Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Joe Does Not Recommend: Love Is an Orientation

I’m sure everyone has had the experience of being let down by someone, of being disappointed when high hopes go unmet. Such was my experience reading Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community by Andrew Marin.

Andrew is a conservative evangelical Christian who holds the traditional evangelical conviction that gay relationships are immoral. Andrew is no traditional evangelical, however. During college he was stunned when all three of his best friends came out to him over the course of a month. After college, Andrew did something I’ve never heard of another evangelical doing: he immersed himself in the LGBT community. Andrew and his wife presently make their home in Boystown, a gay neighborhood on Chicago’s North side.

Andrew has spent years making friends with LGBT people and learning about their lives, their spirituality, and their experiences with traditional Christianity. For years he has taught a Bible study class that is attended almost exclusively by LGBT folks. He writes a thoughtful blog where he posts a lot of stuff you might never find on the electronic pages of most evangelical Christians, including several posts by one of my best friends, who happens to be a gay Christian.

While Andrew’s traditional evangelical conviction that LGBT relationships are immoral has not been changed by his experience, he has nevertheless developed a wide circle of LGBT friends, developed a strong rapport with people in the LGBT community in Chicago, and seems to have amassed a wealth of experiences with LGBT folks that most folks in the traditional evangelical church have no knowledge of.

For these reasons, I had high hopes when I picked up Andrew’s book. I was expecting to find a fresh evangelical perspective on LGBT people, see widely held misconceptions cleared up, and see a new way chartered for relationship between the evangelical and LGBT communities.

I was deeply disappointed.

Mind you, there are some glimmers of wisdom and fresh perspective in the book, and I want to make sure these receive credit (I will give these special treatment momentarily). However, I want to be clear when I say that the lion’s share of the book is not new. Over and over as I read the book I recalled scores of ex-gay books I have read who said identical things—incorrect things.

Misconceptions about LGBT people common in evangelical churches and ex-gay literature are sadly reiterated in Andrew’s book. Further, on two occasions, Andrew completely misreports the academic scholarship on LGBT people—a fact that deeply disturbs me coming from a man who claims to be himself conducting research, “a unique research project—the largest of its kind—looking into the religious convictions and experiences of the GLBT community throughout the United States." (p 22)

This book, I am afraid, does little to “elevate the conversation with the gay community” as its subtitle aspires. Rather than elevating the conversation, I believe with few exceptions Andrew’s book leaves its Christian audience in the same spot he found them, while reinforcing misinformation about the LGBT community they have probably heard before.

I have a lot to say about this book. My raw notes on the book total 9 pages in Microsoft Word—far too long for this blog posting! If you want my full download, just say so in a comment and leave your email address for me. Here on the blog I'll do my best to whittle my thoughts down to the most important topics.

Criticism #1: “Sexual Behavior is Gay Identity”

This is not just a sentence lifted from some obscure part of the book. This is the subtitle of an entire chapter of the book--the second chapter at that.
Chapter 2: We Are Not Your Project: Sexual Behavior Is Gay Identity
With this dubious title, Andrew proceeds to kick the book off to a decidedly bad start. In fact, Chapter 2 is so full of misinformation about and reductions of gay people that I initially concluded the book was doomed to be just another rehash of the standard evangelical misinformation rubbish about the gays. After reading the following statements, I decided I would not continue reading the book:
if someone were to take away their sexual behavior, they would be taking away all they are as people. (p 37)
their sexual behavior is who they are. [emphasis Andrew’s, not mine] (p 38)
This is horrific. These words are so dehumanizing and so misrepresentative of me and the LGBT people I know that I couldn't bear to read any further. What an unfair reduction of the lives of LGBT people.

I’m a guy. I’m an engineer. I’m a brother, a friend, and a son. I’m a husband. I like to teach. I like to read. I like to landscape, and hike, and spend time with friends.

I happen to be gay. Without question I enjoy making love with my husband. Hell, "enjoy" is too mild a word--I absolutely and unapologetically love making love to the man I love :-) Gay sex is a wonderful part of my life. But it is just that--a part. Sex is far, far, far from being all of me or being the core of my identity! You could easily remove the gay part of my life and you’d still have a person who is all the roles I mentioned above and who likes all the things I mentioned above—just minus the gay part. That’s all.

But there's more to be said here. Gay sexual behavior is far, far, far from being all of my gay identity. Andrew deeply disappointed me by never once addressing gay romance. I mentioned above that my husband and I share a wonderful sex life, yet sex represents by far the minority of the time we spend together. If I were to define "gay identity" it would start with loving, caring for, and being attracted to a person of the same gender. Sexual attraction is in there, to be sure. But my understanding of "gay identity" includes romance, companionship, caring for my husband and receiving care, pursing common goals and dreams—all these things are a part of my gay identity.

I daresay Andrew would never write that his "heterosexual identity" "is" the sex he has with his wife. That would be a horrible reduction of his multifaceted relationship with the woman he loves.

