Tag Archives: Pop Culture

The wait is (nearly) over & a radio interview

I’ve been frustrated the past couple of months when the target date for release of Queer Clergy moved from Nov 15 to Dec 1 to Dec 30 and then to Jan 15. Thus, I was relieved when I received an email late yesterday from my contact at Pilgrim Press, announcing, “Great news – advance copies of your book are here, so yes, they should be available by Jan. 15.” What has seemed hypothetical and elusive is about to become real.

About the same time, I received an email from Presbyterian clergyman and radio host, Rev. John Shuck. When I first started this blog nearly five years ago, his blog, Shuck and Jive, appeared on my first blog rolls. Last November, he moved his efforts to his new Religion for Life website that was centered around his public radio program of the same name. Religion for Life is carried by a handful of radio stations in Tennesee (Pastor Shuck’s home), Virginia, and Nebraska. Pastor Shuck uses his radio program to conduct interviews, and his impressive list of luminaries includes: Bishop John Shelby Spong, Reza Aslan (the Muslim author of the popular book, The Zealot), Barbara Kingsolver, Marcus Borg, Kathleen Norris, NT Wright, and many others.

And now me.

The email received from Rev. Shuck included a link to the interview he conducted with me that aired a week or two ago that is now available in podcast format. For better or worse, here it is. Click this link to listen to the interview.

When Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber talks, Lutherans listen

Nadia Bolz-Weber

I was one of 500 or so who packed the sanctuary of Central Lutheran in downtown Minneapolis last night to listen to ELCA rock star, Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, as part of her whirlwind tour to promote her spiritual memoir, Pastrix.

Rev. Bolz-Weber, a tall, slender, dark-haired, heavily tattooed, “cyber-punk” pastor and a self-described “cranky, post-modern gal of the emerging church a la Luther,” rocked this audience, much as she did the 35,000 screaming teens and chaperones at the most recent ELCA youth convention in New Orleans. The irony is that her counter-culture appearance and hip language born of a prior career as a standup comedian (I’m sure last night was the first occasion that “F-bombs” were dropped inside this hallowed sanctuary) is used to convey a decidedly mainstream Christian, especially Lutheran, message (grace and redemption, saint and sinner, death and resurrection).

I first encountered Rev. Bolz-Weber, long before she became famous, about the time I started this blog back in ‘09, and she had started her own called Sarcastic Lutheran. At that time, I read a story in which her mission church startup to “my people,” the House for All Saints and Sinners in Denver, had provided sanctuary to a lesbian teen who had been booted from her own home. Though Bolz-Weber is straight (she talks about her really cool and good-looking husband), she has been an outspoken LGBT ally. In 2011, Pastor Nadia offered the sermon at the California Rite of Reception for seven gay, lesbian, and transgender Lutheran Pastors. One of them, Pastor Ross Merkel, had been defrocked by the ELCA in the early nineties after he came out to his Bay Area congregation, but the congregation kept him in place and a newly-elected synod bishop did not object. Pastor Nadia calls Pastor Merkel her spiritual mentor, and she embraced Lutheranism in his adult-confirmation class after a childhood of spiritual abuse in a fundamentalist, patriarchal, congregation.

Again, an irony. This outsider and pastor to the outsider has been embraced by the ELCA establishment. Though there were youngsters in the audience last night–including a carload of teens from Iowa who tweeted while traveling north on I-35, “We’re coming! Don’t start on time!”—the audience was mostly middle-aged Lutherans, even elderly, including several hundred clergy from the Twin Cities area.

Before encountering Pastor Merkel and Lutheranism, Pastor Nadia had experienced spiritual healing in AA, where she became sober “by the grace of God and in the fellowship of other recovering alcoholics.” I share this journey with Pastor Nadia, and I have given talks entitled, “I learned all I needed to know about grace in AA.” She also credits a couple of years of Wiccan involvement for healing the patriarchy-inflicted, gender scars of the church of her youth.

Queer Clergy cover jpgJust released this week, Pastrix is already appearing on best-seller lists. As an author whose own book will be released later this year (Queer Clergy: A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism), I must confess to more than a little envy. Maybe I should hire her publicist.

A Wretched Man Movie?

