Millions of Americans are ready for a truce, right now!
We’re facing so many struggles at the moment—millions of us are desperate for a sign of peace!
First, there’s our turbulent economy. As news broke that General Motors will shrink to 40,000 workers (one tenth of its 1970s workforce of 400,000), Dr. Rob Pasick began moving like a speeding bullet. He’s an expert in “Balanced Leadership.” He’s a psychologist, too, and he was all over news media offering words of wisdom to displaced workers. (To talk about these issues, visit OurValues.org)
That’s not all! Americans are mourning the murder of a doctor by an anti-abortion activist. Now, Christian leaders, like Muslim leaders before them, are having to issue statements condemning such terrorist violence.
So, let’s call a truce!
In short, that’s what Andrew Marin is pleading in his new, 200-page book, “Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community.” This book is a proud milestone for InterVarsity Press, which has published its share of anti-gay literature over the years—like most mainline Christian publishing houses.
In the summer of 2009, however, a spirit is moving in Andrew Marin’s direction.
Hugely influential figures in Christianity—Rob Bell, Shane Claiborne, Tony Campolo, Brian McLaren, Scot McKnight and others—are calling for a cease fire after years of demonizing gay, lesbian and transgendered people. Some are calling for complete and compassionate inclusion. Others are simply refusing to continue the decades-long campaign to score spiritual points by condemning our gay and lesbian friends, relatives and neighbors.
Bravely, Andrew Marin is telling the story of his own new approach to Christian ministry with gay and lesbian neighbors. Bravely, IVP is publishing this book. Today, we’re applauding the prophetic courage of both Marin and IVP.
At ReadTheSpirit, we recognize that many of our regular readers still devoutly condemn gay and lesbian relationships. We recognize that you may be shaking your head vigorously as you read this Conversation today.
BUT: Our main goal at ReadTheSpirit is to report to you on new ways that people are breaking down barriers to live together in stronger and more supportive communities. That’s Andrew Marin’s goal—and however you feel about this issue personally—please read what this young fellow has to say.
HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR CONVERSATION …
DAVID: I’m pleased to talk with you today, Andrew. You’re only 28 and yet you’re doing pioneering work that is drawing support from a Who’s Who of top figures in evangelical Christianity. Brian McLaren, Scot McKnight and Shane Claiborne all show up on the cover of your book, urging people to read your story.
So, let’s start with your own religious affiliation. How do you describe yourself?
ANDREW: I don’t align myself with any one denomination. I was raised in the Assemblies of God. When I got to college, I continued going to Assemblies of God, but then the church I was attending disbanded. Right now, I go to an evangelical free church.
DAVID: You’re Pentecostal?
ANDREW: Broadly speaking, I call myself evangelical. Based on the foundations of my faith, I look to—and I trust in—the Holy Spirit and the Bible. I was raised being taught that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. The Bible provides answers for life; the Bible is our center for getting to know God better—and it’s the way we learn how to deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ.
DAVID: You’re right. That’s a pretty good description of an evangelical approach to faith. And you’ve got some remarkable friends for a young activist. How do you know Scot McKnight? We just featured a Conversation With Scot about his terrific new book on fasting. You both live in the Chicago area, I know.
ANDREW: Scot’s a really good friend. He teaches at Northpark University in Chicago. Northpark is about two miles away from my office, so a lot of the Northpark professors have had a big impact in my life, including Scot and others. I’m in constant contact with them and they’ve been a gigantic support system for me. They mean the world to me.
DAVID: People like Scot and Shane and Brian, who have endorsed your new book, are also veterans who have withstood the sometimes very harsh glare of the national media spotlight.
ANDREW: Yeah, I had no clue about the attention that comes with doing this kind of work at a national level. Every day for me now is a new experience trying to navigate all these different media.
The other day, I was in a suburb of Chicago and I went into a Starbucks and a barista was like: “Oh, my goodness! I just read your book and here you are!”
That’s never happened to me before.
As we’re talking over the telephone right now, I’m in a hotel in Iowa traveling to talk about the book. I get 50 Emails from people a day across the country who want to share their stories with me. This has been a good but sometimes overwhelming experience.
DAVID: You’ve written this book after living for years in a unique part of the country: Boystown in Chicago. Tell us about Boystown. We’re not talking about the home made famous by Father Flanagan and Hollywood.
ANDREW: No, this is different. Chicago is delineated into separate neighborhoods and Boystown was designated by Mayor Daly as the first incorporated gay neighborhood. It’s run by the Northalsted Area Merchants Association. To run a business in Boystown, you have to be owned by a gay or lesbian person or you have to cater to gay or lesbian clientele. It’s a neighborhood unlike any other in the country. The Castro is famous in San Francisco, but Boystown is even more developed, I would say. We don’t have streetlights in Boystown. We have rainbow flags that light up.