Yet Andrew has devoted an entire chapter of his book on "elevating the conversation with the gay community" to a similar unfari reduction of the lives and identities of LGBT people. As I mentioned before, I was so deeply offended by Chapter 2 that I put down the book never to return again.

As chance would have it, though, I happened to be trapped in the car with the book on a 1000 mile trip to Michigan's Upper Peninsula. So, somewhere in the boredom around Saginaw, Michigan, I reluctantly reopened the book and continued reading. It turned out that Chapter 2 was the worst of the book. To be sure, I have a few other major disagreements with what Andrew had to say after Chapter 2, but I nothing struck me as being quite as grievous as that Chapter.

Moreover, I also found Andrew wrote some things that I felt were steps in the right direction. I'll get to these momentarily.

Criticism #2: Factually Incorrect Claims about Academic Literature
There are hundreds of books and academic research articles that claim they have found the final, definitive answer in proving or disproving that same-sex attraction is either genetic or environmental. (p 39)
If only I had a nickle for every time I've heard statements similar to this. This sentence is simply untrue. I have read dozens of academic studies of orientation, including the famous and controversial works of Kinsey, Hooker, Bailey & Packard, Spitzer and others. I am not aware of any academic book or paper published in the last 50 years that makes such a claim.

Unfortunately, Andrew appears to be unaware of this. However, rather than admitting his unfamiliarity with the academic literature or simply remaining silent about this matter, he voices myth:
although there has been a historic push over the last decade to complete a research study that infallibly shows a link from homosexuality to a specific gene(s), none have been able to be successfully duplicated to validate that claim." (p 75)
Again, this is simply untrue. No work has made such a claim, therefore there has been no vain attempts to duplication. Arrrrrrrrrggggghhh! This is so frustrating. Statements like this are vintage Exodus; stuff like this are flippantly tossed around in session after session at ex-gay conferences (just ask me, I've been to four) by people who have never once read an academic journal article. Arrrrrrrrrrggggghhhh. I had honestly thought Andrew was better informed than this. What a huge let-down.

The average layperson—evangelical or not—does not whether the statements above are true. But Andrew does not present himself as an average layperson. In fact, he states that his foundation is currently conducting the research study of its own "the largest of its kind". It disturbs me that someone heading such a project would so completely misrepresent the existing academic literature on LGBT people.

Criticism #3: LGBT Portrayed Almost Exclusively as Miserable

Whereas my first and second criticsm are of things Andrew wrote that I simply believe are untrue, this third criticism is more along the lines of something I found strange and ill-advised.

I noticed a bizarre trend as I read the book: almost every personal story Andrew chose as illustrations for the book involves a miserable LGBT person. Seriously; I think I counted one or two stories in the entire book that didn’t involve a gay person crying.

This feature of the book reminded me of literature about gay people I read growing up in the evangelical church as well as during my five years in ex-gay ministries: these illustrations paint a single, monolithic portrayal of LGBT people as tortured, miserable souls. I'm not sure if this was Andrew's intent in selecting only sad stories for the book. But, by the same token, I'm not convinced that this was not his intent.

Because his stories are almost exclusively dark, sad, and miserable, I left the book wondering if Andrew actually feels deep down that LGBT people are sad, miserable people. His nonstop stories of loneliness, abadonment, disease, and death illicited pity from me. I'm not so sure that's a good thing.

I’m puzzled that a person like Andrew, who apparently has interacted with hundreds of LGBT folks over the course of many years, couldn’t choose more emotionally balanced stories. Is it possible that all—or almost all—of his gay friends are miserable? I find this very hard to believe. And if it is the case, I’d love to introduce him to my friends so he can have he pleasure of knowing some happy LGBT folks :-)

I am also aware that some evangelical readers of Andrew's book won't know many (or any) gay people themselves. While this is increasingly rare, for some Andrew's stories may be all they know of the lives of LGBT people. I feel a more emotionally balanced mix of stories would have helped to highlight that fact that some LGBT folks live peaceful, fulfilled lives. I find that awareness of the dignity of a people cause tales of injustice done to those people to illicit righteous indignation and corrective action, not pity. If corrective action is Andrew's goal, I feel more emotionally representative illustrations are advised.

Criticism #4: Conflating "LGBT Community" with LGBT People Reared in Conservative Christian Environments

Throughout the book, Andrew makes statements about the "LGBT community" (or, actually, he always writes "GLBT". for some reason I'm accustomed to the L and the G being the other way around. whatever). As I hope I'm made clear so far, I took issue with many of the things he claimed were true of the LGBT community. However, at one point in the book, he makes a statement about the community that makes me think his definition of a LGBT community and mine are different.
The GLBT community feels a constant unnamed pressure from both sides--an invisible Christian ideal that they can't see themselves living up to, and an overt push from the gay-friendly culture to just 'come out' and be OK with it. (p 48)
Originally, I made a note about this because I felt this was a myopic view of the LGBT community. I think many in the community never feel a pressure to live up to "an invisible Christian ideal." Why? Not everyone grows up thinking the Christian ideal is, well, ideal.

