Twenty-something Matthew Vines seeks to change evangelicals through ‘Reformation Project’

covnetlogoEditor’s note: The Presbyterian Lay Committee (PLC), the publisher of The Layman and The Layman Online, does not support same-sex marriage. Instead, the PLC “believes with Scripture that God ordained the lifelong marriage of a man and a woman in the very order of creation and that Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, blessed and sanctified this relationship. The article here was posted as a news story about the Covenant Network’s 2013 conference on “Marriage Matters.”


CHICAGO, Ill. — Here is a man who understands the conservative Presbyterian world from the inside. Here is a man with genuine reliance upon Jesus Christ for salvation. A child of the Church and now an openly gay, Harvard-educated, media savvy crusader with a plan to change the hearts and minds of evangelical Christians.

Matthew Vines grew up in one of the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s flagship evangelical congregations. He knows the Bible, and he is a person of passionate faith. His parents were both ruling elders, and his family’s social network was centered in life at the church. Vines is wicked smart and after graduating from high school he went to Harvard. There he discovered two things: There’s a world of openness to otherness that he had not known in Wichita, and that he, himself, identifies as gay.

Those two discoveries have led Vines into a passionate pursuit: To help lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people who are in conservative PCUSA churches find their voice and change their churches.

In a workshop at the Covenant Network “Marriage Matters” national conference in Chicago, Vines confronted the reality that many in the pro-LGBT movement have “written off” churches like the one where he grew up.  He said, “We’ve written them off as hopeless, but I have the hope of bringing them around to our perspective.”

In order to accomplish that feat, Vines recognized that an army must be mobilized and equipped. And if those people were to come from the historic ranks of LGBT advocates, then the first hurdle would be overcoming the entrenched dislike LGBT lobbyists have for conservative Christians.

Beyond pejorative stereotyping, they would have to want to get to know people in those churches, enter real relationships with them, and then stick with what Vines knows by experience is a very long process of deconstruction and reeducation.

Vines is focused on raising up a new generation that is already among the ranks he wants to affect. His strategy is to find LGBT people or allies who are already in conservative churches and equip them to do the work he calls “The Reformation Project.”

Vines used his own experience to help others understand how to get conservative Presbyterians to reconsider their beliefs and become open to LGBT people and their concerns.


Studying with his dad

After coming out his sophomore year, Vines described how he left Harvard to invest eight months studying with his dad.

He said, “My dad is not a horrible person, he had just never known an openly gay person. He is a conservative Christian and a lawyer.”  Vines described how his dad went to the church library and brought home ex-gay books because those were the only books the church library had to offer.

Matthew Vines speaks about his intent to change the views of evangelicals through his “Reformation Project.”

Vines described his dad at the time and others like him as having “a moral blind spot, but they don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to LGBT people — I believe in their ability to be decent people — so I want to go back and inform and shift their paradigm.”

Vines says of his dad, “He definitely did hold a non-affirming position on homosexuality a few years ago, but he has changed his mind through careful study of Scripture and is 100% supportive of me today.” Multiplying that change of heart and mind is what Vines want to see in others.

Vines said that most of the material he brought to the table “was not written to my dad — it was written to disregard his worldview and his commitments — creating unnecessary tension.” He went on to acknowledge that “there has been some really excellent high level scholarship — the pioneering academic work has been done. But in order to read these books you have to have a graduate degree in linguistics or theology.”  Vines’ concern is bringing that scholarship down to the popular level where the Biblical convictions of conservative lay people can be challenged and through relationship, changed.

Vines told the Covenant Network about his experience of journeying with his dad from acceptance of him to affirmation that God’s Word does not in fact prohibit his lifestyle, “when you come from a culture that sees things one way it takes a lot of time to deconstruct those old ideas slowly and it takes a lot of time to make those journeys.”

That journey with his dad took place in 2010. In 2011, Vines turned his attention to the wider church.

Referring to churches leaving the PCUSA, including his own, Vines read from a letter to the editor posted on It said in part that “the rhetoric in my church is centered on ‘The Authority of Scripture.'” The letter asserted that “the main concern of those at these churches, of course was theological — or what is sometimes described as theological pluralism. The problem was over simple core beliefs, not arcane doctrinal disputes.”

Vines said that in his former church’s discernment process that ultimately led them to realign from the PCUSA to a more conservative branch of the Presbyterian family of denominations, “mentioned most often here was the change in the language in the Book of Order that we are to make decisions ‘in obedience to Scripture’ to ‘guided by Scripture.’ People found that this change in language violated, for them, one of the most basic aspects of what it means to be Christian, allowing people to ‘pick and choose’ how they might live their lives.”

