God & gays: BBC on the Marin Foundation

“Can one man build effective bridges between evangelical Christians and Chicago’s gay community?”

This question kicks off a fascinating article written by Christopher Landau for the BBC World Service’s Heart and Soul Programme entitled “Why conservative Christians flock to a Chicago gay bar“. I honor the BBC for tackling this difficult story; one with landmines for the unwary journalist.

But I ask, who would criticize a story about Andrew Marin: a man who “believes that polite, honest conversation between people of all perspectives is essential if Christians are to address questions about sexuality more effectively”? Who would be so heartless as to be against peace, love and happiness? It would be like drowning kittens.

I answer, me. This profile misses the mark. In its attempt to allow Andrew Marin to tell his story, it neglects to put that story into context. It makes assumptions and value judgments about the Evangelical Christianity and the GLBT movement that Marin seeks to reconcile without allowing the protagonists to define their terms or explain their cause.

This BBC story is quite similar to an Aug 2010 CBN broadcast entitled “Christian’s Outreach to Gays: I’m Sorry“.  It too tees one up for Marin, not pressing him to define or defend his views, nor presenting opposing or critical comments.  Marin even offers the same “Bible-banging homophobic” ‘money’ quote in each piece. He has his patter down pat.

Am I saying Marin’s work is misguided? No.

I am not offering opinions about his ministry or Christian moral teaching or the gay critique of institutional Christianity. It is the way the story has been crafted that I find unsatisfactory. No dead cats here.

Follow me then inside and see if you come out where I do.

The article begins by stating Marin is a “straight” evangelical Christian who:

.. works to try to bring Christians and gay people together in open conversation about sexuality and spirituality – and that includes running a large-scale meeting four times a year at Roscoe’s, one of America’s most famous gay bars.

That is no small achievement in a culture where openly gay people and evangelical Christians have long viewed each other with suspicion.

The scene has now been set and the BBC’s editorial voice speaks, saying “[Marin] believes that too many Christians don’t understand the complexity of the small number of Bible verses that mention homosexuality – he also thinks that gay people are often too quick to dismiss Christianity.”

On the heels of these strong sentiments, the story moves to a chronicle of Marin’s evolving beliefs and how he came to this work.

He had grown up in a conservative Christian household, and says he was “the biggest Bible-banging homophobic kid you ever met”. .. “I didn’t know what to do. I thought there was no way my theological belief system could ever line up with my [gay] friends’ way of life, so I ended up cutting ties with them.”

But Andrew Marin says that over the following months, he believed God was asking him to get back in touch with his friends and apologise to them.

A few weeks later, along with two of the three friends, he moved into Boystown [a gay neighborhood in Chicago].

The article then offers a colorful anecdote from his ministry and an explanation of his worldview.

One of the most unusual aspects of the Foundation’s work are its Living in the Tension gatherings, where people from all perspectives gather together to explore questions about Christian faith and sexuality. .. Most intriguing were two gay Christian men who had reached dramatically different conclusions about faith and sexuality.

Will is an openly gay man, and a pastor in the United Methodist Church.

He says he has resolved a “creative tension” he initially felt between his calling to ministry and his sexuality.

Sitting opposite him was Brian, who also says he’s always known he was gay – but whose traditional theology meant he chose to marry a woman and has since fathered a child.

He says that falling in love with his wife was “an experience that I can only say was through God himself bringing my wife and me together”.

A gay clergyman and an ex-gay: a nice counterpoint. This leads to the story’s cri de coeur:

But the Marin Foundation believes that polite, honest conversation between people of all perspectives is essential if Christians are to address questions about sexuality more effectively.

Not everyone is convinced that Christians are ready – or able – to have many such discussions. .. He says that the Marin Foundation simply wants to get gay people thinking about Christian spirituality in its broadest sense, without a disproportionate emphasis on sexual morality.

“What we try and do is help the person live the most faithful, God-honouring life that they can through their understanding of where God is leading them.”

This open-ended approach will frustrate both traditionalist and progressive Christians.

But few can argue with the fact that Andrew Marin’s foundation has enabled many conservative churches to begin open discussions about sexuality for the first time.

Now what is wrong with that? Well there is the small matter of hyperbole: Marin’s work has led “many” conservative churches to discuss human sexuality “for the first time”. Which churches? Or does he mean congregations? It seems conservative churches have been talking about sex for quite some time. Controversies over contraception, divorce and remarriage, the swinging 60′s, and now gay rights have been topics of seemingly unending discussion for the past seventy-five years, while the Bible seems to have had a bit to say about this (c.f. the Apostle Paul).

An expert’s voice is heard towards the close, a Harvard professor who says “my hope is that I would be willing to kneel at a communion table with my bitterest enemy in these debates.” Yet this quote shows the Harvard man holds a particular theological view of the Eucharist as a sacrament of unity that would not be shared by conservative evangelicals. For conservative evangelicals, one must have a shared doctrine to share communion, while for Roman Catholics, the Orthodox and like groups Eucharistic discipline forbids allowing those outside the fold from receiving the sacraments.

