My Response to Dan Savage’s Accusations about The Marin Foundation in the New York Times

My Response to Dan Savage’s Accusations about The Marin Foundation in the New York Times April 14, 2013

Do these look the same?

I’m a married gay dad and father of two. I’m also a liberal UCC Christian who has struggled over the years with getting to know and love (or at least coexist) with people who disagree with people like me in the Church, as well as families like mine. I’m also a loyal fan of Dan Savage and his weekly “Savage Love” podcasts, as well as a longtime friend of Andrew Marin. I read Dan’s recent comments about Andrew and The Marin Foundation in his review of Does Jesus Really Love Me? and was puzzled by him characterizing The Marin Foundation as “Westboro Baptist in the drag of false contrition: God hates you – now with hugs!”

I have known Andrew and the others at The Marin Foundation for roughly five years. I’ve broken bread with them. I’ve attended Andrew’s 30th birthday in 2010. He and his wife attended my 2010 wedding ceremony. Last summer my family stayed with Andrew and his wife Brenda in their apartment while vacationing in Chicago. I can honestly say that Andrew, Brenda, and the others at The Marin Foundation have always been gracious and loving towards me, my husband, and our sons. They have never challenged our understanding of our faith. They have never questioned my identity as an out gay Christian, nor have they ever promoted, urged, or nudged any of us towards anything hinting at anti-gay or ex-gay groups or beliefs. They have accepted us and love us exactly where we are and how we are. 100%.

It’s ironic that Dan brought up the one comment that Andrew made at a Christian youth leadership conference where he essentially encouraged those youth leaders to urge LGBT teens to put off coming out. It’s ironic because I’ve heard Dan give the same advice – with slightly different words and reasons. But both men recognize that it’s not always safe for LGBT teens to come out in certain communities. Sometimes it’s best to wait until you’re done with school and into adulthood.

The Marin Foundation isn’t about being gay or pro-gay or anti-gay or ex-gay or even pro-Christian. It’s about connecting with people who don’t agree with you in that tension-filled area where faith and sexuality intersect and learning how to understand each other a bit more effectively. It’s a different approach and I get that others struggle with it, but I’m really glad that I let go of my initial skepticism of The Marin Foundation and allowed myself to re-think my role in our never-ending culture war.

-Jon Trouten in Iowa City, IA

On Friday I (Andrew) was made aware that in Dan Savage’s review of Jeff Chu’s new book, which I learned the review will be on the front page of The New York Time’s Book Review section today, Sunday April 14th, Savage had some pretty intense opinions about myself and the work of The Marin Foundation. On the concluding page of the review, Savage says:

He [Chu] gives an approving nod to the sneakily homophobic Marin Foundation, an evangelical group that shows up at gay pride parades holding signs that say, “We’re sorry!” and offering hugs to paradegoers who have been harmed by religion. But Andrew Marin, the group’s founder and public face, has urged his followers to target Christian teenagers struggling with “same-sex attraction” because they’re easier to talk out of being gay. Marin has refused to say that gay sex isn’t a sin, and he seems to believe that gay people can change their sexual orientation. 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! Chu blasts M.C.C., but Marin gets a pass.

In lieu of these accusations, I would like to offer a few thoughts.

I want to genuinely thank Dan Savage for writing about The Marin Foundation in such a significant media outlet. Though I don’t agree with anything he said about me, or The Marin Foundation, this is a unique situation to have to respond to something written in The New York Times.

Dan and I have two completely different philosophical approaches to social change; both with the same goal–that everyone, regardless of orientation, gender, race, color, creed or religious affiliation (or not), will be able to live safe, loved, dignified and cherished lives. I feel the crossroad lies in the view of what is deemed as an “acceptable medium of engagement.” This is not a new debate throughout the world’s history. Two of the more well known examples:

Martin Luther King Jr. believed that the only way for sustainable, structural societal change to happen was to build bridges between the oppressive white folks and his African-American community. And although later in life Malcolm X’s framework for social change began to align more with MLK, the majority of his public rhetoric was strongly advocating for the necessity of African-American’s to overthrow the oppressive white “devil” and implement the same system of oppression upon whites as they had done to his people for centuries.