As I've thought about this more, perhaps this statement is a clue to understanding some of Andrew's claims about the LGBT community elsewhere in the book that I find so untrue. Perhaps Andrew is familiar only with LGBT folks who come from conservative Christian backgrounds.

However, this is far from all of the LGBT community. The community is as religiously diverse as the world is. I expected Andrew would understand that, but the statement above has left me wondering.

I wonder what it would be like if I were to re-read Andrew's book and replace "LGBT community" with "those in the LGBT community who were reared in conservative Christian environments." It might make more sense.

Completely Missed the Point: Jerry Falwell

Now this caught me completely off guard. In the first chapter, Andrew discusses watching the CNN coverage of the death of Jerry Falwell, which included denunciations of the late evangelical pastor by many LGBT leaders.

I anticipated Andrew would immediately explain that the LGBT community was and continues to be deeply hurt not only by Falwell's vitriolic statements about LGBT people but also by the powerful political movement he helped assemble that continues to oppose LGBT rights long after his death. I thought Andrew was setting up a teaching moment in which he would counter Falwell's acerbic, antagonistic relationship to gay folks with his own friendly, live-together-learn-together approach.

Instead, Andrew wrote the following bizarre sentences:
the majority of people negatively talking about Jerry Falwell that night had never met him. But there is an undercurrent of preexisting negative perceptions of Christianity's traditional belief system that utterly repulses gays and lesbians. (p 31)
WTF? "Preexisting negative perceptions of Christianity's traditional belief system" are the reasons why LGBT people don't like Jerry Falwell? This so completely misses the point that I don't know what to say. Perhaps I'll let Wikipedia explain it using Falwell's own words:
Falwell told one crowd, "Gay folks would just as soon kill you as look at you."
When the mostly gay Metropolitcan Community Church was almost accepted into the World Council of Churches, Falwell called them "brute beasts" and stated, "this vile and satanic system will one day be utterly annihilated and there'll be a celebration in heaven."
Falwell also regularly linked the AIDS pandemic to LGBT issues and stated, “AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals, it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.”
Amongst many remarks over the years he is probably most known for statements attributed to him about a Teletubby being a gay role model for homosexual recruitment and stating that gays and lesbians were amongst those in some way responsible for the September 11 attacks.
I am flabbergasted at how Andrew has completely missed the point on Jerry Falwell--especially given the context of a book calling the evangelical church to repent of its past sins against LGBT folks and engage in friendly, respectful dialogue.

"Preexisting negative perceptions of Christianity's traditional belief system"? Unbelievable.


While I found most of Andrew's book to be disappointing, he did include several solid concepts that, if implemented, I feel would greatly improve the interaction between LGBT folks and conservative Christians. They are as follows:

Step in the Right Direction: Begin Conversations about Morality with a Discussion of Beliefs about the Bible

On pages 67 and 68, Andrew recounts a stunning conversation with a rather ill-tempered pastor. Meeting ostensibly to discuss the morality of LGBT relationships, the pastor surprised Andrew by opening the conversation with a statement of his belief that entire sections of the Bible "are not correct, not inspired" (p 67). Andrew titles this section "The Words I Never Thought I'd Hear from a Pastor" and devotes several paragraphs to explaining his utter shock that a Christian pastor might not believe the Bible to be infallible.

This stunning revelation appears to have been helpful to Andrew, however, and eleven pages later Andrew advises his readers to couch discussions of LGBT morality in the context of the Bible:
Find a gay church with a gay pastor; ask to get together with them so you can listen and learn. The best approach to doig this is to open with something like the following: "Can you please tell me what you believe the Bible says about same-sex sexual attraction and how you arrived at your conclusions?" (p 78)
I feel Andrew is absolutely on the right track here. So much of evangelical Christian's opposition to LGBT people is wrapped up in the interpretation of a few verses of the Bible that very often the arguments about morality start and end with splicing and dicing a few sentences. However, the better place to begin is with a bigger-picture view.

I would argue that the best place to begin is one step beyond what Andrew has presented: begin with an entirely separate discussion of the nature and significance of the Bible. I actually believe the first question an evangelical Christian should ask a gay Christian should have nothing whatsoever to do with morality of gay relationships. Instead, I feel the opening question should be "what do ou believe about the Bible? Is it infallible? Is it inerrant? Are the words of the Bible the words of God?"

Andrew has absolutely identified the right angle here; shifting the discussion from minute details to a bigger-picture is an excellent way to "elevate" a conversation. In the LGBT-Christian conversation, the big-picture to start with is beliefs about the Bible as a whole.

Right On: Claim to the Term "Christian" Is up to the Person Who Claims It

My final praise for the book references Andrew's discussion of the terms "gay" and "Christian" and whether the two make sense together.

On pages 69-72, Andrew tells the life story of Tim, one of his friends who is employed by a large evangelical church in Chicago and who happens to be attracted to men. Tim's story is related in his own words, and concludes with his expression that he would like to one day be married and raise a family (although Tim is careful to say that getting married and having kids would not indicate his gay attractions had dissippated or that he had been "healed".)