But more than this, the voices of evangelical Christians and the gay non-Christian community are missing from this article and last year’s CBN story. Robert Gagnon, the leading scholar on the traditional side of the debate, has sharply critiqued Marin’s work finding it to lack theological and Scriptural vigor. The blogosphere is also replete with critics of Marin from the opposite corner. Where are they?

Why spoil the sweetness and light with clouds of criticism? Because such reporting is unfaithful to the story.

American journalism is founded upon a methodology best articulated by the German historian Leopold von Ranke. It is a scientific objective worldview that sees the task of the journalist (like the historian) to report what actually happened (wie es eigentlich gewesen). In this school of writing, the journalist must set aside his own views and present a story on its own terms, to establish what the facts are and let the facts dictate the story.

Omitting dissent, in this view of reporting, gives a false impression of the past and injects the present into the past.

These high minded words beg the question whether such a project is even possible in this post-modernist age. Is it still possible for a reporter to show what actually happened?

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About geoconger
  • http://aleksandreia.wordpress.com Hector

    Re: Robert Gagnon, the leading scholar on the traditional side f the debate, has sharply critiqued Marin’s work finding it to lack theological and Scriptural vigor.

    Er, who appointed Robert Gagnon the ‘leading scholar n the traditional side of the debate?’ I’ve read him, a few years ago, and was quite impressed. I’ve grown less and less impressed with the passage of time since then, and now I positively regret the hours I wasted reading him.

    Robert George, John Finnis, Germain Grisez, and G.E.M. Anscombe (and, for that matter, Pope John Paul II) all made a much better case for the orthodox Christian view of sexuality than Gagnon ever has, and if I wanted to make the case that homosexuality was a sin, I would cite them much before I would cite Gagnon. This is partly because they rely primarily on natural law theory and only secondarily on biblical authority, and partly because they were willing to follow the logic of their convictions and forbid contraceptive sex as well.

  • Joe S

    The Heart and Soul show doesn’t attempt to frame the conservative position as ‘mad, bad or sad’ though – which is refreshing considering it’s the BBC.

  • http://intellectualoid.wordpress.com Reader John

    Hector has a point, but as a former Evangelical, now Orthodox, and with a terminal degree in my discipline, I find most of his “much better” authorities fairly heavy sledding, and probably inaccessible to most non-academic Evangelicals.
    Gagnon, in contrast, speaks the Evangelical language and makes a strong case in those terms. Maybe we can compromise and call him “the leading scholar on the Evangelical side of the debate,” and give a nod to Hector’s pantheon as others on the “traditional” side.

  • http://www.virtue-quest.com Robert King

    Is it still possible for a reporter to show what actually happened?

    This was a big question in my undergrad days as a history major.

    I think the recognition that interpretation always plays a role in our communication and in our understanding of events is a real advance. I think it’s important to acknowledge that a “fact” is something made.

    However, it’s at least as important to recognize that events are real, and evidence is real, and even arguments rooted in events and evidence are real. These things can be known and described with a great deal of objectivity. Moreover, different interpretations of these realities can be critiqued based on related real events or evidence or arguments.

    It simply requires the willingness to question one’s own assumptions, to take the evidence at face value as much as one is able, and to allow all the relevant perspectives to speak. This makes for a lot of sifting, but I think they are virtues as good for a journalist as they are for a historian.

    So, is it possible to “show what actually happened”? I don’t think so. Not perfectly, or with comprehensive objectivity, anyway.

    But it is possible to present the evidence, the realities that we have to base our interpretations on, in a clear and objective fashion.

  • Evanston2

    George, “I honor the BBC for tackling this difficult story; one with landmines for the unwary journalist.” Really? It’s easy. Especially when your work is taxpayer funded and it doesn’t matter if no one cares. I follow religious stories religiously and live in the Chicago area and even I don’t care. The only landmine is fooling the editor into thinking that anyone outside of the newsroom will do anything beyond scan this story for the odd witticism.

  • dalea

    From the article:

    at Roscoe’s, one of America’s most famous gay bars.

    This looks like hyperbole, which does not bode well for the rest of the story. I suspect that the author is getting carried away here, or getting bad information. If it had said something about the North Halsted strip of bars being famous, that would have probably been more accurate.

  • Hector

    Reader John,

    FTR, I’m on the liberal side of the gay sexuality debate (and on some of the other sexual ethics issues, though not all of them). I can definitely see the logic in the traditionalist, Catholic/Orthodox position, though: though it’s not one I share, it’s a compelling and consistent position, and it needs to be taken seriously even (especially?) by those who disagree with it.

  • Bern

    I read the whole piece and found the single sentence paragraphs extremely annoying–along with the vague and puffy feel, and the lack of context. (Being a religion publishing buff I simply HAD to know the NAME of the publisher Marin is working with, described as “one of the country’s largest Christian publishers” http://www.themarinfoundation.org/resources/love-is-an-orientation-dvd-curriculum/
    No, geoconger, I don’t think you’re drowning kittens, but is it really quite fair to snipe at Marin for using the “Bible-thumping homophobe” self-description in two interviews as “patter”?

  • http://adammclane.com adam mclane

    I find this write up dripping with jealousy. Like, really?

    You are critiquing a person for his ministry being covered in an international context in a positive way? Isn’t it odd that Christians like yourself define themselves with their pseudo-heavy handed dismissals of fellow brothers in Christ?