Nelson Mandela believed that the only way for sustainable, structural societal change to happen was to build bridges between the oppressive white Afrikaners and his black African community. His wife, Winnie, is famously noted for completely disagreeing with him. And during the intense years of apartheid, she strongly advocated for an overthrown white Afrikaner government where black Africans could then implement the same system of oppression whites had done to her people for centuries.

In neither of these examples am I suggesting a comparison between the American Civil Rights movement, the South African Apartheid and the modern LGBT equality struggle. I am rather viewing these examples through a lens of cultural engagement. I am also not saying that I am MLK or Mandela, and that Savage is Malcolm X or Mandela’s wife. But what I am saying is that for centuries culture wars and societal disconnects are perpetuated by these same two ideologies–both of which have their movement’s leaders and followers passionately believing their medium of engagement as the best way forward, thus causing many public disagreements.

As Rob Bell says in his new book, revenge only escalates the situation. I firmly believe with everything that I am, stand for and will keep working towards, that peaceful and productive engagement between opposing worldviews cannot happen through a revenge-based orientation from conservatives or from the LGBT community. It can only happen when we start practicing an actual ethic of inclusion that seeks reconciliation–not something that seeks to only overthrow one oppressive system with another.

And when I say “actual ethic of inclusion” I am referencing inclusion’s real definition: Including all, everyone. Inclusion cannot be defined as “including only the people I choose to include.” That is called segregation. This goes for what progressives are doing to conservatives today, the same as white straight males did (and some legitimately continue to argue, they still do) to every person who was not a white straight male in much of the world’s history. This is the reason why The Marin Foundation and I believe our work is to bring together non-faith LGBTs, LGBT Christians in partnerships and those who choose to be celibate, professing ex-gay people, progressive and conservative straight Christians and non-faith straight people and mix it up in one big holy uncomfortableness. Every stereotype can be broken with a face, and every face has a story.

It has been sociologically, diplomatically and anthropologically proven that sustainable cultural shifts can only happen when the oppressors and the oppressed are an equal part of the shift. If only one population dictates the shift, a change might indeed happen in the short term, but it will only rally the base of the “losers” to fight even harder to overthrow the new population in power. And thus, the cycle continues.

I do not see that as a plausible outcome for future generations. And so I continue committing myself to building bridges between both of the groups inhabiting the opposing worldviews; and that includes the very intentional simultaneous partnering with each side to see such a shift happen. What is overly-encouraging to me is the variety of both progressive and conservative individuals, families, churches, universities, community centers and government agencies who are committing to our vision as well.

I’m not under the illusion that one day everyone will agree. We live in a pluralistic, post-modern culture that promotes questions, doubts and the vitality of unique differences. The thing that confuses me is, why then, do the people who promote such pluralism get upset when there are others that don’t agree with them? Isn’t that the point of a high functioning pluralistic culture? The biggest misnomer in contemporary society is that everyone must agree in order to love each other well. Fighting for an end result of “agreement” is called a dictatorship, not pluralism. Pluralism doesn’t lack an understanding of absolute truth and conviction. It does however, promote the strength of truth and conviction in combination with a commitment to pursue that which is disconnected for peaceful, productive and mutually beneficial outcomes (e.g. this is how I understand and define reconciliation, over the confusing merits of those fighting for “cultural alignment”).

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 stand in the middle to facilitate a new medium of engagement with each opposing worldview.

