In this week’s episode of In the Den, Jen talks with Reverend Adam Ericksen as he breaks down some of the most common theology surrounding LGBTQ folks today. Reconciling theological beliefs with our desires to support our LGBTQ child is often a significant part of the journey for religious parents when their child comes out as LGBTQ. Deconstructing theology can be a big hurdle when it comes to loving and celebrating our kids. We have a large number of listeners who are processing religious trauma, and Pastor Adam offers insight and counsel on ways to engage with theology and religion in affirming and healing ways. Holding on to our faith and supporting our queer kids do not have to be mutually exclusive, and both can be part of our journeys.
Special Guest: Reverend Adam Ericksen
Rev. Adam Ericksen has served as the Clackamas United Church of Christ’s Pastor since 2018. He is a graduate of Linfield College where he majored in Religious Studies. Adam earned a Masters in Theological Studies from Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary He enjoys writing for the Raven Foundation website and the Sojourners blog. He also likes coaching his son’s soccer and basketball teams, making breakfast, long walks on the beach, and his favorite dessert is still chocolate chip cookies and milk.
Links from the show:
International Journal of Research in Humanities and Social Studies paper:
Find Pastor Adam on Twitter: https://twitter.com/adamericksen?lang=en
Adam on TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@adamericksen1?lang=en
Adam’s book Unlearn the Bible: https://mailchi.mp/ravenfoundation.org/unlearn-the-bible-ebook
Clackamas United Church of Christ: https://c-ucc.org/
Join Mama Dragons: www.mamadragons.org
Access transcripts here: https://inthedenwithmamadragons.buzzsprout.com/2082774/12941646-deconstructing-homophobia
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JEN: Hello and welcome. You are listening to In the Den with Mama Dragons. I’m your host, Jen. This podcast was created out of our desire to walk and talk with you through this journey of raising happy, healthy, and productive LGBTQ humans. We are so happy that you’re here with us.
Mama Dragons is an organization that exists to support, educate, and empower mothers of LGBTQ children, regardless of their age. We have noticed across time, that a lot of those who need support come from high demand religious backgrounds and communities. This episode, we will be breaking down some prominent theology, because it seems to be an important part of the journey for so many who find themselves on this path. I know that this was the biggest hurdle in my own personal quest to understand. Tackling the theology was much harder than just loving my kids and celebrating them.
I assure you that the content this week will be 100% affirming to our LGBTQ loved ones. But I want to offer up a content warning. If you’ve experienced religious trauma and you’re hurt by conversations that include theology or the Bible, this might be a good episode to skip. And that’s ok. We’ll catch you next week. I understand why we have a large number of listeners who are processing this religious trauma and learning how to protect ourselves is very important. It’s a great skill to practice. And I’m confident that our guest today would agree with me on that. So, let’s get to it.
Our guest today is Pastor Adam, and to say that I’ve been excited about this conversation would be the understatement of the year. I follow Pastor Adam on TikTok, and I’ve read his blog. And as confused as I might be about religion, the God he preaches manages to make sense to me, even when I’m feeling like a devout atheist.
Reverend Adam Erickson has served as the Clackamus United Church of Christ’s pastor since 2018. He is a graduate of Linfield College where he majored in religious studies. Adam earned a master’s degree in theological studies from Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary. He enjoys writing for the Raven Foundation website and the Sojourner’s blog. He also likes coaching his son’s soccer and basketball teams, making breakfast, long walks on the beach, and his favorite dessert is still chocolate chip cookies and milk. Welcome Pastor Adam.
PASTOR ADAM: Chocolate chip cookies and milk. Let’s go. I love it. Wow, that was, where did you find that? That was old. But I am still into chocolate chip cookies and milk. That’s the fastest way to my heart right there.
JEN: Awesome. A gracious thank you for coming today to help us all progress.
PASTOR ADAM: Oh, Jen, it is an honor to be here and my eyes started welling up when you were doing your intro and talking about how theology and the Bible can be a stumbling block to loving our children. Oh! It's just, it’s heartbreaking. And when you said sometimes you feel like an atheist, there are good reasons to be an atheist. And when theology and the Bible are getting in the way of loving the things that are most precious to us, our children, for whatever reason, please pick atheism. As a Christian Pastor, if that’s part of the journey that anybody has to go through is to reject teaching that we’ve had in the past, and if that feels like having to reject God or Christianity in order to love your own children, you’re doing something really healthy. Because, if there is a God, that God wants us to love the things that are most precious to us and that is our children.
