The work of The Marin Foundation is to build bridges between the LGBT community and a variety of faith communities through education, scientific research and diverse community gatherings. We are a movement shaped by bold individuals of reconciliation; whose orientation is one of love, who live in the tension of different social, theological and political ideologies, and refuse to allow hate, disagreements or past experiences cause division in any community.
Over the last ten years I have seen a growing difference between cultural reconciliation and actual reconciliation. Cultural reconciliation is when the conservative world or the LGBT community only sees reconciliation as ‘the other’ dropping their personal worldview and picking up a full set of ‘correct beliefs’ that brings everyone to only one side. To me that resembles more of a mob mentality than actual reconciliation—which seeks to connect and dignify two different groups of people on a human to human level whether in agreement or not. That is The Marin Foundation’s ultimate goal. We model this type of reconciliation everyday within our own organization on staff and in volunteers, which consist of straight and LGBT people, single and partnered, liberal and conservative.
Such an effort is a countercultural place to be, especially in light of the divisive culture war that continues to surround faith, politics and sexuality today. The Marin Foundation and I are making even more of an intentional effort to spend our energy, time and resources working with others from both the LGBT and conservative communities who yearn to see a true reconciliation happen on earth, as it already is in Heaven.
In light of all the attention surrounding the talk I gave to a group of conservative youth pastors in the Fall of 2008, I want to answer some of the accusations. Despite my critics, from both the LGBT and conservative communities, accusations that I have things to hide (e.g. depending on what extreme you talk to I am either a person ‘pretending to be nice to LGBT people in order to make them straight’ or ‘I am a heretical emergent pastor who loves LGBT people’), I don’t have anything to hide. So I figured for the sake of those who do love our work and the sake of those who don’t, I will post my responses to the public accusations floating around:
To start off, I want to say that at that point in my ‘speaking life’ I was not anywhere close to being confident in the delivery of the bridge building message. Mostly, I was just scared out of my mind trying to figure out how to publicly speak to huge groups of people about such a divisive topic. I never had any intent to be the ‘evangelical’ go-to guy on this topic, I only cared about wanting to show love in a tangible way in my one neighborhood. When I listened to the recording from two years ago, I thought some of the same things as many of the critics out there; even cringing at times because I know what I was trying to communicate, but the delivery of it was anything but how I say it all today. Thanks to those who took the time to ask these questions:
Q1. You use the phrase ‘same-sex attraction’ and that is not liked within the LGBT community because it sounds like you don’t want to accept the word gay.
R1: I have never had any LGBT person say to me that they hate the term ‘same-sex attraction’. But now that I am hearing such a response I don’t want to offend anyone with that term (e.g. the same reason why I never use the word ‘homosexual’; instead using gay, gay and lesbian, or LGBT—as you can hear on the recording).
Q2. It sounds like you always make a distinction between being Christian and being LGBT as two separate entities of each other. There is such a group of people as gay Christians!
R2. To that particular audience of Southern, very evangelical youth pastors there is really no such thing in many of their minds as a gay Christian. For most of them to even hear those words put together is, as I’ve heard hundreds of times, “an oxymoron”. In general though, when I talk about Christians and the LGBT community (as I did in parts of my book as well - which is written for straight conservative evangelicals) I am referring to broader community generalizations within the culture war—not attempting to suggest that either of those groups are mutually exclusive (which many took it as…which if I could redo the talk and parts of my book, I would make much more clear today).
If conservative folks can’t get past the political culture war, how is culture going to change from its current divided and bitter state? I believe that it is on the conservative world to make that first step towards reconciliation instead of doing what they have traditionally done—wait for LGBT people to apologize first. LGBTs shouldn’t apologize first, they were not the ones to do the kicking out and disenfranchising. So I wanted to focus on that culture war aspect first. The ‘problem’ with such a focus on my part is that it does sometimes decentralize a focus on gay Christians, which is a legitimate group of people. Although there is a hugely growing gay Christian movement, from my experiences gay Christians still do not compromise a majority (51%) of the LGBT community as a whole. I have no proof of that statement, either…it’s just a perception of mine from being around the country so much. I could be wrong. Though I do believe that one day it will be the majority of the LGBT community, right now I don’t see that. Hence the reason why I usually separate the two when I speak about the divide, the culture war or traditionally held conservative or liberal paradigms. One other thing, when I say ‘whole of the LGBT community’ I am referring to the dominant entity under the umbrella. This doesn’t mean that I believe the opposite of gay Christian is drinking, partying, sleeping around, etc; because I don’t believe that. This just means the majority, in my opinion right now, would not identify themselves as gay Christians.