One workshop participant asked Vines how those two phrases are seen as different by Presbyterians in more conservative churches. He answered, “At the end of the day if you have a question about morality, Scripture is determinative and authoritative for them. To the contrary, many pro-LGBT Christians say Paul may have been a flawed guy, so we can disregard Romans 1:26-27. They say they don’t feel the need to submit to a teaching they don’t like.”

Vines told his audience that “there is a real gulf between evangelicals in the PCUSA and those who are very doctrinally different.” And the resource he needed to bridge that gulf did not exist, so he created it.

Vines taped an hour-long presentation and posted it on YouTube. Six months later, the New York Times ran an article. Two weeks after that he had a book deal (release date May 2014) and now he devotes himself full-time to The Reformation Project.


No more exegetical handiwork or hoodwinking

Vines posed the ultimate question, “Can talking about the Bible and homosexuality actually persuade conservative Christians to change their minds?  Or is this just a dead end?” The answer is both personal and practical. Vines said, “Whether it works depends on WHOM you are talking to and HOW you are talking to them about the Bible and homosexuality.”

Vines told his audience that they “must respect authority of Scripture,” adding that “people like my dad are not going to be moved by discussions of love and justice because for evangelicals it is not loving to support someone who they see as doing something that is sin and keeps them separated from God.”

He told them that no amount of “exegetical handiwork” is going to change what the Apostle Paul has said on the subject. “So,” Vines says, “even if you say you’re not undermining the authority of Scripture, if you’re disregarding what Paul says without having sound arguments, then to the evangelical mind, you are undermining the authority of Scripture and that is the end of the discussion.”

Vines instructed his listeners to focus on the parallel in slavery. “Evangelicals view on that has changed. They are able to distinguish between that which is cultural and that which is trans-cultural. If it’s a command centered in God’s character then it’s trans-cultural and unchanging. But there are things that fit ‘how they did it then’ but ‘not how we do it today.’ God working within first century culture in the real world allowed for slavery but not as authoritative for life today.”

“So,” making the connection to passages in the Bible that forbid homosexual practice, Vines said, “the homosexuality passages are negative. The question is: Are they cultural or trans-cultural as evangelicals see it?”

Laying out his argument, Vines said that “the concept of homosexuality today is orientation — which is significantly different enough from what the Bible is speaking to, which is homosexual excess — that evangelicals can see the cultural difference.”

Vines instructed, “Be informed about why the text says what it does and don’t try to hoodwink evangelicals.”


Comments 30

  • I applaud Matthew Vines and his work. As the Librarian at Eastminster Presbyterian of Indialantic, I made sure that several copies his book were a part of our collection. A great reseource for youth and young adults who are struggling with their identity, and one that will lead them to the church (and Christ), and not away.

  • […] Twenty-something Matthew Vines seeks to change evangelicals through ‘Reformation Project’ […]

  • A bondservant of Satan… God has spoken on this issue and we must listen. Matthew Vines cannot change what God has commanded

    • Paul has spoken about his views on homosexuals. This is what Jesus has said about homosexuals. . .0. . .nothing!

  • […] activist Matthew Vines told conference attendees about his “Reformation Project,” which aims to persuade conservative […]

  • […] 2013, the project involved the continued promotion of an infamous youtube sermon by Vines, various speaking engagements and activism, and a training program provided to around 50 people late in the […]

  • Mathew Vines seems to be basing his “Reformation Project” on the “parallel of slavery.” This is not a new strategy. Among others, Robert Gagnon has written that the use of this analogy “reflects badly on the hermeneutical acumen of those who employ it.”
    I do appreciate that Vines bases his ‘project’ on a relational framework, not one of confrontation. Within this context, I pray the Truth will set him free.

  • God must be weeping!

  • Let us pray that Matthew will find something more constructive to do with his time, talent and keen mind. Sooner or later he should come to the conclusion that no amount obfuscation, rationaliziation and weasel-wording can undermine basic simple truths. Hopefully he will understand why the first couple were Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. He should come to understand why the word “pervert” exists. He may not be able to overcome his “orientation” (sic) but he can, in fact, choose not be a pervert. Let us pray that this is not too fine a point for his mind to grasp.

  • What a strange world we live in, where evil is called good and good is called evil. (Isaiah 5:20) This article is a good example. Sadly so many are now being led astray into the homosexual lifestyle, even though God’s Word is crystal clear on the fact that Christians must flee from sexual immorality and can have no part in it.

  • why does being a homosexual exempt one from sins of the flesh?

  • That lifestyle is a CHOICE and God can do anything, including delivering the truly contrite and repentant from that or any other sin. This man is obviously on the heels of the post adolescent idealistic phase. If he is as savvy as he is portrayed, he doubtlessly is aware of how and why the PCUSA is in the pitiful shape it’s in. Let’s pray for regeneration for this young man. If it is foreordained, it will happen.