And, if you have to reject an image or something that you have learned about God and that feels like you have to throw the baby out with the bathwater with this whole God thing, please do that. And, maybe you’ll come back. But I think that the most healthy thing is to reject a God that gets in the way of us loving our neighbors as we love ourselves, and the most important neighbors that we have, which are our children. So, thank you for your introduction and it was beautiful and heart wrenching at the same time. But thank you for having me here. It is an honor to be here with you.
JEN: So one of the things that I genuinely appreciate about you, I think this is why I follow you on TikTok, is that you directly tackle the tough subjects that come up with both religion and politics in the US right now. And, it’s a big pile of mess, right there, the world of religion and politics in the US, it can be really easy to push aside, and, you know, worry about later just to avoid the mess. And, since we have kind of limited time, I’m hoping you’re ok if we dive right into the hard stuff.
PASTOR ADAM: Let’s go, Jen. I love it. I love it!
JEN: We didn’t debrief before, so I hope that’s ok.
PASTOR ADAM: It’s awesome.
JEN: So, like I mentioned, a lot of people that find our organization are experiencing a great deal of cognitive dissonance and the things they deeply know about their children. They get stuck. So can you talk to us for a minute about the history of LGBTQ theology, prominently in Christian churches, the stuff we probably grew up with and how we might wrestle with that dissonance that we start to run into.
PASTOR ADAM: Oh, wow. There is a lot of the, I guess, the technical term for it is “Queer Theology”. And Queer Theology sort of stems from – it’s its own discipline, but it stems from this larger discipline called “Liberation Theology ''. And Liberation Theology has a lot to do, it stemmed out of South America and oppressive regimes there. And it was basically saying that God is on the side of the oppressed. It’s God of the Oppressed.
And it largely stems from the story of the Exodus where there are people enslaved in Egypt. These are the Hebrews. And they cry out, it doesn’t even say they cry out to God. It just says that they cry out in their oppression. And it says that God heard their cry and works on their behalf. And so this, kind of, liberation theology stems from South America, especially like Catholic Theologians down there. But it also ended up making it’s way up to North America and Black Theology is a form of Liberation Theology. Queer Theology is a form of Liberation Theology.
And it largely is, when these Hebrews are crying out to God. No, they’re not even crying out to God. They’re just crying out, and God hears their cry. But they don’t have – one of the important things that Liberation and Queer Theology has helped me understand is that we don’t have to have our theology - nobody has their theology right. This is where theology often gets used as a weapon against other people. When folks say, “I have the right theology and you don’t”. And they end up using their theology as a weapon against other people.
May God save us from our theology at that point because, as the letter of First John says, there are only two definitions in the New Testament for God, and they’re both in the letter of First John. And one of them is God is love. And the other one is God is light, and in God there is no darkness at all. God is just this flow of love in the universe. I was going to say force of love, but that would be so warsy and also too violent imagery right there. God is the flow of love in the universe. And you see this in the story of the Exodus when God works for the liberation of the Hebrews. We see this in South America where Liberation theology is formed. And we see this in Queer Theology where God is working on behalf of the oppressed.
And so it’s really rooted in the scripture. And that Queer Theology starts emerging in the 1960s and 1970s in the United States. And it’s a way for queer folk to grasp onto this God who we know deep down in our bones, if there is any God at all, it’s a God who is love. And it’s a way to reject any other messages that we have received about God and live into the flow of love with one another. That's a lot of where the history of it comes in from and how all these different theologies of liberation are influencing one another and how we get to a lot of Queer Theology today. But there is so much good Queer Theology work being done by our Jewish siblings, and Christians, and even Muslim siblings are doing a lot of good Queer Theology work as well.
JEN: I appreciate that all so much. What about the “Gotcha” scriptures in the Bible? We all know what they are. We’re all regularly bludgeoned with them. There’s like, there’s maybe six, seven of them people use on the topic. Can you address those verses for people who are struggling with them?
