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Jun 12 2012

Founder of “bridge-building” Christian/LGBT organization refuses to say that being gay isn’t a sin

The Marin Foundation received widespread attention from a back-patting post by one of its members, who wrote “I Hugged a Man in His Underwear” after attending a pride parade (an achievement which, honestly, elicited little more than a “so what” from me). While many people were pleasantly surprised to see Christians apologizing for religious homophobia, a closer look at the Marin Foundation revealed that the organization isn’t quite so innocuous, and the impression that they accept LGBT people isn’t all that accurate. A 2006 story about Andrew Marin in the Chicago Reader reports:

Marin may be more comfortable with homosexuality than the average evangelical, but he shares a belief in the Bible as the inerrant word of God. Which invites the question: does he consider homosexuality a sin?

When I ask it, Marin writes the question down on a piece of paper and studies it carefully. “It’s theologically sloppy to say it’s not a sin,” he replies. But he quickly adds that all Christians are sinners, according to Romans 3:23. “We’re all dealing with something.”

In their FAQ, the Marin Foundation won’t give a direct answer to “Do you think homosexuality is a sin?”, instead dismissing the validity of the question entirely:

The one common theme of these “Big 5” is that they are all close-ended, yes-or-no questions. Each of them must be answered with one word and they are all meant to end conversation. Based solely on one’s close-ended answers, it is easy to label, judge and dismiss the other community entirely. Thus we dehumanize a community based off of a word rather than create a productive conversation. In essence, by close-ended answers either the Christian or the LGBT community judges who you are, what you believe, whose team you’re on and how you should be treated.

Most recently, Marin himself refused to tell pro-LGBT Christian activist John Shore that being gay isn’t a sin. Some people defended this by claiming that it was impossible for the Marin Foundation to answer this one way or the other, because doing so would alienate either the conservative Christians or the LGBT people that the organization is trying to reach out to and bring together. This is a poor excuse, because refusing to say that being gay isn’t a sin is alienating to LGBT people anyway. Marin’s silence indicates that either he does believe that being gay is a sin, or he doesn’t but lacks the courage to say so outright. Both of these possibilities are disrespectful to LGBT people.

The question is so simple that evading it is a reliable sign of dishonesty. If sin is defined as transgressing a binding moral code that’s defined by a deity, then being gay or having a gay relationship is either a contravention of that moral code, or it is not. It is a sin, or it is not. For atheists, this is an especially easy question to answer, because there is no deity to define such a moral code in the first place. In the case of religious believers, if they make any claim to know the content of this divinely commanded moral code in any other context, then asking them how this applies to LGBT people should be fair game. And Marin’s “whatever, everything’s a sin” approach still uniquely stigmatizes gay people in a way that straight people are not.

He does get one thing right: a yes or no answer to whether being gay is a sin really does make it easy to label and judge people and what they believe. What he doesn’t understand is that this is the point. The answer to the question does tell us what they believe – it tells us whether they believe that the almighty creator of the universe, whose powers extend to rewriting morality itself, has decreed that our lives are contrary to its will. There is nothing wrong with simply wanting a clear answer on whether they believe this is the case, and a direct question is only intimidating to people like Andrew Marin who won’t give an unambiguous reply. That’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

13 comments

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  1. 1
    The Lorax

    The worst bit is that he seems to be intentionally dodging the question.

    I’m fine with someone saying, “I honestly don’t know” or “for reasons I cannot reveal, I cannot answer that question” or even “let me talk to some people and find out”, because at least then they’re answering the question honestly. Dodging the question is, more often than not, done because you don’t want to tell the truth, and that’s either blatantly dishonest or pretty damn close to it. Plus, if you do it poorly, everyone knows you’re doing it.

    Stuff like this should be immediately and viciously followed up with, “Can you please answer with a definitive ‘yes’ or ‘no’, or if you cannot, can you explain why and cite relevant passages from the bible or other authority figure within the church?”

  2. 2
    Kaoru Negisa

    What I absolutely don’t get about this one is that Andrew Marin is running on a fundamentally flawed idea and you touched on it a little bit. The thing is, people who believe homosexuality is a sin *should* be alienated. They should be marginalized and relegated to the outskirts of society. They are holding an abhorrent idea with no support other than that their imaginary friend thinks gays are icky. Not wanting to marginalize them is as ridiculous as not wanting to marginalize people who don’t believe in interracial marriage or interfaith marriage.