The Marin Foundation is a Movement shaped by bold individuals of reconciliation; whose orientation is one of love, who live in the tension and refuse to allow hate, disagreements or past experiences cause division in any community. Our focus is to individually, corporately and politically shift what is currently seen as the acceptable medium of cultural engagement—the polarizing back-and-forth, win-lose rhetoric—onto elevating the conversation. We do this through a worldview of engagement that all might experience dignity, love and reconciliation with faith and each other. By creating intentional spaces to live in the tension of what theologically, socially and politically divides us, we continually seek productive means that carve new paths forward.

This is why The Marin Foundation doesn’t answer yes/no questions. Because for us, the importance is not on the “correct” answer; it’s on relating to our shared humanity to do life and love better regardless of how you answer any of those close-ended questions. The accusations that Dan brings up are not new, and I have responded to them multiple times over the years. You can read my responses here and here (posted on my old blog site), which I still stand by today.

*More poignantly than me continuing to justify my own organization, how about Dan and other’s listen to the words of LGBT people themselves, who actually do know me in real life, have participated for years in The Marin Foundation’s Living in the Tension Gatherings//I’m Sorry Campaign//Education Classes//Bridge Building Trainings, are on staff at The Marin Foundation, and those who were totally skeptic of us until they met us, got involved, and are now committed more than ever to this bridge building vision.

Here you go:

From Bryan B. in NYC:

As a 28-year-old out gay man who grew up in a Southern, evangelical home and is now thriving in New York City in business school and with a boyfriend, I can tell you that it really does get better. My life got better — thanks to Andrew Marin.

I first came in contact with Andrew and The Marin Foundation several years ago while living in Chicago, working, going to church and managing the results of coming out to my parents and family after 22 years in the closet. Ever since that first experience, I have only known Andrew to be of one orientation – validating, unconditional, complete love. More than most friends (gay and straight), coworkers, and family, Andrew has been present and loving of my coming out story, health scares, meeting my parents and having dinner with my boyfriend and his wife. In all instances, me, my boyfriend and my Christian parents have all walked away with the sense of being heard, being validated, being dignified.

The last statement should not in any way being interpreted as Andrew being duplicitous, conniving or evil. Andrew simply chooses to elevate conversations above society’s unending fascination with the ratings-hiking, money-making, self-righteous action of creating an “other.” With Andrew, we are all wonderful, beautiful humans and children of God, each with strengths and weaknesses, love and pain. Judging and validating only those who fit what we are and believe is right, while trying to demonize and correct the broken “others” we have created, is destructive, futile and scarring.

Through Andrew’s example, I have learned to love and engage with all others, including evangelicals who still find me an abomination and detestable. Or gays who cannot fathom my personal faith. In both cases, though, I only see another person who holds value and desires loving validation. Once I uplift their humanity, I am then on a journey to them recognizing my own – no matter than timeline – and the later opportunities to lovingly engage and grow from  each other. Is the journey always quick and carefree? Hardly. Living in the tension can be trying. Yet I have always found it to be more fruitful and beneficial to all involved than the us v. them mentality in which Mr. Savage is seeking to engage his perceived opponents, such as Marin.

I had the privilege of hearing Mr. Savage speak this last year at a professional conference and was moved to tears by some of his stories, just as I have done with Andrew’s. I would encourage him to dine and interact with Andrew directly, much as he previously has offered his home to others. I truly believe that through engagement, he would understand that his statement that Andrew declining to say that homosexuality is not a sin is simply one-third of a complete message. The full message is that Andrew does not answer the question of homosexuality being a sin because doing so automatically creates an us and them scenario. Instead, Andrew loves everyone and as such has helped my parents love and accept me and now my boyfriend. I dare so such a response would have taken much longer or never come had I taken Savage’s approach.

From The Marin Foundation’s staff member, Laura Statesir:

The Marin Foundation was a light in a dark place for me. When I came out, I was desperately searching for someone to tell me God still loved me. The Marin Foundation helped me be comfortable with faith and sexuality. Now I work for The Marin Foundation because no other organization seeks to bring peace and love to the tension between the LGBTQ community and the Church like The Marin Foundation.