One other note, I do not believe that for every LGBT person, their identity equals sexual behavior (I could have made that distinction much more clear while talking; as well as made that much more clear in my book!). There is so much that makes up a complex human life. My ultimate goal, agenda if you so wish to label it, is to provide space for everyone to live the life they so desire to seek—with God, without God. Unashamedly, I do believe life with a belief in God is more complete, but that is what living in the tension is all about – what does it mean to have differences in ideologies and still be peaceful and productive in today’s culture…
Q3. In the suicide note you read, it mentioned the options of celibacy or straight marriage with kids. Why isn’t the other choice (gay marriage) considered?
I think what everyone is forgetting is that I did not write that suicide note. That note was written by an out gay man who I had never met, didn’t know and who had just heard me on the radio with no where else to turn with his thoughts. So he sent his suicide note to me. I don’t know his life or his context other than what he wrote in that suicide note. Although he didn’t include all “options” of faith and sexuality in his letter, it is a powerful reminder to the conservative world that this is a life/death type of thing. To many in the conservative world, homosexuality needs to be humanized first before any bridge building can occur; because right now it’s a political battle. That is why I read that suicide note.
Funny to me, is that prominent LGBT activists read notes like that all of the time to get the same point across about the severity of this issue. But because it’s an LGBT person reading it people focus on the intent of the suicide rather than the minutia of how big of a field of faith and sexuality is included in such a note. I’m not upset about this…it’s just a fact. Also, I haven’t received too many suicide notes. In fact, when I spoke on the recording in question, as well as wrote my book later, that was the first and only one I had ever received to those points. So it’s not like I had a lot of suicide notes to choose from.
Q4. There is value in promoting celibacy until marriage (whether gay or straight), but it sounds like you were trying to keep LGBT youth in the closet because if they come out they will then have a ‘gay identity’ and you’re saying that is a bad thing.
R4. As for the chastity for LGBT teens until marriage/civil union/etc depending on the State if that is what they want to do—like straight teens—that is what I think is the prefered course from my Christian worldview. When I was describing the 13-15 year old window (bad, bad language on my part by the way—I have since stopped saying that as of last year), I was not telling those youth pastors to keep LGBT kids in the closet. As I said in the recording, it’s important for youth pastors to have such important discussions about faith and sexuality with their youth.
What I was trying to say was that when a 13-15 year old kid comes out, as research shows, (R.C. Savin-Williams & K.M. Cohen, “Homoerotic development during childhood and adolescence,” in M. Diamond & A. Yates (Eds.), Sex and Gender: Child and adolescent psychiatric clinics of North America (Philadelphia: Saunders, 2004), 529-550), they are then the singled out ‘gay kid’ for all time; even at the high school reunions 10+ years later. I don’t know many out gay kids that are treated really well in the rural South. It’s a big decision to come out. It’s more than just a huge step. It’s obviously life changing. My main point was to encourage those youth pastors to understand the harsh reality of what could potentially happen to these kids in their everyday/and church life (if there is a ‘church life’ after?) while going through this realization and coming out process. My statement to delay the coming out is to provide the needed space to realistically gauge the situation around them with as level of a head as possible. I have had many of my LGBT friends tell me they wish they would have waited to come out instead of just blurting it out and then being left alone on an island with no idea what to do from there.
When I said “it’s harder for kids to ‘come back’ after they are already out than it is to keep them in the fold”…I was referring to having a faith and living with a belief in God! I was not talking about behavior modification as many who have listened to it since assumed. Once again though, I could have definitely made that distinction more clear, especially in light of how it sounded when I listened to it for the first time two years later.
Q5. There doesn’t seem to be much intent from you for helping LGBT teens to be celibate to marriage, or even marry, as you sound like you’re encouraging those pastors to help the LGBT teens live in life long celibacy or becoming straight.
