Risking Your Reputation.

This post is written by Michael Kimpan, Associate Director at The Marin Foundation.

Well, it’s official :: my transition into the role of running the day-to-day operations at The Marin Foundation is complete. Andrew and Brenda have moved into their cottage near the Scottish sea, and I imagine he’s quickly getting used to walking past the Old Course on his way to the St. Andrew’s University campus. Here in Boystown, I’m quickly getting used to facilitating conversations between political, social and religious conservatives and the LGBT community.

I was recently asked, ‘What is the most difficult part of your new job?‘ It didn’t take me long to formulate a response. I love our work at The Marin Foundation, and count myself lucky to be surrounded with such a competent and wonderful team. I love doing the work of bridge building between opposing world views – I love doing the work of reconciliation.

Yet Andrew is fond of saying that a bridge gets walked on from both sides – and he’s right. Particularly with folks who aren’t familiar with our work here in Chicago or don’t know us personally, it is easy for us to be caricatured by one side or the other as being against them and what they stand for – simply because we’re working with their so-called ‘enemies.’ Activists on both sides of the conversation often misunderstand the intentional and strategic position of The Marin Foundation as a peacemaking organization.

And sometimes, the accusations made by those who misunderstand our work hurt. In addition to the countless requests for conversations, meetings and speaking engagements with The Marin Foundation, I also receive several emails per week from folks questioning my own commitment to the Christian faith as a result of our work. Others from the gay community are often initially suspicious of me because I’m a Christian. The fear from guilt by association from both camps incubates an aura of hesitation and even hostility.

Yet one cannot build bridges unless both of the opposing world views are actively engaged – and that means intentionally facing and engaging with your enemy. The Marin Foundation seeks to help people – from both sides of the conversation – do just that.

As one who seeks and claims to take my cues from Christ in how to live and love, I can’t help but consider the way in which he transformed the perception of people as ‘the Other’ to the ‘one another.’ Jesus consistently crossed the boundaries of cultural and religious engagement for the purpose of reconciliation, risking his reputation (and eventually getting himself killed) in the process. This way of being is at the core of the message of the Christianity.

Imagine.

Imagine if Jesus refused to engage with those whose beliefs were different than his own, or worried about risking his standing in religious circles more than caring for the Other.

Imagine if he concerned himself with being misunderstood by the first century Israelite paparazzi and therefore excused himself from places and faces that might affect his ‘holy’ image and reputation.

We might have to edit out a few stories in the gospels.

Like, all of them.

We wouldn’t have the story of the woman at the well. Jesus wouldn’t have passed through Samaria, nor let his disciples leave him alone to engage in intimate conversation with this woman of ill repute. Besides, she worshipped YHVH on the wrong mountain, the wrong way.

So take out that story.

Speaking of women of ill repute, take out any stories with Mary Magdalene. Although we’re only given a few details about her life, none of them seem to be in her favor – some scholars see her as a deranged individual suffering from being possessed by demons, while others view her as a ‘fallen woman’ – perhaps even a prostitute. Sure, she was a first witness to the resurrection – but she had a sordid past.

So get rid of her.

Speaking of prostitutes, we’d have to remove Jesus from being at all those parties – which no doubt tarnished his reputation. He was called a ‘drunkard and a glutton‘ – a friend of sinners – because of his consistent attendance in places frequented by prostitutes and tax collectors. If Jesus were concerned about ‘endorsing their behavior’, we’ve got to pull those out too.

So no more parties for Jesus.

Speaking of parties, we may want to consider axing our Lord’s first miracle – while the water-to-wine trick was admittedly impressive, there’s a good chance the guests at that wedding in Cana had some lingering effects from their alcohol consumption. To protect our Savior from condoning drunkenness, it may be best to pull the plug on that tale.

Guess his first miracle has got to go.

And speaking of party people, we’ve got to remove that story about Zacchaeus as well. A wee little man he might have been, but seeing as that could have an adverse affect on Christ’s standing with the religious elite, we’d better censor that story too. Just to be safe.

So much for sycamore trees.

