You Can’t Ignore The Words: A Review of “Love is an Orientation” by Andrew Marin

Andrew Marin loves gay men…and so should everyone in the church. In fact part of his goal in Love is an Orientation is to encourage conservative Christians to alter their approach towards the GLBT community. Marin has some great help to offer the church in this volume, and yet he seems unwilling to confront the heart of the issue.

Marin knows something about this subject. He has spent years immersed in the GLBT community reaching out to and helping gays and lesbians connect with God. This book is not only snippets of that personal story, but it is principles from a lifetime of real ministry. In many ways that makes the book invaluable for those of us ministering to the GLBT community.

Marin believes in many ways that the conservative church has a reductionist approach to our interaction with gays and lesbians. He says that “The Christian community has only ever known one way to handle same-sex sexual behavior: take a stand and keep a distance.” But Marin wants offer a new approach: bridge building. In this book Marin outlines the principles the church should use to “elevate the conversation” with gays and lesbians. Some of these principles are invaluable for the church.

He begins by trying to help us understand the spiritual dimensions of the GLBT community. He argues that in many ways a lot of folks in that community want exactly what Christians want:

(a) to have the same intimate relationship with God that evangelicals claim to have; and (b) to safely enter into a journey toward an inner reconciliation of who they are sexually, spiritually and socially.

This is a realization for many in the church. Some of us have not seen, or ignored, the spirituality of our gay and lesbian neighbors. But it is an important realization, one Marin argues changed the entire way he interacted with the GLBT community. “I started to realize that there was something happening within the GLBT community regarding God, faith and religion,” he says. That realization eventually led to a Bible study which eventually led to the Marin Foundation.

Marin invites us too to understand the nature of homosexuality. He urges the church to view sexuality the way gays and lesbians do. He explains that we must be patient, we must invest long-term, and that we cannot view gays and lesbians as projects.

Christians tend to perceive themselves as morally superior to GLBT people, based on the belief that the Bible allows only three options for connecting faith and sexuality: be heterosexual, be celibate or live in sin. Once Christians have presented these three options to a gay person, most consider their job effectively complete as it’s now up to the gay person to either embrace or reject this truth.

The failure of this approach is that it does not recognize the different way that gays and lesbians view their sexuality. For those in the GLBT community this is not a matter of behavior, but of identity. The way Christians relate to them, then, needs to take this into consideration. “We have to start moving past our default responses towards the GLBT community.” Marin wants us to “think relationally,” that is certainly what he has done. Gays and lesbians are people too and worth our time investing in. At most, he says, 20% of the GLBT community wants to change their sexual identity, but while we are focusing on 20% there is a whole segment of the population that we are ignoring and failing to love. Marin would have us think differently.

The principles are too many to list, but each one provides incredible insight for the church on how to build bridges with the GLBT community. Stop using the phrase “homosexual” he argues. Stop saying things like “love the sinner and hate the sin,” which is a red flag for gays and lesbians. Listen more than you speak. Don’t focus so much on sex. Don’t take the bait to argue. These and countless more morsels will prove sweet to anyone willing to learn from Marin. In this way the book is incredibly useful. But Marin is unwilling to state plainly whether or not homosexuality is a sin, and that, I think, ultimately harms this volume.

It is, of course, intentional that Marin doesn’t say this. Most gays and lesbians and conservative Christians just want a simple straight forward answer to that question and nothing more. And most have already formulated an answer in their own mind and are prepared with rebuttals should the response come back different than they desire. “Elevating the conversation” requires more than this, and I agree 100%. But of course that is the question at the heart of the struggle and God’s Word has not shyed away from answering it strongly and plainly. It is in relation to the Scriptures that I find Marin most frustrating.

Numerous times throughout the text he assures us that if a gay Christians asserts that God has told them it was okay to be Gay then we must “deeply trust and rely on the knowledge that we can never know the end of God’s best journey for someone else’s life.” Of course such sentiments, although nice in theory, actually disobey God’s commands to confront a brother or sister in sin and to call them to repentance. They also ignore the fact that God has outlined our “best journey” in His Word. Of course he knows that ultimately you can’t ignore the debated passages in Scripture and so he spends a whole chapter addressing them. But in this chapter he aims to give us a new approach to reading these passages that will help “elevate the conversation.”

Through reading afresh the five debated passages on homosexuality Marin aims to give us a new hermeneutic and a formula for building bridges with the GLBT community. Because of our focus on the key words we have missed the larger context in nearly every debated passage, he says. So he attempts here to pull us out of the trees to see the whole forest. I greatly appreciate the idea of context, after all context is king and it dictates proper interpretation. But in each passage Marin not only skews the application of the passage but fails to address the actual words at all. And no discussion of context can ignore the words. So, for example, in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19) not only does interpret the passage solely through the lens of Ezekiel 16:49-50 (instead of also including Jude 1:7), but he also zeroes in on Lot’s wife and makes her the primary target. So the application is, then, “Until people (straight and GLBT) learn to shift their own mind frame from earthly issues, there can never be any forward movement in a personal relationship with Jesus.” This not only doesn’t answer the immediate questions people have about homosexuality, but it completely ignores the subject as if it has no bearing on the text at all. He does the same thing with the other debated passages, arguing that the holiness codes in Leviticus (which expressly forbid same-sex sexual practices) ask us to “make a willful, knowledgeable and cognizant decision to live distinctly for God.” But never does he address whether or not it is okay to be gay. From Romans 1:26-27 he simply says “Anything that positively or negatively affects an individual’s one-on-one relationship with the Lord,” he calls it the “Oneness principle.” Again, however, he is uninterested in focusing on homosexuality itself. Marin believes we’ve focused too much on the words, but he, in turn, has completely ignored them.

I was frustrated by the latter half of the book as Marin seems so uninterested in dealing with what the text of Scripture actually says about homosexuality. He says, “God meets them, speaks to them and hears them, personally and individually telling each of his beloved children what he feels is best for their life.” I agree 100% with that. But where Marin and I seem to differ is that I believe God has already done that by giving us the Bible. It is here that we will find God’s will for our life. Marin may agree with that sentiment, but he has surely not given that impression in Love is an Orientation.

I loved so much about this book and will surely reference it often as I seek to reform my own interactions with the GLBT community. But because of its failure to deal with the simple, straightforward, words of Scripture I won’t be recommending it. I believe in “elevating the conversation” but not by ignoring the actual words of Scripture.

Comments

  1. Eric McLaughlin says:

    Glad to see your review on this. I’ve actually had this book for a few years and have never read it. The following quote “The Christian community has only ever known one way to handle same-sex sexual behavior: take a stand and keep a distance.” pretty much sums up how the church I grew up in dealt and deals with same-sex attraction issues. As I consider the implications of the approach, I can’t help but wonder if the American church had handled this topic of homosexuality better throughout the years when America was decidely more Christian, we wouldn’t be in the place we are today with gay marriage a reality on the eventual horizon, and the utter politicization of the issue.

    I appreciate your review and believe more conversations with the LGBT community must be had, but with Christians firmly resting on scripture and the divine intent for human beings.

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