From The Marin Foundation’s staff member, Kevin Harris:

As the Director of Community Relations, I have been working with The Marin Foundation since 2009. Beyond finding reparative therapy to be harmful, I would not change my orientation to heterosexual even if it was possible, as I believe that God loves me as I am–as someone that is gay. Part of my role entails overseeing our interns, many of whom are trying to figure out what they believe about their sexuality. It is important for us to create a safe space with a variety of resources where they can question and critically think about their sexuality to come to a conclusion, whether it’s a more traditional or progressive interpretation of scripture on the matter.

From Seth Dibblee in Chicago, IL:

I can say, after living more than 30 years in it, that the Evangelical church is filled with people who are uptight about sexuality. And I can also say, after spending the last 10 of those years as an openly gay believer, that the church is even more uptight about GLBT sexuality. Against this backdrop, Andrew Marin and his organization are a badly-needed breath of fresh air. Because of its long record of abuse, intolerance, and hypocrisy toward it, the church has lost the right to be heard in the GLBT community toward it. Andrew recognizes this and calls it what it is.

In a strategy that draws suspicion from both the church and the tribe, Andrew will not say whether or not being gay is sinful.  Instead, he asks, “Why does it matter?” Therein lies the genius: We need to examine all the assumptions we have made about God. We need to understand the consequences of those assumptions, especially in our relationships with each other. And we need to decide what we will do differently. All of that takes place through dialogue that would be shut down in a trice if he made a pronouncement one way or another.

I have known Andrew and his staffers for several years, and enjoy participating in all kinds of events. I am just as gay—and just as Christian—going into these occasions as when I leave them. If anything for me, they are opportunities to become more authentic in both regards. Andrew creates a safe and welcoming space where people of all stripes can enter these important conversations. People don’t always agree, but agreement isn’t the objective. The dialogue itself is the objective; building relationships that might not otherwise ever exist.

Andrew’s work is transparent; what you see is what you get. I’ve seen no trace of homophobia, but I have seen some dismay at being treated shabbily by organizations who don’t share his vision. His work is prophetic; he understands that Jesus worked foremost among those on the margins, while calling on the leadership to do better. Most of all, his work is passionate; Andrew loves God and it shows. In these ways, he is evangelical in the best sense of the word.

From Lisa S. in Peoria, IL:

Jesus doesn’t ask us to look through Him. He asks us to look at Him. Look at His example, look at His love, look at His life, look at His sacrifice and know what He wants each of us to do and be like. It saddens me that Mr. Savage has lost sight of this within his own life, but instead attempts to point fingers at others. More accurately, to swing his words as a verbal cat of nine tails towards The Marin Foundation and Andrew Marin in particular. Mr. Savage appears jaded towards the church, God, and those who believe that the example of Christ was inclusion, love, and to embrace another. What is wrong with standing on the sidelines of a parade and offering an apology to someone who has been hurt? What is wrong with offering a hug? What is wrong with talking to young people about their sexuality? Does The Marin Foundation do these things? Absolutely. Would Jesus? Absolutely. Mr. Savage accuses The Marin Foundation and Andrew Marin of having ulterior motives. The good ol’ bait and switch tactic. Yet, he has no evidence of the switch part. Someone stands and says I’m sorry and I love you and we stand back declaring that we’re certain that the other shoe will drop any time now. It hasn’t.

The Marin Foundation knows and loves me as a lesbian woman. They are not “sneakily homophobic.” Never have they tried to change me or suggest that my sexuality is a “struggle” or a sin. Perhaps our conversations needs to focus less about sin and more about love? Maybe Jesus modeled this a little bit? The Marin Foundation is loud and clear on the topic of unconditional love and perhaps that is the goal? To love one another. Jesus had a thing or two to say about that. The Marin Foundation has loved me, supported me, encouraged me, and walked beside me when others in my faith group would not. Period. Look at them and you will see Jesus.