    And I can understand the “building bridges” idea, but if you’re not clear about your goal, you’re not actually building a bridge to anyplace. Building bridges in the gay rights struggle involves bringing people over to a position of acceptance, it doesn’t mean occupying a vague middle so as not to offend anybody. That doesn’t actually accomplish anything.

  3. 3
    placeholder

    I think it’s pretty obvious that they consider homosexuality to be a sin: the Bible tells them so. But if they want to “build bridges” between conservative Christians and the LGBT community, however vague that sounds, then does it really matter? They will always be Christian after all, and when you ask them to give a simple yes or no answer what you’re really asking them to do is to confront head on the discrepancies within the Bible and the huge gulf between the laws that it sets out and the lives that we lead today. That’s a risky business for them. It’s one thing to foster an inclusive attitude towards gays, it’s another to openly contradict the word of God. I guess it’s annoying when Christians display any kind of decency or reason because you think, well why can’t you just go the whole hog then and consider the absurdity of what you believe and that by choosing to believe it you are perpetuating long-held prejudices and injustices and standing in the way of progress. But the gay issue and the whether or not the Bible is bullshit issue are two very different birds that one stone won’t kill. If showing you any kind of support means that they have to openly undermine the Bible, then you’re going to lose that support. And maybe you wouldn’t want it anyway, coming as it does from people who in their hearts believe you to be sinners. But does it really serve your purposes to alienate one of the few religious groups who genuinely seem like they want to allay homophobia in the church, by forcing them to acknowledge a cognitive dissonance in the hopes that they’ll self-destruct. Skirting the issue might be problematic, but it facilitates a baby step in the right direction. Pick your battles. And be careful about turning down allies where you find them.

    1. 3.1
      Mike

      If they think GSRM people deserve to be tortured for eternity, I don’t want them as my ally. They don’t want to help GSRM people; they want to fix them. This is nothing but a shady way to propigate their own faith. The question of whether or not their religion is wrong is entirely seperate from this issue. Many denominations of pro-LGBT christians exist. Their faith is no excuse for their bigotry.

    2. 3.2
      Zinnia Jones

      “If showing you any kind of support means that they have to openly undermine the Bible, then you’re going to lose that support.”

      I think it’s worth pointing out that LGBT-affirming Christians have developed a number of rationalizations and interpretations which allow them to support the full equality of LGBT people while also adhering to the Christian faith as they see it. This avenue should be open to these particular Christians, unless they actually do believe that saying homosexuality is not sinful unavoidably means undermining the Bible. Yet even if that is their stance, they still seem to shy away from making it clear.

    3. 3.3
      Kaoru Negisa

      I see what you’re saying, but not ally allies are actually allies. Hugging a gay man while voting against his rights does no actual good, and very kindly believing people to be abominations is not actually kindness. There’s a strain of thought that it’s enough to be nice while you’re working against people and fostering negative attitudes about them, but it really isn’t. What Andrew Marin does isn’t actually love or acceptance, it’s pity, and I don’t think it’s a good step for a group to simply feel bad for the LGBT community because it isn’t exactly like them.

  4. 4
    Paul Durrant

    If they won’t give a yes or no answer to that question, it just means that their answer is yes, but they are unwilling to say so.

    1. 4.1
      RW Ahrens

      I think it’s a bit more nuanced than that.

      Many christians cherry pick their beliefs, and Evangelicals are no different. The fact is, most christians, in fact, take their real morals from the larger society around them, like the rest of us do. It is absorbed through constant social contact and interactions with everybody else they come into contact with.

      The theological problems occur when they are confronted with these difficult commandments in Deuteronomy and Leviticus which modern society has relegated to the dustbin of history as being too barbaric and awful to enforce. The more fanatical elements of christianity have decided that the one single most important commandment of those two terrible books to obey is the one about homosexuality. They cannot reveal the criteria for picking this one out of all the rest, but it is probably because the others are, strictly speaking, either illegal or just ridiculous. The gay thing is safe, socially speaking, because they won’t get arrested for “enforcing” it, and most of society won’t toss them under the bus for being nut cases, because most straights don’t know gays and don’t understand the issues they face.

      (Fact is, when they do, they tend to understand and become much more tolerant, as recent history has shown.)

