Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Book Report: Andrew Marin's "Love is an Orientation"

Over the last few years, I've read a lot of books and articles related to the issues surrounding Christianity and homosexuality. It should be obvious to everybody that this is one of the hottest of hot-button issues in the church and in our larger society. And, except to those on the extreme right or left, it's not a very easy issue on which to determine any hard conclusions.

Most of the books and articles I've read deal with a couple of central topics: theology (what does the Bible say about same-gender sexual contact?) and science (what do biology and psychology and sociology have to say about same-gender attraction?) For some Christians, the answer is easy: the Bible says homosexuality is a sin, and we're supposed to call people to righteousness; therefore, gays are sinners and have to stop their behavior (or they have to be stopped, if they won't do it themselves). For other Christians, the answer is just as easy: there is absolutely nothing wrong with being gay or lesbian, so we ought to welcome glbt people into our fellowship just as they are, and stop all this bigoted nonsense.

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem much middle ground. For many of the rest of us, the scriptures seem clear on their singular approval of the male/female sexual union, but the strident, angry condemnation of gays and lesbians just doesn't seem to reflect Christ's call to love our neighbors as ourselves. After all, "God demonstrated his love for us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Plus, It's God's "kindness that leads to repentance." The struggle then becomes, is it possible to find another way, where theologically we may believe certain truths about sexuality, while at the same time we create space for meaningful dialogue and true friendship with people who are, in fact, gay or lesbian.

This becomes even more important an issue when people whom we love, people with whom we've built friendships, people who are dear to us, people from our own churches come out of the closet, admitting they are attracted to others of their own gender. Some would instantly condemn, but to many, the love and friendship we share calls us to seek another path, one wherein we maintain true friendships while at the same time disagreeing on this issue.

Enter Andrew Marin's Love is an Orientation. Of all the books I've worked through, this is the first to purposefully focus on the relational/missional issue. Marin's work is not so interested in "what does the Bible say about homosexuality" as in "how should the church respond to the glbt community?" And the answer is in the title of the book: in love.

Essentially, Marin seeks to get beyond the entrenched either/or zero-sum arguments that mark the battle lines between the church and the gay community. He challenges the church to give up our desire to be "right," on this issue, to cease trying to "win the culture war," and instead to see gays and lesbians as God sees them: men and women seeking after God, in need of hope and redemption just like everybody else in the world.

To Marin, the ultimate value is friendship, fleshed out in acts of love and kindness. If Jesus befriended the woman at the well, if Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, if Jesus cared enough about this broken world to come live in it, then so to should we choose to share friendship with all people, saint and sinner alike. The questions become not so much "is it a sin to be gay?" but "who are we when we stand before God?" It's not "can gays be Christians?" but "how do we walk alongside all people, helping them find hope and meaning in their life?"

Some might argue that Marin is watering down the scriptures, some might wish he took a harder stand on the issues, but I think his challenge is one the church must take seriously. Without necessarily ignoring our theological position on the issue, we must ponder our true call in this world: to be salt and light, to represent the hope of the world in acts of service. Christians are not behaving as Christ when they stand "over here" and throw rocks at people "over there." Marin would state, I believe, that what the world really needs is Christians willing to step outside the comfortable walls of the church, walk over to the glbt world, and become Christ incarnate to them, not as an OT prophet preaching damnation, but as a gentle servant, willing to listen, learn, and share their own hope in Christ.

This is certainly not the final book on the subject; for those seeking any definite theological clarity on the specific issues of "being gay," the book will be disappointing. Personally, since theology is so often at the heart of the conversation, I wish Marin had given more than a few brief paragraphs to the pertinent texts; in addition, his attempt to draw out "big-picture-principles' from those texts often stretched the meaning of the text a little too far for my comfort.

Where the text shines, however, is the personal stories and experiences Marin brings to the text, because this is a book that comes from a life attempting to live these thoughts out. This isn't any kind of abstract theology, this is ministry on the run, attempting to sort out definitions in the midst of the ever-shifting debate. And, one could imagine, it's a theology being worked out whilst being shot at from both sides of the discussion. And it's for that very reason I appreciate Andrew Marin and this book. He is living a life few of us are willing to risk, and I believe God is using him to discover and discern new insights we all desperately need.

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