About six weeks ago, I was contacted by a Hollywood screenwriter who expressed interest in adapting A Wretched Man, a novel of Paul the apostle into a screenplayFollowing discussions and negotiations, we have today reached agreement.  The screenwriter, who has been in the movie industry for nearly a decade, shares my vision and passion.  In his first email to me, the screenwriter commented:

I am fascinated by the story and believe that it could make a really intriguing film—something independent, honest, touching … a film that takes these Biblical giants and makes them accessible, human, and endearing.  What I like about your take on the story is that when Paul is wounded—it actually seemed to hurt.  I think a movie like that would speak to many.

Whether A Wretched Man reaches the silver screen or not remains a long shot.  After a screenplay is completed, the screenwriter must then persuade a producer or other monied interests to invest in a film, but I am convinced that the screenwriter has the appropriate experience, expertise, and contacts to give it a good shot.

Indulge me in a bit of fantasy.  For those of you who have read the book, what actor should play the role of Paulos?  Shall I, a la Hitchcock, play a cameo role?  Perhaps the character of Eli the sage?  Or Jubilees, the phantom seer?

Evangelicals and gays

Tony Perkins of the American Family Council, gay-basher in chief, not only doesn’t speak for all Christians, he doesn’t speak for all evangelicals.  Nor do Charles Colson, James Dobson, or Tim LaHaye.  It would seem there is a younger crowd, a new generation, that is raising questions about the traditional evangelical intolerance toward gays.  Yes, the move toward gay equality is advancing at all levels of religious and secular society, even within the quarter most associated with rigorous opposition.

A small but growing group which calls itself Evangelicals Concerned offers support for gays seeking reconciliation of their faith and their sexuality:

Organizations or churches with Evangelical roots have traditionally been the most condemning, exclusionary and antagonistic to Christians who identify as GLBT. This bias has produced untold levels of damage to many children of God and has caused many to abandon their faith traditions or commit suicide. Evangelical organizations are responsible for virtually every attempt to convert GLBT people. EC has challenged the conversion therapy notion for 25 years, standing in the gap and providing healing and safety to thousands of Christians.

The Gay Christian Network (GCN) also consists of mostly evangelical members.  Earlier this summer, I met one of their leaders when we both happened to be workshop presenters at the Lutherans Concerned Convention in Minneapolis.

The Gay Christian Network is a nonprofit ministry serving Christians who happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, and those who care about them.

Like many Christian mothers, Sandy was completely unprepared to learn that her son was gay.

How could he be? Everything she had been taught in church had led her to one conclusion, that gay people were sinful, that they had turned from God, and that they were ultimately condemned to hell. Yet none of that fit the profile of her beloved son. He was a good son, and he loved God. How could he be gay?

For five months after learning of her son’s sexuality, Sandy was a wreck. She was sure that homosexuality was not of God. Yet she loved her son. She needed answers, but she didn’t know where to turn.

Then she found GCN.

FalsaniAn article in the Huffpost this week questioned, Is Evangelical Christianity having a Great Gay Awakening?  Author Cathleen Falsani suggests that she struggled to accommodate traditional evangelical Biblical ethics with the reality of the gay relationships in her circle of friends. 

That was my answer: Love them. Unconditionally, without caveats or exceptions.

I wasn’t sure whether homosexuality actually was a sin. But I was certain I was commanded to love.

For 20 years, that answer was workable, if incomplete. Lately, though, it’s been nagging at me. Some of my gay friends are married, have children and have been with their partners and spouses as long as I’ve been with my husband.

Loving them is easy. Finding clear theological answers to questions about homosexuality has been decidedly not so.

Falsani then discusses a book by none other than Jay Bakker, the son of the famous televangelists of a generation ago, Jim and Tammy Fay Bakker, called Fall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self & Society.

“The simple fact is that Old Testament references in Leviticus do treat homosexuality as a sin … a capital offense even,” Bakker writes. “But before you say, ‘I told you so,’ consider this: Eating shellfish, cutting your sideburns and getting tattoos were equally prohibited by ancient religious law.

“The truth is that the Bible endorses all sorts of attitudes and behaviors that we find unacceptable (and illegal) today and decries others that we recognize as no big deal.”
Leviticus prohibits interracial marriage, endorses slavery and forbids women to wear trousers.

