Monday, September 14, 2009

Love Is an Orientation - Book Review

There are few issues these days that are a divisive and polarizing as homosexuality and Christianity. Most recently this debate was played out in front of the nation in typical fashion during the Miss USA Pageant when gay gossip columnist Perez Hilton asked contestant Carrie Prejean to give her opinion on same-sex marriage . When Prejean gave an answer affirming traditional marriage it reignited the debate in our country that has been growing for years over gay rights. This most recent culture battle reveals that while the rhetoric is getting much more inflammatory on both sides, nothing redemptive is coming from it. The most obvious fruit of this culture war has simply been greater division and deeper hatred of each other from both camps.

But what if the conversation could be elevated a bit from back and forth accusations that have characterized this issue? What if instead of shouting and condemning people from both sides there could be a different way forward based on love and respect and seeking to understand others? This is precisely what Andrew Marin is attempting to do in his book Love Is an Orientation.

Andrew Marin, who describes his background as Bible-banging and homophobic, was thrown into a world of turmoil and confusion when over the course of three consecutive months three of his best friends revealed to him that they were gay (Youtube of his testimony). The once distant cultural debate that had been played out in the media and in conversations had now become personal for Marin because these weren’t strangers or TV personalities or even simple conversations around the water cooler. These were his closest friends. Marin shares that after he got over the initial shock of his friend’s revelations he felt God inviting him into a journey of love and understanding. The journey lead Andrew Marin, a heterosexual, evangelical Christian, to immerse himself in the gay community of Boystown in Chicago seeking not to argue or convert people to his way of thinking but simply seeking to try and understand those in the gay community better. This cultural immersion had a profound impact on his life of faith and in the years since he began this journey he has gone on to start the Marin Foundation, an organization that is actively involved in trying to elevate the conversation between the Evangelical and Gay communities.

While books on homosexuality and Christianity are everywhere and while opinions on the subject are numerous, Marin writes in a way that doesn’t treat homosexuality as just another topic to be debated. Through story after story of people he has talked with, prayed with, and listened to from the gay community, Andrew Marin succeeds in rescuing the conversation from speculation, accusations and opinions and bringing it to the place where it needs to be discussed—the context of real people.

This will be a frustrating read for those looking for easy answers to hot-button issues because Marin offers very few concrete answers. Instead he offers a fresh set of questions and a way of dialogue that is based around building bridges rather than walls. The basic premise for Love Is an Orientation and the Marin Foundation is that Christians are not called to judge people or even to convict people of sin, that’s God’s job, instead Chris followers are simply called to love people the way Jesus does. This approach doesn’t ignore or gloss over the issues but engages them in a completely different way.

I found Love Is an Orientation both challenging and refreshing. While loving others by entering into their world is certainly not a new concept or even a foreign concept to Christianity (it’s kind of foundational to the life of Jesus), Marin’s application of this way of love simultaneously expands the evangelical horizon while at the same time making it much more personal. What’s great about this book is that Marin doesn’t just talk about the merits of loving others but rather gives some very practical teaching based on his years of dialogue with those in the gay community on how to actually go about doing this in real life. He also brings a much needed dose of humility to the conversation reflecting on the many times he has experienced greater love, authenticity, and community with gays in Boystown than in much of the church. I found the closing chapters of this book very helpful, not only for conversations on homosexuality and Christianity, but also for more redemptive ways of approaching any of the myriad of hot-button issues in our culture today.

I am grateful for this book for several reasons. First it has helped me to better understand homosexuality from the vantage point of those within the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender) community rather than from the outside looking in. Secondly, this book has shed light on both the spiritual yearnings and the spiritual hang-ups of many within gay community. Finally I have found this book has managed to show very practically how love can transcend all kinds of arguments, hang-ups, and divisiveness in a way that is utterly redemptive and which points people, gay and straight alike, towards Jesus. In my opinion Marin has succeeded in elevating the conversation with this book and I can only hope that this approach to the issues at hand gains more adherents.


Pi Man said...