Following Tim's story, Andrew had this to say:
What f Tim didn't want to get married and instead remained celibate? Would he be a gay Christian in your eyes--because I know many people in Tim's exact situation who still call themselves gay Christians. What about men and women who are actively inovled in the GLBT community and profess to be Christians? Are they gay Christians as well? If they are, are they the same gay Christian that Tim calls himself? Does he still identify with them--is that even OK? These are all question for Tim, not for those of us who do not feel same-sex attractions. Christians should not be answering these question for them, but living life with those who have them. [emphasis Andrew's]
Embedded in the paragraph above are some of the generous words I've ever seen written by an evangelical. Let me just repeat them again
These are all question for Tim, not for those of us who do not feel same-sex attractions.

I'd add my own comments, but I fear I'd detract from the power of this simple thought.

(Aisde: It's kind of fun to point out that Tim happens to be one of my friends, too :-) Tim and I met when we were involved in the same ex-gay ministry in the early 2000s. Ironically, I'm writing this blog entry in the central Illinois city where Tim grew up. But I digress...)

And on these two positive notes, I'll draw my review of Andrew Marin's Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community to a close. Phew! Congratulations to all of you who made it this far without falling asleep :-) Never fear, my next two reviews will be far shorter. Until next time...


D.J. Free! said...

thanks for posting this, J!

not having read the book, i cannot assert my opinion on your interpretation of andy's words. i do have some questions though (to tide me over until i can read the book and get my own feel for his words).

Criticism 1:
1. when he says that taking away sexual behavior takes away all people are, that's clearly wrong. but i'm wondering if what he meant by that was something along the lines of "evangelicals want to tell gay people not to have gay sex, and to do so would significantly affect their concept and psyche of self (identity)"?

2. "their sexual behavior IS who they are" is true in some sense. again, to ask me to not have gay sex would be, in effect, to be telling me not to be myself. i AM a gay person by orientation, and this affects my behavior. so, was andy really saying that gay sexual behavior points to some aspect of identity, in much the same way that hetero sexual behavior signifies something about someone's identity?

again, i have a very good rapport with andy, so that inspires me to interpret his words leniently. but i do think it's important that we capture the spirit of what he's saying. in your opinion, do you think you've accurately interpreted the spirit of his words, even if they might be clumsy words?

Criticism 2:
i think i pretty much agree with your assessments here (at least on the surface - again, without having read the book). i wonder why he's even mentioning this "research" to begin with. i'm not sure how it serves to elevate any bit of conversation b/w the 2 communities. it's such contentious material.

Criticism 3:
is andy portraying gay people as having miserable lives, or has he portrayed them as having sadness as a part of their journey? for i do not know many gays who don't have some tragedy or misery as part of their story. it's part of coming out in a shifting society that still strongly opposes and oppresses gay people. was andy portraying the miserable parts of gay tales to demonstrate how the Church has caused lots of pain, or is he painting a picture that gay people in general simply lead miserable lives as a rule?

looking forward to the rest of your review, and answers to my questions!

peace and love,

Joe Moderate said...

Now see, this is what I get for posting this before it was finished :-) Serves me right.

I do have (some) compliments to pay Andy, but I cut off the post before I got to those. So, DJ, I can see your need to defend your friend. Understood.

Hopefully, you'll find in my full post an equitable treatment of the book that recognizes positives and negatives. Ultimately, though, the negatives were so pronounced that the just don't outweigh the positives for me. The book was a huge disappointment to me.

quick responses to your questions:

1. and 2. I see how you are looking for a way to interpret Andrew's words in a way that makes sense. And yes, I largely agree with what you wrote. I'm not so sure that Andrew would. He certainly doesn't come out and say what you have said.

Perhaps you'll just have to get the book and read Chapter 2 for yourself (he devotes an entire chapter to this topic: "sexual behavior is gay identity"). Not much nuance.

If what you wrote is what Andy meant to communicate, it was unfortunately lost on me.

2. I gotta say that I feel any discussion with evangelicals about gay folks should include scholarship. I think the average evangelical layperson has a way skewed understanding of what academic studies have and have not said about gay people. Tons of misinformation out there thanks to Paul Cameron and Exodus. Unfortunately, Andrew seems to add to the noise rather than eliminate it.

Ugh. Misinformation is so widespread.

3. Honestly, I believe (and this is an inference based on my knowledge of Andrew OUTSIDE of the book, not inside the book) that Andrew probably included some or many of these sad stories to illustrate the wrongs experienced by gays on behalf of the church. But you get the idea that his gay friends are always crying and all are in intense turmoil. It's really bizarre.

Norm! said...

I've been tempted to read Marin's book, but haven't really convinced myself it would worthwhile. Thanks for your analysis.

From the quotes you provided, I'm glad that at least Marin uses "gay" and not "homosexual" with his conservative Christian audience. While it sounds like I probably have major disagreements with Marin, this simple word choice is significant.

