Christians, sexuality, and the exodus of Exodus: An interview with Andrew Marin

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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.

JM: The evangelical world was rocked last week by Alan Chambers’ apology to the gay community and announcement that Exodus International is shutting down. What was your reaction?

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.

The Marin Foundation’s ongoing work consists of our Living in the Tension Gatherings, Culture War Curriculum, scientific research, and other initiatives.

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.”

  • “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.”

    You could literally insert that paragraph into any commentary on Syria, Egypt, Iraq or Turkey. Incredible insight.

  • Mark

    Andrew Marin’s words and work certainly do provoke thought!

    As a pastor who’s struggled with same-sex attractions, I find some of what he says compelling. Yet, at the same time, I find it troubling. I was a person who had exclusively same-sex attractions. I sought Christian counseling and healing prayer, and heterosexual desires emerged which hadn’t been there (it took time and wasn’t instantaneous). I’m now *very* happily married with several children. My family would never have come into being if there hadn’t been people who believe that some – if not all – people with SSA (same-sex attractions) can change.

    I still have some same-sex feelings, but I am now also attracted to women. So, while I appreciate Andrew’s desire to build bridges and to be peaceable and to avoid the culture-war model, I also find it hard when he more or less celebrates the end of Exodus.

    One could argue that, for all the bridges he’s building, his work has also done a lot to shut down the conversation about the possibility of change. If there’s one minority that almost nobody wants to hear about, and which many people hate freely and proudly, it’s those who have same-sex attractions and who want to change.

  • fyodor

    It’s interesting that he wants to make bridges, and has so much openness to many worldviews, and yet he’s swift to bring closure to the conversation about sexual redemption. I’d agree w/ him that it’s a bad policy to try to make gay people straight. But so what if some want to explore new sexual desires? Why is he willing to enter into other (alien) worldviews, but not a certain kind of Christian worldview that believes that God can transform people and redeem sexuality? That’s peculiar. Fine, be open to the radically other (atheistic other, self-declared pagan other, gay other, whatever), but then at least be open to the brother/sister who’s view is different!!!!!

  • Ted Luke

    Seems paradoxical to be for LBGTs, yet not for the Exodus-type ministries. transgender people want to alter their bodies to fit with feelings. A. Marin wants to converse with them. Wouldn’t it therefore make sense to converse with folks who want their feelings to match their bodies (a different, maybe more sensible, kind of change)?

  • Dave

    Great interview. I am so glad to see level-headed conversations are the focus of Andrew’s work, and I agree, it’s a good thing Exodus shut down. Thank you for demonstrating what it is truly like to follow Jesus.

  • Chris Rickey

    I agree with you 100%. Stories such as your own get totally dismissed and looked over for some unknown reason. I appreciate your struggles and commitment to your beliefs. Please continue to share your story, so that it may provide hope for those that struggle with their beliefs and feelings.

  • Mark

    Thank you, Chris — that blesses me a lot! I sometimes don’t want to share my story anymore, because there’s so much hostility towards it. But just this week I asked God to show me if I should still share it. I’m counting your message as His answer. Mark

  • Frank

    You are an inspiration! Yours and the thousands of others similar to it need to be heard now more than ever!

  • Thanks JM for getting this great interview into publication. You have such a good eye for who to call, what to write, where to share, and when. Great, great work as a wise and helpful journalist. Of course this conversation could have gone on longer, but thanks for this great contribution. Thanks to Andrew Marin and his good work. Very, very inspiring. Thanks be to God.

  • Byron,

    I’m always flattered when you offer praise because of how much I respect your opinion. Thanks!


  • Katherine

    Mark, *some* people hate what you want and some people want to make your story into an instrument with which to beat others. Nobody is ‘shutting down the conversation about the possibility of change’, but many people – including straight, Christian, married, people-loving women like me and the author of the post below, are tired of the sexuality conversation in its entirety. IT IS NOT WHAT JESUS TALKED ABOUT. We are wasting our time on this entire topic when we are in fact starving other people’s children, raping our planet, indulging rich men in their murderous thieving regimes which in turn generate more rapine and murder of living people.

    As for Exodus, it was an organisation which promulgated so much hatred that gay people killed themselves because they couldn’t keep living with the Exodus message. That in itself should be justification enough for you, as a pastor, to be glad that it is gone. No Christian organisation that inadvertently promotes self-hatred to the point of death is truly doing the Lord’s work. The evidence is in and Exodus, rightly, is gone.

    You wanted to change? Fine, That’s good, for *you*, and nobody worth listening to is going to say anything other than “hey! Good for you!”

    Now you just have to work out how to be a decent man to women and not be yet another dude. There’s always something!

    Seriously, best of luck.You can do hard things: go be what J wants you to be.

  • Mark

    Hi, Katherine —

    There are definitely people shutting down the conversation regarding change — not here — but in many places. Even you write, referring to my journey, “That’s good, for *you*,…”. I’m pretty sure that if I’d written, “I’m a gay Christian,” you’d not have written “that’s good, for *you*”. Without or without the asterisks. I’m not implying that you’re shutting conversation down, but it seems that there are different standards for different people. I think that lots of people give carte blanche to gay people, but not to those who want to formulate an alternative identity that’s not about embracing homosexual behavior for themselves. (It’s as though you assume I’m eager to shove my perspective on others.)