PASTOR ADAM: Yeah. Sometimes they’re called “The Clobber Texts.”
PASTOR ADAM: Yeah. Right? They’re used to clobber our queer siblings. Yes. There are thought to be six or seven of them. There’s the Leviticus passage, “Man shall not lie down with a man”. Those passages and also Romans Chapter 1 tends to be a major one and some in Corinthians as well. I think that the basic way that I've been helped in understanding this is to define our terms. Which is basically, what is homosexuality?
And this is kind of the history that I think is most important for me to understand when we’re talking about this question. Basically, we’re still trying to figure out what human sexuality is here in the 21st century, right? It’s confusing. I’m confused by sexuality and I’ve done a lot of research on it. I’m confused by my own sexuality. I’m confused by other people’s sexuality.
JEN: Even more when we toss gender in.
PASTOR ADAM: Yes. Exactly. We are still trying to figure this out. In the year, what are we in, 2023? I mean, it’s like, it’s just confusing. And this is part of the important history of it. The word ‘homosexual’ was first coined in the 19th century. The late 1800s is what we're talking about. This is the first time that we really start describing sexuality in a way where it’s moving towards and understanding of sexual orientation. And before this, humans didn’t really talk about sexuality as sexual orientation. They talked about it as sexual acts that we have with one another, right?
So, the key to understand this is that whenever the Bible uses the word homosexual in it, like in the New Testament sometimes words get translated as homosexual, I invite people to throw that Bible out and find a different one because that is a 19th century word that is trying to be imposed on a first century concept. They didn’t have that word in the first century. They didn’t use that word. And I'm convinced that they are not talking about two men or two women wanting to live in a same-sex, committed relationship. That’s not what the Bible is ever talking about.
There are no instances, there are no stories in the Bible where Isaiah and Amos are like shacking up together and people are like, “Hey, Isaiah and Amos, they’re doing sinful stuff.” Right? No. It’s not that at all. There is no Isaiah and Amos wanting to live together or get married in the Bible. So what is the Bible talking about when it talks about same-sex acts. I don’t even want to call these acts “homosexual acts” or “gay acts.” That doesn’t describe the relationship that is happening in the Bible.
So one of the passages that is often used for a clobber text is the story of Sodom and Gamorah, right? People keep bringing that up as, “Here’s a story about homosexuality in the Bible and God clearly condemns it.” Even throws fire and brimstone down, destroys the city. Right? It is so important to recognize that the Sodom and Gomorrah story is not about homosexuality as we understand it today. And this is what the Bible is getting at when it’s talking about same-sex acts.
The Sodom and Gomorrah story is about a group of - actually it says, i think it says, all of the men or does it say all of the people? I can’t remember exactly. I’d have to go back and look. But all of the men of the city, the boys – it tries to include every male in the city, even the boys. Come up to Lots house demanding to know these strangers. Now, some people say, ‘Oh, they just want to have coffee or tea and biscuits with these guys, right?” No. I don’t think that that’s it. I think this is ‘to know’ in the Biblical sense. What we all know from middle school on, to have sex with them.
But this isn’t to have sex with them. This is to rape them. That’s what this story is about. These, the men from Sodom are not going up to these strangers and saying, “Hey we would like to have consensual sex with you. And maybe have a long term commitment based on love.” That’s what we talk about in the modern world when we talk about homosexuality. That’s not what the Bible is ever talking about. What the Bible is talking about is abusive sex, non consensual sex acts, just like Sodom and Gomorrah.
JEN: I love, like, when I recognized in that story the fact that the Godly solution to that was to give up the daughters instead to be raped by all the people. And I‘m like, if we noticed the context of the story a little bit, it changes everything.
PASTOR ADAM: Well, Jen, and here’s the other thing that I want to point out to you because that’s the interpretation that we put in on it. But the Godly solution is not to give Lot’s daughters. That’s Lot’s solution, right? The God characters in the story are the three men who might be angels. They start off as angels and then they turn into men. And it’s just a weird story. And Lot, trying to give up his daughters, is part of the horribleness. Lot, in the Bible, is not a good character.