Then you’ve got the centurion’s ‘servant’ whom Jesus healed.

Out.

The man possessed by demons on the other side of the lake – in Gentile territory.

Gone.

All of the blind beggars and lepers Jesus healed.

Removed.

The man with the withered hand, healed on the Sabbath?

Edit that one out.

The story of the ‘Good Samaritan‘ – which Jesus told in an effort to explain what it looks like to have an abundant life?

Take that out as well.

The Syrophoenician woman with the issue of blood; the unbelieving paralytic brought to the Messiah by his faithful friends; Jesus’ own dead friend Lazarus – none of which the Law permitted him to touch.

Remove those stories too.

That woman caught in the act of adultery? The story would end differently, and she would be dead at the insistence of Christ.

Even the twelve disciples – dropouts and outcasts, a ragtag band of curiously single Jewish men comprised of a diversity of cultural, socio-economical and political categories (including one who would later betray him) :: too dangerous for a Rabbi concerned with his reputation.

So get rid of them, too.

His ‘virgin’ mother, who got pregnant before marriage and claimed it was God. Certainly this too would damage his credibility and standing.

Better we distance ourselves from the Mother of God.

Getting baptized by his cousin John in that dirty river isn’t exactly how it was supposed to be done, either – there was this ritualistic cleansing which took place at the temple.

Better take out his baptism, too.

One could systematically remove nearly every story from the four Gospels until Jesus appears to be just an ordinary man obeying the religious rituals and cultural codes of his day were he concerned with his reputation and fought against being misunderstood.

We’d surely  have to remove the crucifixion, as he who knew no sin became sin on our behalf, aligning himself with the punishment worthy of thieves and murderers.

In fact, one could argue, we’d even have to edit out the incarnation, as he who was in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be held onto but instead took the form of a helpless, humble human being – becoming flesh and moving into the neighborhood of a fallen humanity (Philippians 2:5-11; John 1:14).

We’d miss out on the whole of the gospel.

When we concern ourselves with the same things today – our fear of tainting our reputation as Christians capitulating to culture or not standing up for ‘truth’; allegedly watering down the gospel by not taking a firm stand against certain groups or behaviors; ensuring that we’re not confused with ‘those’ people who may have different values or beliefs – we’re missing out on the whole of the gospel, too.

And so are they.

May we each be committed to risking our reputations rather than protecting them, sacrificing our social standing rather than defending it, and boldly following Christ’s example of learning to live and love by standing in solidarity with the Other. The message of the gospel apart from a commitment to standing in solidarity with the Other is really no gospel message at all, because Jesus was committed to standing in solidarity with the Other. When we remove that core of the message, it changes – and becomes distorted into an us/them || in/out || right/wrong || good/bad || worthy/unworthy poor excuse for good news.

Our work is not toward the end that one day everyone will agree with each other. That isn’t reality. But what we can do is view one another through a lens of worth in our shared humanity, and do good through that view, together. And if doing so risks our reputation within the circles of the social or religious elite, so be it.

What do you think?


Connect with Michael through his thought provoking blog, hit him up on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter.

About Andrew Marin

Andrew Marin is President and Founder of The Marin Foundation (www.themarinfoundation.org). He is author of the award winning book Love Is an Orientation (2009), its interactive DVD curriculum (2011), and recently an academic ebook titled Our Last Option: How a New Approach to Civility can Save the Public Square (2013). Andrew is a regular contributor to a variety of media outlets and frequently lectures at universities around the world. Since 2010 Andrew has been asked by the United Nations to advise their various agencies on issues of bridging opposing worldviews, civic engagement, and theological aspects of reconciliation. For twelve years he lived in the LGBT Boystown neighborhood of Chicago, and is currently based St. Andrews, Scotland, where he is teaching and researching at the University of St. Andrews earning his PhD in Constructive Theology with a focus on the Theology of Culture. Andrew's research centers on the cultural, political, and religious dynamics of reconciliation. Andrew is married to Brenda, and you can find him elsewhere on Twitter (@Andrew_Marin), Facebook (AndrewMarin01), and Instagram (@andrewmarin1).

