My first response to Andrew Marin’s Us Versus Us is “read this book!” It is well-researched, sensitive, irenic in spirit, and inclusive in attitude. It provides data and interpretation that can change minds, open spirits, and enable churches to share good news in ways that welcome the GLBT community. It is especially relevant to welcome-spirited evangelicals who realize that “hate the sin, love the sinner” is theological pablum, a dog whistle for intolerance, and is heard as “hate the sin, hate the sinner” by members of the GLBT community. Although the text is written primarily for evangelical Christians, a far from monolithic group, despite media caricatures, it is also helpful to progressive and open and affirming Christians like me who want to more effectively share Christ’s welcoming message to GLBT persons.
My second response is theological. Taking this text seriously requires evangelicals to reassess their understandings of scriptural and ecclesiastical authority. Absolute dictums on GLBT issues from the paper and ecclesiastical popes will not do because: 1) unchanging and infallible understandings of scripture or papal authority ex cathedra are unbiblical, 2) hypocritical or at least inconsistent, since most evangelicals have relaxed their views on other biblically-prohibited practices, such as divorce, eating shell fish, economic justice (this one has been entirely disregarded, given the appeal of conservative politics to many evangelicals, 3) biblical inerrancy is invoked primarily on issues conservative evangelicals oppose, and not the totality of scripture, and and 4) the scripture itself presents an evolving vision of God and ethical practices.
These are assertions that I will not argue at this point other than to invite the reader to look at their own church’s practices. (For more on my theological and scriptural views, see “Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed” and “Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God.
Theology matters! Even though GLBT folks do not rank theology as their primary reason for leaving or considering returning to their childhood church, theology undergirds the inhospitality of the evangelical community, in particular conservative evangelicals, to the GLBT community. On balance, there is little or no reason to condemn homosexuality, based on scripture. Yes, there are a scant half dozen scriptures, invoked to condemn homosexual behavior. Today, however, most of these scriptures, when studied carefully, do not describe contemporary, egalitarian relationships characteristic of most gay and lesbian couples. Most evangelical scholars now believe that the punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah was the result of inhospitality not homosexuality, and besides, such nuclear punishment seems hardly worthy of a loving God. Moreover, scripture says nothing, to my knowledge, about transgendered persons.
Further, Jesus says nothing about homosexuality, meaning that, at the very least, it was not an important issue to him. While most world religions have been until the last century negative toward homosexuality, it is also clear that religious traditions are fluid and evolving: we demonstrate that when we sit down for a ham dinner on Easter Sunday or, as I do on Cape Cod, have clam chowder, lobster rolls, and oysters on the half shell. Christians have relaxed their prohibitions of divorce, even though divorce is painful to families. Most glaring as I alluded to before: anyone who supports unrestrained capitalism or harassing immigrants and refugees is neglecting the spirit of several hundred scriptural passages as well as Jesus’ own ministry of hospitality. Unless you compartmentalize faith and politics entirely, then issues of welcoming refugees and economic justice should take precedence over restroom use!
To conclude, as the United Church of Christ says, God is still speaking. God is doing a new thing and so should we. Conservative evangelicals may remain uncomfortable with homosexuality, but their discomfort should be tempered by their allegiance to Jesus’ ministry of hospitality, their confession of the pain Christians have caused to persons in the GLBT community, and the recognition of their own partial, imperfect, and ideological readings of scripture. Humility enables us to relativize our positions, and put our love of God, neighbor, and stranger ahead of our ideology. Andrew Marin has provided a good pathway to a more inclusive evangelical faith.