I applaud you Bro, for bringing up another difficult topic that needs to be discussed in the light of day. And certainly this is just my not-so-short, and non-exhaustive comment on what you’ve written here. So with that stated, may I say “Bless you Brother” for reminding us all that it’s not our place to judge. Of course we need to work on getting the “two by four” out of our own eye before we worry about pointing that out in another’s life. With that said, let’s not let the pendulum swing so far to one side that we only pay attention to the recorded, specific words of our Lord and ignore the God-inspired wisdom of the bible in its entirety. We take the guiding principles of the old and new testaments as a whole in directing our lives as followers of Christ. Are we to ignore biblical principles that were not specifically stated or mentioned by Jesus? Certainly not. That’s why we have the God-inspired words of Paul, among others. You’re right in that there are “hot button topics.” And at the end of the day, sin is sin, and we are all sinners, probably every single day of our lives. We know the drill: confess, repent, receive forgiveness and restoration, and move forward under the strength of the Holy Spirit and in the will of the Father. We absolutely should “love the sinner,” and since that includes us, we naturally want to be loved and accepted. But where does loving the sinner separate from having our love interpreted as acceptance of their (or our) sin? Trade out the sin of engaging in “homosexuality” in this discussion and substitute in its place engaging in any one of the other following sins: adultery, murder, rape, pedophilia, stealing, robbing, abortion, rage, deceit, sloth… and so many, many more that clearly “miss the mark.” Eventually you get to a sin that will rub one person the wrong way more than it would another. Hence the “hot-button” topics. But we would agree, the bible as a whole warns us not to engage in these kinds of activities, some specifically mentioned and others under “umbrella terms” such as “sexual immorality,” etc. I mean, Jesus doesn’t talk about most sins individually in list form, but we know we’re supposed to abstain from activities that can harm if not destroy ourselves and/or others’ lives. This leads into the discussion of the over-generalization of some sub-groups that want to label others with a term when the others do not support their life style or cause. For example, just because someone calls you a “homophobe” doesn’t mean you are. I think the term has taken on a convenient and an offensive dimension of it’s own for some in the gay community, used much in the same way that the word “racist” has seemed to become a rapid response of some in the African American community, when there is non-agreement by a non-African American. Undoubtedly I will offend someone with that statement, and certainly that is not my intent. It unfortunately does apply too often. But to put it in personal terms, I’m trying to make the point that while I want to be accepted and loved by Christ followers, I do not expect them to accept my overt sin. And if they don’t, I do not intend to label them with a derogative and pejorative term in order to misdirect the issue and justify my choice so I may continue in that sin (were that the case). In the final analysis, we need to accept and love as Christ did, absolutely! But in the long run, let’s not let our acceptance be misinterpreted as agreement. That is actually a form of deceit! In closing, as Paul once said, “I keep on doing what I don’t want to do, and the things I know I should do, I don’t.” Go figure. So bringing this back to the love of Christ, may I, may we, love each other, and accept responsibility for our choices, and strive to become Kingdom people, without abandoning the most precious, guiding tool we have been given to assist us while we’re on earth: the living, breathing, Word of God. Amen.

Crispin Schroeder said...

Good points Tim. I think one thing that he really hit on that resonates with me is that this topic in particular has such a stigma attached to it that it alienates the very ones who need to encounter God's love by keeping them trapped many times in shame and secrecy. Many things that once had such a stigma attached to them whether alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders, and even pornography have now found more of a place where they can be dealt with in the church without the barrier of shame. This is what makes programs like Celebrate Recovery so effective because people can share their struggles openly with others without any sense that they will be singled out or ostracized for their problem. And because the shame is taken away they are put in a new context to where they can actually work towards freedom from the enslavement to their sin. This is not the case in most of the church when it comes to homosexuality. I think Marin has developed credibility with the Gay community because he has not made them a project or made it his agenda to argue with them on everything. He has simply set up a context where real dialogue can happen without threat of condemnation and as a result many in that community have come to experience God and have begun a new journey with Jesus. It is tricky business trying to relate to people in a way that validates them as humans created in the image of God while not validating things that could destroy their life whether pornography, drugs, abusive relationships, or an illicit sexual lifestyle. But from my own personal experience, until the shame barrier is dealt with, until you feel like you can come clean not only with God but with his people, and until you can experience that love as unconditional you will never really encounter freedom within. This is certainly not an easy issue but one that the Church at large needs to find a better way of dealing with.

Pi Man said...

As always, beautifully stated Brother. I know I'm a daily "work in progress" with respect to what you said for sure. I confess that certainly I need healing too, and it seems the more I allow myself to be an agent, a conduit for healing, that God gives me another taste of it myself. 8^) Good stuff, Bro. Thanks.

brandon said...

I have come to the conclusion that

I'm not gay. But for several years, I struggled with it, and many young

adults do; They're just too ashamed to talk about it.

My terrible mistake was being honest about my struggles to a "christian" "friend" who I thought

I could trust. As a result, I was completely repudiated and permanently banned

from the entire group, never to be reconciled nor forgiven-- which is in direct contradiction

to what the bible clearly teaches. Years later, these same people still hate me for a

struggle that God has already resolved in me, and forgave years ago.

I can only conclude that it's because of their own shame from struggling with the very same thing, and bringing the truth to light invoked fear that they would be exposed themselves.