Recently, I sat down with the head pastor at a Presbyterian Church. The first pastor since I started this series that actually would meet with me. I largely started attending because my mom goes and it is where I went to as a child after my family started a journey over many years of leaving our Catholic roots behind. Nevertheless, this pastor did not know our history there.
The Presbyterian Church is an interesting peg in the game of church denominations. It is not highly controversial. One could call it a Jesus sleeper cell or dare I say, almost so even keel that it teeters on boring in the grand scheme of things. It is also one of the earlier denominations to accept homosexuals along with the Episcopals. I never felt extremely excited within the Presbyterian Churches I’ve been to nor threatened. They are particularly great with children ministry. I had some good experiences there that I still remember fondly to this day. They did their thing and did it well. I admire their humble spirits. I may have benefited from staying around in their hay day but we moved and I entered Catholic School. Presbyterian Churches have been more community orientated than most—getting involved in the needs of the community around them. The people are by and large welcoming, soft spoken and probably more like Christ in their quiet servitude than most denominations out there. Truly, this is to their credit. They are a humble lot who exude a joy and a welcoming spirit.
Even so, this denomination is probably only second to the Catholic Church in reduction of numbers because…well the causes could be debated, but as I see it, they are stuck in a way of doing things that is way outdated and still talk in a conservative language that is from back in the 60’s. Stepping into many Presbyterian Churches in the area is like stepping back into a time warp. They even still use the “Thees” and “Thous” in a good deal of their worship and refer to the Holy Spirit as “The Holy Ghost”, as though the Spirit is a side kick to a holy motor car or Casper “the friendly ghost”. Friendly and loving just as they are but minus some spiritual depth. The denomination has suffered from a lack of real Spiritual power and all the humility in the world won’t save an organization that refuses to follow the direction of the Spirit to make changes with the times or acknowledge the true, full power of the Holy Spirit (that’s my 2 cents). This could be debated but the proof is in the severe dwindling numbers. They are willing to let their churches to die off with them instead of risking real radical change to meet their new generations.
This particular pastor of this particular church I visited with has a very unique handle on the Bible and the times of the Bible. He is the only pastor in a few years that has garnered my interest to look at things within Biblical text again with new eyes. I about thought I had heard nearly everything. The sermon from last weekend itself has been on my mind all week and it saved me from a real big mind f***.. I don’t know about you but it is hard remembering sermons for some reason, but his I remember. It is hard for me to go to a place on my one day off (Sunday) that is like a time warp, but out of love for my mom, their welcoming spirit and the great wisdom of this pastor, it is very often worth it. Sometimes I think I should take the day to party hard but I ultimately realize that a drink to the soul is better than the drink of fools especially in these Dark Ages we face today. He has sparked my spiritual life back to life, which ultimately led me back to Richard Rohr’s material. Richard Rohr’s work has literally and completely resurrected my hope in a deep form of spirituality that I thought was lost forever to me. I wanted to sit down with this highly knowledgeable, educated individual to see what his view of homosexuality and the Bible was. It truly is like having someone who studied at Harvard here in the back woods of downriver Detroit and we really are fortunate to have him here. A secret gem.
I’m always uneasy doing this—with a side of terrified—because you never know what you are going to get, and it is a challenge to not hold high expectations of people who risk to put themselves as a mouthpiece of God. But, I had to find out what he thought about LGBT people and the Chuirch.
Much to my surprise, the pastor spoke about the relationship in his life—many—with LGBT people and a church he was pastor in that had a larger population of LGBT people. I never ever imagined this. In asking him if he thought a homosexual would go to hell, he said no. The chief aim of God, in his view, is for us to be our authentic selves. He made an interesting side note. The pastor said that if Paul or Peter were in charge at the old pearly gates (figuratively), they wouldn’t let me in but not because of the sexuality part. They wouldn’t because back in that time they only understood males in the Alpha dog role. No male would be in a submissive, woman’s role. However, he was then sure to point out that they wouldn’t accept divorced people either. Adding to that, he said they would accept men with several wives because there was nothing unusual about that back then. His point? The culture was much different back then. They did not think nor did they speak of homosexuality and marriage the way we do today. I came away with, again, that we wouldn’t want any human being in charge of heaven because of our narrow views…, and yet, that is what we have done with a lot of Biblical text. Inspired by God or not, they are written by men but we say they are the literal words of God. To make matters worse, we extract the culture in which they were tucked away in when it is written (because it takes too much effort to think about such things) and dispel it as if it came off the hot presses of God. It is madness. I liked when he said that “No one should tell you how you ‘should’ be. You do authentic LA and God is more than likely sitting back going ‘Wow, look at this. I can’t wait to see how this turns out’. For that matter, no one should tell you what your belief about the Lord should be either.”
We then went on to talk about his own struggles within the denomination of holding onto old ways and resistance to change. I walked away with the sense that really nothing much has changed in this denomination, that overall it has a welcoming structure and a desire to serve the community around them even as they face their own peril due to hardliners who don’t want to change in other areas—homosexuality is not one them. Sadly, this has not helped their cause. LGBT people have not flocked to them, regardless. Some ministers remain closeted because other hardliners still exist and rather than challenge it, they just go with the flow. Unfortunately, like with several Presbyterian churches in the area that flow is off a cliff. I was saddened by his own struggle that clearly weighed on him although I value the honesty even more. This pastor holds a lot of wisdom and I am benefiting from it. I’m not sure what is next but this is where I am at. And here is where some rebuilding of my spiritual life—slow but steady, step by step. Now… isn’t that special?