He made the rounds on the usual anti-LGBT radio shows (Bryan Fischer, Janet Mefferd, etc) and he placed commentaries in any of the socially conservative outlets that would have him (Christian Post, One News Now, Charisma News). But try as he might, Liberty Counsel's Matt Barber just couldn't turn his fake "controversy" into his movement's latest cause célèbre.
It all started last Monday when the viciously anti-LGBT Matt became aware of a book called God and the Gay Christian, which is on the market as of today. The creative force behind that book is author Matthew Vines, a young Christian who has made advocacy for LGBT Christians his personal mission and has earned great attention in doing so. The business force behind the project is Convergent Books, a publishing imprint whose stated mission "is to publish nonfiction for less traditional Christians and spiritual seekers who are drawn to an open, inclusive, and culturally engaged exploration of faith."
Let me stop here and repeat that prior point because it's an important one: the publishing company that is producing this book, which is a small imprint that is part of the much larger Crown Publishing Group, is in the market specifically so it can serve a more open and likely more progressive reader. Unlike some of its sister imprints (WaterBrook Press, Multnomah Books, Image Books) that work under the same Crown umbrella and speak to more traditional religious audiences, Convergent is in business precisely so it can steward projects like Vines'.
But that major distinction didn't matter to Matt Barber. As soon as he learned of the project, Matt began making the proverbial stink all across the internet. Matt first posted the story as an exclusive on his own fledgling Barbwire.com, under the headline "Christian Publisher Plans Pro-’Gay’ Book, Employees ‘Under Threat’." Elaborating in a separate commentary that he placed on a couple of different sites, Matt used the headline, "Deception: Christian Publisher Sells Soul for Mammon." In every instance, Matt was quite forthright about his objection. He didn't even try to hide that his sticking point was the simple act of printing this type of book, which he coupled with the suggestion that he holds the title and deed to faith, and that he gets to determine who gets to identify as Christian:
"I mean, it's certainly their prerogative to abandon the scripture," says Barber. "But no longer call yourself a Christian publishing company. Call yourself a secular publishing company or an anti-Christian publishing company, because what they are doing here is counter biblical, it's anti-Christian and it flies in the face of God's teaching on sexual morality." [One News Now]
In truth, any Christian publisher could (and should) publish this book. But let me again remind you that the imprint behind the book is in the market to produce books that challenge the traditional view. Matthew Vines has one of the most traditional and conservative approaches to a gay theology that exists today. His intitial video was an hour-long exploration of scripture. His Reformation Project worked with Christians to read and argue from scripture in an Evangelical style. He does not wish to stray from talking about the Bible as the source and norm for Christian living, even using to make his case for LGBT inclusion. Matthew is not a radical in any way, and his book will speak most to those who come from a very conservative, Evangelical tradition. Just as a reminder, take a look at his video:
Personally, I love to read books from people who disagree with me on matters we both hold dear. I feel that counter arguments sharpen my own points. I am a stronger pro-LGBT activist not because I have ignored what the other side says, but rather because I have listened with a committed ear. That's also why I love to put these vehemently anti-LGBT voices on blast rather than silence them: because I believe that the more people hear them, the more people will see just how nasty it gets out there. I have to wonder why Matt Barber doesn't feel as convicted about faith views that he seems to believe are so widely out of tuch. Personally, it makes me want to run our right now and purchase a copy of God and The Gay Christian to see what's so juicy.
But to understand what Matt was really trying to do, you only have to look at how he framed it. From the very beginning—literally, in the second sentence of that initial piece—Matt began comparing this situation that he was trying to concoct with the matter involving the World Vision Christian charity. For those not familiar with that sad situation, basically that charity initially decided it would recognize Christians who were in same-sex marriages, which proceeded to spark an all-out barrage of nastiness from the anti-LGBT movement. This, the loud and obsessive movement that defines itself by what it's against, ultimately forced the charity to make a deplorable 180 degree turn, reversing course and once again shunning loving gay couples. This misguided move pleased the anti-LGBT movement greatly, as it was finally something they, a movement that never wins anything these days, could finally call a "win." Many of the professional activists, like Matt, began using the World Vision situation as a rally cry, suggesting that they could beat back anything that is pro-LGBT, so long as they stand up and yell.
Matt was hoping—so, so desperately hoping—that his fellow workers in the pro-discrimination movement would rise up alongside him and lash out at a progressive-minded publishing imprint for simply publishing a book with which they might not agree. But they didn't. Without speculating too much about the minds of those who oppose us, I would guess that even some of our worst critics saw the danger in attacking a company for printing a book. The anti-LGBT movement cries "free speech" at every turn, and Matt's public flogging of one author's expression and one company's right to help him express it flew directly in the face of the idea that theirs is a movement that wants a fair and open debate. I suspect that many of Matt's anti-LGBT fellows realized this, thus the reason they all but ignored the Liberty Counsel spokesman's many, many, many attempts to get mileage out of this non-story.
Happily, this shows that even the movement that is so determined to portray itself as the victimized side does, in fact, have boundaries. Matt got cocky, hoping to seize onto the larger "Gay Gestapo" meme that he and his allies are so egregiously pushing in order to denigrate the equality fight. Matt failed on this and he failed hard.