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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Courage: What the Living Do

Written by: on March 22, 2018

The Last Time

The last time we had dinner together in a restaurant

with white tablecloths, he leaned forward

and took my two hands in his hands and said,

I’m going to die soon. I want you to know that.

And I said, I think I do know.

And he said, What surprises me is that you don’t.

And I said, I do. And he said, What?

And I said, Know that you’re going to die.

And he said, No, I mean know that you are.

Marie Howe, What the Living Do[1]

I entered Andrew Marin’s book primarily as an outsider to a conversation. His book, Love is an Orientation was written with “conservative” Christians as the target audience, with people who identify as LGBTQ as the objects of the book. Identifying myself neither as LGBTQ nor as a conservative Christian, I felt almost as if I was reading someone else’s mail.

Marin works hard to speak to conservative Christians from the point where they are coming from, suggesting that they hold the belief “that the Bible allows only three options for connecting faith and sexuality: be heterosexual, be celibate or live in sin.”[2] He hopes to help conservative Christians approach relationships with the LGBTQ community from postures of humility and love and learning. As he says, “we miss out on soul-stirring dialogues when we fail to openly enter into an unnerving conversation.”[3] Thus, he attempts to help the audience better understand people who are not heterosexual. While I laud Marin’s goal, I hesitate to affirm his stance.

Posture and Place

On my drive down to Tennessee yesterday, I listened to Krista Tippett interview Brene Brown on her On Being podcast.[4] As Brown has likely written elsewhere[5], in her conversation with Tippett she encourages, “It’s hard to hate someone close up; move in.” When we keep others at a distance, we can stereotype them and vilify them. But when we move in close, we recognize their humanness and uniqueness; we name them not as “sinners” but as individuals created in the image of God. As Marin writes, “The Christian community has only ever known one way to handle same-sex sexual behavior: take a stand and keep a distance. Productive dialogue comes from cognitive insight and can only be accomplished through an incarnational posture of humility and living as a learner.”[6] While Marin has generalized “the Christian community” here, his realization of incarnational, humble learning is a missional stance that reflects the life of Jesus. As missionaries who enter that space of another in that posture, we are also changed by our relationships, and our perspective of God is enriched as well.

A Face and A Name

As mentioned above, I identify as cisgender and heterosexual, but I do have several friends who are LGBTQ. I hesitate to speak on their behalf, but imagine that if they were to read Marin’s text, they would be offended by even the implicit suggestion that their identity (who they are; for Christians, who God created them as) is sinful. Even by using language such as “God’s redemptive cycle”[7] (which I love) in connection with LGBTQ identity, suggests that there is something imperfect about one’s identity that needs to be changed. While I do affirm scripture’s “all have sinned” reality, suggesting to LGBTQ people that their gender identity is part of that “all have sinned” would be like suggesting to me that my female-ness is encompassed in that as well. Christians of all stripes would do well to look beyond a person’s gender identity and at a person created, known and loved by God.

I also wonder at Marin’s suggestions for people who “feel as though they have a heart for gays and lesbians.”[8] By suggesting Christians spend time walking around “your local gay neighborhood” and praying, or attend a “local chapter of a larger gay organization,” Marin continues to perpetuate the idea that gay people are “out there” rather than close up, or that “they” are solidified into a cohesive community.[9] Instead, conservative Christians might be better served if they were challenged to open their eyes to see their son’s girlfriend’s sister, or their cousin, or colleague, or father-in-law or friend in their youth group; people they know by name. Especially for youth in conservative churches, being stigmatized and isolated in their gender identity is unfortunately too common. This is part of the “moving in” that Brown proposes in resisting labels of hatred; except that the relationships are already close and we need only open our eyes.

A lot can happen in a decade

Finally, I would be curious how Marin would revise this book nearly a decade after it was originally published. In the intervening years, same-sex marriage has become socially acceptable and legalized in America. Behavior modification has been generally discredited (and in many places, outlawed). Many Christians have adjusted their understanding of who God is and God’s reconciling work among us to embrace others in all nuances and allow God to transform all of us. And yet, as Brian McLaren writes in the forward to Marin’s book, there still exists, in increasing reality, the sense that people in our culture (whether gay or straight) are turned off of the way of Jesus because his followers are perceived as judgmental and anti-gay.[10]

I can’t help but wonder how my friends who are gay would receive this book. And yet, on the other hand, I wonder if my conservative friends and family might be a bit more sympathetic and compassionate to others with the approach that Marin proposes. But that takes courage. And as Brown challenges, “she or he who chooses comfort over courage and facilitating real conversations… as a leader, your days of relevance are numbered.”[11]

 

[1] Marie Howe, What the Living Do (New York: Norton, 1998), on sitting with her brother, who is dying of an AIDS-related disease.

[2] Andrew Marin, Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2009), 36.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Brené Brown, “Strong Back, Soft Front, Wild Heart,” interview with Krista Tippett, On Being podcast, February 8, 2018.

[5] Confession: I’ve yet to read anything written by Brown; not from lack of interest, but lack of margin.

[6] Marin, 37.

[7] Ibid., 58.

[8] Ibid., 63.

[9] Ibid., 62. I recognize that media and language, and to some extent some organizations and people who are LGBTQ also perpetuate this.

