This past Friday night, we were grateful to have Andrew Marin speak at Gathering. Andrew is the author of Love Is an Orientation, and heads up The Marin Foundation. The foundation’s aim is to build bridges between the LGBT community and the Church. Tim Perry and I have been looking forward to this event for awhile.
I had the privilege to hang out with Andrew before and after the event. He is a man on mission. He preaches what he practices. He loves the LGBT community like no other.
I was glad we could stream the event live at the Online Campus. We had over 90 people watching online, and another 190 people at the event. Here are my edited notes from the event. (To listen to it, you can listen/download the event on this page.) Later this week, I’ll post some additional thoughts about the event, and the relationship between the Church and the LGBT community.
By me being nothing else than being born a white, straight male, that put me at the top of the cultural hierarchical chain. I was surrounded by others who were in my demographic of white and straight. I went off to college. After my freshman year, one of my best friends told me they were a lesbian. I told them they weren’t because I “knew” this person and their friends. I argued with them about whether or not they were a lesbian. She ended up winning that conversation.
The next month I had a conversation with another friend who told me they were a lesbian. The next month I had a conversation with another friend who told me they were gay.
I didn’t know what to do.
I knew that over the previous 19 years the Church had given me a theological framework on what to think and feel toward homosexuality. What the Church has not done a wonderful job doing is giving a framework for follow-up after the fact.
I know what I’m suppose to believe, what I’m suppose to do with that belief now? I didn’t know, so I went to everyone I could think of to find out. Pastors, friends, people at university. No one had an answer. At first they laughed and then they’d pat me on the back and say something like, “Oh boy, that’s intense! Tell me how that goes for you.”
Still, what am I suppose to do? I started reading books from all perspectives, the conservative and liberal, but they all had the same premise. “Here’s what you need to believe. Here’s the opposite side of belief. Here’s how you go about picking holes in the opposite belief to convince them you are right they are wrong.”
I then had a book burning party. Still curious as to what I should do. So I went back to the Bible and started praying. “Lord, you’re going to have to show me something here. I’m really lost, and I’m missing my best friends. I don’t know what to do.” I was reading and praying, and was getting nothing. I thought what I believed was never going to line up with them, so I cut ties with my best friends and ran away like a scared 5 year old. I cut off relationship, and that’s all on me. I didn’t know what to do. It was too intense and I couldn’t wrap my mind around the situation.
Months went by without seeing my friends. I was in my dorm room, and I heard the Lord tell me two things. He asked me to put myself in my friends’ shoes and to understand what it was like to grow up in their context. To hear being called fag and gay. Instead of asking all these questions, ask yourself what it was like for your friends to tell you they were gay and for them to know you might bail on them.
I’d like to think of myself as loyal, but the first time that was put to the test I wasn’t loyal. I couldn’t do it, and I ran away. That convicted me, so I called them all up and reconnected with them.
We got together over Thanksgiving break, during our sophomore year, and once we were together I lost it. “I don’t know what to do or say, and I’m sorry. Please tell me something.” One of my friends said, “It’s okay what happened because you’ve been taught only one thing your entire life. How are you suppose to know anything different? It’s okay, because you came back. So let’s figure out how to move forward.”
My friend was loyal and showed me grace, where if I was in their shoes I doubt I would have.
End of the night I had a brilliant idea, which was to move into Boystown. Believe me, my Boystown is much different than your Boys Town! Boystown is the only officially incorporated gay neighborhood in the US. In 1 square mile radius there are over 60 gay bars, over 30 sex shops, second largest gay and lesbian center in country, and street lights light up with rainbow flag colors. 90,000 people live there, and 89% are LGBT.
As a homophobic 19 year old, I thought no better place than for me to live in that neighborhood. Moved in with my best friends. Why? I didn’t know what else to do. I needed to know what it meant to live, love, learn and be faithful to the Lord, and still make a tangible impact.
First night there, we went to one of the bars. We walked in, and everyone turned their heads to stare at me. I asked my friends why everyone is staring at me, and they told me, “You kind of ooze ‘alpha male’, turn it down a few notches.” A minute later, a guy taps me on the shoulder. I turn and he says to me, “You. You aren’t gay are you.” I said, “No, I’m not gay.” He turns to his friends and says, “See, I told you he is not gay. Pay up!” He collects money from friends, comes back to me and says, “What are you doing here?” I said, “I don’t know what I’m doing here!” I was rambling on, and he thought this was very funny. He brought all his friends over. I was like a zoo animal being poked, getting asked, “What’s it like to be you? What’s it like to be homophobic?” Somehow, we ended up talking for hours. Later on, they were sharing their stories with me about God, family, the church and religion. And they were crying as they shared all the bad things that had happened to them. I realized their pain was caused by people like me. I needed to do something about that, and I didn’t know what.
