Recently I asked, “Is it Time for Evangelicals to Stop Opposing Gay Marriage?” I followed up with “Ten Things I Believe About Evangelicals and Same-Sex Marriage,” where I think I put the issue much more clearly. The question is not whether evangelicals should abandon beliefs that have become unfashionable and culturally detrimental. The question is whether evangelicals should approach this issue much like they approach the issue of divorce for the sake of convenience: teaching that it is wrong, seeking to build marriages and provide counseling and making their case in the public square, but accepting that others in our secular democracy feel differently and the law should not force everyone to adhere to our understanding of marriage.
Amongst Patheos bloggers, I’m grateful to Owen Strachan, Bill Blankschaen and Joe Carter for their thoughts. I also asked Greg Scott from the Alliance Defending Freedom to explain what he and his organization view as the negative consequences for religious freedoms that would follow on the legal permission of same-sex marriage. I continue to look for different perspectives, so I asked Andrew Marin of the Marin Foundation (link below) to respond. Andrew and his wife live intentionally in a predominantly gay neighborhood in Chicago and seek to bring about reconciliation and understanding between evangelicals and LGBT communities. His response is below. For the record, the title is my own. And since the piece is a little long, I have put the assertions I consider most central to Andrew’s message in bold. As with all guest posts, I may or may not agree with every point, but I have great respect for the author.
By Andrew Marin
I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to this series because I am neither a philosopher like Tim nor a legal expert like Greg. I am a practitioner through my work with the Marin Foundation. My daily experiences are intentionally spent in and among the tremendously painful juxtapositions of the philosophical, legal and existential battles that inhabit the spaces of the LGBT and conservative disconnect. I am a bridge-builder — some have called me a translator — between these two communities to facilitate a new medium of engagement beyond the currently accepted way in which “the fight” is conducted from both ends of the spectrum.
My experience is housed within the global community through local churches and LGBT communities, higher education institutions and government agencies. My relationship with these outlets have provided a clear perspective on the structural composition that is shaping the umbrella encompassing this disconnect. What stands out the most, specifically in an American context, is that both communities’ talking points are exactingly consistent and unchanging:
The LGBT community’s messaging revolves around equality in (a) the right to enter into a government- (and some would argue for a religiously-) sanctioned marriage union; (b) the ability to access the legal benefits afforded to those who are married over those who are not married, in a common law marriage or in a civil union; and (c) having the Fourteenth Amendment upheld for US citizens who are gay and lesbian the same as it is for their US citizen heterosexual counterparts.
Conservatives (and I must note here that conservative Christians — specifically evangelicals and Roman Catholic leadership — take the majority of the heat for all other conservative sects of Judaism, Islam and other notable religious entities because of their perceived public status as the representatives that speak for all) advocate for (a) governmental policy to reflect conservative Scriptural interpretations that marriage is only between one man and one woman; (b) the upholding of the First Amendment allowing places of worship to practice their interpretation of their holy text without legal penalty; and (c) legal protections for private citizens, companies and large corporations to govern their practices under the same understanding.
The ultimate sticking point in our society’s system of thought is the view that unless the aforementioned talking points change, neither will the conversation. One step further, in order for the talking points to change, so must the core beliefs in each community’s argument. And that is not going to happen. Moreover, the expectation of what it means to live in a pluralistic, post-modern culture governed by a secular government should not expect anything different.
Too often LGBTs and conservatives work not from a recognition of reality, but from the vision of an ideal scenario they wish to see happen, against which they measure the current situation. This is illuminated in conservative circles recognizing the secularization of government, while holding on to the expectation that America will once again — with enough numbers and/or legal victories — be governed through a conservative Christian worldview. LGBT circles recognize that evangelicalism is the dominant religious force in America and yet function in a worldview where they do not legitimize the reality of conservatives’ claims against same-sex marriage. Whether each agree with the other’s ideal claims, those are secondary issues to the validation of their claims’ legitimacy. The disconnect in both of these scenarios is the difference between each communities’ reality and ideal.
Here are three points that I believe are hampering any ability to work towards common ground in this debate: First, I believe the talking points listed above from LGBTs and conservatives do not have to change in order for the conversation to change. The mistaken assumption in contemporary society is that all have to agree in order to love well; including loving well within the spaces of equality, rights, legality, relationship, religious freedom and dignity.
Second, I do believe there is a culturally acceptable hypocrisy within certain contemporary progressive ideologies, specifically with their self-imposed label of being “inclusive.” It is not “inclusive” unless all, everyone, are included—which is not the case. Most contemporary definitions of “inclusion” include only those who are chosen to be included (e.g. when was the last time an ex-gay or fundamentalist Christian were “included” in progressive circles beyond a debate or panel discussion?). I should not, however, expect anything different from this current practice because it is the same system that white male conservatives practiced from our country’s inception: “We are inclusive by including only the people we choose to include.” That is not “inclusive,” that is a new form of segregation under the auspices of “progress.” Same illogical argument, just implemented by a new group of people, with a new topic, in a new century.
The biggest problem in the same-sex marriage debate is not the beliefs, but the system. Yet short of the democratic legal structure in the United States dismantling and starting from scratch, a new set of expectations must be implemented within the current system if this debate is to move even one inch past its current state of dysfunction. By “dysfunction” I am referring to the high levels of buy-in into a system in which both communities are placing their entire worth, livelihood and legitimacy of belief on a winner/loser outcome.