    • I cannot believe that anyone can believe that being gay is a choice. When did you choose to be heterosexual? I have sat with many young people in anxious and upset states that they are realising that they are ‘different’ in counseling situations. I have friends who tell me about the heartache and fear they go through as they recognise they are gay. It is absolute ignorance to think it is a choice of lifestyle. Christ taught us to love, to forgive, not to judge and to turn the other cheek. All I see from so many who call themselves Christians is judgment, condemnation, and certainly not love which is the basis for all Christ’s teachings.

      • What about instructing another in love? What about repentance? Do you really think that lifestyle choices are as immutable as racial makeup?

      • You presume that we Christians share your belief that being sexually attracted to individuals who are the same gender as oneself thereby makes one a homosexual. Committing homosexual acts is what constitutes making one a homosexual, and when one repents of those acts, one ceases to be homosexual. One might not be able to choose with what sins one is tempted, but one is morally culpable for choosing to give in to temptation to sin. And like it or not, God, through His servants the prophets and apostles, has declared homosexuality to be a sin (Gen. 19.4-9 [cf. Jude 7], Lev. 18.22, 20.13, Dt. 23.17-18, Judg. 19.22-25, Rom. 1.24-27, I Cor. 6.9-11, I Tim. 1.9-10).
        And nowhere in Scripture does the Lord Jesus teach us to love others by treating their sins as if they are not sins. Like all other sins, homosexuality alienates those who commit it from the life of God (Eph. 4.17-19, Col. 1.21). The context of Leviticus 18 and 20 makes it clear that God considers homosexuality as a form of sexual immorality. Likewise, Paul in I Corinthians 6.9-10 and I Timothy 1.9-10 lists homosexuals together with adulterers and fornicators, and Jude said that the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah had “given themselves over to sexual immorality and (had) gone after strange flesh,” (Jude 7) referring to the account in Genesis 19.4-9 of the Sodomites’ expressed desire to homosexually rape Lot’s visitors and their threats to homosexually rape Lot for judging them for their homosexuality and for standing in the way of their desire to rape his houseguests.
        So then, are we to love homosexuals? Absolutely! Are we to treat their homosexuality as if it was not a sin? Absolutely not! For then, we would be approving of that which separates them from God and lying to them, telling them that that for which God will judge them is not sin. In so doing, presuming that we are showing them love, we are truly showing them great hatred.
        “‘But if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live. Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?’ says the Lord GOD, ‘and not that he should turn from his ways and live?’” (Ezek. 18.21-23) And again, “‘For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,’ says the Lord GOD. ‘Therefore turn and live!’” (Ezek. 18.32)

        • I agree with so much of what you have written, Loren.

          A key problem for us today seems to be that the Biblical definition of ‘homosexual’ might be different from the definition held by contemporary culture. I agree with you about the Biblical definition. But modern culture defines the word to primary describe same-sex attraction irrespective of whether the attraction is acted upon physically.

      • Why is it when someone asks the question, when did you choose to be heterosexual, it is followed by a story of how someone realized or struggled to discover etc their homosexuality. I have never heard of a heterosexual have to struggle to recognize their heterosexuality. Romans 1 has the answer as to the struggle when Paul teaches about the inner struggle over the thrones of the mind and heart leading to sin. The struggle is because they are homosexual but is a struggle in who they will submit to and homosexuality being the main draw.

  • How can we hope to win people for JEsus if we are so judgemental of who they chooe to love. Why would a loving God MAKE (there is no choice) people gay then tell them that their desires are sinful. We know homosexuality is natural because we see it in nature. We also kno that our God is loving ( a lot more loving than some of the people spewing hate on here).

    God is turning the tide and some day homosexual behaviour will be a non issue in the church, when that happens we will reach more people with the news of the gospel and we will rejoice.

    • That homosexuality is a sin is not about whom people love; it is about people who engage in sexual intercourse with individuals who are the same gender as themselves. God did not “make” people with same-sex attraction any more than He “made” people with proclivities toward gossiping, abusing alcohol, or gambling. Such is an aspect of the sinful condition in which all human beings find themselves. It is not “hate” to identify homosexuality as a sin, for God has done as much in His Word (Gen. 19.4-9 [cf. Jude 7], Lev. 18.22, 20.13, Dt. 23.17, Judg. 19.22-25, Rom. 1.24-27, I Cor. 6.9-11, I Tim. 1.9-10). Neither is it “hate” to call homosexuals to repent of their sins and to turn to Jesus Christ to be delivered from them, for this is what God calls us all to do.

    • “God is turning the tide and some day homosexual behaviour will be a non issue in the church, when that happens we will reach more people with the news of the gospel and we will rejoice.”

      I do not hate you for your opinions, but I do struggle with your logic. (You could be correct in your conclusion that some day homosexual behavior will be a non-issue in the church. It is more likely in my view that the church, or a large portion of it, will be a non-issue in the world, as is indeed already too much the case.)

