Finding God in Boystown
By andrew marin
September 1, 2009
God doesn’t only work when I know what the outcome is going to be. As a straight, conservative, evangelical, 28-year-old male incarnationally living within the broader gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community in Chicago, I’ve had to remind myself of this numerous times.
It seems simple enough. Yet, intellectualizing faith and living it out are two completely different things. The difficult part for the body of Christ is that “not knowing the outcome” is an acceptable means to building bridges with every other population except the GLBT community. With them, we need to definitively know the end of the journey before we even begin because it’s just too political. It’s just too agenda-driven. It’s just too foreign of a “lifestyle” to live out one of the cores of our belief system.
Or is it?
I was raised in a Christian home in a conservative suburb of Chicago and grew up in a large evangelical church. I wanted absolutely nothing to do with the GLBT community. Looking back, I don’t remember hearing anything explicitly defaming them—from either my church or my parents. Homosexuality grossed me out and I wasn’t about to have an in-depth conversation with my pastor or my parents about the subject. I just knew my beliefs were right because I saw gay people on TV and saw strange pictures of cross-dressers in magazines.
For the first 19 years of my life, I was the biggest Bible-banging, homophobic person I knew. I constantly used derogatory language about gay people without ever thinking twice about what I believed or said. I didn’t care about the gay community, nor did I ever want to care about them. That is, until the summer after my freshman year when everything changed.
During the course of three consecutive months, my three best friends all came out to me.
Yes, you read that right. Three best friends. With each of their admissions, I forcefully removed myself from their lives as they told me their truths for the first time. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to react. So I ran. Life was much cleaner and more comfortable living in the structure of the old hierarchy. But what I didn’t realize in my crippling fear was that there are very few times in life when truly sacred moments are shared between people.
“I’m gay” or “I have cancer” or “We lost the baby” or “I’m getting married”—all brief moments when a person chooses to speak their life-changing revelation out loud. Participating in such a moment is an eternal bond regardless of what happens from that moment forward. If we desecrate that trust and violate that moment by turning the focus onto ourselves, we have lost much of what our faith allows us to be.
I lost what my faith allowed me to be—and I didn’t care.
I blindly kept praying, “Lord, why me?” I read books, I searched Scripture and I talked to whoever would listen to my horrible story searching for the answer. I would like to say each book, Scripture or person I talked to pointed me back to love. But in each situation my filter just pointed me back to being justified in my own woes.
After a few months of not finding my answer, I heard in my spirit: “Instead of asking ‘why me,’ you should ask yourself what it must have been like for them to grow up with a Bible-banging homophobe as their best friend.”
That single moment encompassed more spiritual conviction than I had felt my entire life. For the first time, I knew what I needed to do—go back, apologize, and learn how to live and love. This was my chance for a countercultural love. It was tangible, and consisted of a radical love in which I was absolved from my own self-inflicted oppression by the cultural burdens I had placed upon my perceptions of what I thought was a good (i.e. “safe”) Christian life. I realized I could hold on to my theological beliefs and yet be the person of faith who I so boldly claimed myself to be.
There’s a time and a place for ethereal knowledge, and that time and place had passed me long ago. Now was the time to act, live and love. The only way I knew how was to just go—to get involved somehow, someway. So I immersed myself in Chicago’s large GLBT community in a neighborhood called Boystown. Nine years later, my wife and I are still in Boystown, and still learning how to love in the uncomfortable gray areas encompassing faith, sexuality and culture.
People often ask me what is the one piece of advice I have for starting a bridge-building path with the GLBT community. It’s to become the most unique icebreaker by doing nothing other than going somewhere you don’t belong. Stick out like a sore thumb and humbly walk in the knowledge that God doesn’t only work when we know what the outcome is going to be. And then watch the Lord move in ways humanity thinks impossible.
Andrew Marin is the author of Love Is an Orientation (InterVarsity Press). He and his wife live in Boystown, a predominantly GLBT neighborhood in Chicago. Find out more at www.themarinfoundation.org and love-is-an-orientation.blogspot.com.