My unique positioning in this debate means that my perspective on its structural components is shaped not through the lens of an activist but through daily on-the-ground personal experiences with both LGBTs and conservatives in joint spaces. These experiences intentionally do not enter the back-and-forth court jostling or the latest and greatest theological, historical, or cultural context to definitively prove one Scriptural interpretation right or wrong. Thus I am free to root my experience in humanity: real people in real time in real life situations. And that is what shapes what I am about to say.
I expect more from those of faith, specifically my own evangelical tradition who read the same Bible I read and believe in the same Jesus I believe in. I am not concerned in the least bit about what those outside my community do or how their belief defines them — not because I don’t care, but because I have not earned any right to dictate to them. Just because I am compelled by my understanding of biblical Truth does not mean anyone else has to be so compelled. The Great Commission in Matthew 28 will not one day turn into the Great Reality. Neither I nor any of my evangelical brothers or sisters can control even in the smallest measure those outside our community. So the question then becomes, what do evangelicals do with those not functioning in the same worldview, in light of the judicial battle over same-sex marriage?
Do not play in their system. Give to God what is God’s and give to the government what the government believes it owns. How can religious conservatives dictate certain governmental aspects to those who are not working from the same worldview (1 Peter 2:13-17)? The best of American democracy is freedom and equality. Both of those variables must function simultaneously while being applied in numerous contexts to groups of people with significant differences. Jesus holistically compartmentalized these variables in a way that gave equality under the law while upholding religious convictions — compromising neither (Matthew 22:18-22).
Evangelicals cannot expect LGBTs or their allies to change their medium of engagement. If they do, great. If they don’t, it does not matter because we will change ours first. That’s right; if there is to be any shift it has to start with us. Evangelicals, and conservative Christians in general, need to let go of the same-sex marriage fight and invest in figuring out how to love like Jesus regardless of what system is in place.
“Loving like Jesus” also includes loving within the cultural context we inhabit. Jesus had a strong set of convictions and a definitive theology. Yet he continually engaged not through the court system, but relationally through people; whether the legal system or people agreed or disagreed with him. The people Jesus engaged in turn influenced cultural structures — not through the courts but relationally. Reading through the life of Jesus makes abundantly clear a challenge that evangelicals overlook today:
To what extent was Jesus willing to make a stand for his message at the cost of cultural capital?
Two brief examples come to mind: In John 2:6-11 Jesus turned an intoxication-inhibitor (water) into an intoxication-accelerator (wine) by serving a steady flow of newly formed alcohol to already drunk guests. Jesus did this within a cultural structure that demanded such actions, regardless of health or theological implications. To what expense was Jesus willing to make a stand for his message at the cost of cultural capital?
Then in Mark 1:40-45 Jesus heals a man with leprosy and tells this man to go to the temple (the building Jesus came to destroy and rebuild in three days), submit to the Law (a law Jesus came to fulfill and usher in a New Covenant), and listen to the priests who teach the Law (listen to the people who will hang Jesus on a cross and kill him). A strange set of directions, especially in light of the fact that Jesus could have set the record straight with this man by telling him, “I am the way, the truth and the life and you know the Father through me, as I have shown you by healing you.” But Jesus did not do that because he knew how people in his present day revered the temple, law and priests. So again: To what extent was Jesus willing to make a stand for his message at the cost of cultural capital?
The Bible showed that cultural capital meant a whole lot to Jesus in how he disseminated, and lived in, his message. My experiences in the middle of people’s lives on both ends of the spectrum reveals that cultural capital means a whole lot to the effectiveness of how one peacefully and productively builds bridges within such divisive spaces. These personal examples have shown me that the legal battle over gay marriage has greatly hindered the ability for children of God to relate to each other, and to the outside world, in real and tangible ways…Ways that are centered on the principles of Jesus. Ways that use God’s lens of love for his creation to shine bright and clear as we look upon each other.
Do not look anywhere else but in a mirror for these answers. If the sacrificial nature of what it means to be a reconciliatory agent for the Lord is being stifled by court cases, those who represent the Lord need to stop focusing on spending time, energy and financial resources in the worst economic state in 100 years on something continually hurting the Church’s ultimate message of a saving grace. To what extent was Jesus willing to make a stand for his message at the cost of cultural capital?
You’re right. It’s not fair. It means those with evangelical convictions will “lose.” And where will that slippery slope take society after a capitulation to the secularization of society, government and the gay agenda?
The Lord gave his followers big shoulders and a bold faith worth living for a reason. The season of martyrdom has passed — or maybe it has just begun. I don’t really care which one it is. I’m going to be spending my time learning how to live and love in a world where same-sex marriage is already federally legalized. If it never reaches that point, it wasn’t meant to be. Either way, however, it was good practice on living like Scripture commands. And if it does reach that point, I’m ready to lead the Church and society in reclaiming the name of Jesus not by his follower’s legal battles but by their unconditional love for all of God’s children regardless of time, place or amendment.
Doing so does not make Christians, or myself, a sell-out. It makes us a people of strong faith with strong convictions who are not defined by rulings of the court — for or against. We are, rather, a people intently concerning ourselves with living in the Way of Jesus over continuing to fight a legal battle that should not influence how we view and live into the tenets of our faith in the first place.
Andrew Marin is President and Founder of The Marin Foundation. He is the author of the award winning book Love Is an Orientation (2009) and its interactive DVD curriculum (2011). Since 2010 Andrew has advised various agencies of the United Nations on civic engagement, bridging opposing worldviews, and cultural and theological aspects of reconciliation. Stay connected with Andrew on Facebook and Twitter.