This post is the conclusion to what I wrote in “Part 1”.
That Friday morning, I was riding the train from West Michigan down to St. Louis. I arrived in Chicago only a few minutes late, and had a little over an hour to make it across town to meet with Kevin Harris and Andrew Marin.
After I exited the train, I rushed to get a bus pass and entrusted my destiny to the reliability of my phone’s Google Map application to find me a bus route to the north side of Chicago. A couple of attempts later, I boarded the 22 bus northbound and waited. I had written down a few topics and questions that I wanted to discuss with Andrew, but was still not sure what to expect. I expected that to them, I was just some kid fresh out of college who doesn’t have a position of influence or anything to offer them. I doubted whether or not this was even a good idea. As I passed Wrigley Field and knew that I was getting closer to Boystown, many of my concerns were set aside when I realized the man that just boarded the bus and sat down in front of me was Andrew Marin. I got his attention and introduced myself. He was friendly and told me he’d walk me over to their office when we got there.
On the walk over, we discussed baseball (he’s a Cubs fan, and I’m a Tigers fan). He told me a little bit about playing Division 1 baseball in college (on the same team as Curtis Granderson, my favorite former Tiger) and asked me a few questions about what brought me through Chicago.
When we arrived in the tiny office that Andrew shares with the rest of The Marin Foundation staff (Kevin and Nathan), he sat down to get some work done and I went out to lunch with Kevin Harris. Kevin is Andrew’s assistant and is in charge of community relations for The Marin Foundation. Kevin shared about some of the things they’ve been working on and about the crazy amount of attention their “I’m Sorry” Campaign has been receiving. We shared stories with each other and then walked back to the office.
Once there, Andrew and I got a chance to get to know one another. He shared some about a recent trip to Vienna where he was attempting to assist the UN as they reach out to folks all across the spectrum on AIDS prevention and treatment.
I also talked with him about the wide range of criticism and encouragement he has been facing since Pride weekend at the end of June. I got to share how his book had impacted me and caused me to re-assess how I love others. Andrew often talks about “living in the tension” when it comes to the complexities of faith and sexuality, and his book has certainly made the tension a better place to be.
I also asked to know more about what it looks like for the church to love the gay community in a real and tangible way.
Andrew shared with me his thoughts on faithfulness and how that plays out in our relationships with one another: gay, straight, Christian, non-Christian. He told me he believes “Faithfulness is the new evangelism.” In fact, faithfulness is the only thing that truly builds the Kingdom and sustains relationships modeled after the way Christ loved. Marin said that this sort of faithfulness was characterized by sticking by somebody through it all, whether they’re in line with where you think they should be or not. Being faithful to someone means they know you’ll “have their back until their dying day.”
When talking about this, he quotes Billy Graham. During the Clinton scandal of the late 90’s, Billy Graham was asked why he was still offering his support to the president. Graham responded “It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and my job to love.”
Marin takes this responsibility to love very seriously, and says that it’s really the core of what we’re called to do. That’s our job in how we relate to everyone: gay, straight, Christian, non-Christian.
As I wrestled with Andrew’s approach to the gay community of letting God convict and change hearts, I often came back to the passage in Matthew 18 where Jesus taught us how to interact with a brother who is in sin. Jesus lays out a process of going to a brother in sin first one-on-one to show them where they are in sin. If he or she will not listen, then approach them with one or two others. If they still do not listen, then take it to the entire community of believers. From this “last resort”, the person in sin is to be treated as a non-believer.
One of the things I had been planning to ask Andrew was how he reconciled Matthew 18 with his stance of simply being faithful and loving towards the gay community.
Most of Evangelical Christianity holds that all homosexual relationships are sin. From that position, they often create a barrier that prevents them from being able to love a gay person. They have a fear and anxiety that if they love their gay friend unconditionally and their friend eventually meets Jesus and begins to follow Him, that they’ll have to renege on their unconditional love to “call out” their gay friend’s sin. This creates a tension of wondering when they should “call out” their friend. Should it be when they’re getting close to accepting Jesus, or maybe up front before you even talk about Jesus. Maybe it should wait until after they’ve been following Christ a few months.
Marin would say that it’s not our job to convict people of their sin or to judge them. It’s simply our job to love.
So, what do we do with Matthew 18?
As I re-read Matthew 18 on the train to Chicago, I came across something that I had never noticed before.
15“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Did you catch it?
Jesus lays out clearly that this teaching is NOT about giving us the ground rules for how we can most self-righteously call one another out. This teaching is NOT about one Christian exercising control over the life of another. This teaching is given for when “your brother sins against you“. This teaching is about restoring relationships when we inevitably hurt one another. He’s laying out how to love one another when we have been wronged.
Seeing the words “against you” for the first time stopped me in my tracks. When I was talking to Andrew Marin, I asked him about what he did with Matthew 18, but also added what I had noticed while reading on the train. In that moment after I brought up my observation, we were both silent. The fullness of Christ’s words and the intentions He had for us to be reconciled and to love one another unconditionally hung heavily in the room. I considered all the ways I missed the boat in that area. And for Marin, the simplicity of the words “against you” seemed to help one more piece of the puzzle slide into place for how we as the church relate to those around us. These two words had been there all along, but for years I had ignored them and I had heard them ignored in countless sermons and discussions.
Actually living this out requires giving up responsibility for another person’s life. It means that your primary concern is no longer being right but loving right. It means that we have to trust God to be in control. A simple, yet daunting task.
Moving forward from there, we resumed our conversation talking about ways that local churches can begin building bridges with the gay community. We talked about how many gay folks move away from rural and small town areas to come to the bigger cities where they can join a larger GLBT community. We discussed how it seems that Christians and gay folks are starting to listen to each other more, and it’s really only the furthest liberal and furthest conservative camps who are digging in their heels.
At one point, I asked him about how he balances some of the national and international work The Marin Foundation is doing with the face-to-face relational ministry they have had going for years. He said that it helps living right there in the neighborhood and knowing that Kevin and Nathan can be there even if he’s out of town. His first commitment is always to the community he’s lived in for 10 years, and he plans to stay faithful to the folks there no matter how much work he does elsewhere.
Then, after all questions had been asked and stories had been shared, we prayed together.
Andrew walked me back to my bus, and I made my way back to the train station where my journey would continue down to St. Louis. I jotted down a few of my thoughts from our conversation, and marveled at the fact that I had been welcomed in by two strangers with whom I had only Jesus in common.
We had never met before, but by the time I left, I considered them to be friends. They encouraged me, and I tried to find ways to lift them up and encourage them. My time filled me with a sense of hope, knowing that I had just met brothers in Christ who were living out this Kingdom life, too. They were wrestling through the ins and outs of faith the same as I was. Just as I am learning to do, they chose to love first without having all the answers spelled out in black-and-white.