Does Marin mention discussing winning gay Christians over to conservative Christianity as his goal? From my own experience, it seems recruitment was always a major goal for conservative evangelicals and a liberal/LGBT/athiest/etc. convert would seem be a major evangelical trophy. :)

Topher said...

For DJ:

Your comment #1, I think that the generous way of interpreting his words would be that way. But in the end, he never says that. It would be nice for him to clarify.

Your comment #2, I suppose the part I bristle at is that if we were to write a chapter subtitled "Sexual behavior is heterosexual identity", you would have lots of outraged people saying that their identity is so much more than just having sex with the opposite sex. The lenient way for the heterosexuals to interpret it, of course, would be that the chapter merely meant that heterosexuality is defined by having sex with the opposite sex, and without that you wouldn't be a heterosexual. But most people would say their identity is more than just their sexual identity.

I should also point out that gay identity is NOT just sexual behavior. Gay identity includes your attractions, romantic feelings, emotional attachments, fantasies, friendship preferences, and more, all of which do not depend on sexual activity. So in Andrew Marin's claim of A = B (Gay Identity = Sexual Behavior) he is distinctly misinformed.

Your comments on #3, I actually think you're close to the truth; many of his stories deal with how other people screw up when it comes to their gay friends, and how this negatively impacts gay people. So while the tears were flowing for almost every single gay in the book, many of these were due to the pain other people (often straight) caused them.

Norm, yes, many of Marin's success stories were people who were won over to the conservative evangelical camp, some who dropped all of their gay-related life and went a different direction. And those which haven't done so yet, he makes a point to say that he hopes someday they will change to know his god.

D.J. Free! said...

WHOA! OK, first let's get one thing straight. I don't know NEARLY enough about Andy to say that he's a "friend", and thus feel no need to "defend him". However, I do consider him an ally, because this one thing we do agree on (and it is - even after all of the disappointing things you've mentioned here - the paramount thing): the Church has done a terrible disservice to gay people, and continues to do so. That will only change if WE (individually) decide to build bridges.

So my attempt to interpret his words (and more importantly, the spirit of his words) in the way intended is merely for the aim of reaching the above stated goal. And to be honest, the Andy I've read online, is NOT the Andy you've portrayed here in your review. I am attempting to reconcile those viewpoints. Perhaps vainly so, since I've yet to read the book. I plan to remedy that later this evening :)

J, to your point about scholarship . . . I'm not so sure I can agree with that. My attempts to clarify scientific and psychological research to Evangelicals has been a lost cause. People see what they want to see. I've yet to meet an Evangelical who has changed their mind on what the research says, even when I specifically point out their very UN-scientific backgrounds. I think it's moot. I don't even go there.

Topher, I see your point, but I really think many Evangelicals minimize sexual behavior as NOT being about identity. IT IS ABOUT IDENTITY! But I totally agree that it's not the entirety of one's identity, and not even the entirety of one's sexual identity, b/c (as you say) there are fantasies, and emotional longings, etc. But I want you to really think about who you are as a gay man once you have REMOVED sexual behavior. If you don't make love to your partner, if you don't ever indulge in your fantasies, etc. Clearly sexual behavior is a HUGE part of sexual identity.

Again, not having read the book, I can't justify this next statement, but I have a hard time believing Andy actually said "sexual behavior is ALL of identity."

From what I've read of Andy on his blog, I would imagine that what he's speaking to is the Evangelical proclivity to assume that sexual behavior has nothing at all to do with identity. In truth, both J and I were taught in our ex-gay ministry that we are not what we do, we are "who Christ says we are", which to them means heterosexual. Yet, how can you claim one is heterosexual when all of their sexual behaviors are experienced in slip-ups with the same sex? That little tidbit tells you a lot about who the person REALLY is. Some people are comfortable accepting that evidence about their identity, most in the ex-gay world are not. Again, perhaps I'm being way too lenient in trying to assert that this was what Andy was addressing. So I'll read the chapter tonight and see if I stand by these words :)

D.J. Free! said...

OK, so I've already read the notorious second chapter of the book :)

For the most part, I stand by my previous words. I'm not sure that you guys caught the spirit of Andy's text (at least in Chapter 2). It seems to me that Andy's overarching point is that Evangelicals believe that "what we do is not necessarily who we are" (pg 38) and vice versa. So when they then insist that the gay person is NOT in fact gay simply b/c they practice same-sex sexual behavior, gay people will rightly counter the argument.

Also, when the phrases you highlighted are put in context of Andy's point that Evangelicals believe there are only 3 options for sexuality (heterosexuality, celibacy, or living in sin) . . .I see a larger point emerging other than "gays think behavior = identity."

