In two weeks I give a talk up in Bemidji, Minnesota as part of a week-long diversity emphasis sponsored by the Hospitality Initiative of Servant Hearts, a Bemidji-based nonprofit. Today I received a request from a local (Bemidji) newspaper reporter who will do a feature story about my visit to run days before my talk. She asked for a couple quotes to help her in putting the news-story together.
So I chose to interview myself, posing few basic questions and crafting some brief responses. Here’s what happened:
The title of your talk is “Paying It Forward: The Christian Basis for Welcoming Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Persons into our Communities.” What exactly will you be talking about?
By far, the Christian tradition has typically read the Bible as condemning sex-same relationships. But there are two things wrong with this. It fails to take the Bible seriously enough to wrestle with the history and context of the handful of texts that speak about this. And it fails to take seriously the scandalous character of God throughout the Bible. God is always welcoming one more set of “outsiders” in–and once upon a time most of us were those outsiders because we were non-Jews. We forget how scandalous it was for us to be welcomed into the tradition nearly 2000 years ago. But it was, and it’s high time for us to pay that welcome forward to others.
How did you come to your conclusion?
My coursework in college and seminary equipped me to read the Bible more carefully and to think about God in larger ways. Later on, my graduate study in Christian Ethics helped me apply that learning to these specific questions. But also, the LGBT people I’ve encountered in my life have shaped the way I think about these things. I’ve experienced God’s love through them and seen it at work in them in ways that are powerfully compelling. Personal experience was decisive for both Peter and Paul in the early church as they became advocates for including Gentiles (non-Jews). To draw on life experience–and to expect to be surprised by God–is very much part of the biblical model.
Your talk on Sunday will include some hymn-singing–why is that?
I’ve been a poet and a lover of words all of my life. In the midst of doing my work on behalf of welcome, I’ve realized that hymn-singing is among the most participatory spiritual things we do in church. Not unlike a musical aerobic workout, the music invites us to exercise our hearts and minds in tandem. Hymns are a moment when we rehearse our faith. So I’ve written hymn texts that help us rehearse the biblical story of a welcoming God–and help connect the energy of that biblical welcome to the welcome we need to make today.
You’re a straight man, a happily-married father and grandfather. Why have you put so much energy into this issue?
There’s no simple answer to that. It’s a place where my own joy–my love of words and sharing insight into Christian faith–intersects with one part of the world’s great need. Frederick Buechner* calls that “vocation,” and it has been just that for me: a calling. But my friendships, my own struggles to find a home in the church, my own life journey through the pain of divorce and the fear in leaving a violent marriage, all of these things and more leave me hungry for wholeness, happy that I have tasted bits of that wholeness in my own life, and determined to shape a world that allows other to find wholeness as well.
*Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993), p. 119.
Do you have a perspective on the proposed Minnesota constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman?
Well, there are lots of things wrong with it. It’s driven by fear, which is seldom a source of wise action. It tries to manipulate a majority population to further marginalize a minority population, which is both unjust and undemocratic. If we’ve learned anything as a nation so far, I’d have hoped we’d learned that “we the people” have often tried to keep the “we”-part to those most like us–and those moments have been moments of failure as a nation, not moments of pride. We see that in retrospect. We need to see it today. So I say those things as a citizen.
But as a theologian and a Christian, I’d also say this: our God dwells in the promise to be faithful to each of us. And marriage is about dwelling in that same promise, spoken to a specific person in the presence of a wider community. As Christians we should oppose every effort to limit who can dwell in promised faithfulness. Making and keeping such promises is an investment in the fabric of community itself. Whether those promises are made in a church or simply before a circle of family and friends, they deserve the recognition and the honor of the whole community. They make all of us stronger.