It's become one of the main issues of our time. It's a spiritual question, a relational question, and, in past decades, a highly politicized one. You'll find extremely strong opinions on both sides, and these polarized opinions can lead to confrontation, heated argument, broken relationships, even violence.
The issue: homosexuality.
The complexity of the issue is sometimes hidden beneath the same old rhetoric from both sides. One side tends to boil it down to a simple injunction to stop, often in very insensitive ways. The other side, defensive and angry, has its own tendencies to resort to inflammatory language and hate of its own. How can a bridge be built between these two communities?
Enter Andrew Marin and his book, Love is an Orientation.
Let me be clear about something up front. As a conservative (both theologically and politically), bible-believing Christian, I found a decent amount in this book that I disagreed with. I even found myself answering some of Marin's statements out loud. For the most part, however, I found myself challenged to take on a quality that the Christian community claims to value: empathy.
That's really the strength of this book. You might not agree with all that Marin says (I certainly didn't), but his ability to put you in the shoes of members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered (GLBT) community is powerful. This is a quality missing from much of the discussion Christians have regarding the issue of homosexuality. It's easy to look at the passages in the bible that condemn homosexuality and think things are clear-cut; don't do it. The issue isn't really that simple, however, for GLBT people who desire to walk with God, but struggle to reconcile their sexual desires with God's revelations in scripture. Others who don't want anything to do with God simply hear a condemnation of their identity from Christians, which only confirms they want nothing to do with the God of those people.
Andrew Marin has learned empathy by immersing himself in Boystown, the GLBT neighborhood in Chicago, and forming The Marin Foundation, which works to build bridges between the GLBT community and the Christian community. Marin draws from this experience throughout the book, sharing stories of GLBT people he's encountered, detailing their stories and struggles. Some are powerful. Some give hope. Some of downright depressing. The same can be said of people from any group. Marin successfully and powerfully puts a human face on the issue, which is sorely needed for many to see.
There are a few problems with the book, though. For one, Marin never really articulates accurately what the gospel is and how it applies to the GLBT community. He talks about them having an "authentic relationship with God," but there's no discussion of specifically how Jesus' death on the cross saves people from God's wrath against their sin, enabling that relationship to happen. I'm certain Marin understands this, but I would have loved to hear a discussion of this in the context of the GLBT community. He's just a little too vague on the gospel for me.
He also refuses to really answer the question of whether or not homosexuality is a sin. I understand why he does this for the purposes of the book, but it just left me thinking that it eventually has to be answered for GLBT people at some point. He seems content leaving that decision up to the individuals and letting the Holy Spirit speak to them on the validity of their sexuality. I agree the Holy Spirit is the one who convicts of sin, but we're also called to help each other identify sin in our lives.
These issues aside, I think this is an important book for furthering (and elevating, as Marin puts it) the discussion. There are still many questions that beg for answers, and I believe those answers are there, but the discussion needs to be re-framed. I believe that happens when Christians really put themselves in the shoes of GLBT people, really love them regardless of whether or not they ever change their lifestyle. We don't have to water-down the truth, but love for the people that truth is affecting needs a more prominent place. That's the main thrust of the book, and it's an important message.