PASTOR ADAM: A very questionable, dubious character, makes very bad decisions. And this is one of the very bad decisions that he makes. The God character are the three strangers and their solution to this is to sort of a non-violent resolution story. They shut the door and they blind the men which stops them from doing this. And they’re all in darkness and running and bumbling into each other, probably and they go home. So it’s those three characters come up with the non-violent solution. Now, God does, “You guys are just messed up,” and throws fire and brimstone on them and kills them, right? Um, that’s problematic for me as well, that solution.
But the God character is much more these three strangers who just stop the whole thing from happening because this is all kinds of messed up, right? So, that story is often used as a weapon against our gay siblings and how somebody could read that story and think it’s about homosexuality is - you’ve been trained to read this story in a very homophobic way if that’s what you get out of this story.
JEN: Do you have words of advice for those who genuinely don’t want to give up their faith but they want to be able to prioritize their relationship with their child?
PASTOR ADAM: Yeah. I would prioritize your faith, and I don't think that your faith means that you need to reject your child. I think that your faith should lead to you deeper love for your child as your child is. This is part of the deconstructing of a lot of the theology that we have inherited. And a lot of the theology that comes to us, we think is ancient, but it’s really modern. In fact, the whole emphasis that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, is a modern concept that happened in the 18th century when science was on the rise and science was saying that it held the truth about what we can know about the world.
Well, a lot of religious folk were like, what does that mean for the Bible? The Bible has to be the truth, right? Or our faith is just going to crumble. So that’s when you start getting all this language about the Biblical inerrancy and Biblical infallibility. And that’s where a lot of modern problems come in. Because, before this, like our Jewish siblings do this really well. They debate the text. The text holds some authority for them, but they are arguing about the text. They’re debating the text. What is the actual meaning of the text?
And I think we could do a lot more of that in Christianity without ostracizing one another, right? Like our Jewish siblings are like, you disagree about it. I disagree with you about this and yet, we’re still within this whole thing that we call Judaism. There’s a place for these kinds of disagreements. The way that I read the Bible, there is a place for disagreements within the Bible itself.
I mean, you can’t get past the first couple of chapters in the Bible without recognizing, “Wow, there are really two different creation stories and they tell these stories differently? That’s fascinating.” Right? These are not things that are surprising in the history of Christian understanding of the Bible. But they are to us because we’ve been trained to view the Bible as categories that it doesn’t even have for itself, like inerrant and infallible.
So, I think that if you place, as a Christian, your faith - I want to invite you to think about faith in this way. As a Christian, your faith should not primarily be in the Bible. Jesus does not say, “If you have seen the Bible, you have seen The Father.” That’s not what he says. Jesus says, “If you have seen me, you have seen The Father.” Jesus, for Christianity - the point of Christianity is not to believe in the Bible. It’s to believe in Jesus. The point of Christianity is not to follow Moses or Isaiah or Hosea or Joshua. As great as those and as problematic as those can be, they are not the point of Christianity. Christ is the point of Christianity.
The point is to believe. And part of what belief means in the original Greek of the New Testament is not just intellectual assent to some doctrines. It’s trust. So this whole question about can I be faithful and also love my children, what a heartbreaking question that is. For me, one of the important points about this is what are you putting your faith in. If you’re putting your faith in the Bible, you’re missing the point. The point of Christian - we’re not Biblians. We’re Christians. The point of Christianity is to put your faith to trust in Christ.
When Jesus first meets his disciples, he doesn’t say follow the Bible. He says, “Follow me. Come and learn what God is like by following me.” Right? And this is one of the most important points as well. Jesus never says anything about being gay, never says anything about being trans, never says anything about these parts of our discussion that we’re talking about today. He does talk about greed and wealth. These are like the primary sins, injustice that is happening. That’s why he goes to the temple and has his fit in the temple, Right. Because the temple, we don’t realize this today, but in First Century world there is no separation of church and state. The temple, at the time, is the economic, political, and religious power house of first century Israel.
And Jesus goes there and he says, “You are missing the point.” What does that tell us? That tells us that there are times when our religion can completely miss the point. And when our religion gets in the way of us loving our children for who they are, our religion has missed the point. And it’s good to take off the shackles of that religion and emphasize the way of Jesus which is constantly to remind us to rise up against oppressive systems, including religious oppressive systems. So that we can live into the realm of God’s kingdom here on Earth, where Jesus invites us to love everyone, including our enemies, as we love ourselves. That must surely include our LGBTQIA2+ children.