When Christians tell me that my behavior is wrong, and that I should be celibate, I DO counter that they are asking me to be someone I'm not. I am gay, and I believe sex is beautiful, and I also believe that God blesses my same-sex, monogamous relationship. I believe God is calling me to behave (sexually) in line with my orientation. To ask me not to practice out of my orientation IS to ask me not to be who I am. I think many gay people would feel this way, and I think many Christians don't quite get it. Yet, if you turn the table, and ask them not to practice their hetero sexual behaviors, then they'll start talking to you about God's words that "it's not right for man to be alone", and how he wants us "to be fruitful and multiply." In other words, they would tell you that to ask them not to practice in line with their inborn inclinations, would be asking them not to practice the fullness of the humanity in which God created them. Thus, even for heteros, behavior has a lot to do w/ identity. This is what I see Andy's point being.

Furthermore, he seems to be asserting that for Evangelicals to get into arguments about identity is a lost cause, b/c there's a disconnect in the way that many Christians and many gays view identity. Where I disagree with Andy, however, is in this notion that Evangelicals ACTUALLY believe in identity in the way he claims. If really pressed, I think we'd find that everyone tends to see identity in similar ways (at least regarding sexual identity), it's just that Christians are too shy to extend their logical thinking to homosexuality, b/c that would require them to affirm gay identity. That's too scary. It would feel like losing ground.

Honestly, I do have a problem with his clumsy language. For instance, when he talks about what "Christians" think, I think that he fails to recognize the diversity in Christian thought. I think when he uses that term, what he REALLY usually means is "most Evangelicals". Like in the examples above, I used the term Evangelicals, but Andy uses the term "Christians". This will get him in trouble, and it will not help one iota to build any bridges.

Also, you're right, the way he phrases things can give the impression that he believes gay people count their sexual behavior as the entirety of their identity. This is clearly poor thinking, and I think if asked, Andy would admit as such. And even if he DID mean it in the way you interpreted, we can't really critique what he says, b/c what he says is based on the relationships he has with gay people who talk to him about identity. As he states, "over the years I have had many gay people tell me that if someone were to take away their sexual behavior . . . " This isn't his mere opinion, it's his cumulative experience with gay people. So if we are to take his words at face value, then your real problem is with the gay people that speak to him, not his thoughts on identity per se.

But then, why take my word for it? Let's let Andy speak for his own clumsy words :) Mind if I invite him here to answer your critiques?

Joe Moderate said...

DJ, there's a lot you've said here. before I respond to your detailed points, can I ask what your overall opinion was of the chapter? My impression is that you largely agree with him.

Joe Moderate said...

DJ I'm just trying to get a sense of whether we agree on the large point (ie the chapter as a whole) and disagree on fine points, or whether we disagree on both :-)

understanding at level we disagree will alter how I respond

Topher said...

DJ, as you've spent more time (and perhaps more recent time) with evangelicals, I believe you when you say that many say that gay identity is not in any way related to sexual behavior. In which case, I would disagree with those evangelicals. If those are the people this chapter was meant to address, then I guess it jolted them out of their own misinformed state.

I don't believe Andrew Marin ever said sexual behavior was the only part of gay identity. But the other parts of identity -- those which serve to make gays human, rather than just sex machines -- seem absent from those pages. Once again, perhaps it didn't fit into what he wanted to communicate to those evangelicals. But I'd prefer the whole story. (Of course, now looking at your latest comment, it appears you also felt there wasn't much about the rest of gay identity besides the sex part.)

I feel perhaps what we're seeing is that the book's audience was not meant to be us, but rather heterosexual evangelicals who don't know gay people except as charicatures. Thus, when I read the book I am in a different frame of mind and get disappointed when he's speaking not to me, but rather to someone else.

Finally, I should point out I don't feel that Andrew Marin is ever malevolent in what he's saying. He does, in spirit, seem to want to help. For that he deserves kudos, but in the end I would like to see the book be modified to become even better.

D.J. Free! said...

Hmmm . . . good question, J! I'm actually not 100% sure what we disagree on. I have a nuanced answer:

I think we disagree on how the fine details point to the larger picture. In other words, I interpret you as saying that Chapter 2 as a whole was utterly flawed b/c of these specific finer points you bring up.

While I do not necessarily disagree on the clumsiness and the fallacy of exaggeration that Andy makes on these fine points, I do think you may have overemphasized these fine points in relation to what he's trying to communicate in the Chapter.

So my view on the chapter: I think it's right in spirit, but demonstrates Andy's lack of experience in expressing his philosophy well, and his inability to take his very specific assumptions to their logical conclusions. I think that he has the right abstract idea, but hasn't fully figured out how to fill in the fine details.

One thing that I've challenged Andy on in the past is his use of labels. He uses them very, very poorly, and in a nearly offensive manner. For instance, he talked about how the gay community was up in arms about Obama's movement (or lack thereof) on promised gay issues. I pointed out to him that I didn't think the gay community was as outraged as gay activists are, and that the activists don't necessarily speak for a majority of the community. A couple of weeks later, a poll was released that pretty much proved my point.

I think this is another example where Andy has chosen some poor words, and is too lazy to be more specific in his language. As I think this conversation proves, it detracts from his larger message. I really want him to read this, so that he can see that I'm not crazy when I tell him he needs to watch his labels and his assumptions about a community based on a choice few he has knowledge of. I want him to see how this has practical implications, and will hinder him from accomplishing our common goal.


