The good folks over at Church Marketing Sucks recently asked me some questions about engaging in the gay marriage debate from the perspective of their predominantly conservative evangelical audience. You can see the original post here. For your convenience, I have also posted it for you to read here:
“Gay marriage is a lightning rod issue these days. Just ask the good folks at Chick-fil-A. While that entire fiasco drew lots of headlines, what didn’t get so much attention was the reconciliation that happened behind the scenes. That was a much-needed injection of grace.
There are churches on all sides of (and in between) the gay marriage debate, and all of them have to struggle with how to communicate about it. To give us some insight on how churches can do that, we talked with someone deep in the trenches on this issue. Andrew Marin is the author of Love Is an Orientation and the founder of The Marin Foundation, which seeks to build bridges between opposing sides of this debate.
How can churches—both those that oppose homosexuality and those that support it—communicate about gay marriage without alienating people?
Andrew Marin: By presenting your question with two opposing categories like that you’re making an extreme generalization that the consciousness of church congregations are unified in one way or the other. I hope, and genuinely pray, that churches are at the very least striving to represent the Jesus in the Scriptures who practiced an actual ethic of inclusion; defined as “all, everyone.” In Jesus’ day, this meant including the culturally far left to the pharisaic far right. Further, Jesus invented the come-as-you-are-culture many Christians see as their ideal for living their faith.
As to contemporary church culture and politics, I do not believe churches should be speaking directly to political issues in definitive ways. Don’t misunderstand what I am saying, as I am not suggesting that churches should not have a firm theological framework with which to engage each other and broader culture. But just as there are Republicans and Democrats in every audience, the pastor must then communicate frameworks for thinking through various divisive issues rather than “suggest” how their congregations should vote.
We’ll talk more about how to do this later.
“Hate the sin, love the sinner” is a line often thrown out in this discussion. Does that ever work?
Andrew: Jesus never said “hate the sin, love the sinner” in a direct command to his followers. I think Tony Campolo interprets Matthew 7:1-5 the best I’ve ever heard. Campolo views Jesus’ words in that passage to say, “Love the sinner and hate the sin in your own life. And until you deal with your own sin, far be it for you to judge anyone else’s.” I don’t think it could be said any better.
In some ways the gay marriage debate has shifted away from homosexuality and toward traditional marriage—you’ll see supporters saying things like “I’m not anti-gay, I’m pro-traditional marriage.” Is that kind of framing effective? Or is still going to be seen as offensive?
Andrew: No matter what kind of “framing” one might choose, it’s still communicating an end-game to support a particular belief system. As it is shown with a variety of political “yes/no” results-based policy debates, nothing will be effective in a contemporary society void of knowing how to peacefully and productively engage divisive topics.
Those in our country have the constitutional right to freely decide what they believe and then live into those convictions. That part is never going to change. We live in a pluralistic, post-modern culture where progressive movements are dominating mainstream culture and yet conservative theological faith communities are still numerically dominating our country’s religious scene. We must grasp that juxtaposition as our new normal, and that is OK.
I can’t say this enough—it’s less about who believes the same as “me” and more about how we engage those who believe the opposite. My hope is that people have done enough cultural, legal and theological homework to understand why they believe what they believe. And once they do, it’s all good to stand by that belief. What is not OK is when those who own said belief, 1) expect everyone else to agree with them, or 2) refuse to engage divisive constructs with an eye towards our shared humanity as children of God.
Should churches care about being offensive?
Andrew: I see two understandings of “offensive” in today’s culture. One type of “offensive” is Westboro Baptist Church. WBC are intentionally trying to offend people as a representative of their conservative interpretation of Scripture. The other type of “offensive” is, for instance, Willow Creek Community Church. WCCC is not trying to be offensive, but there are LGBT activists who, short of full agreement, will deem any conservative interpretation of same-sex relationships offensive. The difference is that Westboro is intentional about their offensiveness, Willow is just living into their theological beliefs, beliefs that an activist sect define offensive.
The vice versa is just as true with the “offensiveness” of LGBT and progressive beliefs within churches, from conservative activists. Only one can judge for themselves what is truly offensive. However, for more theologically traditional churches, acting in good conscious within their theological framework is more about how they are serving to meet the needs of their surrounding LGBT community, regardless of theological agreement, over any “perfect” position paper they may create. I’ll talk more about how to do this tomorrow.”
I will be posting Part 2 of this interview on Friday, May 3. **UPDATE: You can read Part 2 of this interview here.