I started a Bible study, and here we are today. I’ve lived in Boystown for 11 years now.
Here are four principles I’ve learned on building bridges between the church and the LGBT community. It’s one thing to hear Mona’s story here, it’s another thing to go to a gay pride parade or go to a gay club where people tell you, “I don’t need you and your God.” What do you do with that? It sure is easier for Christians to talk with other Christians. That’s not the point, is it. We stop from going out because we’re scared and we don’t know what to say.
We work off of a conversion based medium of engagement. People tend to think, “my baseline worldview is better than yours”. I feel it my duty to provide contextual evidence, research and narrative, and if I provide enough to you it should convince you that mine is better than yours. You’ll drop your belief and come over to my side. It’s easier to implement change and move forward when we are on the same side and share the same belief.
When was the last time someone intellectually argued with you where they convinced you to give up your beliefs and take on their own? Never, right? And yet, that is the acceptable medium of engagement that our culture works off of. Not just church, but mainstream culture in general.
Matthew 28:18-20, the Great Commission. Just because we understand Great Commission, doesn’t mean it will turn into the Great Reality. There will always be people who don’t agree with us, won’t be on the same side as us. What do we do with them? In most cases, the sad thing is we give up. We think we tried and we move on. When did we become a people that became okay with just moving on? It’s not okay, so what do we do? How do we build a bridge with people who have a completely different framework than ourselves? We do this through the four principles. Transcultural principles are applicable any time, any place, any people group. When I’m in other circles, people don’t realize these are Biblical principles.
#1 – We need to have a proper understanding and implementation of reconciliation.
Broadly what happens is there are two types of reconciliation that happens. First type is cultural version of reconciliation. We will be reconciled when you drop what you believe and come over to my side. Then we are reconciled and we can move forward in reconciliation. Where anywhere does it say reconciliation means dropping what you believe and going to another team/belief? Second type is actionable reconciliation. Example is Jesus engaging with people around him What he did and with who. The constant pursuer of that which is disconnected. That’s what we must be, a constant pursuer. Whether or not they end up with the team is not the point, we need to continue to pursue them…whether or not they disagree with us.
No, it’s not easy. We have to take the first step, take the brunt of the hate and unpleasantness and the difficulties. Is not that worth the Kingdom which we so boldly talk about?
Last fall, we were featured in a BBC article. One of the top gay bars, Roscoe’s, lets us hold events at their place four times a year. A journalist for the BBC doubted my story that a gay atheist would allow me to use the bar he manages for events. The journalist pressed him on this, and here’s what my friend, the manager, said:
I think that religion is the cause of most trouble in the world. Here’s the thing, I cannot deny the good The Marin Foundation does in the neighborhood, and I want to be a part of it.
Reconciliation in real time. He can’t deny what is compelling us to do our work in the neighborhood.
Culturally based medium of engagement. Just because something is culturally acceptable, doesn’t mean it is right.
2. We need to start practicing a counter-cultural in person interactions.
We are the most connected and informed society ever, yet we are the most removed society ever to live. Don’t get me wrong, I love Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Here’s the thing with being informed. We know, from here in Omaha, what’s going on with the earthquake in Haiti or Japan, or what’s going on with the Arab spring, than we do right in our own zipcode. That’s wrong, and it’s bad. And especially in the church. Please don’t be offended by what I’m about to say. I apologize in advance if you are. In the church world we’d rather fly 5,000 miles to serve sick kids and help moms, than to deal with what’s going on in our own zip code.
Why do we do that? For many reasons. One being, we’re more concerned about comfort than we are the Kingdom. We fly over there and no sick mom or baby is ever going to turn down your help. And then we are going to take pictures of them, post it on Facebook, and say, “Look what I did! I feel good now.” Because we are the hero of the story every time when we get there. No sick mom or baby is going to ask you how you voted about gay marriage and that determines whether or not you get to take a pic of me. You better believe where you are that is the first question you’ll be asked, “Do you believe being gay is a sin?” “Would you vote for gay marriage?” Your answer will determine your future relationship.
I’m not suggesting we should stop going overseas to help people because we have the resources to do so. We shouldn’t scapegoat overseas as the excuse from not doing stuff here where we live. You know where it is cool to move these days? The ghetto, especially if you’re white. Especially if you’re Christian. “I’m doing inner city ministry.” You know where it’s cool to move? Africa. You know where it’s not cool to move, the gay neighborhood. Because it gets too intense. There aren’t enough answers all the time. There’s a power in proximity. We need to start practicing being in proximity. We need to start showing up, over and over and over again.