DAVID: You and your wife are living as minorities there, right? You’re not gay yourself.
ANDREW: No. And I actually appreciate when people ask me that. I’m asked the question all the time and I want people to know: I’m not gay. I’ve never been gay. I’ve never had a same-sex attraction.
DAVID: In fact, your story is dramatic, because you grew up quite the opposite: You grew up as an anti-gay bigot, really.
ANDREW: When I was growing up, I was the biggest Bible-banging homophobe you’ve ever met. It was only when my three best friends all came out within a period of about three months—that’s when my whole world shifted. At first, I didn’t behave well. I did what I thought any good Christian should do—I ran away.
later, I felt I had to go back and try to teach them something. I
remember that in about 15 seconds with my friends, I was spitting out
all this stuff: “It’s a sin! You’re going to hell! You’re going to get
AIDS! You’re going to do drugs! You’re going to die!”
I unleashed this rant that surprised even me. I was surprised that all of this stuff was inside of me.
You write about this in your book. “What bothered me most about this
was that I didn’t even know where any of my homophobic thoughts
ANDREW: My friends showed me way more grace than I
deserved. They gave me a chance to go back and rethink all this stuff
that I had bottled up inside of me.
Where did it come from? I don’t
remember my church specifically telling me all those things I ranted to
them. My parents didn’t tell me these things specifically.
convinced that it’s a general cultural knowledge that is passed down
generation to generation. It’s just a blatant given in conservative
Someone has got to start telling Christians something different than what I grew up picking up. When my friends came out, I realized that I didn’t know what I’d been talking about. I felt that I needed to move into the neighborhood where they were headed and begin to learn.
DAVID: This is the part of your story that’s right out of Shane Claiborne’s ministry. Shane preaches that people of faith shouldn’t assume that they should go “do ministry” to “help” poor people. Shane argues that people of faith should go and live in diverse communities among poor people—and they should start by spending a long time learning from poor people.
Our goal is learning to live in diverse communities, Shane preaches.
You’re preaching the same thing, it seems to me, except that you’re pointing people not toward poor people specifically—but toward gay and lesbian people we’ve been ostracizing for so many years. Is it fair to compare your work to Shane’s that way?
ANDREW: That’s definitely fair. I love Shane’s work. His life has been inspirational to me and I’ve been very fortunate to get to know him over the last couple of years. When people compare my work to Shane’s, it’s a huge compliment to me and I do look at it like that.
DAVID: What we’re talking about here really is the heart of your book.
ANDREW: Right. We can’t look at gay and lesbian folks as a project, as an evangelism opportunity.
DAVID: That’s a chapter in your book: “We Are Not Your Project.”
ANDREW: I’m saying that what we need to do now is to establish relationships with gay relatives, gay coworkers, gay friends, gay congregants—it’s the same principle Shane is talking about. We have to start by recognizing that people are people and we must build relationships to build a community.
What Shane and I have in common is the teachings of Dr. John Perkins, founder of the Christian Community Development Association. Dr. Perkins teaches the “Three R’s”: Relocation, Reconciliation and Redistribution.
I understand that not everyone is called to move into a gay neighborhood—just like Shane doesn’t teach that everyone is called to move into a poor neighborhood.
DAVID: What you’re describing represents a startling change of heart, mind and spirit for a Pentecostal gay basher. You explain a couple of defining moments in your spiritual pilgrimage. One unfolded when your friends came out. Another defining moment was when you ran into your old high school baseball coach some years ago.
ANDREW: Right! I used to live for baseball. I went to college on a baseball scholarship and played Division 1 baseball. In high school, I broke a lot of school records. I was All Conference and All State. On and on.
Anyway, years later, after I had started my organization, the Marin Foundation, I ran into my old high school coach. He said, “Hey, Andy! How’re you doing!”
We were in a restaurant and I said, “Great to see you!” And I described this organization that builds bridges between the gay community and the conservative church.
And he laughed at me! He thought that was so funny!
I was confused and asked him, “Jim, what’s so funny?”
He said: “Do you remember who you used to be? Do you remember how you used to act in high school?”
Ohhhh, I knew something bad was coming. And then, he said: “Andrew, you called everyone you didn’t like a fag. When you got mad at me, I was a fag. Anyone you didn’t like was a fag. You said more stuff like that than any other person I’ve ever met in my life.”
