Andrew Marin: Straight Guy in a Queer World
Katherine Britton – Crosswalk.com News & Culture Editor
CW: What advice to you give to individuals who want to start building bridges but may not know how?
Marin: There’s two types of ways. There’s the type of person who already knows someone who’s gay and then there’s the type of person who doesn’t know anyone who’s gay – or they don’t think they know anyone.
I’ll start with the later. For someone who doesn’t think they know anyone who’s gay or they legitimately might not, that’s the wonderful thing about Google. You type in your town and you type in “gay” and pretty much any town in the country or a town close to yours is going to pop up a gay group of some type, whether that is a gay-straight alliance at your high school, whether that is an equality rights organization, an HIV/AIDS organization, there is bound to be some type of gay group or organization close to you…
Go find that gay group and then go. Go! Take yourself out of anything that you know that is comfortable and you go and you place yourself right smack dab in the middle of somewhere where you don’t belong and watch what happens.
The first time that I ever went to a gay club with my best friends after they came out to me, like 30 seconds after I walked into this place and everyone’s head is turning right at me. And I’m like, “What’s going on?” And my friends are like, “You ooze alpha-male, maybe you can turn that down a couple notches.” Thirty seconds later a guy walks up to me, taps me on the shoulder and says, “You’re not gay, are you?” And I said, “No, no, I’m not gay.” So he turns around to his friends and says, “See I told you! He’s not gay! Pay up!” They had made a bet. So he goes and gets his money, sticks it in his pocket, comes back, walks right up to my face and says, “Then what are you doing here?” And I was like, I didn’t know what to do I didn’t know what to say. It was a really stressful thing for me. And so we started talking.
By the end of the night, me and that guy and his five or six friends were sitting on couches in the back of this club – now this is the largest gay club in the city of Chicago; there are stripper poles around, porn on the TV, all this stuff is going on – and these guys and me are sitting on these couches and they are crying their eyes out in the middle of this club talking to me about their experiences with God and with faith and with religion and with their families and with all this stuff. I never expected that! That is the exact opposite of what I ever, in my wildest dreams, expected to happen. And it was only because – and this was when the big light bulb went off in my head – which was I became the most unique icebreaker by doing nothing other than going somewhere that I didn’t belong. And sticking out like a sore thumb is a brilliant, brilliant thing that the Lord has given us an opportunity to do.
It doesn’t matter who kicks us out or what they say to us because, just when we are known as Christians or conservatives or evangelicals or whatever, all the baggage that comes with it is going to be placed on us. And until we’re ready to claim that and work through it, how do we expect things to actually happen? We need to go back and back and back and prove that we are who we say we are. And I think that is the one thing that we have not done – we have not proven it. We keep saying it, but we haven’t yet proven it and the only way we can prove it is by being intentional and committed.
CW: How about for somebody who already has that contact [with someone who is gay] but isn’t sure how to proceed?
Marin: I know this is going to sound like a shameless plug, but one of the reasons I did write the book was so I could impart the last almost-decade of my life to a person who reads it. They can know my experiences and go through the main questions—the last section of my book is about how to answer the tough questions on homosexuality, what I call the five litmus questions, like “do you think it’s a sin” and “can you change someone,” etc. Those are all yes or no questions, but I use Jesus’ model to give alternative conversation starters. That’s a wonderful tool for people to have because it releases them and the puts it back on the author, saying, “Hey I was reading this book and here’s his perspective on how to elevate this conversation.” And here’s where the key is. “Because I don’t know what to say and I don’t know what to do and I don’t know how to figure this out.”
CW: So the first step is just being honest?
Marin: The first thing to do, without a doubt, is get back to “right from the gate, you can’t relate.” I tell people all the time, use that! Use that language, claim it as your own. Say “right from the gate, I can’t relate. I can never understand what it’s like to have a same-sex attraction because I don’t have one. And so unless you let me into your life, and we do this thing together, I’ll never know and I’ll never figure this out because I don’t know what to say, I don’t know what to do, I don’t know how to understand.” The moment we start putting ourselves as the humble learner is the moment that we’re already leap years ahead of so many others who think they know the answer or have the answer. The more we can do that, the more the defense systems and the walls that separate start to come down on both ends, because it’s authentic and it’s real.