  • Preston

    Michael,

    Thanks for this very thought provoking blog! I actually love what the Marin Foundation is doing–and I’m an Evangelical Christian. Keep up the good work, and don’t read too many emails ;)

    I do have one thought about your examples of Jesus hanging out with the outcasts. In one sense, you’re 100% correct and there’s no argument otherwise. Jesus befriended those whom society shoved to the margins. This is the heartbeat of his ministry. And those who critique the Marin Foundation for simply reaching out to the LGBT community need to re-read (or simply read) their New Testament. I’m with you.

    However, is it the mere fact of hanging out with outcasts that is ruffling so many feathers, or is it your position of neutrality while doing so? I’m not arguing WHETHER you should or shouldn’t take a neutral position on whether same-sex intercourse is wrong (perhaps we could have that conversation at some point!), but I’m wondering if your analogy to the NT examples fail in this regard: Jesus wasn’t neutral.

    Jesus didn’t seem to hide his view of violence, yet he still loved a Centurion.

    Jesus had very conservative views on adultery and divorce, yet he still loved that woman in Luke 7 and the woman at the well.

    Jesus didn’t take neutral stand on extortion, yet he partied with Matthew.

    When Jesus reached out to social outcasts–and thank God that he did–he didn’t set aside his potentially offensive beliefs (“I’m a Centurion! I can’t turn the other cheek! I’ll lose my job. You must not really love me if you demand that…”).

    Love to hear your thoughts! I truly did love your blog. Well written and very challenging.

    • http://www.mjkimpan.com/ michael j. kimpan

      thanks for your comment and question, preston! it is true – in the areas you describe, jesus was not neutral (although the example of matthew is open to interpretation for some due to his response regarding taxes – ‘pay to caesar what belongs to caesar…’).

      regarding the question of whether or not we should or shouldn’t take (or maintain) a neutral position on the question of sexual ethics :: i would suspect that a fair number of folks on both sides of the conversation DO take issue with that neutral position of TMF, as you suggest.

      the critique is not a new one, and yet our response remains the same.

      the portion below is an excerpt from a post i wrote earlier this year – hopefully it addresses those concerns adequately. let me know if not! (for the full post, read http://www.mjkimpan.com/why-not-answer/ )

      ‘The Marin Foundation works to live in the tension of these disagreements by building bridges (e.g. peacemaking). And when a bridge building/peacemaking organization takes a side, it loses the right to standing in the middle to facilitate a new medium of engagement with each opposing worldview.’

      so that’s in essence why we do what we do! hope that clarifies.

      • Preston

        Thanks for your kind response, Michael! And good point about that Caesar comment.

        Again, just to clarify, I wasn’t at all questioning TMF’s approach to bridge building (I’m still thinking through that approach in my own ministry). I was only identifying a potential disconnect between TMF’s approach and the analogy of Jesus’s outreach to the marginalized in the blog.

        Many blessings on your vital ministry!

        • http://www.mjkimpan.com/ michael j. kimpan

          absolutely! just wanted to address that concern for other readers. ;)

          thanks so much for reading and engaging! super appreciated.

  • michaeldanner

    Preston’s point has been my point at times. Jesus was all the things you mention and did all the things you highlight. But he didn’t do it as a bridge builder between the religious status quo and those who violated the law. He took sides with the outcast against the religious status quo. He wasn’t neutral. Your litany proves that point. He was very intentional in what he did and why he did it and his intent was to take sides. He was making very clear judgements for “this” and against “that”…

    • http://www.mjkimpan.com/ michael j. kimpan

      yes, michael – that’s certainly something we’ve talked about before, mostly on my personal blog.

      certainly one wouldn’t make the argument that either me nor The Marin Foundation remains neutral in the face of the religious status quo; in fact, quite the opposite.

      we’ve been extremely vocal (ie., *not* neutral) regarding the need to change the dynamics and relationship between the christian and LGBT communities – hence our work seeking to reframe and elevate the conversation into something peaceful and productive rather than repeating the same behaviors and back-and-forth win/lose rhetoric that has thus far shaped the discussion.

      our neutrality as an organization (or me as one of the faces of that organization) comes as a commitment to our desire to stand in the middle of these tension filled spaces that inhabit the intersection of faith and sexuality to bring together both sides with different perspectives – both conservative and progressive. we would lose the ability to do so and cease to be invited into *both* spaces were we to align ourselves with one preferred worldview.

