This post is written by Michael Kimpan, our Associate Director at The Marin Foundation. You can read more from Michael at his blog here – and his book, Love Never Fails :: Building Bridges Between the Church and the Gay Community will be available for pre-order soon (2015, IVP).
Here we go again.
In an article on his website entitled, ‘There is No ‘Third Way,’ president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention) Al Mohler articulated serious doubt that any church, religious organization, or even an individual could engage in conversations surrounding faith and sexuality in a balanced and nuanced way, without coming down firmly as for or against same sex marriage and relationships.
Hasn’t Al ever heard of The Marin Foundation?
Citing my friend Danny Cortez’s journey (who pastors a church which happens to be a part of the Southern Baptist Convention denomination) of his change in theological belief surrounding homosexuality paired with the coming out of his own son, and the subsequent conversations he held with his elders and the church in which he stated he ‘no longer believed in the traditional teachings regarding homosexuality,’ Mohler claimed the proposal from Pastor Cortez to ‘allow for grace in the midst of disagreement’ or to ‘agree to disagree and not cast judgment on one another’ was… impossible.
Literally, Mohler wrote, ‘…there is no third way. A church will either believe and teach that same-sex behaviors and relationships are sinful, or it will affirm them.’
Mohler said that in Cortez’s church accepting the LGBT community (‘even those in a relationship’) they were not be agreeing to disagree, but rather were ‘taking a side.’
Though on the opposite side of the issue, Mohler cited another friend of mine, progressive/emergent theologian Tony Jones ::
“And the same goes for an individual congregation. At some point, every congregation in America will decide either, YES, same-sex marriages will take place in our sanctuary, performed by our clergy; or NO, same-sex marriages will not take place in our sanctuary, performed by our clergy. There is no third way on that. A church either allows same-sex marriages, or it doesn’t.”
So here I get to disagree with them both.
It strikes me as odd that in an increasingly pluralistic and post-modern society, there is still a seeming addiction to closed-ended, one-word, YES or NO answers that sum up an entire worldview and perspective that tells me if you’re one of ‘us’ or one of ‘them’ – if I can trust you or if I should despise you, if you’re for me or against me – and all that I stand for.
I’ve written about that here, here and here and The Marin Foundation has written about the reasons we avoid engaging in the polarizing, back-and-forth rhetoric responses repeatedly - and yet once again our position of creating peaceful and productive dialogue between opposing world views is on the chopping block - a place we’re growing increasingly accustomed to and comfortable with - from both sides of the conversation.
As one person wrote in the comments section of a previous post ::
[The Marin Foundation could answer in terms of yes or no] but then lose all credibility with evangelicals. At that point [they] would just be one more blogger in favor of gay rights. Instead of just swelling our numbers by one, [Andrew Marin et al] is one of the few people I know… who can stand in the middle and I think has value. Obviously there will still be people on either side who don’t trust him because he isn’t really ‘on their side.
This only further illustrates why he needs to keep up what he is doing. If you will only listen to people you completely agree with then there will be no true dialogue.’
This is why, as we’ve often stated, ‘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.’
We actually state on our website ::
A new example must be set for the rest of our society to see a new vision of what bold reconciliation looks like between LGBTs, liberals, conservatives and the faith world. So many have been working off of a paradigm of reconciliation based on a mainstream worldview of strength in numbers that either forces ‘the Other’ to conform or be ostracized.
But reconciliation based on a love of God giving us the strength to relentlessly pursue those that are thought to be most unlike ourselves will ultimately connect humanity on new levels of faith, relationship, action and sustainable impact.
In our bi-weekly gatherings called ‘Living In The Tension‘, participants know that the goal of these gatherings is not for folks to convince others sitting across the table that they are right and ‘the Other’ is wrong, but rather to build a community where individuals can feel safe not only to share their experiences and beliefs with those with whom they may not agree, but to learn to excel in constructive tension by engaging in peaceful and productive conversation with them.
We do not exist to facilitate a debate that converts one side to the opposite worldview or perspective; rather, we create safe and sacred spaces to provide active engagement in learning what relationship with ‘the Other’ tangibly looks like.
It amazes me that advocating for a theology of unconditional love toward all people – gay or straight, conservative or progressive, and everything in between – brings with it such misunderstanding, with false accusations and name-calling being lobbed across twitter feeds and the blogosphere toward those who desire to seek an elevated conversation – Danny Cortez, myself, Andrew and The Marin Foundation, and others.
It doesn’t make any sense.
Recently I was in a conversation with a gay friend of mine who has expressed reservations about The Marin Foundation.
In response to the idea that many folks in the LGBT community don’t benefit from the fact that Andrew and I (two straight white dudes) get invited into conservative evangelical churches to talk about a better way of engaging the gay community – oftentimes churches that otherwise wouldn’t engage in the conversation (as our friend Tony Jones pointed out in his post here), I communicated the following ::
It’s true that many LGBT folks don’t benefit from these conversations inside the walls of the church, at least not directly – and that perspective may be aggravated by the fact that certain evangelical folks continually say it’s great to have The Marin Foundation come and speak. Many in the gay community have experienced tremendous ostracization and pain at the hands of similar communities of faith – who themselves are enslaved to communicating their conservative doctrines through the same addiction to answers which is at the core of this conversation.
But it is equally true that for the LGBT individuals who are a part of those churches – or for their family and friends who attend them and have not yet wrestled through the tension of their conservative theologies and the reality of living in relationship with their gay friends or family - it’s been extremely helpful.
There are countless stories – quite literally from across the globe – that have ended well as a result of an introduction to a different type of dialogue rather than the ironically dogmatic cultural mandate to ‘change what you believe.‘ Perhaps as a result of living in relationship with and proximity to their LGBT neighbors, people may potentially alter their perspective and adopt a more progressive theological hermeneutic.
But it doesn’t always happen.
And it doesn’t need to.
What does need to happen is a paradigm shift in the way we have these conversations.
Many (most? nearly all?) evangelical Christians believe they have a corner on theological and doctrinal truth. At the crux and center of our faith is the concept that God is best reflected, seen and known in the person and teachings of Jesus Christ.
Not Buddha. Not Moses. Not the Prophet Mohammed. Not crystals or reincarnated animals or even the Pope. Jesus.
And we think we’re right.
Yet, as Brian McLaren so eloquently pointed out in one of his recent books, that belief does not necessitate an inherent hostility toward the Other. It does not dictate nor demand disrespecting those who believe differently.
It is possible – necessary, even – to disagree in generous and hospitable ways.
The demand for conservative evangelicals to engage the gay community differently are well-founded, even overdue. Yet the demands to change their theology are unrealistic.
I would agree that in many cases, the outworking of that theology is problematic – from fighting a legal battle against gay rights and protesting marriage equality (which I’ve written about here), to arguing against anti-bullying campaigns (which I’ve written about here) and defending violence against the LGBT community (which i’ve written about here) :: each of these are deplorable. Un-christlike. Embarrassing. Unacceptable.
Yet if both sides of the faith and sexuality debate could take their cues from Jesus - standing in solidarity with the Other, regardless of their perspectives, beliefs, or opinions – there would be an opportunity to elevate the conversation.
And folks, it works. We do it all the time.