Why don’t we be the first ones to take that first scary step of faith? That’s the great wonder of faith – it’s the things that we hope for but it’s the things that we are certain that we do not see. We are certain of certain things even though we can’t see it and so we hope for them to happen. One of the greatest things of God’s system that he put forth is that he just doesn’t give us answers. He just doesn’t give us things, he gives us opportunities to figure it out with him.
CW: That’s great for individuals. There’s a whole other side to being an evangelical, and that’s being part of the church. Corporately, can you lay out something for pastors and congregations as a whole to start working on?
Marin: I don’t think the annual sermon on homosexuality ever works. I think it does more harm than good. And I’ll tell you why. It’s because churches will bring the topic to the forefront and then it’ll just end. A sermon is 30 or 40 minutes tops, you can’t even start to get into any depth or crevasses on homosexuality or the culture wars.
After someone does the annual talk on homosexuality, there are so many questions. There are so many things that people wonder about, there are so many people who come out of the woodwork to be like, “Hey, I’m gay” or “I have a same-sex attraction” and the problem is that churches never give a framework for follow-up and follow-through. They think the annual sermon on homosexuality—they’ve done their job, it releases them from their responsibility. It’s like, “Okay, now that’s done and I don’t have to deal with it for another two years.” But there’s never a framework for follow-up and follow-through, which is why The Marin foundation exists. We work with so many churches around the country who want to provide that framework so that when you bring it up, it’s not going to be another dead issue that you’ve just conquered and can wait another two years to hear again.
I don’t believe it’s difficult to get gay and lesbian people to come to our churches, yet it’s a whole different ball game to actually keep them in the fold. And why that is, what tends to happen is they come to our churches and the heads turn, the whispers begin and they never come back. They never come back. We’ve just spit on that opportunity to do something for the Kingdom in that person’s life because we whispered and we looked at them funny and they’ve never going to come back.
[W]hat happens when you have a gay couple who has a kid and they come to church? Are you going to kick them out or are you going to try to serve them as best as you can, serve their child as best you can? For me, this isn’t a topic that has to be talked about fifty-two weeks a year for ten years consecutive. It’s just a topic that needs to be understood and formulated in such a way that when gay or lesbian people do come to our churches, everyone is on the same page.
The hard part is, how do we live out our theological beliefs in such a way that we are able to serve our community that’s on the outside?
CW: You have been working with churches over the past few years. Do you have anything exciting that you can share about what’s been going on in some of them?
Marin: A couple years ago, I couldn’t have talked to you and said, “Hey, Katherine, I’ll give you all these exciting things happening in churches.” It was still a dream at that point. But today I can literally sit here and say there are churches all over the country that are doing great things for the Kingdom within their own local gay and lesbian communities that have never happened previously. For instance, we can even look at the church that I attend. We’re located in a predominately lesbian neighborhood in Chicago.
I had another church in San Diego recently and they were looking for a new building. And they said the Lord just kept impressing on them that they needed to reach their large gay community here in San Diego so they moved their church right into the middle of the gay community in San Diego and they have started involving a team of people who now – each one has a different gay organization that they go to on a regular basis and they go and they go back and they go back, and they keep saying, “This is the church I’m from. This is what I’m doing.” In essence, they’ve recreating my original immersion experience and all of the sudden gay and lesbian people are starting to come to their church and starting to involve themselves in conservative, evangelical Bible-believing churches. People look at them and say, “Why in the world would you go to that church?” and they say, “Because that church has finally figured out how to serve the community that’s been looked at on the outside for so long.” It doesn’t start or stop with just these little churches. There are some very large megachurches that have done significant things, for instance, Willow Creek and Newsong being some of them. They’ve brought me in and let me teach week after week, starting group after group.
It’s just amazing the different things that have actually happened. I don’t like to name drop churches because I don’t think my work is set in a Willow Creek or Newsong or anything like that, because ultimately The Marin Foundation, our goal is to systemically build a bridge between the broader gay and lesbian community and the church. And the only way for that to happen is for these small local churches all across the country to rise up and start living in a different way. Then bam, the movement has taken off.