of gays and gods: thoughts about closed-ended questions

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Thursday, April 30th, 2009

of gays and gods: thoughts about closed-ended questions

how’s that for a title of a post?? 🙂

there are two responses to questions that are absolutely unhelpful: yes and no.
these answers do very little to engage a thoughtful dialogue and ongoing conversation. they’re highly sought out, though, given a culture—highly prevalent within the church—of closed-ended questions.
closed-ended questions are questions that elicit a single word reponse: either yes or no. they are questions that need little more than one of those words. they close off the conversation. they put to rest the need to engage a helpful and mutually beneficial dialogue.
within the church (and, really, within the broader american cultural context), there’s no other closed-ended set of questions that has, sadly, become a dividing line than questions surrounding the topic of homosexuality. this has become the proverbial line in the sand within the american church. for reasons that i can honestly say i don’t fully understand, this issue has been and continues to be the most divisive set of theologies and most polemic conversation within the church.
recently i heard andrew marin—founder of the marin foundation—talk about the concept of closed-ended questions in regard to homosexuality. the marin foundation is a very unique and much-needed organization that’s primary goal is to build bridges between the church and the gay community. to say it’s much-needed is a vast understatement. here’s how the marin foundation describes itself:

We are the very first organization that works to build a bridge between the religious and Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) communities in a non-threatening, research and biblically oriented fashion. Our unique approach is one that strategically reaches out and partners with both religious and GLBT organizations; working closely with each to make a sustainable, structural difference for the Kingdom in today’s socially driven secular and religious cultures.

the marin foundation isn’t out on a witch hunt to convert gays into good, god-fearing people or to “fix” gay people, but rather, to educate both the religious community and the glbt community about ways to close gaps and create mutual understanding. above all, the marin foundation tries to equip religious people to place an ethic of love above all others (just like that one guy…what’s his name?…oh, yeah, jesus…) and to genuinely befriend and create a dialogue with the gay community.
in this interview, marin engaged the idea of closed-ended questions in which he listed what he calls the “five litmus test questions.” he says he gets these questions from both gay people and religious people. they are the following:
1. do you think that being gay is a sin?
2. do you think gay people can change?
3. do you think gay people are born that way?
4. can gay people be gay and christian?
5. are gay people going to hell?
what is common with these five questions is, of course, that they all seek a single word response: yes or no. these questions are much more complex and deserve a much fuller and healthier response than a single word provides. all these questions do ultimately is create a hurtful and false “us vs. them” dichotomy.
there’s really only two reasons people want to ask these questions. first, people already know what the answer “should” be. second, and most sad, is that, because they already have the answer, they’re trying to find the most succinct way to figure out if you’re on “their team” or the “other team”. the rationale that pairs with this second reason is that once one is able to see what your answer is, it then informs them about who you are, what you believe, and how then to treat you. if you answer the same as me, then i know you’re good, you’re right, you’re smart or you’re “orthodox” (in the case of christians). also, i know that if you answer “wrong” then that means i treat you badly: i exclude you from my group, i don’t include you in my conversations, i don’t let you in my clubs and organizations, i make sure your opinion is devalued in other areas of conversation.
marin went on to bring jesus into the conversation (ooh…the plot thickens…). he said he decided to research how many times jesus was asked closed-ended questions and then to see how he responded. 25 times, he says, jesus was asked these types of questions. 15 of them were from “enemies” (pharisees, sadducees, pilate) and 10 were from friends (disciples, john the baptist, woman at the well). only 3 times did jesus offer a single word response. BUT, even that is a bit misleading because all 3 of those single word responses were given during his “trial” (in other words, it was never in the context of ministry). jesus knew that the message of redemption and reconciliation and wholeness couldn’t be boiled down to or “sound-bited” down to a single word.
ultimately, what we see in jesus is a never-ending, never-discriminating ethic of love. jesus loved people first. period. that doesn’t mean that jesus wasn’t interested in people living lives that outwardly reflected him, but it certainly does mean that jesus looked for ways to connect people and value people and accept people, not falsely divide people and tear down his work of reconciliation.
closed-ended questions are irrelevant. the 5 “litmus test” questions, marin suggests, are also simply irrelevant. that makes some people cringe, but it’s the truth. while many people within the church (and outside the church, quite frankly) want to argue about whether or not gay people are born that way or whether or not gay people are going to hell, i would encourage those who claim to follow in the way of jesus to build bridges and love people and seek understanding. i encourage us (as tony campolo so keenly points out in the video below) to pull the plank out of our own eye before we go pointing out the tiny specks in others’ eyes. let us learn—in the words of the title of marin’s new book—that love, not sexuality, is an orientation that should define much more intimately than which sex we choose to love.
while reading in anticipation of writing this post, i stumbled across some videos produced by an organization that i’m not very familiar with called new direction ministries. they feature several prominent names within the christian world, including a couple of my favorites, tony campolo and brian mclaren. they’re worth taking a look at.