JEN: So one of the most common ideas I hear from conservatives about transgender people is “God doesn’t make mistakes.” “God doesn’t put people into the wrong bodies.” What does the Bible have to say about transgender people? Can you talk about this basic concept from a religious point of view?
PASTOR ADAM: Well, the Bible doesn’t talk about transgender folk. It’s just like transgender is another modern concept, just like homosexuality. Right? So you’re not going to find a specific transgender issue happening in the Bible. But you can find things that are pretty close. The first one, I think is important to point out, is in Genesis chapter one which is often used as a clobber text against our transgender siblings. But I think that, for me, as I read Genesis chapter one - so a lot of folks will say God created humans male and female. Male and female he created them in God’s image. Right? So they’ll say, “There you go, there’s the distinction.”
Well, it doesn’t say that God made them male OR female. It says that God made them male AND female. I think intentionally or not, that passage understands the reality of being human that modern science has given us. So 3,000 years before. 2,500 years before modern science, this passage in Genesis that we all live on a gender spectrum. Like we are all a little bit male and a little bit female. There is a feminine side of me that I, as a male, that I need to acknowledge. That I need to shine light on in order to live into my full humanity. Right?
This is the case if male and female are part of the reflection of the oneness of God. There’s male and female within the oneness of God. There’s male and female within the oneness of who I am as well, and who all of us are. Some of us are a little more this way on the spectrum, some of us are a little more that way on the spectrum. That’s not a mistake. That’s part of the journey. So if you have a child who is trans, God did not make a mistake. God has us all on a journey to discover more fully who we are. And our transgender siblings are on that journey to discover who they are.
And what they need is not condemnation. But what they need is support in discovering more of who they are. And also, if you look at Genesis chapter one, people who want to say that God creates in a binary male or female - going against the male and female part of it - but interpreted as way that there’s male or female. The problem with the binary in that, is that also in Genesis chapter one, God separates the land from the sea, binaries. There’s land and there’s sea. Well, guess what, I can talk you over to the beach and show you where the land and the sea don’t separate. They’re not a binary. But there’s an in between space. I can take you to a marsh. I can show you pictures of marshes where land and water merge together in this in-between space.
It says God separated the light from the dark, the night from the sky. Well, guess what? We all know that there’s dusk and dawn. We all know that there’s this middle ground. But, if you want to take Genesis as only a binary because there is only male or female, then you have to be consistent and you have to deny that marshes exist. You have to deny that dusk and dawn exist. Right? But nobody is going to do that because we can see clearly with our eyes that there is this middle space. The same is true for when it comes to the experience of being human.
The Bible does not claim that dusk and dawn exist. The Bible may not claim that our transgender siblings exist outright. But there, it does claim you can see in nature, the truth of the world that is beyond the Bible that dusk and dawn exist. You can see the truth in nature that the marsh exists. And we can see in nature that our transgender siblings exist. And just like the marsh and the dusk and the dawn are not mistakes, our transgender siblings are not mistakes either. They are part of God’s beloved creation.
JEN: When I first started this concept that you’re talking about. I didn’t think you’d go this direction by the way. I thought you’d go the more Eunuch direction. But …
PASTOR ADAM: We can do that too. We can do that too. I’m happy to go there as well.
JEN: When I first started to think about this idea of binary’s. I‘ve been on a quest, like, a little mini quest for probably five years to find anything in nature that exists in a binary. And even life and death don’t exist in binaries. There’s a lot of overlap between those things. So, so far, anyone can correct me if I’m wrong, if you think of the thing, you win the prize - because I can't find anything in nature that exists in a binary.
PASTOR ADAM: Love it. Yeah. That’ is so good. So good. And that’s, that’s part of God’s - I mean, i think that we really have to embrace that God’s, God’s creation - I mean, one of the things that’s so fascinating about science, right, is that the more they discover scientifically, the more they discover, oh gosh, we have so much more to discover. Like, we’re not going to get to the end of this science thing, right, because God’s world is so mysterious. There’s always more and more to discover.