[10] McLaren, forward, in Marin, 13.

[11] Brown.

About the Author

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Katy Drage Lines

In God’s good Kingdom, some minister like trees, long-standing, rooted in a community. They embody words of Wendell Berry, “stay years if you would know the genius of the place.” Others, however, are called to go. Katy is one of those pilgrims. A global nomad, Katy grew up as a fifth generation Colorado native, attended college & seminary and was ordained in Tennessee, married a guy from Pennsylvania, ministered for ten years in Kenya, worked as a children’s pastor in a small church in Kentucky, and served college students in a university library in Orange County, California. She recently moved to the heart of America, Indianapolis, and has joined the Englewood Christian Church community, serving with them as Pastor of Spiritual Formation. She & her husband Kip, have two delightful boys, a college junior and high school junior.

8 responses to “Courage: What the Living Do”

  1. Jim Sabella says:

    Thanks for your post Katy. It is well thought out and well written. You make an excellent point when you state: “Christians of all stripes would do well to look beyond a person’s gender identity and at a person created, known and loved by God.” It should be what we do best, but it’s not always the case. Great post, Katy!

  2. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Yes, Katy I wondered this too: “Finally, I would be curious how Marin would revise this book nearly a decade after it was originally published.” It is amazing to see how much this topic has evolved in society and Christian circles. His terms and concepts were dated and I bet he has evolved too, like many of us have. Some of my gay friends have mentioned the importance of not just being accepted in church communities but to have inclusivity. That is a powerful word that creates a big shift when dealing with the LGBTQ community. It’s more active and implies equity. Interesting and thoughtful points on your post, thank you.

  3. Mary says:

    “By suggesting Christians spend time walking around “your local gay neighborhood” and praying, or attend a “local chapter of a larger gay organization,” Marin continues to perpetuate the idea that gay people are “out there” rather than close up, or that “they” are solidified into a cohesive community”
    Thank you, Katy!! I applauded Marin’s attempt to get conservatives and LGBTQ to talk to each other, but the one thing that really bothered me in the book was the idea that there were gay communities “out there”. Does he mean neighborhoods like the Italians, Jews, or Chinese, and many others!, in New York? I think it’s ok for people to move into neighborhoods with people like themselves, but what about the deeper issue?
    I believe that LGBTQ ARE people like ourselves and we should not be setting them apart. That’s what leads to the “us verses them” and discrimination.
    Thanks, Katy. As usual you get us to think about the deeper issues!

  4. Stu Cocanougher says:

    “I can’t help but wonder how my friends who are gay would receive this book.”

    I think the thing the complicates this issue (which is not a bad thing) is that many of us have people in our lives who have a wide variety of perspectives and experiences with this issue.

    For example, I have a friend from San Francisco who decided as a teenager that he was gay. Years later, he gave his life to Christ. Today, he views his past, living as a gay man, as rebellion against God. He says that it is something that the Holy Spirit has delivered him from.

    I have another friend who says that “God created me gay.” He would be offended by my first friends’ “testimony” and would probably say this he is “kidding himself.”

    My point… no matter where we land on this issue, we need to remember that it is easy for us to assign people labels (gay, straight, progressive, conservative, Christian, atheist). The reality is the no two people on the planet have the exact same experiences and identities.

    • mm Katy Drage Lines says:

      The short answer to my question, Stu, is “it depends on the person.” Of course many would have different perspectives on the book. In my instance, the people in my life who I know are gay would be bothered by the assumptions made in the book, some more than others.

      And you are right that it is easy to keep people at arm’s length with labels– which is why we need to be brave and move in close.

  5. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    Katy I appreciate you speaking into this topic by including the importance of moving in. It is so true the greater the distance the easier it is to not connect and see others as human beings. I, too, struggled with the way he still made the LGBTQ community feel like they are other. I didn’t really know how to articulate that so thank you for putting that into words. Great reflections Katy!

  6. Lynda Gittens says:

    Katy thank you for your post. As Christians, we always feel the need to justify our views and justify why our sin is different from others.
    If we believe the Bible is God’s word and it is accurate, why do we struggle so much with what it says when it does not match what we want to believe?
    Love conquers all. We all are sinners when we don’t love each other.

  7. Kristin Hamilton says:

    Your reminder to “move in” is, I believe, the key to changing this conversation, Katy. I mean that on both “sides” of the debate. For a time, I abandoned all hope of discussion with my more conservative friends but now have come to a place of wanting to hear their heart, not their dogma, on this matter. It is such a slow and painful process but I think it is part of loving everyone (for me) and it often shows me how I can explain my own heart without alienating them.
    I did ask a few of my LGBTQ friends about their thoughts on the book. There are some who reacted quite vehemently against Marin and his middle ground, feeling that while he has good intentions, he leaves them in a place of “the other.” One friend said that she felt he used too many stereotypical extremes in the book, and so supported the easy stereotypes. Only one friend said she has given this book to people as a good “starting point” of the conversation but then encouraged them to read others so they don’t get stuck.
    I think your questions about how Marin would write this info now are good ones. I would love to see him address the fact that there are fewer and fewer “Boys Towns” and that, as you say, we need look no further than our own families and neighbors if we want to build relationships with LGBTQ people.

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