Andrew Marin is President and Founder of The Marin Foundation, an organization working to build bridges between Christian and LGBT communities. He is author of the award-winning book Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community and its interactive DVD curriculum. Andrew is a regular contributor to a variety of media outlets and frequently lectures at universities around the world. Since 2010, Andrew has been asked by the United Nations to advise their various agencies on issues of bridging opposing worldviews, civic engagement and theological aspects of reconciliation. He is married to Brenda, lives in the LGBT Boystown neighborhood of Chicago, and blogs at Patheos. Here he discusses the recent announcement that Exodus International is shutting down and why he thinks homosexuality is such a hot-button issue today.
AM: I ultimately think it is a good thing because the conversation, especially among conservatives, should no longer be if LGBTs will become “straight.” Rather, the conversation can now have the starting point that each person, including all LGBTs, are dignified children of God created in God’s image. Moving forward, the questions become, “What do LGBTs do with their understanding of Scripture and sex?” and then, “Regardless of the outcome, how can conservatives peacefully and productively live in relation to and relationship with those who are working from a different, some would say, opposing, worldview?” For me, this conversation is less about what one believes and more about what one does with what they believe.
JM: In your opinion, why is homosexuality such a divisive, hot-button issue for American Christians?
AM: Some would say it simply has to do with the literal words in the Bible. I think it’s more nuanced than that. In response to the sexual revolution’s message of free love and experimentation, the Church cracked down on their messaging with phrases such as: “sex is God’s greatest gift to humanity, only to be shared between one man and one woman.” The generation of children growing up during that era, having that message ingrained in their psyche, are the same adults who are now senior pastors and heads of prominent religious organizations and institutions.
The problem, and ultimately the answer to this question is two-fold. First, the Bible does not say that sex is God’s greatest gift, so that teaching is inaccurate. Second, if the dominant thought has been sex equals God’s greatest gift, then the greatest “perversion” must be the opposite of that gift; e.g. sex not between one man and one woman. Enter homosexuality.
I feel much of the current cultural, political and theological disconnect stems from a past era, attempting to be worked out in contemporary contexts. This is why there is so much visceral reaction—worldviews of the late Baby Boomers and early Gen Xers are tussling with their narrowed power in relation to the masses of rising voices in Gen Y working from a completely different understanding.
That is why the goal of The Marin Foundation is not about advocating for one worldview over another, it is about building bridges between LGBTs and conservative Christians in the reality that in our pluralistic, post-modern culture, competing worldviews are an inevitable part of existence. So what then do we do with such strongly seeded disconnects, and how do we help bring them peace? These are the answers my organization is trying to find.
JM: Where are bridges being built between the church and the gay community? How is The Marin Foundation facilitating these?
AM: As I stated, the goal of The Marin Foundation is not to advocate for one worldview over another, but work within the worldview presented to us, assisting the conservative or progressive church, LGBT group, higher education institution or government agency to be the best bridge builder to their “other” as they can. We focus our work on four main principles of cultural engagement—a proper understanding and implementation of reconciliation; the sustained countercultural act of in-person interaction; building bridges over building armies; and sustainability based on fidelity over cultural alignment.
Through this process we have seen almost unthinkable organizational partnerships, individual relationships form, and reconciled disconnects between parties holding polar opposite moral, ethical and social filters. I genuinely believe our country is worn out by the culture wars. People want peace in their life. A new generation of activism is afoot—love over agreement.
It has been sociologically, diplomatically and anthropologically proven that sustainable cultural shifts can only happen when the oppressors and the oppressed are an equal part of the shift. If only one population dictates the shift, a change might indeed happen in the short term, but it will only rally the base of the “losers” to fight even harder to overthrow the new population in power. And thus, the cycle continues.
I do not see that as a plausible outcome for future generations. And so I continue committing myself to building bridges between both of the groups inhabiting the opposing worldviews; and that includes the very intentional simultaneous partnering with each side, bringing them together, to see such a shift happen. What is overly-encouraging to me is the variety of both progressive and conservative individuals, families, churches, universities, community centers and government agencies who are committing to our vision as well.
JM: I know your book, Love Is an Orientation, has impacted quite a few people’s understandings on how to engage extreme division within this conversation of faith and sexuality. What’s been the most memorable response to you, personally?
AM: The summer after my freshman year in college my three best friends all came out to me in three consecutive months. The four of us then started our journey together, as we put it back then, to learn how to live and love in real time. That next year three of us moved into Boystown, the LGBT neighborhood of Chicago, a neighborhood I still live in eleven years later. Out of those experiences and lessons learned came Love Is an Orientation. You can download the Introduction for free.
One recent encounter really made a mark. I was speaking at an event on the east coast and a woman in her mid-fifties wearing a pink shirt and khaki shorts walks up to me. With tears in her eyes she told me she traveled from London to this event just to meet me—the person whose book saved the life of herself, and her gay son. A long, emotional story made short; she and her husband did not know how to handle their son coming out. They thought they were doing the right thing by sending him to counseling to “fix” him. A month later when she was cleaning her son’s room, she found a few sheets of paper with different versions of suicide notes written on them.
She freaked out. She ended up calling her best friend immediately to seek guidance, and her friend recommended my book. She read it in one night, praying she had at least one day left with her son, who had not come home yet. When she finished the book she rushed out of her house, found her son at a friends house, apologized, and started an entirely different relational path with him. Today, he is alive, well, and so are she and her husband—on a journey, together, as a family, to discover how to love each other as each other are; differences in worldviews, orientations, politics, and all.
There are more stories like this then I can count. Humbling doesn’t describe it. I put my story on paper in a book, and I thought my story was unique. It’s not. There are so many of us out there trying to find a way forward. If my words contributed to that in any small way, I am truly grateful.
JM: Imagine a Christian who’s not able to endorse or embrace same-sex relationships. Is it possible for them to engage in an authentic relationship with some who’s gay, even sharing God’s love?
AM: One of the biggest misnomers in contemporary society is that we all have to agree in order to love well. I find myself constantly reminding people of that, and the following three things:
1) Disagreement does not equate dissent.
2) Differences in cultural, political and theological belief systems does not mean “the other” is your enemies.
3) Engaging life, faith, orientation or any other topic is less about what you believe and more about what you do with what you believe.
JM: What should congregations know about the experience of gay people in the church?
AM: I am not gay, so I hesitate to answer that question. The best I can offer is to go to an LGBT person you know, sit down with them, keep your mouth shut and just listen to their reality. Any agreement or disagreement one might have with an LGBT person’s reality must be a secondary issue. The primary issue is learning what it means to validate someone’s journey, story and experience as legitimate to them. No one likes their reality to be tossed aside as illegitimate. People yearn to be heard. And a big part of being the hands and feet of Jesus must start with truly living into the come-as-you-are-culture that Jesus invented.
And if someone does not know an LGBT person, and I’m not trying to sound snarky here, but type your city, town or village into Google, add the word “gay” or “LGBT.” I am sure something in relatively close proximity will pop up. From there it is just a matter of having the boldness to go and engage as I wrote in the previous paragraph.
JM: What are you working on now?
AM: Besides the ongoing work of The Marin Foundation I have a short academic e-book coming out with Patheos Press later this summer on a new model of civic engagement. I am also currently writing my next full-length book, a culmination of the past five years of conducting a national research study, which ended up being the largest national study ever done in the LGBT community and faith. It’s focus is on the faith experiences of LGBT people from ages 0-18, and what happens after. This book, currently untitled, will release in 2014. Finally, this Fall The Marin Foundation is launching a live, interactive, online monthly continuing education series called, “The Tension Series.”