ScrollBakker’s exegesis is quite right, and he could have gone further.  When I have presented workshops interpreting the so-called “clobber passages” of the Bible, I point out that these ancient Hebrew regulations were religious rules and not universal ethics, loosely akin to the modern day ritual of meatless Fridays, formulated from a consistent pattern of Hebrew rituals of boundaries, markers, and insularity.  Don’t do as the Gentiles do.  Don’t mix with the Gentiles.  Don’t mix unlike things.  Don’t mix seeds in your field.  Don’t mix different fabrics in the same garment.  Don’t cavort with the temple prostitutes of the Gentiles (male and female).  Don’t follow the sexual practices of the Gentiles.  Don’t eat meat from animals that confuse their category.  A shellfish doesn’t have fins or swim like a fish; it is an abomination.  Don’t eat shellfish. 

Here is the preface to the chapter in Leviticus that contains the infamous clobber passage:

You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you.

Leviticus 18:3

Ritual regulatory rules of behavior for the ancient Hebrews are complicated, which cannot be adequately addressed here, but perhaps that is the essential point; it’s not as simple or as black and white as the literalists would suggest.  When we understand the context of their ancient formulation, we recognize a ritualistic and symbolic system of separation of a besieged peoples, anxious to preserve their identity against the dangers of assimilation by the empires that dominated them militarily and politically.

Falsani also discussed Bakker’s interpretation of the New Testament, Pauline “clobber passages”, and Bakker again is accurate when he suggests:

Examining the original Greek words translated as “homosexual” and “homosexuality” in three New Testament passages, Bakker (and others) conclude that the original words have been translated inaccurately in modern English.

What we read as “homosexuals” and “homosexuality” actually refers to male prostitutes and the men who hire them. The passages address prostitution — sex as a commodity — and not same-sex, consensual relationships, he says.

Roman art depicting pederastyIn my workshops, I dig deeper.  Modern day Bible versions that include the word “homosexual” are anachronistic at best and political at worst.  Paul used two Greek words, arsenokotai and malakoi, which do not otherwise appear in the writings of the period; thus, it appears he may have coined them himself.  Bakker’s suggestion that the terms refer to prostitution may be correct, but I think the better interpretation is that the terms refer to the Greco-Roman practice of pederasty, involving an aristocrat and a young man or boy, which was fairly common in the period.  Again, attempting to make sense of Paul’s two-thousand year old writings is complicated, and there’s more to it than fits in this blog, but the essential point is that Paul’s writings were conditioned by a 1st century context.  The issues facing Paul were not the same issues we face today. 

Falsani’s experience—“Some of my gay friends are married, have children and have been with their partners and spouses as long as I’ve been with my husband”—persuaded her that the traditional application of the Biblical “clobber passages” didn’t fit for her and for a growing number of her evangelical friends.  She concludes:

Only time will tell whether more evangelical leaders — Emergent, emerging or otherwise — will add their voices to the chorus calling for full and unapologetic inclusion of homosexuals in the life of the church.

But I’m sensing a change in the wind (and the Spirit.)

An inspiring year-end story about a gay teen

Sean SimonsonEarlier we posted about Sean Simonson, a high school student in the Twin Cities metro area who wrote an op-ed piece in his student newspaper.  His article was his personal response to the wave of news about bullying and suicides of gay teens.  Entitled Life as a Gay Teenager, the article served as his public “coming out” although he was out to friends and family well before then.

At first, the school pulled the article.  Some hateful, anonymous comments appeared.  Sean’s mother Ann, though generally supportive of her gay son, questioned the wisdom of such a public posture, fearing retribution.

Today’s Star Tribune Newspaper (the leading Minnesota daily) published a followup article, and the news is cause for rejoicing.  In this case, it turns out that “Minnesota Nice” resounds loud and clear.  Here’s a portion of today’s Strib article:

[I]n the true measure of impact these days … friend requests poured in on Facebook. Sean estimates 80 to 100 complete strangers tried to add him as a friend.

"I think there was like a person from Korea, and someone from like Norway," he said.

What was more stunning to Sean though, was the reaction closer to home.

"I got one handwritten letter left for me in the main office from a teacher. And then I got like three or four emails from teachers basically saying they support me," he said. "It was teachers I wasn’t close to and so that kind of surprised me."

Sean said a school administrator told him it was worth what the school had gone through if just one kid benefited from what he had written.

If the point of Sean’s piece was to get a dialogue going about supporting gay teens, he succeeded not only among his peers, but also among adults. Ann Simonson said she was caught off guard by the reaction in her social circles.

"I even had to take a couple days off just to respond to the all the emails and phone calls I’d received from friends," she said. "It was just ringing off the hook. It was quite amazing. You find out who your friends are, that’s for sure."

