Monday, June 20, 2011

Love is an Orientation (Andrew Marin, IVP, 2009)

Here's a unique book by a unusual young man - a 'straight, white, conservative, evangelical male' with a belief in 'the Bible as the inerrant word of God' -  who addressed a large conference of not-necessarily-Christian Gays/Lesbians and received a standing ovation!

I've never heard of anyone with his general theological stance who's done that and had a reception like that. The common mantra for his kind of Christian is 'love the sinner hate the sin' - something he doesn't use (mostly because those people don't generate love as Jesus did, so Andrew suspects there's something wrong with that approach).

What's his secret? Simple, really: do what Jesus did, immerse oneself in the culture of the marginalized, and honour them as human beings also made in the image of God. Don't preach at them. Don't offer the Pharisee-talk ('Change... and you'll be acceptable around here': for Jesus it was the other way around - acceptance *preceded* repentance). Listen to their stories (and as he found, the question about whether a gay lifestyle is a freely-chosen one answers itself in the vast majority of cases). Share their pain (especially when they've prayed to be changed from a same-sex attraction, and wakened 'every morning not having that prayer answered... wondering whether there really is a God, or [being convinced] that [one] is condemned to hell because of attractions [one] can't figure out'). 

Also - and this is important - don't get bogged down arguing about the 'clobber texts' from Leviticus, Romans and 1 Corinthians. Again do what Jesus did: in the Gospels he was asked 'closed-ended' questions 25 times but only directly answered three or four of them (pp. 179 ff.). So leave the hermeneutical questions to biblical scholars, and the aetiology of gender-orientation to the scientists, and start loving/accepting the marginalized.

'They'll know we are Christians, not by our proof-texting, but by our love' writes his mate Shane Claiborne in a commendation on the first page. 

Now, Andrew's theological approach isn't quite mine. Except for Thomas Merton (quoted, I think, twice) all of his 'respected theologians and Bible scholars' are fundamentalists or conservative evangelicals (my terms - people  like John MacArthur, et. al).

Interestingly, Andrew has chosen the fundamentalists' arch-enemy Brian McLaren to write the Foreword - which Brian does with what is now his famous parable (expanded in his recent book A New Kind of Christianity) about 'sincere well-intentioned religious people who believe in their religion so fervently they would die for it but also would kill for it - literally or metaphorically...' Brian McLaren urges us to hang in there until the last page, and not 'check-list' Andrew's approach or opinions against our own preconceived ideas... That's excellent wisdom for a book and a topic like this...

Here are some summary-statements; and others which 'gave me pause':

* 'Unless you have been sexually attracted to someone of the same sex you can never fully grasp, as a heterosexual Christian, what that means'... 'From my experience, the GLBT community's default system is to never take anything Christians say as genuine' (33)  

* 'The Christian community has only ever known one way to handle same-sex sexual behavior: take a stand and keep a distance' (37)

* 'In general, Christians' default belief system is that [same-sex attraction] is environmental... I know many Christians who enjoy playing psychologist - talking to GLBT people to figure out if they had an absentee dad or a domineering mom... or experienced some kind of sexual abuse in their youth... Research suggests that on average only 7 to 15 percent of the GLBT community was sexually abused in their youth' (39, 42) 

* 'Among gays and lesbians " love the sinner, hate the sin" is the most disdained phrase in the Christian vocabulary' (46)... [As Christians we have] 'an opportunity to change the culture by... offering hope and compassion to a people who have been burdened with a thick dose of stigma and shame in all aspects of their life' (53)

* 'Even as recently as 2002 there were still fourteen states [in the U.S.] that upheld the sodomy law, and in Idaho, one could land a lifetime sentence in jail for engaging in gay sexual behaviors' (55)

* 'The word homosexual is offensive to someone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. So instead use words like gaylesbianGLBTgay and lesbian community' (60) 

* 'Gay Christians believe that the passages in the Bible that condemn same-sex relationships are not referencing long-term, committed monogamous relationships. Rather, [they're] talking about inhospitality, heterosexual rape, pagan ritual sex and orgies, and pederasty (men having sex with boys)' (73)

* 'Currently in many circles both gay and straight, scientific and religious, there has been a more common acceptance of homosexuality's etiology as a combination of biological, environmental and social factors that all contribute to gay orientation' (75-6)

* 'Gay Christians have started to change the mainstream's mindset that GLBT people crave random sex, are STD-laced, and have alcohol and drug problems' (76)

* 'There is no wrong way to humbly listen and learn! ... I... trust in the faithfulness of my loving Father to fill in the gaps that I can never understand'... I promise that God loves his children enough that he will always tell them what... is best for their life' (78-9, 86)

* '80% of the GLBT community want nothing to do with [ex-gay ministries]' (99); according to the ground-breaking book unChristian, [among] 16-29-year-olds the three most common perceptions of present-day Christians are that they are anti-gay (91%), judgmental (87%) and hypocritical (85%)' (100)

* 'A great open-ended question is, "What's it like to be you?"' (163). 'I don't care if gays and lesbians are or aren't born that way... Here is a good question: "How do you think your genetic make-up relates to God's desire to be called your Father?"' (182)

* 'I know some people who say that they once had same-sex sexual attraction but are now attracted exclusively to people of the opposite sex, and in fact are married and have kids and are living a happy life. Just the same I know people who have tried and tried and tried, and have not been able to "change their sexual orientation," and therefore have stopped trying and are actively involved in the GLBT community: all these people from both life experiences are telling the truth as they perceive it, and each falls somewhere different on the spectrum of change' (184)

* Marin's conclusion: 'We're not called to posit theories that support our assumptions. We're not called to speculate about genetics or development experiences or spiritual oppression in faceless groups of other people. We're called to build bridges informed by the Scriptures and empowered by the Spirit. We're called to let God be the judge of his creation. We're called to let the Holy Spirit whisper truth into each person's heart. And we're called to show 
love unconditionally, tangibly, measurably' (187)

If Andrew Marin read more mainline theologians, he would appreciate quotes like this one, from Walter Brueggemann's The Prophetic Imagination:

'Jesus in his solidarity with the marginal ones is moved to compassion. Compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism, for it announces that the hurt is to be taken seriously, that the hurt is not to be accepted as normal and natural, but is an abnormal and unacceptable condition for humanness...

'Empires are never built or maintained on the basis of compassion. The norms of law (social control) are never accommodated to persons, but persons are accommodated to the norms. Otherwise the norms will collapse and with them the whole power arrangement. Thus the compassion of Jesus is to be understood not simply as a personal emotional reaction but as a public criticism in which he dares to act upon his concern against the entire numbness of his social context.'


Rowland Croucher

June 10, 2011

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