Andrew Marin’s book Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community would never have been written if three of his good friends hadn’t come out to him about their sexuality. Since that defining moment, Marin has immersed himself in the gay community and established the Marin Foundation to work with its members.
His main goal: to build bridges between Christians and the GLBT community. To that end, Love is an Orientation sticks very well to its goal. It covers a wide range of topics that have come out of Marin’s personal experiences with gay friends and strangers. Sometimes, these experiences happened because Marin opened his Bible study to gay people; in other cases, it was because someone’s train was late and they heard a message from Marin that they didn’t know they needed.
Marin’s experience gives the book its strength. He has not written an impersonal apologetic on certain Bible verses or chosen to command Christians on how to vote on particular issues. He doesn’t take a side in the debate over whether gay people can change their orientation and develop attractions for the opposite sex. He affirms the authority of the Bible but also uses the verses most relevant in this debate to shift the focus of the debate from a default position of being anti-gay to helping to build bridges between the two communities. Anyone who comes to this book looking for the re-packaged answers to which they’ve grown unaccustomed will be disappointed. Orientation is not a how-to guide; it’s a series of stories and practical suggestions that are designed to promote love over debate, some of which I have chosen to focus on in this review.
It explores the fears that gay people have in coming out to their conservative Christian friends and the stigmas that they have faced. The result of those has been an antagonism toward Christians—Marin says he has known gay people who are honest about the fact that they try to “bait” believers in conversation—as well as doubts on how they would be received in conservative circles. Will those friends only see them as gay? How will they be able to relate to a church community? These are questions with which heterosexuals have never struggled.
Orientation also explores the beliefs of gay Christians, whose interpretation of certain biblical passages are obviously different than those of their conservative counterparts.
“Gay Christians believe that the passages in the Bible that condemn same-sex relationships are not referencing long-term, committed monogamous relationships. Rather, the Bible is talking about inhospitality, heterosexual rape, pagan ritual sex and orgies, and pedastry (men having sex with boys)” (73).
Most chapters end with suggestions for Christians on how to apply what they’ve read, and those chapters that don’t end that way nonetheless have useful information. Regarding the anxiety of gay people in relating to their Christian friends, Marin says that conservatives should put themselves in the shoes of gay people and try to imagine what it’d be like to discover that they have a same-sex attraction.
“Christians must be the first to apologize, and admit that we have wronged people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. A bridge cannot be built from just one side of a divide, but the traditional paradigm asks the GLBT community to somehow find their way to the Christian side of the divide before any meaningful contact is made. Until we come to the realization that we don’t understand the GLBT community, nothing substantial can occur” (33).
Other recommended changes among Christians include using “gay”, not “homosexual”, to describe someone with same-sex attraction, as the latter term is not positively seen. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is also something that should be removed from the conversation, as Marin believes that Christians have done more than anyone to equate sexual identity than sexual behavior.
“If behavior equals identity, then hating gay sexual behavior is the same thing as hating the gay person” (46).
Of all the points that Marin makes, his best, in my opinion, is when he notes that Jesus didn’t give one-word, closed-ended answers to people’s questions. It didn’t matter if the inquisitive party was a genuine disciple or an enemy looking to trick him—Jesus chose instead to elevate the conversation by what he said. To follow the way of Christ when relating to the GLBT community, Christians have to do something similar when faced with questions such as whether they think a gay person is going to hell or whether a gay person can change their sexual orientation. (What’s also helpful is that Marin provides some suggested answers to these questions that go beyond the standard, expected responses.)
“None of Jesus’ refocused responses to his enemies were void of passion. Just because he shifted the context of the closed-ended questions from legal to eternal, he wasn’t going to roll over in his convictions. He was merely refusing to treat a complex question simplistically—which is the biblical basis for elevating the conversation in similar situations that Christians find themselves in today with the GLBT community” (181).
What you’ll ultimately get out of Orientation are practical steps to help you build relationships with the gay community. You’ll won’t find the standard arguments, presented here again in a nicer format, but rather the experiences and passion of a man whose efforts to follow Christ ultimately led him to understand and befriend the community that many believers would rather avoid.