We think because we are Christian that people will inherently trust us, but why should the gay community do that when we’ve been anything but trustworthy with them? We need to start functioning in reality in these circles.
#3 We need to start building bridges over building armies.
Not talking military armies, but armies that look and sound like us. How easy is it for us to talk to other Christians. Opposite of the point of what Jesus came for. Anybody can build a bridge looking just like them. Takes a different person to build a bridge. To stand in the middle of people on opposite sides and be a reconciliatory agent. Being compelled by Jesus to do so. Problem with being a bridge is you get walked on by both sides.
Google me. Articles on left and right rip me. “He just wants to make us all straight”. “This guy is a liberal homo-loving hippie.” The only thing they agree on is how much they hate me.
Jesus’ ways are a sword. My (Jesus) ways are so different that what is cultural acceptable. They will love it or hate. Anybody can build an army, can you build a bridge?
#4 Fidelity is the key to sustainability
We think sustainability is based on relationship, which is a huge component of it. I have lots of friends. It has to be more. We have good standing of relationships. What about when it is bad standing of relationships? How many of you, who are married, don’t talk to people who stood with you at your wedding? If it is solely based on relationships…because some are good, some are bad and some just end.
Fidelity – Faithfully and consistently being compelled to work within the broader framework, rather than just the relationship. If we are able to do that, then the work will be sustained. If we are committed to the over-arching idea of engagement of impacting society, regardless of our relationship, we can focus in on the big idea. We can control what we can control.
Here’s what Billy Graham said in response to a question as to why he was attending a Bill Clinton hosted event, in the aftermath of the Monica Lewinsky affair.
“It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love and that’s what I’m here doing.”
When I read that, it challenged me deeply. I am a Bible-believing Christian. Do I have enough faith in the Bible to trust the Holy Spirit and God to do their jobs? Do I trust the Bible when it asks me to be the hands of feet of Jesus to the world? It’s my job to love in real and tangible ways.
Q&A (I posted some of the Q&A here. You can listen to the entire Q&A on the mp3.)
Q: How do you overcome thought of guilt because gay people have been use to hearing they are “messed up” throughout their upbringing.
A: How prevalent shame is in the LGBT community. Its self-induced, it’s from other people. That’s the church’s fault. We aren’t a reconciliatory agent. We’re not proactive. We tend to think that by our words, and by saying we’ll welcome gay people once they show up to our churches, that everything will work out. But when has that ever happened? Sure, it happens once in awhile. Systemically, when has that happened? It hasn’t. Evangelical world needs to make the first step. We have power and privilege with being a white and straight. We need to do something with that in a way that honors and dignifies God.
Q: Can Andrew address ex-gay ministries?
A: There are organizations that say they will change their sexual orientations from gay to straight. I like to work in reality. Not trying to be snarky or mean spirited. I know lots of LGBT people. A number of them have gone through ex gay ministries. From what they have said, even conservative LGBT folks, who can’t change their orientation…I’m not saying ex gay is not a reality. Who am I to say that isn’t the case? Gay Christian attacks ex gay, saying there is no such thing. Ex gay person says gay Christian is oxymoron. A huge invalidation epidemic in this debate. We invalidate other people’s stories and journeys, whether or not you agree or disagree. Dr. Stanton Jones, of Wheaton College, has done some research on this. People don’t necessarily become straight. There were some where the spectrum moved toward being attracted toward the opposite sex. It happened for some, but not all. For many, who pray and go to retreats and pursue God, God doesn’t take away the attraction.
What do you do with him?
We need to start believing a right set of expectations in engaging someone. It can’t just be, “If you just pray enough.” What happens if someone goes through that and isn’t straight at the end of the day?
Q: You mentioned we need to be proximity with the LGBT community, how do we do that if we can’t move into Boystown or a similar place?
A: I don’t mean to make people feel bad with my story.. Google “gay Omaha” (8.77 million results in .29 seconds), you might be surprised how much pops up. See what pops up and go. Claim who you are. Say where you attend. Show up again, and again, and again. Sometimes we just need to stop talking and we just need to listen. Church is okay with this in every other area, except the LGBT community. We need to not have an agenda. Chris Heuertz book “Friendship at the Margins”. If you have some type of perceived outcome at the beginning of a friendship, you have betrayed that friendship already.
We need to start claiming who you are. We may not have directly caused the pain, but we are the face of the pain to many in the LGBT community.
Jesus was already in proximity to people. The Pharisees and Sadducees just stayed in the temple court, thinking people would come to them. We are in proximity to what we deem most important. Commit, stay, reconcile, grow.