Why Not Answer?

Why Not Answer? April 17, 2013

This post is written by Michael Kimpan, our Associate Director at The Marin Foundation.

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 herehere 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 Andrew and The Marin Foundation has been placed onto the chopping block – a place we’re growing increasingly accustomed to and comfortable with – from both sides of the conversation.

It certainly is an interesting place to be.


Here we go again.

One person wrote in the comments section of Andrew’s latest post ::

He could [answer in terms of yes or no] but then lose all credibility with evangelicals. At that point he would just be one more blogger in favor of gay rights. Instead of  just swelling our numbers by one, he 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 Andrew stated in his post, ‘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.’

That is why, as we 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.

In. Real. Life. 

With. Real. People. 

It amazes me that advocating for a theology of unconditional love toward all people – gay or straight – brings with it such vitriolic and hateful rhetoric as has littered the Internet, with false accusations and name-calling being lobbed across Twitter feeds and the blogosphere toward Andrew and The Marin Foundation.

It doesn’t make any sense.

Just this weekend 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 within 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. Ask a biblical literalist the same question Dan Savage posted above and you’re likely to get an unfavorable answer.

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.

That happens.

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?) 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 the 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 his most recent book, 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 and Andrew has written about here), to arguing against anti-bullying campaigns (which I’ve written about here and Andrew has spoken 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.

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9 responses to “Why Not Answer?”

  1. I read this post yesterday, and am glad that you posted it here as well. I confess that I’m still perplexed at how some people feel entitled to demand such an answer from you or the Foundation.

    I don’t care to know of the particular views on the nature of what constitutes “sin” with regard to homosexuality from you or any other person or group. What I do care about is how others are treated. That you and the Foundation seek to reach those who oppose the LGBTQ community, teaching them and everyone else to treat LGBTQ persons with respect, goes a long, long way for me.

    Still thanking you for all you do . . .

    • William – Thank you! Seriously. Your sticking up for our way of engagement in a variety of forums has been overwhelmingly amazing. You understand exactly who we are and what we’re all about. We don’t care what people believe, we care what people do with what they believe. We’re changing things together with you and others. Much love brother.

  2. Same-sex marriage is an injustice, an insult to the noble faculty of reason, and an absolute mockery of: the Laws of Nature, civil society, and the preservation and perfection of mankind.

    The broken families which same-sex marriages purposely create are necessarily vicious toward those naturally occurring consanguineous obligations between family members from which nations, sociability, and benevolence have naturally emanated.

    Children are not pets one purchases from rescue shelters(adoption clinics) and puppy mills(insemination and surrogacy). Children are human beings endowed with a natural desire to be procreated from an engendered act of love between a husband and a wife. Same-sex marriage is adulterous by nature and thereby destructive to not only children, but to our civilization.

    Same-sex marriage proponents demand “Marriage Equality”, yet, in return, they offer less-than-equal protection of the child’s happiness than can be afforded by the presence of both biological parents.

    Same-sex proponents profess that it is love which gives the right to join the institution of marriage, yet, in doing so, they selfishly violate the principle loving objective of this noble institution; to protect a child’s Natural Right to be raised by both biological parents.

    Same-sex marriage is not justice in the eyes of a child. Same-sex marriage is an abuse of power, a tyrannical subversion of the fundamental principles of marriage and the duties which it enjoins; contrary to the nature and state of man, same-sex marriage is merely the unwarranted whims of an ignorant and selfish generation whose conduct is nothing less that an embarrassment to the dignity of mankind.

    Here are two truths regarding marriage: (1) A man creating a family with another man is not equal to creating a family with a woman, and (2) denying children parents of both genders at home is an objective evil. Kids need and yearn for both.

    In fine, same-sex marriage is an unnatural extravagance which the supporters most ignorantly claim to be a “right”.

    “No one has a right to do that which, if everybody did it, would destroy society.” —Immanuel Kant

    • Thank you for presenting a clear example of why we need to learn how to respectfully and lovingly build bridges with others, even when we disagree with their beliefs and lives.

  3. Thank you Marin Foundation… keep encouraging us to look to Jesus! I know it drives some people nuts that they can’t force you to take a stand on one side or the other, but stay strong in the tension of the middle. It’s a difficult place to be, as you’re open to attack from both sides, but you are doing something important and valuable. You inspire me! Blessings to you.

  4. The impact of social media critics has hurt many ‘public-figures’ especially those in sports when they come out. The message: ‘Just be who you are’ is the recommendation from top WNBA athletes who discussed with SI about sexuality. They are role models for so many women and they see themselves as strong women even though it was difficult growing up. They don’t want to be compared to men’s game and they want respect for their on-court work, to be treated as equal. Excerpt: “In a pre-draft interview with USA Today on Monday, Griner brought it up herself while crediting her parents for always encouraging her to be herself no matter what cruel things people were saying about her.” It is the trusting relationships found in a family setting that helped Griner find her way through cruel critics. See links at: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/more/news/20130417/wnba-griner-delle-donne-diggins-sports-sexuality/index.html (or) http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/breaking/la-sp-sn-brittney-griner-acknowledges-shes-gay-20130418,0,2094548.story

  5. I find it strange that some people think one must be either for them or for the other group (which automatically means you’re against the first group). There are situations in which we can be “for” both. Those who demand everyone pick a side are polarizing influences, rather than influences that will bring about reconciliation. That includes both many evangelicals and Dan Savage and company. Both groups want to force their opinion on everyone and feel it is their right to force everyone to take sides in their battles with each other.

  6. Here’s a slightly different question: While it is okay for an organization such as Marin Foundation to stand in the middle but also respect the staked-out position of a church or denomination, do you think it is tenable for a denomination or a church or even an individual pastor to stand in the middle as you do? Scripture seems to call us to stand against sin; so do we not need to decide what is and is not sin? Can we really be the church and stand where where the foundation stands? (I post this knowing that you probably have spoken to this elsewhere)

  7. Willliam, thanks for a grown up and balanced post. Ever since my conservative friends noticed that I take a more progressive line these days I’ve been on the receiving end of some pretty hostile invitations to ‘give a straight answer to a straight question’ in relation to the exegesis of half a dozen contested passages. Where the question isn’t intended as a bear trap (i.e, very far from a ‘straight question’) I generally give a direct response. Otherwise I give a ‘curved ansllr to a curved question’.

    Broadly, I think hostile labelllng should be gently but firmly resisted. The ‘bear trap’ approach purports to be about sound doctrine but in practice I have found it is intended as an electric fence around a cherished identity. The same approach is evident in Statements of Faith, which are routinely appended to faith sector vacancies. In such cases I take a similarly ‘curved’ approach.

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