same-sex relationships. Like Justin, Matthew has one step he asks evangelicals to take: accept that the church can clarify understandings based on new information or situations.
Matthew has a gift for explaining clearly the historical and cultural considerations embedded in the seven passages seen as authoritative for the evangelical understanding of God’s will for LGBT people. He is skilled at showing how the Biblical world was vastly different from our world and why that is important.
So both of these devout disciples of Christ invite evangelicals to take the first step on a spiritual pilgrimage road. Matthew begins with the work of clarifying our understanding of Scripture and Justin lays out how being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is not a choice. The faith in God of both is evident in their confidence that God inspires this journey from the first step to wherever prayerful inquiry leads the faithful pilgrim.
Though the journeys initiated by Lee and Vines may wind different ways, the heart of the matter for both is gracious conversation. Respectful, attentive, kind dialogue with Scripture, God and other Christians are the way stations on the road to a conclusion about how God loves LGBT people (for we do agree God loves us all). Lee and Vines are wonderful, faithful, reliable guides to step out on your path.
Will you take their hands, so to speak, and join them on the pilgrim road?
Photo: El Camino de Santiago via Dale Calder