I don’t know Dan Savage. I like what he does, I think that Christians have a lot to learn from him, and I’ve gotten a couple Twitter responses from him, but I’ve never met him. I’d like to. I think we’d have a good conversation.
I do know Andrew Marin. I know him well. He’s a good friend whom I get to see a couple of times per year. We email and text a couple times a month, and I last saw him in January.
I have mixed feelings about some of the things that Dan Savage does and writes. His It Gets Better Project is really, really good. It’s Kingdom-of-God good. Some of his sex advice makes me a bit squeamish, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But when it comes to the Christian faith, Dan is blinded by his own upbringing and by the pain that he has seen inflicted on GLBT persons by those claiming the name “Christian.” While I can’t blame him for the anger he harbors, he is an outspoken atheist — an atheist with an axe to grind against all who claim the Christian faith.
I have mixed feelings about the work of Andrew Marin and the Marin Foundation. They are avowed “bridge builders” in these tense days, as many Christians and churches are still trying to figure out how they deal with the increasing acceptance of GLBT persons in society. As such, both Andy and the Foundation have refused to take a public stance on the questions, “Is homosexuality a sin?” and “Do you support marriage equality?” I don’t agree with this stance, but I do understand why they’ve taken it.
When I last saw Andy, last January, it was at a mega-church less than a mile away from my house. This is a PC(USA) church that is large, white, affluent, and increasingly evangelical (I wrote about the church here). It’s a church that used to regularly have Brian McLaren to speak, but now wouldn’t touch him with a 10-foot-pole. When I went to hear Andy speak on a Sunday night in January, the sanctuary was standing room only. The crowd of over 1,000 sat in rapt attention for his talk, and after his talk, many audience members publicly confessed their bigotry against gays and asked for forgiveness. Andy’s books sold out within minutes of his talk.
I can tell you without a doubt that if a gay Christian would have delivered that message — wait, let’s be honest, a gay Christian would not have been asked to speak at that church. I wouldn’t be asked to speak at that church.
Whether or not we like that Andy has remained neutral on some of the questions that are so important to many of us, he is getting a hearing in places that many of us aren’t. It should be noted that’s he’s also losing opportunities to speak as a result of his neutrality — late last year he was uninvited from speaking at the United Nations in New York, and he was replaced by vocal gay rights advocate Jay Bakker.
Over the weekend, Dan Savage reviewed a book by Jeff Chu in the New York Times. I met Jeff in the course of his research — he sat in my living room late on a Sunday night after spending the weekend with one of the subjects of his book. Savage writes about the man with whom Chu had spent that weekend,
Particularly heartbreaking is Kevin Olson, a “homosexual but not gay” man living in Minnesota. Olson chose a life of celibacy and community musical theater. He’s never had a boyfriend. He’s never had sex with anyone. But Olson’s honesty about his sexuality makes his Christian friends uncomfortable, so he no longer attends Bible study, and he stopped performing in musicals because of questions — “voiced and unvoiced” — about his sexual orientation.
“Sometimes, I do feel cheated because I haven’t been able to experience certain things in life, but then I remember that it’s not about me,” Olson tells Chu. “As a believer in Christ, you accept that this isn’t all there is to life. There’s a life to come. That will be a happy time.”
Savage’s next two paragraphs show exactly why he should not have been asked to review this book (or at least been edited better):
Olson attempted suicide in 1997 after his twin brother died and he developed a crush on a male co-worker — two events that Olson seems to view as similarly traumatic.
Suicides don’t go to heaven, of course, but some gay kids are convinced they’re going to hell already because they made a choice to be gay — a choice they don’t remember making and can’t unmake.
OK, that’s bullshit. That’s a remnant of Savage’s upbringing, but it’s patently false. Fully half of the world’s Christians — Protestants — have never thought that suicide victims go to hell; some corners of the Catholic Church used to refuse Christian burial to suicide victims, but none do anymore, and the Catholic Church has never taken a stance on who is in heaven and who is in hell. This was cultural Catholicism, not church doctrine. Savage shouldn’t have written that, and the Times shouldn’t have printed it.
My point in this is that asking Savage to review a book by an evangelical like Chu is akin to asking Bill Maher to review my book on prayer. Savage has so much antipathy toward active, faithful, believing Christians that he cannot see past his vitriol to write something with even a modicum of objectivity.
Which brings us to his treatment of Andy and the Marin Foundation. In the literary climax of his review, Savage stops writing about Chu’s book altogether and takes up arms against Marin. He’s done this before — Savage has attacked Marin many times in the past, but doing so in the Times is a new low. And this time Savage overreaches entirely, undermining his entire argument and book review — and, I must say, making a mockery of the supposed seriousness of the Times — when he writes,
The more you learn about the Marin Foundation, the more it looks like Westboro Baptist in the drag of false contrition: God hates you — now with hugs!
That is flat-out ridiculous (Marin has replied). Disagree with Marin and his tactics if you wish — and, at times, I do — but to compare The Marin Foundation to Westboro Baptist shows conclusively that Dan Savage has no business writing about a book by an evangelical Christian until he gets some therapy for his own hatred — hatred of Christians.
Postscript: Last night at Solomon’s Porch, we were reflecting aloud on the work of Brennan Manning, who died last week. One man in the congregation told how Manning spoke at his evangelical college in 2003. An undergrad at the time, this man approached Manning after the talk and challenged him on his use of the Bible and on his message of “easy grace.” As he told it, Manning responded with grace and a smile.
Two weeks ago, this man married another man at Solomon’s Porch.
Not everyone is ready for the full-frontal attack version of gay rights. Some people need some grace and some time. Sometimes a gracious response and a smile is just right.
Post-postscript: I have been abundantly honest with Andy that I do not think neutrality is a long-term solution. It is inherently short-term.