First, I will make this very clear: The Marin Foundation, its staff members and myself personally—our goal is not to have anyone who is LGBT become ‘straight.’ Never has been. Never will be. That is not our goal/agenda/secret agenda/whatever you want to call it. Everyone who knows us personally or has ever come to anything we have ever done backs that statement up. When speaking to a particular audience I, like any communicator, has to gauge where the audience is at and what they can handle in terms of the more liberal or conservative theologies that push against what that particular audience believes—otherwise you’ll just be quickly written off and the message won’t land – which is counterproductive to anyone trying to communicate a broader message, let alone one of a different medium of engagement.
I have been accused of ‘telling LGBT people what they want to hear and conservative people what they want to hear’. The answer to that is partially correct. I use the exact same Principles (e.g. Won’t answer yes/no, Principles of Bridge Building, etc) that communicates the exact same message no matter who the audience (and that includes the numerous non-Christian universities I have spoken at, which the audience consisted of liberal LGBT people and straight conservatives!), but the particulars of how/what I can push that audience on looks different.
But the main accusation coming from the recording is the ‘behavior modification’ – In light of the understanding (at least in my own head) that I was not talking about behavior modification (point 4 above), but rather about faith, that all made sense to me as I said it at the time.
Q6. It sounds like you might have some clandestine desire to see married LGBT couples with kids break up and eventually settle down with straight opposite sex people.
R6. I recently wrote the following to a gay person I know who emailed me with questions about some of the accusations:
I want to make this as clear as I possibly can: I have no intent, ever, public or private, to ever see you and your partner divorce/separate/break-up/not live a happy life. You are great parents to the great kids you have adopted, who without you, would not have the ability to live the life they are living. I couldn’t be more humbled to know you, your husband and your kids as the family that you are.
Q7. You describe, when one of your best friends came out, that he became freakish: “lost a bunch of weight…got the little ‘fauxhawk’…started acting effeminate, talking effeminate…the stereotypical flaming gay guy.”
R7. First, I never used the word freakish, or any other insulting adjective. Second, there was absolutely no judgment in what I said. I was describing the change in physical appearance. That was not a judgment statement, it was a fact of very noticeable features changing before coming out and after coming out. Another fact I should point out is that there is such a thing as a stereotypical flaming gay guy—of which, right or wrong, is well recognized by LGBT people, the mainstream world and the religious world. I also have a fauxhawk
I talk extensively in my book, Love is an Orientation, about the need to deconstruct those negatively imputed cultural stereotypes—about LGBT people and about conservatives. At that point in my life in the year 2000, as a bible-banging homophobe when he came out to me, what I communicated to that audience was the dead honest truth about what was running through my head when I saw him for the very first time after he got back from college after he came out.
Q8. You said: “What if you’re asked if people can change their sexual orientation?” Your answer: Be evasive.
R8. That wasn’t my only answer. Here is what I meant by ‘evasive’: First, I used really, really bad language when I said the word evasive. As I said in my opening statement, I was not accustomed to speaking and had not found a comfortable way to communicate the following:
“Don’t answer yes/no questions because the people asking them (“whether friends or enemies” were the exact words I used) are just trying to pin you down into a ‘my team’ ‘their team’ scenario.” Bridges can’t be built from only one side! The problem with close-ended questions is that in a one word response three things happen: I know who you are, I know what you believe, and (this is the big one) I know how I should treat you based on that one word. None of that seems peaceful and productive to me surrounding the most divisive topic in our culture today. That is why I don’t answer yes/no questions, whether to friends I love and trust or to those who don’t like me so much. You can see more about what I believe it means to live in the tension of the cultural, political and theological polarization in my book.
Another thought: When I listed the groupings of people that consist of faith and sexuality in our culture today answering the question about “change”, they were exactly that—groupings. I said it then, I made it very clear in my book, and I’ll say it again here: Those groupings are not a ‘change or step program to go from gay to straight’! They are rather a categorical list of all the different shades of faith and sexuality in today’s culture. A categorical grouping is not a moral or social judgment statement; it’s just an informational list of how different people in our culture today self-identify regarding faith and sexuality.