I do feel that Andy's primary audience with the book is the Evangelical/Conservative Christian/Fundamentalist communities. (I could be wrong on that. Again, I'd want Andy to answer these critiques himself, b/c I think the audience question is an important one!)

And I do wholeheartedly agree that a HOLISTIC book would have been much more enjoyable to me personally. But take a look again at the last paragraph that Brian McLaren writes in the forward, and then think about some of these specific criticisms again with a filter that the message is more for Evangelicals than for gay people (of any religious orientation). Can you see how it would be helpful? I would imagine that someone like J's parents would get a lot further in figuring out what their posture should be towards you guys based on a book like this, rather than from one written by say McLaren - whom they'd discount from the start upon discovering he tends to look at Scripture differently.

Case in point: I witnessed an ex-gay guy do a complete 180 in his approach to me after reading Andy's book. It was actually after my guest blog that this ex-gay guy was ready to throw me under the bus. After reading Andy's book, he felt comfortable dialoguing further about his concerns with my essay, and now he talks to me regularly . . . asks how I'm doing, prays for me when I'm in anguish over Jonathan's absence, etc.

In your displeasure that Andy says some clumsy things, and that he doesn't quite say some other things that would cast a more complete picture, don't overlook that his approach will reach the very people that you and I never could. Andy helps people see that our stories are worth listening to. He helps people understand that we should be invited into community.

D.J. Free! said...

My ONLY concern is the same one that Norm brought up. I hope this isn't all just a rouse to get us all in the Church and talking happy, for the purpose of demonstrating how the Evangelical understanding of Scripture and Christianity is superior. I hope it's not a crafty way to be nice to us so that we can get "saved" or baptized into the "correct" (i.e., their) way of thinking. I hope it's a chance for dialogue and an opportunity for both sides to recognize that the other side is no threat; to put guns down and stop fighting a futile culture war. I hope it's an opportunity to learn from one another, and live together in harmony, even with ideological discord.

Norm! said...

Hi Topher,

". . . Norm, yes, many of Marin's success stories were people who were won over to the conservative evangelical camp, some who dropped all of their gay-related life and went a different direction. And those which haven't done so yet, he makes a point to say that he hopes someday they will change to know his god. . ."

Yikes. "Success stories"? I thought Marin's approach was about having a conversation with gay people -- not necessarily recruiting or proselytizing. Are there any success stories of gay-affirming Christians who Marin simply agrees-to-disagree?


Hi D.J. Free,

". . . I hope this isn't all just a rouse to get us all in the Church and talking happy, for the purpose of demonstrating how the Evangelical understanding of Scripture and Christianity is superior. I hope it's not a crafty way to be nice to us so that we can get "saved" or baptized into the "correct" (i.e., their) way of thinking. I hope it's a chance for dialogue and an opportunity for both sides to recognize that the other side is no threat; to put guns down and stop fighting a futile culture war. I hope it's an opportunity to learn from one another, and live together in harmony, even with ideological discord. . . "

I suppose I continue to be suspicious of the intentions conservative Christians that befriend LGBT people and study LGBT issues. Like being wooed by a slick salesperson, I can't imagine any gay person would like to viewed as merely a potential recruit or project.

Joe Moderate said...

DJ: Beautifully written, my friend. I happy to see that you and I are more of the same mind than I originally thought--especially on this one thing: the ultimate goal is to improve the relationship between LGBT folks and evangelicals. I agree 100%... and this is exactly why I have raised these criticisms of the book. The book claims to "elevate" the conversation, but Chapter 2 seems (in my estimation) to horribly misrepresent and unfairly reduce gay relationships. I think they reinforce a sex-only charicature of gay people that is prevalent in the evangelical culture. This does not elevate the conversation; it leaves it where it is.

There is more I want to say here. Especially to comment on something you have said--an accurate nuanced statement that I think *would* elevate the conversation, but which I think Andrew had not articulated (or at least not articulated clearly) in this Chapter.

I also want to respond further to your comments on my other criticisms, particularly the statements about academic literature.

Unfortuntately this is a crunch week for me at work--big deadlines tomorrow. Was at the office 11 hours yesterday and today and tomorrow promise to be long days as well. I'm gonna do my best to squeeze in my responses, but I can't promise :-( So sorry!


actually, yes, Andrew does include stories (or at least one story) from the gay and Christian side of the aisle. The book concludes with an appendix containing 3 or 4 narratives from LGBT or ex-gay people. I seem to recall one of those is a gay-affirming gay Christian.

I'm not entirely sure how many gay Christian stories were among the illustrations in the text of the book, though.

Joe Moderate said...

oh yes--DJ, I'd be happy to have Andrew join this discussion. But could you wait until I've had a chance to respond to the topics you've brought up? I'd prefer the chance for Andrew to see a complete conversation between you and I when he arrives rather than having him state more thoughts before I've had a chance to fully respond to your thoughts!


D.J. Free! said...