      (see my response to preston for more on this)

      hope that helps!

      • michaeldanner

        Thanks! My response is not so much to TMF’s strategy. I understand that and why TMF approaches their work that way. My question involves you using Jesus as the model for your approach. As I read the gospels he didn’t do what you say he did. He wasn’t bridge building between two opposing positions – he was proclaiming the kingdom of God and inviting people to enter into it no matter who they were.

  • JoseProvi

    It seems to me from other TMF bloggers that the general ethos there is acceptance of the gay lifestyle. I have never quite understood what the difficulty is when it comes to this topic. What I mean is, why is it so difficult for some people to preach the truth lovingly and why is so hard for others to understand that just liking something doesn’t make it right? I recently read a blog from another fellow from TMF who is quite adamant of supporting the gay life. He went as far as saying that he wouldn’t want to go to a “homophobic” heaven (whatever that means). Why have we elevated our desires above Christian faith and orthodoxy?

    We have done a huge disservice to gays on two fronts. First, by demonizing gays and stigmatizing them we have pushed them away from Christ. We are guilty of this. Secondly, at a societal level we have accepted all the premises of the Sexual Revolution so we have discarded all morality when it comes to sex to the point that nothing, except pedophilia (God knows for how long!), is taboo.

    This means that instead of helping men and women dealing with the clearly disordered inclination to have sex with members of the same gender we have abandoned them and told them that it’s ok. Straights are contracepting, divorcing, aborting, fornicating, etc..so really who are we to tell gays that they can’t have a part in this fun? That’s what it comes down to; hedonism. No matter what theological jujitsu some theologians want to do it all comes down to us wanting to justify our lifestyles (whether gay or straight) so that we have a free pass and can clear our consciences. Christianity is a struggle. Accepting God’s design and plan over our own desires is a struggle. The path is narrow.

  • http://www.mjkimpan.com/ michael j. kimpan

    thanks for your comment, jose.

    at The Marin Foundation we have a number of team members and blog contributors who share a variety of perspectives surrounding the questions surrounding faith and sexuality. this diverse perspective enables us to have credibility in our mission of building bridges between opposing worldviews. even on our staff we have individuals who identify as straight as well as gay and lesbian – sharing both conservative and progressive interpretations of the biblical text.

    reason being, if we aren’t able to bridge the gap between these worldviews on our own staff or in our own neighborhood – then we certainly don’t have the right to suggest that individuals attempt to create reconciliation between opposing worldviews in their own context.

    we live and operate in these tension filled spaces literally on a daily basis.

    it seems to me, from your comment, that you hold to a conservative interpretation of the biblical texts surrounding sexuality. that’s great! you’ll not hear a TMF employee attempting to persuade or convert you to a more progressive perspective – we’re not interested in changing what individuals believe, regardless of where on the spectrum they land.

    what we *are* interested in doing is helping folks – on both ‘sides’ of the conversation, engage with folks who do not share their preferred perspective.

    you and i agree with your point that the church has done a disservice by stigmatizing and demonizing the LGBT community. yet i would humbly suggest that by labeling their sexual orientation a ‘clearly disordered inclination’ or likening it to abortion or pedophilia, you (perhaps unintentionally?) do just that.

    our desire is to help elevate the conversation in a way that creates peaceful and productive dialogue, regardless of where on the theological spectrum one’s beliefs fall. this is why i said in the concluding paragraph of this post,

    ‘Our work is not toward the end that one day everyone will agree with each other. That isn’t reality. But what we can do is view one another through a lens of worth in our shared humanity, and do good through that view, together.’

    thanks for sharing your thoughts!


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