That’s when it really sank in! Here was a guy I respected so much. My high school coach! And what did he remember about me? He didn’t remember all those records I set. He didn’t remember how good I was as an athlete for him.
What did he remember? All this stuff I shouted about. That was how he remembered me. I wasn’t a hero to him. I was funny and, now, an oxymoron.
DAVID: So, the big message in your book is to stop beating up on gay and lesbian people, even in the language we use when we think we’re just with straight friends, right?
ANDREW: Definitely! That’s the first main point I try to communicate. Even our language really matters.
DAVID: And you’re saying that the first big step must come from conservative Christians—the people of faith who’ve been treating gay people like—well, like “projects” to “fix.”
ANDREW: Yes. I don’t believe that anything can happen productively down the road unless we are the first ones to come and repent of the sin of homophobia. A lot of conservative folks will say to me: “Just because I don’t agree with you, Andrew, doesn’t mean that I’m homophobic.”
But we’re standing in a sad place now after decades and decades of consistent Christian behavior against gays and lesbians. We’ve had this consistent movement to put out gay and lesbian people. We’re the ones who have to begin this process of bridge building.
DAVID: You’re calling for a years-long commitment.
ANDREW: When we approach the gay community, after all these years of condemning, we have to scrape and claw our way back to respectability in the eyes of people with whom we’re hoping to become friends. Until we prove over a long time that we have changed our behavior—and that we’re treating these new friends with real respect—then we shouldn’t expect anything significant to happen in our communities.
DAVID: One thing about your book that I thought was a wise choice: You decided not to review all the standard back-and-forth arguments about biblical passages. This is a Rob Bell approach to the issue. Rob simply refuses to engage in that long-running debate. You do the same thing in this book—you refuse to fight the old battles all over again.
ANDREW: There’s no point to my going through all of that. You can go to Amazon and type in a search for the Bible and homosexuality and you’ll find something like 1,500 books. That’s the legacy of the culture war. Hundreds and hundreds of books tell us how to take this Greek word or that Hebrew word and expound this whole theology out of it.
If you want that, go look on Amazon. But, in the end, we don’t wind up in a helpful place with all of those endless arguments. Continuing to refight those battles does no good. We just dig the trenches deeper and deeper into the sand.
I’m saying: This fighting must stop. As Christians, we must be the first ones to stop it.
DAVID: Do you have hope for a more peaceful, inclusive future?
ANDREW: Our entire country is changing. It’s inevitable.
A couple of years ago, I could not have told you honestly that I was hopeful. But, now? Now, I can look people dead in the eye and with 100 percent conviction, I can say: Yes, there are bridges being built. There are families and college campuses and congregations and entire communities changing. I’m pressing onward with this work and I am hopeful.
Just recently, I was asked: “Do you enjoy what you do?”
The question threw me for a loop. I’d never been asked that.
DAVID: And what did you say?
ANDREW: Actually, I said: “No, I don’t enjoy the tough parts of this work. I don’t enjoy being attacked by critics. I don’t enjoy the daily grind of trying to push for change. But you know what I do enjoy? I enjoy knowing that I’m doing what the Lord wants me to be doing at this moment.” That’s how I answered.
The work is difficult, but the Lord is so faithful.
Just when I was thinking about how tough it is—just when I was praying more and more for the strength to continue—I started getting these big waves of Emails and messages telling me: I read your book and it energized my life.
Now? At the moment, I have a ridiculous amount of hope, because I see the change unfolding and I am a part of it. I know the spirit is moving forward. I can see it every day.
CARE TO READ MORE?
ONE EVANGELICAL RESPONSE: As you might guess, the evangelical world is divided about Marin’s work
and his new book—but he is making amazing headway with his
“let’s-start-with-a-moratorium” approach. A popular evangelical blogger “The Internet Monk” gave his book a rave review. The Monk wrote, in part:
Here’s where we are as evangelicals—“We have lots of Bible, but when
we’ve finished the exegesis and the explanation of the text, we have
the challenge of walking with the God we’ve talked about back into the
real world. We have the challenge of applying Jesus to our own lives
and living like him in relationships with others.
“We’re pretty bad at it. We prefer to walk into our families, into
Christian culture, into the evangelical ghetto. Our engagement with the
world is much like those currently on the run from their fears of swine
flu: masks and ignorance. We build walls and we live behind them,
telling ourselves what we believe is the truth.
“When it comes to our interaction with the Gay community—and the Gay
Christians in our midst—we have made a five-star mess of things. To
make it worse, it’s a mess we’re either ignorant of or proud of.”
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(Originally published at http://www.ReadTheSpirit.com/)