From Registered Runaway Blog:

The only message I ever received from The Marin Foundation was that God loves me and they love me, just as I am, gay. And it wasn’t just said over and over again, it was given fully and genuinely. It was expressed in Andrew grabbing a cup of coffee with me, for two hours, listening to my story and telling me that I was loved. It struck me while attending their Living in the Tension Gathering when one of the regulars, a man with a partner from my hometown, threw his arms and around me and told me that it gets better. It was when, my mom and I, late for the meeting and lost in Chicago, finally found the destination only to be met by the one of staff that had been waiting outside for God knows how long, with arms wide open to give us big hugs when we went for the handshake. As far as I know, and have experienced, The Marin Foundation is one of the most welcoming and affirming places today for LGBT folks. They defend me against conservative Christians that want me to enter into the harmful practice known as “reparative” or “ex gay” therapy. They proclaim to the evangelical world that I am fully human, fully loved and receive every bit of dignity as they do. Even though it would be easier not to, they stand in the middle of the divide, actively apologizing for the Church’s sins of homophobia. Andrew Marin and The Marin Foundation is the most anti-homophobic force in the Church today. In ten years, the evangelical world will be better because of him.

From Eliel Cruz in Michigan:

The first time I met Andrew Marin a year ago he told me “bro, I’m giving you my cell number and I don’t just give that to anyone. I like you man.” We’ve been friends ever since. “Love Is an orientation” has been fundamental to the work I’ve done nationally on seventh day Adventists universities campuses. Dan Savage’s misguided comments of The Marin foundation show the complete lack of familiarity with the foundation. He has gay people working for him! Attempting to discredit Marin’s work by aligning him with the likes of the Westboro church is ignorant. Marin walks the walk, working in the heart of Boystown for a decade bridging gaps between LGBT people and their churches. The accusations are so ridiculous it’s hard to take them seriously. Savage completely discredits himself speaking against someone who is known internationally to be doing incredibly work. The only “sneaky” thing about him is his infectious positive attitude and welcoming arms.

From Albert in Indiana:

After reading Andrew’s book, Love Is an Orientation, and exploring The Marin Foundation website, my partner and I wanted to support The Marin Foundation. But Andrew’s story frankly sounded too good to be true. As a result, we had a dinner to meet with Andrew and his wife Brenda. Then we had them over to our house. Then we met the rest of the staff at The Marin Foundation. We got to know them. We learned for ourselves that The Marin Foundation espouses and lives out the tenets set out on their website and in Andrew’s book. Reading Mr. Savage’s description of what he thinks Andrew believes can only elicit laughter, as the only thing he got correct is the spelling. Well, and the hugging. But the claims of homophobia, believing that gay people can change, and similarities to the Westboro Baptist Church are at best patently false. To learn about Andrew and The Marin Foundation, I encourage you to look for yourself. Don’t listen to others. Not even the New York Times.

From Steven Janssen in Chicago, IL:

I am a 51 year old gay Christian in a mixed orientation marriage. As someone who has been involved with The Marin Foundation for almost 16 months, from attending their Living in the Tension meetings twice a month to regularly sharing meals with all their staff members and waking in the AIDS Walk Chicago with them, I must say I have never received anything but love and support from The Marin Foundation. Never has anyone tried to talk me into changing my sexual orientation or even entertained the possibilities of that ever happening. Their Associate Director is currently working with my small suburban church to open the conversation up so that it is a safe place for me to come out.

To sum up this response article, I (Andrew) know with all my heart that Dan is doing what he thinks best for the LGBT community, and society as a whole. And that is all I am doing as well. I have no ill will towards Dan, and I look forward to one day actually meeting the It Get’s Better man, myth, and legend.

“[Society is living in] a new tribalism–a regression to older and more factious loyalties–that is driving us ever more angrily apart. Peace is a paradox. Any attempt to impose on [society] an artificial uniformity in the name of a single culture or faith, represents a tragic misunderstanding of what it takes for a system to flourish.” -Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference

Much love.


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