A decade ago, when we moved to Walltown and were getting to know our neighbors, my friend Andy Marin moved to Boystown in Chicago. Like me, Andy is an evangelical Christian. In the churches where he came to faith and learned what it means to be a disciple, he had been told that homosexuality was a sin. In the locker room where he hung out as an athlete, he’d learned to make fun of “fags.” But when Andy learned that some of his closest male friends were gay, he had to re-think his easy assumptions about Christianity and homosexuality. Andy realized that though his struggle was personal, it wasn’t private. It was a crisis at the heart of evangelical Christianity.
So, for the past decade Andy has lived in the midst of Chicago’s LGBT community, learning from his neighbors what it means to be gay in America and facilitating a dialogue between the religious and LGBT communities. His work with the Marin Foundation has been celebrated as both biblically faithful and missionally engaged.
And in the past couple of years, people around the world have begun to recognize the Marin Foundation as a center for genuine good news in the midst of a contentious debate that so often divides Christian communities. Andy has become a consultant not only to Christian organizations and denominations, but also to the White House and the United Nations on these issues. I love how he summarizes the heart of the gospel in the midst of this contentious debate: “Love, ” Andy likes to say, “is our orientation.”
I was glad to visit with Andy when he was in town last week because the hope that he’s seen on the ground in Boystown and is sharing with folks around the world is sorely needed here in North Carolina. In our state primary election on May 8th, North Carolinians will vote on an amendment to the constitution that would say “marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.” The amendment is proposed as a defense of family values and has been officially supported by some churches and denominational offices. I am sympathetic with these brothers and sisters who lament the breakdown of families and local communities in our society. I agree that we need to find ways to bear witness to genuine, biblical family values.
But I am also convinced that an amendment like this will not help us. As a matter fact, friendships like those that the Marin Foundation promotes help me to see that it could hurt us all.
Whatever a Christian’s position on sexual ethics, friendships with folks in the LGBT community can help us in two important ways vis-à-vis the proposed Amendment One. First, these friends remember how anti-gay rhetoric has been used throughout history. A brief survey of the 20th century reveals that “Christian” organizations that have organized against homosexuals include Nazis in Germany and the Ku Klux Klan here in America’s South. Of course, many churches have taught that homosexuality is not faithful Christian practice. But those same churches have taught their flocks to love their neighbors as themselves and to stand for the cause of the downtrodden. When we remember history with gay friends, I think it’s pretty easy to see that we don’t want to be counted among those Christians who have organized themselves against homosexuals.
But that is not all. Maybe even more important than saving us from lining up with the KKK is that gay friends can see more clearly the unintended consequences of our brothers and sisters who are trying to defend traditional marriage. Because these laws have affected LGBT folk in other places, they know stories about how similar laws in other states have not only made it illegal for homosexual partners to share an insurance policy, for example, but also for a grandmother and her single-mother daughter to share the same policy. They know stories about how, when similar amendments were enacted in other states, perpetrators of domestic violence were released from prison because the relationship in which they committed their abuse was no longer considered a “domestic partnership.”
Observations like these—points that I might have missed without the insight of gay friends—also make me think about the family of God that I get to be part of at Rutba House here in Walltown. As we have lived as a Christian community and a hospitality house for friends in need, our imagination of a “biblical family” has expanded. I still believe what the good North Carolina Baptists who raised me had crocheted on their table cloths: “The family that prays together stays together.” But when we say our grace before dinner each evening here, it’s not just me and Leah and our children at the table. God has extended our table to include sisters and brothers who’ve taught us what it means to be the family of God. When we get up for morning prayer each day, the unity we celebrate as we bow before the Trinity certainly includes the marriage of “one man and one woman.” But it extends far beyond that. This “domestic partnership” is an extended family of sisters and brothers united in Spirit.
This is why, as I’ve listened to the debates about Ammendment One in North Carolina, my position has become increasingly simple. Each evening at dinner, when I look around the table, I ask myself, “Should this family be illegal?” I never have to give it a second thought. When I pass the potatoes and take the garden salad from whomever is next to me, I know without a doubt the answer is “no.”
If you’re in the Durham area, I’m joining my friends Jay Bakker, Margot Starbuck, Ginger Brasher-Cunningham, and David LaMotte for a gathering of people of faith against the amendment at the Trotter Building downtown (410 W Geer St). We’ll meet after church this Sunday, April 22, at 1pm, then head over for early voting at the downtown board of elections. Would love for you to join us. And invite your friends.
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is the author of The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture and Common Prayer. He is an author, speaker, and activist who currently resides in Raleigh, NC at the Rutba House. You can reach him at his website, www.jonathanwilsonhartgrove.com