      Questions for you. Why would a loving God make HETEROSEXUALS then tell them that their desires are sinful, as indeed he does in Scripture? We know heterosexuality is natural because we see it in nature. And indeed, heterosexuals are capable of predatory desires that presumably you and I would agree are abhorrent. Sexuality aside, would you hold that anything is permissible so long as the desire or action is found in nature? Seems you have abolished the idea of sin, or at least would like to define it according to your wishes.

    • “Why would a loving God make people gay” is a premise I do not accept any more than I accept that married heterosexuals should be able to act out their attractions with whomever they want whenever they want, or singles for that matter. I was in a church where a couple having an extramarital affair said the same thing, “I cannot believe that a loving God would deny me this love, this pleasure.”
      The God I know offers me unlimited and unconditional love, and the experience of that causes me to forsake the brokenness that I [and everyone else I know] experience in their sexuality and other parts of their lives. All predispositions, genetic or otherwise, are not necessarily good they must be weighed in the light of scripture to be discerned for what they truly are, good or evil.
      But please Church Wake Up! this constant debate around this topic neglects the greater challenges of our day and distracts us from what God is up to in the world. We must turn from this distracting argument [2 Timothy 2:23-24] and treat each other in a much kinder way.
      What God is doing in the 2/3rds world reaching lost peoples and setting them free, the opportunities we are wasting to be part of that to engage in this miracle of God are mind boggling. May God set more and more of us free to serve that we may return to this in due season and lay down our rhetorical weapons. Amen

  • Thankfully, Matthew Vines is bringing some light to issues too often clouded by fear and ignorance. Moral theology cannot stand if it is based on the notion that bad science. Few in the modern world believe that insubordinate children or unfaithful women should be stoned to death, and the troubled history of the so-called “ex-gay” movement has proven again and again that one cannot “pray the gay away.”

  • “(Matthew) Vines says of his dad, ‘He definitely did hold a non-affirming position on homosexuality a few years ago, but he has changed his mind through careful study of Scripture and is 100% supportive of me today.’”

    I am disappointed to learn that Monte Vines has abandoned the Biblical teaching regarding human sexuality and the sinfulness of homosexuality for the twisted lies promulgated by his son’s teachers.

    • No, I don’t believe he has abandoned the Biblical teaching regarding human sexuality and the sinfulness of homosexuality, he has just allowed God’s Spirit to help him work through what are some very complex and confusing passages of Scripture. One of the things Matthew can be credited for is doing due diligence to what the Bible says. This includes in-depth study of the original language (Hebrew and Greek), and unpacking the historical, political and sociol-economical context of each passage, something that I suspect can’t be said about this writer who unwisely uses emotionally charged language to prove why they are right and others are wrong. This is the sort of stuff Jesus has some pretty harsh things to say about to be church about this in Matthew 23.

      • You seem to be obfuscating, CJ. You are right to a degree; determining which elements of Leviticus still apply to Christians today, could be less than straight-forward. And Romans 1 in its entirety, is not completely straight-forward. But the Bible references homosexual behaviour multiple times over, and some instances are fairly straight-forward, EG 1 Cor 6 “Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (NIV)

        Matthew has indeed done some in-depth study, but he’s done less study than others who still adhere to orthodox interpretations. As you infer, much of Matthew’s reasoning on this topic is drawn from extra-biblical argument. IE that the Biblical authors did not grasp the concept of a homosexual orientation. I suggest that it doesnt take much sober consideration to recognise that his claim that the references are only forbidding homosexual sex between straight people, is quite unlikely. At the end of the day, what the Bible presents on the matter is not particularly complicated. The Bible repeatedly portrays sex between members of the same gender, as sinful. But Matthew prefers to hide behind elaborate pseudo-intellectual excuses to avoid what the Bible says at face value. The New Testament depicts Christian relationships as inherently and specifically as heterosexual. This leads me to conclude that if there is a spirit guiding these guys, it’s not the Holy one.

  • I’m always fascinated by those that claim “they cannot change” are so focused on changing everyone else according to their will. Scripture does not call for such but for us to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ that transforms and changes. He mentions “homosexual excesses” but what does he define as excess? It merely a term he and his cohorts have developed to allow themselves to be defined by their lustful desires while at the same time claiming they are better than others that define themselves by those same desires as well as judging those that follow Scripture and profess what he claims is not truthful according to Scripture.
    All of us have desires of the flesh but it is in discipline of not being led and defined by it but choosing to be defined as following the very tough, narrow path of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in which we pick up our cross to die to self and follow Him that we find fulfillment that is everlasting.

  • When I attended the conference some years ago, one of the speakers was honest enough to say, “On moral theology we always lose, on relational theology we always win.” He then urged the crowd to keep telling their stories and shift the focus away from the plain word of God. It seems that the trend continues, now in a well-polished package.

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