In the days that followed, Sean found his anonymous detractors, the online commenters, melted away. The Knight-Errant student newspaper instituted a new comment policy: no anonymous comments and writers must use valid emails.

And he found he had even more friends than he thought he did. In early December, he was elected Grand Knight, the equivalent of the prom king, for Benilde-St. Margaret’s winter formal.

During my teen years in the ’60s, I didn’t know any gays in high school or college.  They were invisible.  Then came the Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village in 1969 and slowly they started coming out of the closet.  Bob Dylan from Hibbing, Minnesota was singing in the University of Minnesota bistros of “Dinkytown” in the early sixties, soon to burst on the scene as the poet laureate/prophet of our generation with songs such as “The Times They Are A’changing”.

Social progress often moves as slow as a glacier, and many friends wish for more speedy changes; yet, judged by historical standards, the advances of gay rights these last forty years is nothing short of amazing.  As we stand on the threshold of a New Year, I tip my hat to the Congress and the President for repealing DADT, to heroes such as young Mr. Simonson, and to the inspired leadership within my own Lutheran church for breaking down boundaries.

Top posts of 2010: #2

The October 25th post entitled Conservative Christianity driving a generation away from religion finished in a virtual tie for first place with over 2,200 unique visitors.  The post was based in large part on conclusions suggested by a new book release entitled American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, which is proving to be a best seller.  The blog post is reprinted here:

A week ago, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Minnesota announced a reorganization plan that will eliminate twenty-one congregations in the metro, merging them into fourteen existing parishes.  Stated another way, thirty-five current congregations will be downsized into fourteen.  Some have suggested that if it wasn’t for the influx of Hispanic immigrants, the Roman Catholic church nationally would  be suffering even greater declines in membership.

Of course, the problem of declining religious participation is not confined to Catholicism.   Indeed, statistics suggest the decline in Americans who identify with religion is startling.

That shift is the decline in participation by all Americans, but particularly young adults, in churches. In 1990 only 7 percent of Americans indicated “none” as religious affiliation. By 2008 that number had grown to 17 percent. But among young adults, in their twenties, the percent of “nones” is reaching nearly 30%. The new “nones” are heavily concentrated among those who have come of age since 1990.

But wait, aren’t many conservative Christian denominations growing?  Many evangelical churches thrive but at the cost of theological depth—“a mile wide and an inch deep”.  Some are thinly veiled entertainment ministries.   Joel Osteen Ministries is merely the most blatant example of the appealing “prosperity gospel” that too often characterizes the mega-growth churches, and makes charismatic leaders such as Osteen very wealthy.

But it is the judgmental scapegoating that is turning off this generation of young adults according to an article out of Seattle last week.  Blaming the public perception of Christianity, as espoused by the religious right, for the stark decline in those identifying with religion, the article discusses a poll and a book entitled American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, which:

makes the case that the alliance of religion with conservative politics is driving young adults away from religion …. Among the conclusions [of a major survey] is this one: “The association between religion and politics (and especially religion’s intolerance of homosexuality) was the single strongest factor in this portentous shift.”

Twenty somethings are walking away from the church, the article concludes, because of a skewed “public perception of religion as largely socially conservative,” and the perception of religion as homophobic is especially responsible for the growing percentage of “nones.”

An unrelated poll out last week suggests similar conclusions, and correlates with this blog’s recent theme of suggesting that conservative Christian policies are part of the problem of gay bullying and critically low self esteem for many young gays.

Most Americans believe messages about homosexuality coming from religious institutions contribute to negative views of gays and lesbians, and higher rates of suicide among gay youths, a new poll reports … Americans are more than twice as likely to give houses of worship low marks on handling the issue of homosexuality, according to a PRRI/RNS Religion News Poll released Thursday (Oct. 21).

After a recent spate of teen suicides prompted by anti-gay harassment and bullying, the poll indicates a strong concern among Americans about how religious messages are impacting public discussions of homosexuality.

Once again, there is a significant gap between the attitudes of younger versus older adults which mirrors very closely the higher percentage of “nones” among young adults.

Nearly half of Americans age 18-34 say messages from places of worship are contributing “a lot” to negative views of gay and lesbian people, compared to just 30 percent of Americans age 65 and older.

