“To be a Conversational Church”
A Review of
Love is an Orientation:
Elevating the Conversation
with the Gay Community.
by Andrew Marin.
Reviewed by Chris Smith.
In his first book, Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community, Andrew Marin tells the story of how he immersed himself in the Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual and Transgender (GLBT) community and likewise encourages us to befriend people in the gay community. Andrew’s journey took him from being a homophobe in high school to having three close friends come out to him in college, which led him on his present quest to learn more about and build friendships within the GLBT community. His story is a moving one, demonstrating the transforming power of God at work in both the evangelical and gay communities. The respect that he has earned in at least some parts of the GLBT community is a testimony to the virtues of love, friendship and conversation at work in his life. By telling stories and explaining facets of the gay experience, Love is an Orientation seeks to tear down the walls of fear and bitterness that have long separated the evangelical and GLBT communities.
The cultural warfare between evangelicals and the GLBT community is escalated because both sides feed off the sort of generalizations and demonizing that come from not being in relationships with people on the other side. Thus, Marin seeks to diffuse this conflict by insisting that evangelicals make the first step and intentional make friends among those in the GLBT community. “Every stereotype can be broken with a face, and every face has a story,” he says (186). To build incarnational friendships in this way is a significant work of peacemaking that deserves our attention.
Although Andrew is doing some important work here and although his message is an inspiring one, there are some significant theological issues with Love is An Orientation, as a recent review by Wesley Hill on the Books and Culture website pointed out. Andrew frequently reminds us of his commitments to both evangelicalism and conservative theology. Thus, toeing the traditional evangelical line, Christian faith is presented here as an individual and very personal matter. Thus, the place of the church community in these conversations is marginal at best, as Hill emphasizes in his review. However, I believe that one can take Marin’s theological foibles with a grain of salt and still find some deep meaning in the practices that he encourages. If there are no relationships built on mutual trust and respect – the kind that Marin is prodding us toward – then issues like the corporate discernment, “costly solidarity” and “pastoral accountability” that Hill finds lacking in Marin’s perspective are a moot point. Certainly, among most evangelicals, Marin’s targeted audience, the primary task at the present is to break down fears and stereotypes and to nurture friendships across the evangelical-GLBT divide.
Indeed, the practices that Marin recommends here in regard to the GLBT community should apply equally well across any of the other barriers that divide us: ethnicity, race, economics, age, etc. We need to recover practices of friendship and honest dialogue with those within our church communities, as well as those without. (I should emphasize here that Marin is to be commended for promoting both friendship and doctrinal honesty, for it is easy for us to tend in one of these directions at the expense of the other.) To be a conversational church, actively seeking God’s direction together in a particular place, seems to be a verdant vision for the life of the church in this postmodern age. John Howard Yoder has said, “Because God the Spirit speaks in the meeting, conversation is the setting for truth-finding. That is true in the local assembly and in wider assemblies, in the faith community and in wider groups” (Body Politics 70). I realize that this ecclesiological calling goes well beyond what Marin offers in Love is An Orientation, but the practices he names point us in this direction, and could serve well to stoke our imaginations with thoughts of how similar conversational practices could be employed to start building bridges of reconciliation across many of the cultural divides that separate humanity. I challenge readers to take Marin’s work here, and especially the sixteen “commitments” that he describes in the final part of the book, seriously and to consider how churches might continue to reconcile with the GLBT community. Furthermore, I would also encourage a second reading of Marin’s commitments with an eye toward how such practices could be utilized toward the ends of reconciliation across other cultural barriers.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com