    RE: Exodus: I don’t know what you’re referring to, re: self-hatred. I know people from 1 or 2 dozen Exodus ministries, and they certainly do not in any way conform to your description. They are w/o exception loving and caring. But I assume you have data for what you’re writing, and that’s terrible, what you describe. To whatever degree that has happened (and I certainly don’t think it was the norm for Exodus ministries), that’s abominable. I suspect you know about Exodus from certain horror stories, rather than from lots of interaction. But maybe I’m wrong.

    Regarding Jesus: as King, He’s interested in reigning over our whole lives, including our thoughts and secret desires (as He shows in the Sermon on the Mount, Matt 5-7). So, I disagree with you that He’s not worried about our lusts. He says otherwise there. And, if what He says in Luke 24:27 is true, namely that all Scripture points to Him, then we can’t extract His words from their canonical context and love them apart from all the rest, which He Himself says is relevant. And, anyway, He spoke of marriage between a man and a woman, and spoke about lust, and lots of things that we’d rather not deal with (all of us). I agree w/ what you say: that our social sins which contribute to the damaging of earth and people’s lives — all serious and in need of being addressed. But the King of all doesn’t give us the liberty to work on the sins “out there” without also calling us to get rid of the sins “in here,” in my heart. And yours.

  • I am so grateful for Andrew Marin’s important work and thankful that you’ve highlighted it here, Jonathan. Thanks.

  • Thanks, Rachel!

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  • Doc Anthony

    Marin’s story is interesting, but Mark’s story is what 1 Cor. 6:9-11 is all about.

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  • Karen

    Mark – Thank you for a compelling sermon about Jesus calling us to work on our inward sins as well as our outward sins. That was a powerful message that we don’t always hear. We don’t get to pick and choose which part of the Word we like. It seems many people want to emphasize the love of God (which is true) but ignore that He is also a righteous God. We are saved by the redeeming work of Christ crucified, but true salvation requires us to repent daily, asking for God’s grace to form us into the person He wants us to be.
    Your personal story is such a testament to the power of the Holy Spirit working in you. I do not struggle with same sex desires, but I do struggle with other sinful behaviors. And in the book of Romans, Paul does a great job of explaining that just because we live under grace and not law does not give us license to continue sinning. Romans 6:19 says “For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.” And Paul also states in Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” So it is pretty clear to me that while we have in Christ the forgiveness of sin, we were bought for a price and are to glorify God with our body (1 Cor 6:20). And God has graciously provided the way to do that – through Jesus Christ, his Son.

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  • Marcus Johnson

    First, let me say how happy I am for you that you were able to reconcile your sexual orientation identity and find happiness within your family. That is a lifelong goal, and not a lot of folks achieve it well.

    That being said, I can also add that current sexual orientation identity research demonstrates that, for some folks, their sexual orientation is not fixed. There are people whose sexual orientation can migrate from heterosexuality to asexuality or bisexuality or homosexuality; that migration is not linear, and there are a lot of social and biological influences that impact its progress. I appreciate the good intentions of many people within the LGBT community, but the recognition of the potential fluidity of sexual orientation identity is a concept that, although well researched, has not caught on like it should. As a result, there are some folks who could mature and develop in their understanding of their sexual identity, but are told, “You can’t change,” so they never learn.

    That brings me to the polar opposite: not just that people can change, but that they must change from homosexuality to heterosexuality, in order to align with the will of God. It’s the must that becomes the problem here. If Exodus was more about giving people a safe place to learn how to make better decisions regarding the exploration of their sexual orientation identity, without any investment in whether they end up straight or gay or otherwise, I could perhaps see why you are concerned about Marin’s celebration of the end of Exodus. However, the treatment which Exodus prescribed was one in which the answer (heterosexuality or celibacy) was predetermined, regardless of the premises. That is unacceptable counseling psychology, and it caused a lot of permanent psychological damage to a lot of program participants. In addition, it also wasn’t very effective; independent research of reparative therapy programs like Exodus demonstrated that a significant portion of participants either still maintained some level of same-sex attraction, or fully embraced their sexual orientation. It’s no surprise that the American Psychological Association rejected reparative therapy as an effective treatment for people who identify as LGBT.

    So, while I get your concern over Marin’s progress, I think he is trying to do more to open up the lines of communication, not only so that LGBT individuals can reconcile their sexual orientation identity with their faith, but so that the church can reconcile its prejudices and misconceptions with the reality of the experiences which LGBT people have. This is definitely an issue in which the church needs to realize that it needs to change just as much, if not more, than the LGBT community. And every little step helps.

  • Marcus Johnson

    I’m not sure how. That passage is part of a longer discussion Paul has with the church of Corinth, in which he is condemning them for trying to resolve in secular court issues which need to be handled within the church. You’re reading that passage totally out of context (a common mistake caused by proof-texting).