I’ll close by repeating the words of a young woman spoken at the ELCA Church Wide Assembly in 2009 (CWA09),

“Give us honesty,” she said.  “My generation is turned off by what they see as hypocrisy in the church. ‘Love your neighbor’ is on the lips of the church, but a cold shoulder is what my generation sees.”

A Lutheran response to the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell

If you haven ‘t heard, the Senate voted 65-31 on Saturday to end the discriminatory policy known as “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”  After President Obama signs the bill into law this week, the Pentagon will evaluate and then certify that the military is ready for this change, which is not expected for a couple of months.  Then, gays and lesbians will be free to be open about their sexual orientation without fear of official recrimination from the military.

Here is the response from Lutherans Concerned North America (LCNA):

The United States Senate voted on Saturday, 65-31, to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” legislation that has discriminated against our lesbian and gay service members for over a decade. The historic vote follows the US House passage of the same bill earlier in the week. President Obama plans to sign the legislation before Christmas. Lutherans Concerned/ North America, serving at the intersection of oppressions, is proud to be a part of the movement to repeal this legislation and celebrates the vote with all of our members, especially those who have served or are serving in the military.

Those serving in the US Armed Forces face unparalleled challenges everyday as they fight to protect our freedoms here and abroad. Now, with this repeal nearly finalized, they will be able to concentrate on their vocation of service rather than worrying about the disclosure of their perceived or actual sexual orientation. LC/NA shares relationships with various other faith based and secular LGBT organizations to bring freedom and equality to all of God’s children, both in the church and in society. The work that LC/NA has done has been a combined effort with the entire LGBT community contributing to the change in understanding of how LGBT people have always served their country with skill, honor, and integrity.

Deputy Director, Ross Murray, commented on the repeal, saying, “It is truly awe inspiring to see people living out their calling from God. Just as Lutherans Concerned works for the full participation of those called to serve the church, we celebrate those who are can live out their call to serve their country without barriers. This is one more step toward full participation in society.”

Our vocation is a calling from God that is realized through a variety of paths, including military service. With the recent historic decisions made at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly 2009, and now with the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” avenues once blocked by discrimination are being cleared for all people to live out their calling. As Lutherans we are called to be a public voice, crying in the wilderness, and LC/NA is proud to be living out that calling daily. It is truly evident that the Holy Spirit is moving through our society and our church with a renewed fervor for change and we thank God for this advocate sent on our behalf.

Marriage Equality quote of the day

Marriage is an institution that strengthens and stabilizes society. It is an institution that has the capacity to bring profound joy and happiness to people and it is a matter of equality and keeping faith of one of the charters of the nation, the right to live your life.

What left wing politician made this radical statement?  Were the attendees at a high profile marriage equality fund raising party the usual suspects, the bleeding heart liberals?

Actually, no.  Turns out some big shot Republicans are getting on board:

I think there is a growing mass of people in Republican politics who are fundamentally sick and tired about being lectured to about morality and how to live your life by a bunch of people who have been married three or four times and are more likely to be seen outside a brothel on a Thursday night than being at home with their kids… There is a fundamental indecency to the vitriol and the hatred directed against decent people because of their sexuality. People have reached a critical mass with this.

According to Sam Stein’s blog, the prominent Republicans who are publicly backing marriage equality include former McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt, former Bush campaign manager and Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman (who recently came out of the closet), former New Jersey governor Christie Todd Whitman, Mary Cheney (the lesbian daughter of former VP Dick Cheney), and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.  Of course, we previously blogged about the influential Republican lawyer (Ted Olson) behind the court case challenge to Prop 8 that is working its way through the court system.

Is this the face of the Republican party? But then there is the little matter of the Tea Party–the angry, gun-toting, populist, nativist, anti-Muslim, homophobic, racist, modern version of the “Know Nothings”* who are threatening to take over the Republican party, if they haven’t already done so.  Time will tell if the Republican big tent can contain the bloody wrestling match between the establishment Republican elites and what is euphemistically referred to as “the base”.

*”The Know-Nothing movement was a nativist American political movement of the 1840s and 1850s. It was empowered by popular fears that the country was being overwhelmed by German and Irish Catholic immigrants, who were often regarded as hostile to Anglo-Saxon values and controlled by the Pope in Rome. Mainly active from 1854 to 1856, it strove to curb immigration and naturalization, though its efforts met with little success. Membership was limited to Protestant males of British lineage over the age of twenty-one.”  Wikipedia