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
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.” 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.” 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. As Brown has likely written elsewhere, 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.” 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” (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.” 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. 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.
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.”
 Marie Howe, What the Living Do (New York: Norton, 1998), on sitting with her brother, who is dying of an AIDS-related disease.
 Andrew Marin, Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2009), 36.
 Brené Brown, “Strong Back, Soft Front, Wild Heart,” interview with Krista Tippett, On Being podcast, February 8, 2018.
 Confession: I’ve yet to read anything written by Brown; not from lack of interest, but lack of margin.
 Marin, 37.
 Ibid., 58.
 Ibid., 63.
 Ibid., 62. I recognize that media and language, and to some extent some organizations and people who are LGBTQ also perpetuate this.
 McLaren, forward, in Marin, 13.