When I picked up the book Love in an Orientation this week, I had already had a lot of history with this work. Not only had I read the book several years ago, I have heard Andrew Marin, the author, speak twice. Once in front of about 3,000 youth workers and once in a room of a few dozen ministers.
For those of you not familiar with the book, Love in an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community was written with the purpose of starting conversations between evangelical Christians and those who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender (LGBT).
This is a book that, from the start, was doomed to be disliked by many who identify themselves as evangelical Christians and by those who identify themselves as LGBT. The reason is obvious. Many evangelical Christians see any form of non-heterosexual behavior as sin…and Christians are taught to take sin seriously. As Marin states:
Sin of any kind is, theologically, an offense against God’s created intent because it’s a behavior that violates our identity as creatures that bear his image. The doctrine of the Fall contends that because of such offenses, human beings will ultimately receive a sentence of death. Most important, though, the doctrine of salvation counteractively asserts that Jesus’ act on the cross atones for our sins and frees us to embrace our identity as a child of God (page 38).
For evangelical Christians (including myself), sin is something that we are saved FROM. Sexual immorality is something that we are to flee (1 Corinthians 6:18). For many Christians, the concept of having an honest, authentic relationship with someone who identifies as LGBT is counter-intuitive.
Conversely, for many in the LGBT community, Christians are viewed as persecutors. When Christians speak to them, all they hear is “I despise you.” For those Christians who attempt to foster relationships with those who identify as LGBT, it is often because they see them as “projects.”
Reading Love is an Orientation did not change my theology as it relates to sexual morality/immorality. In my opinion, the theological gymnastics utilized by pro-gay theologians are too far out of bounds for my understanding of sound hermeneutics. Yet, that is not the purpose of the book. Same-sex issues are hotly debated among church leaders and there are many books on virtually every side of the debate. This book takes a step back from the debate.
The issue of same-sex relationships and the church is an issue that stirs up a lot of feelings. Many adults and teens who identify as LGBT feel hated by Christians…or even hated by God. Many Christians who are parents/siblings of LGBT persons feel confused or blame themselves. In most churches, the shame of going through a divorce, being arrested, or having a child out of wedlock is nothing compared to the shame of coming out as LGBT.
For me, the greatest value of this book is that it gives those who identify as LGBT a window into the worldview of an evangelical Christian; and it provides the evangelical a window into the worldview of someone who identifies as LGBT. For many who identify as LGBT, there is no separation between their sexuality and their identity. Where Christians see homosexuality as a behavior, those in the LGBT community see it as the core of who they are.. For many, their sexuality is not one small aspect of their personhood…it is the dominant part of their identity that makes them different from the rest of the world. I do not think that most Christians fully understand this concept.
One of the most valuable insights that I gained from this book was when I read:
We have no problem wrestling with apologetics for people of different…cultures that are totally removed from ours. Christians diligently study others belief systems and incarnationally move into the neighborhoods of people with different beliefs…reveling in the unique opportunity to engage what we don’t know. But Christians do none of those things with the gay community (page 37).
First of all, I do not affirm the moral comparison of LGBT issues with issues of race/ethnicity (as is commonly proposed in the media or by gay rights organizations). Most people who are black do not have the advantage of being able to blend into to the majority culture whenever they please. Most Latinos do not have to “come out” as Latino, to the surprise of all their friends and family who thought that they were white. Arabic people cannot choose to be black as a teenager, then go back to being an Arab later in life.
Having said that, I believe that Christians have a rich history of giving people a lot of grace who hold to a wide variety of cultural and religious worldviews. For example, for a Christian, the concept of bowing down to an idol is one of the most theological “off limits” things that can be done. Even so, Christians can show a lot of grace to people who bow down to idols. For example, when was the last time you heard a Christian say…
“I heard that my son’s homeroom teacher is a Hindu. That is so DISGUSTING. I hope his idol worshipping friends never come to visit him at the school.”
“I was going to go to that Keanu Reeves movie until I found out that he is a Buddhist. When I think of him bowing down to an idol, it makes me SICK to my stomach!
You will probably not hear such a virile reaction about Buddhists and Hindus. Yet, these same Christians who are act with grace to people with different religious worldviews can be really unkind to those who identify as LGBT. Instead of treating them as valuable people, some Christians talk about LGBT people in terms of hatred and disgust.
Compare that to missionaries and mission-minded Christians who intentionally build bridges with their Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and Jewish neighbors. They sometimes study their religious texts, history, films, and culture. In fact, most missionaries who work with Muslims will tell you… “I have learned to love my Muslim neighbors, they are great people. We love their families and they love ours. We trust them, and they trust us. We pray for them daily. We ask God to speak to them and we look for opportunities to share the gospel with them in words and in actions.”
I believe that today’s Christians need to wrestle with what they believe about same-sex issues. This needs to happen through the diligent study of scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit. These beliefs should not be influenced by popular culture or by looking at polls, trends, or anecdotal stories. Having said that, no matter where you stand on this issue, Christians do not have the luxury of treating anyone in a manner other than LOVE. It is simply not an option for Christians to despise people who identify as LGBT.
In conclusion, my challenge to Christians is this…No matter what your feelings are about the gay community, treat LGBT people with kindness. It seems that some Christians have forgotten that God expects us to be kind.
When people who are not followers of Jesus think of us, does the word “kind” come to their minds? I hope so. Not only is kindness a fruit of the spirit, it may be the most effective way that you can communicate the gospel (Romans 2:4).
Andrew Marin, Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2009)