      But don’t ask christians to reveal their criteria for cherry picking, either they can’t because they haven’t thought about it and just don’t realize why they do what they do, or they do know it, but are too embarrassed to utter it out loud, even to themselves.

      I’ve talked about this in more detail in my own blog, The Cybernetic Atheist, at blogspot.com.

      1. Paul Durrant

        But the question wasn’t why they thought homosexuality was a sin, while wearing mixed fibre clothing wasn’t. It was just whether they thought it was a sin.

        The answer to that question is nothing to do with how one picks and chooses among bible verses. It only requires knowing what one has chosen.

        Thinking about it further, I suppose I was a bit harsh in my statement. Another acceptable answer would be “We’re not sure.”

        “We’re not sure” is an answer the can lead to further discussions. But they haven’t given that answer.

        Their true answer is obviously “Yes, homosexuality is a sin.”

  5. 5
    Sean

    I’m not a big fan of “gotcha” journalism. Of course, if the guy is an evangelical Christian, his religion teaches him that homosexuality is a sin. Of course he is going to dodge the question because he knows the answer is divisive–which is more an indication of sincerity than answering that question truthfully would be. You could have reframed that question and posed it to the gay group as: do you think the Bible is a lie because it says homosexuality is a sin? I would expect similar evasion.

    If evangelicals are trying to reach out to gays, that’s a good thing and it needs to be encouraged. Asking questions that are framed in a way that they cannot be answered without harming the process is pretty underhanded, in my view. Imagine showing up at a reunion of Japanese and American WWII vets and asking the Japanese if they approved of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and then asking the Americans if they thought nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki was justified. This is pissing in the punchbowl at the peace party.

    Some questions are better left unasked in the interest of peace. If some Christians are trying to evolve their religion, FFS let them.

    1. 5.1
      Zinnia Jones

      I suppose I don’t see such questions as “gotcha” journalism so much as basic journalism – if a religious organization is trying to find common ground for conservative Christians and LGBT people, it seems obvious to ask what their theological views on homosexuality are. If anything, this would be pretty fundamental. Other than “yes” or “no” on the question of whether they view it as sinful, I think “we don’t really get into that” might also be at least somewhat acceptable, but once Marin starts talking about which stances are “theologically sloppy”, then there’s really no way to get out of articulating their beliefs on homosexuality and Christianity.

      And while I’m sure certain professional LGBT advocacy groups would give a pragmatic and PR-optimized answer to whether they think the Bible is a lie (I do see the “gotcha” phrasing there, as “lie” denotes an intention to deceive), I’m confident that plenty of everyday people wouldn’t hesitate to say that biblical injunctions against homosexuality are outdated, inapplicable, and irrelevant to the laws of a pluralistic nation with a secular government.

      I don’t see evangelical attempts at outreach to the LGBT community as inherently a good thing, because all too often that outreach is on their terms: in order to accept us, they in turn might expect us to acknowledge that our “lifestyle” is sinful, or something else that requires denying our own equality. I wouldn’t blame any person who decides that their human dignity is more important than gaining the support of evangelicals.

      If an honest answer to the question of their theological stance really does harm their attempts at reconciliation, then it’s worth considering what this means. If their success depends on hiding the fact that their views might be unacceptable to either or both of the parties they work with, do they really deserve that success even if their intentions seem noble? While gaining the support of Christians for the LGBT community is certainly a worthy goal – if indeed the Marin Foundation seeks to achieve this goal in any concrete sense – this will only be accomplished by confronting and untangling and unflinchingly answering the actual issues at hand, rather than glossing over the real points of disagreement and just telling everyone to get along.

      1. Your Dogma is Showing

        BAM. I like this blog already. I get cranky really fast when I see people using religion as an excuse for abhorrent behavior (funny thing I ended up at ftb, eh?). It’s even worse when they pretend that being bigoted is somehow a pious, moral, or defendable position.

        If he feels like he’s being called out for being an asshole, it’s because he’s being called out for being an asshole. The fact that lots of people have been assholes for a long time doesn’t excuse his behavior.

        I’ve got to shut up before I waste the rest of my day ranting in his general direction.

  6. 6
    Pas

    Being gay isn’t a Sin. But gay people show a lot of Pride which is the greatest of all Sins
    Including Vanity in it.

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