Epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief, or, rather, how we know what we know. For centuries, theologians and philosophers have posited numerous theories as to how we arrive at "Truth." One of the more renowned attempts to explain how we come to conviction was popularized between the 18th and 20th centuries largely by John Wesley, the prominent Protestant reformer. Wesley's work seemed to suggest that there are four different sources we refer to when coming to theological belief and practice; scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. Although the Bible is to be held most superior in what would be later called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, all of the other faculties are to be ascribed equal value and held in tension with the holy text.
Now if all of this sounds like philosophical babble and content that appeals only to those walking in circles of biblical academia and you're wondering what this has to do with Matthew Vines' book God And The Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships, the answer is everything.
From the introduction of his work, Vine suggests that his goal "isn't to break new ground, but to bring credible, often-overlooked insights to light, and to synthesize those insights in clear and accessible ways for a broad audience."
From here, addressing scripture, tradition, reason and experience, he lays out the essentials that one would need to form confident agreement with the idea that "Christians who affirm the full authority of the scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous, same-sex relationships."
Rather than recounting Vines' meticulous logic which has already been done by pastors, theologians, and other bloggers alike, it seems more fitting to focus on why this particular work carries the potential to serve as a centerpiece in the collection of resources that will radically change the face of the gay and Christian conversation and beyond that equality discourse at large.
Over the last year of working with Planting Peace, and particularly its Equality House initiative here in Topeka, Kansas, my job title could easily have been changed from "director of outreach" to "director of backlash." Over email, social media, and even through the United States Postal Service, we have regularly come under fire from the Far Right. And we are not alone in this. Other men and women we have met involved in LGBT advocacy have recalled all of the same criticism and the same forms of condemnation. Because Planting Peace is registered as "non-faith based", and the vast majority of our engagement with the public before my time operated out of a secular worldview, my personal Christian faith and the degree I received in biblical theology was an enormous asset to the organization. It would seem that most (if not all) of the opposition that we have faced as a charity -- and that the overall movement towards full LGBT inclusion has experienced in society -- is rooted in a lethal cocktail mix of patriarchy and religious beliefs. Historically, when progressives have confronted conservatives with their error in understanding of what it means to be gay, it's put the conservatives in a position where they feel forced to suspend an inextricable part of their value system in order to accommodate the changing tides of society. This has understandably felt like a death sentence to conservatives. To ask one of these men or women to recant the claim that the Bible has full authority over belief and practice is to ask them to repress an inherent part of who they are, which is debatably the same harmful exhortation that has been given to us LGBT identifying men and women since the dawn of the culture wars.
What makes Vines' book so significant in the talk on human rights is that it doesn't ask the opposition to make that theological or epistemic move. Vines' book is written from a conservative and incredibly Evangelical position and argues for the affirmation of same-sex relationships not in spite of the Bible but because of the Bible.
Seen in this light, Vines' work not only demonstrates that there is "room at the table" for those of us who have formerly experienced exclusion from our respective faith communities (as well as unequal treatment under the law), but also that it is imperative for all believing people to start deeply exploring the areas of inconsistency they find between the word of God, tradition, reason, and their own personal experiences. Given the book's incorporation of all four of these means to determine belief and practice, it is sure to go a long a way not only for healing the ontological wounds gay Christians bear but so many others that have been caused by the church.