Q9. You were asked a question from the audience: What do you do when you encounter a gay youth who thinks he or she could be Christian and also openly gay or lesbian? Answer: There’s “hope” for someone like that because it’s hard for youths to realize at 15 what life might be like at 35, when they can’t get married or have kids — implying gays shouldn’t/can’t get married or have children as adults — so give them the “big picture,” of what it might be like at 35, but whatever you do, DON’T mention sexuality!
First, in 2008 there was only 1 (one) State that gay marriage was legalized, Massachusetts. So unless every single LGBT person moved to Massachusetts, at that time the talk was recorded in the South, no, there would be no gay marriage with kids. I was again stating a fact. Today, that response is different. I honestly believe gay marriage will be nationally legalized sooner than later. Within that thought process, my message to the conservative world is: When it is legalized across the country, are you just going to continue to fight or are you going to learn what it means to live peacefully and productively within a society that has legalized gay marriage?
Also, when I said ‘don’t mention sexuality’, I was once again referring to the main issue of focusing on having an identity in Christ (I remind you that I was talking to a group of conservative pastors). Sexuality is such a huge topic with teenagers, whether straight or gay, that it is easy to get caught up in mainstream’s ideal (by mainstream I mean both secular and religious mainstreams) of what is sexually acceptable, in either direction, that youth can quickly fall into the extreme right or left categories. The extremes are what I feel are not productive and further perpetuate this culture war. Instead, living a spiritually fulfilled life (whether gay or straight), from my perspective, should be the goal of where to land on the cultural spectrum of faith and sexuality.
Q10: It is really narcissistic to name an organization after yourself!
If you know me, you know that I am a few things that don’t compute with others my age: 1) I am not technologically advanced – I know nothing of computers, design, Macs and the rest of it; and 2) I am not clever with slogans, marketing, etc. The reason I ended up naming my organization The Marin Foundation is because when I was trying to think of a cool, clever name, every name I thought of would I ask my LGBT and conservative straight friends what they thought of it, and every time they could think of a reason why LGBT or conservative people wouldn’t want to have anything to do with us just based on the name being either too Christianeze or too gay. The last thing I wanted was for someone to write us off just based on a name. So the most bland name I could think of that no one would have a clue what we did unless they actually knew what we did, was to call it The Marin Foundation. We are a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit. We are not a family foundation that was birthed out of a trust fund. Far from it (please see the link below about our financial records). Interestingly enough, it was a gay man in his 50′s that thought it would be a good idea to call my organization The Marin Foundation. Who knew that name would cause so many problems?
Q11. You lied when you said The Advocate article about you was retracted. What else are you lying about?
I was under the impression that The Advocate article was retracted. Please take my sincerest apology for publicly saying that it was retracted when it wasn’t. I want to thank The Advocate for going on the record and clearing that up. In regards to the article in question, I received two phone calls, one email and one letter from four different people quoted in that article who all stated they did not say any of what was quoted in the article by the author. To me, even today, that is enough to be satisfied whether the article was retracted or not.
I have never sought out one speaking engagement. I have never written one book proposal. I have never contacted any media outlet to cover us. All of these things have been brought to me. If I never get one more speaking engagement, write one more book or have one more media outlet cover us (whether positive or negative), I would still be content. I’m not here, and it was never my goal, to be a national leader or talking head. It is what it has become today. I’m just trying to continually learn how to live and love in real time; just now it’s in the public eye. It’s not easy. It doesn’t always work out how everyone would like it to. It’s quite uncomfortable. But it is what I’m committed to; in the public eye or not. I will never be above saying I’m sorry or admitting mistakes, as I have done numerous times on my blog and while teaching.
As I have always stated, I have nothing to hide about anything. That transparency also includes all of The Marin Foundation’s finances; of which are all public record through the IRS (as that seems to now be a hot topic that my organization is a cover to make me rich). If you don’t feel like chasing down the IRS, just let me know and I’ll post them all for everyone to see. If there is anything else, please let me know and I will freely communicate about it all. (Note to recently frequent commenter Eugene, I have not forgotten your questions, I will be getting to them, along with every single other question, as soon as I can).
PS – I have turned the comments off because this is a public statement in response to those accusing me of things. Thank you for understanding and letting my words stand by themselves.