Sure, J! Take your time! Really, I'm in no rush. This is clearly a conversation that won't be settled in the short run. It's an ongoing one . . . so don't rush to answer quickly.

Also, I do get where you're coming from. I do keep in mind that later in the chapter, Andy does criticize Evangelicals ("Christians" he says) who only see the sex issue with gay people, and admonishes them to look at gays as whole people. But I see your point. There are indeed phrases in the Chapter that on the surface would seem to undermine that goal.

And I'd be more than happy to hold off on inviting Andy until we've talked more of it out :)

Love you guys!

P.S. J, any idea yet what your September is going to look like? Any chance yet for a Labor Day weekend jaunt? ;)

Topher said...

DJ, good comment "In your displeasure that Andy says some clumsy things, and that he doesn't quite say some other things that would cast a more complete picture, don't overlook that his approach will reach the very people that you and I never could." Indeed, I have lost my evangelical street cred ever since being kicked outta the evangelical crowd. Not my choice, but just the truth.

Likewise, Andrew has certain "gay street cred" due to his efforts, but he cannot reach certain gay people that you and I can. Just the truth. I certainly don't want to offend Christians, though, in my efforts to make gays understand Christians. Likewise, I wish I didn't feel alienated by certain parts of his book, no matter how good his intentions to make evangelicals think more about gays.

Norm, as Joe mentioned, yes, Andrew does mention gay people who lead successful lives and are not conservative Christians (or Christians at all). But there are times in the book where the goal, explicitly stated, is to continue pursuing these people in the hope of bringing them to understand (and believe) the evangelical mindset. This is not meant in a bad way, but rather just in the normal way that evangelicals talk about proselytizing any non-churched group of people. I guess it's the idea that there's a difference between gay people being successful in this lifetime versus being successful in the afterlife.

IT said...

I have been discussing my offense over the "identity = behavior" sentence as well over on Marin's blog. He's given up on the discussion over there, and I think I have too.

I have not read the book. I did explore his site and found it a bit condescending to GLBT, as though we are not adults, and as though we haven't thought of or actively addressed issues of faith. maybe that's just an evangelical thing but it's annoying. (I think his research project may have been spiked by Barna's group in any case.)

I also found the description of "CHristians" and "GLBT" as completely separate to be most annoying. My wife is a cradle Roman Catholic (trending Episcopalian right now for obvious reasons). We know many, many GLBT of faith. On their behalf, I also find it a bit off-putting that there is tendency in the evangelicals to consider non-Evangelicals "not Christian". (Our son's girlfriend used to do this. We took her to church with us, and she thumbed through the Hymnal looking for, as she put it, "Christian" hymns.)

I think reaching out and attempting to translate is a good thing, of course.

But as for myself, I'm not willing to simply be tolerated, and I'm not a self-loathing subject for evangelical conversion. I don't believe in "love the sinner, hate the sin", even if the person telling me that insists some of his best friends are gay.

Joe Moderate said...


I heartily agree with all you have said.  My principal issue with Andrew Marin has been his equation of "gay identity" and "sexual behavior".  I'm happy to say that he seems to have articulated a different viewpoint on his blog... AND just today he says he now better understands that he should be more careful and use qualifiers when he makes such statements!  I'm encouraged!  Looks like your comments have made a difference!

On the other issues you have raised:

* yes, I do find his language to be slightly condescending to LGBT people.  I hope this is accidental or due simply to poor writing/what DJ has referred to in other comments as "clumsy" words.

* the Christian/LGBT separation is painfully evident throughout his book.  This was another of my issues I had with the book; I didn't discuss it for space reasons.  The take-home message for me kinda countered the gracious words he said about gay Christians: it seemed to me he was implying that anyone identifying as LGBT could not be a Christian.  But I'm trying to figure out another way to interpret his Christian/LGBT separation.  Perhaps he is referring to the social divide between *Evangelical* Christian and LGBT circles.  In my experience, it is indeed rare that people from these circles are anything more than surface-level acquaintances (I myself lost most of my evangelical Christian friends when I came out, although a precious few have remained).

* I agree that Andrew needs to be more specific when he says Christian.  I think he means *evangelical* Christian, but yes--as you have said, his typical use of "Christian" seems to leave out Catholics (as well as mainline protestant denominations like Anglicans/Episcopalians and Lutherans).

* I was kinda surprised by Andrew's dismissive response to the Barna Group's research on LGBT stuff.  Like you, I wonder if his own study has been "scooped".  He seems to indicate that his own study delves "deeper" than Barna has.  I dunno; it will be interesting to see what he reports. However, as I have indicated in my comments, Andrew's awareness of the scholarship on LGBT people seems dubious.  I dunno how widely read he is.  I dunno if he is trained to conduct the study he is undertaking.  I wonder if he will attempt to publish it in peer-reviewed journals or will take the Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse avenue and "publish" in book form though an evangelical Christian publishing house like Intervarsity Press.

* I have some encouraging news on the "love the sinner, hate the sin" front: Andrew agrees with you!  He talks about this at length in his book and trashes the church for it.


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