And I think that a healthy way of viewing the Bible, viewing God, viewing faith is this, like, real sense of curiosity, this real sense of adventure, that there is so much more to the Bible, to God, to faith, to Jesus than we ever expected. And I think that the answer to this is that it’s always guided by God’s love. And that’s not like a wishy-washy based on feeling so much as it is in the Jewish tradition that love is based on action. It’s based on the good for the other trying to support and leading towards the other’s good. Not as we want the other to be, but as the other is.
There’s a very manipulative way in which we can say that we love someone. And I see this quite frequently on social media. “I love you, which is why I have to tell you that you are sinning.” Right? That’s so manipulative. And it’s wrong. There are times when I get caught up in sin and I need somebody to come in and tell me, “Adam, you’re caught up in this thing that’s not healthy for you. It’s not healthy for others. And you might want to rethink this.” Right? We all get caught up in that.
So, a lot of progressives get accused of rejecting the whole concept of sin. Sin is in the Bible comes from the word Hamartia. It basically means missing the mark. A lot of people say it comes from an archery term where you just miss - you miss the bullseye and you pick up your arrow and you try it again. I think that a good way of looking at sin is when Jesus says that the most important commandment is to love God and to love your neighbor as you love yourself. Sin is the way in which we don’t fulfill that. Sin is the way in which we harm our neighbor and can harm ourselves. Right?
So being gay is not a sin. Right? And that’s the weapon that they are trying to use. And I didn’t mention, we can talk about Eunuchs, that would be a good place to go to. But we can also talk about Romans chapter one and there’s so much - I just actually read an article. You can download this if you want. Just Google Romans 1:26-27 “Condemns the Cult of Iosis not Homosexuality”. It’s by Rober Neus who is a professor at Loyola University in New Orleans.
You Mama Dragons are giving me so much hope in what you are doing. Especially from your religious backgrounds that you share and trying to understand this super important issue. Robert Neus is a professor at a Catholic university. This should also give us hope. Right? When people are doing, kind of, this really great pro-LGBTQ work in places that we might not expect. Right? And he says that Romans chapter one is not about, as we’ve been saying homosexuality. It’s not about two men or two women, or whatever, living in same-sex consensual relationships. This is about ancient cultic practices, religious practices where there would be men who go to temple cults and have sex with other men and then they go back home to their wives.
That looks like nothing like homosexuality that we talk about today. Right? So this is primarily what the Bible is talking about. It’s either abusive sex acts or religious temple prostitution sex acts. And Paul is wanting us to have sex, if we have it, in mutually consensual relationships. You see this - Paul is often seen as a prude or as somebody who is sexually repressed. He may have been. But, in First Corinthians chapter seven, Paul actually encourages people to not get married. He wishes that they would be like him and not be married. But he says, if you can’t control your, basically, sexual urges, then you should get married and you should - how does he put it- you should give your conjugal rights to your spouse, is basically what he’s saying.
So, Paul, in First Corinthians chapter seven is saying that sex is for pleasure, not for procreation. Paul doesn’t mention in First Corinthians chapter seven, anything about procreation. And this is part of the importance of understanding homosexuality. Right? Because some people will say, “Well, nature means that you need to have sex in ways that can procreate.” Paul doesn’t say that in First Corinthians chapter seven. He says that sex is for fun. Men should be having fun with their wives. Wives should be having fun with their men. Don’t resist the conjugal rights of your spouse and get to business if you have to do that.
JEN: Ok. So, what if I’m feeling angry or frustrated and I want to say mean things to Christians in the country for the harm that they’re causing my children, and I’m feeling particularly prickly and angry at Christianity. Do you have any thoughts about that?
PASTOR ADAM: I would say that you have every right to feel that way. I, personally, if I saw you doing that, I would not shake my finger at you. I would completely understand. And I would say that your anger is coming from a good place of love for your children. And there’s a part of me that just wants to affirm where that person is at in that situation. It makes perfect sense that they would be feeling this way and that they would be angry, and that they would be shaking their fist or their fist or their fingers at other Christians that are doing this in the name of God. It makes me incredibly frustrated and angry.
And there’s a place for frustration. There’s a place for anger. And I’m not going to tell anybody what they should do with that frustration and with that anger. I can tell you, I think, one of the things that has been really helpful for me is to try to remind myself of what I want the world to be like and live into that. There is a place where, for anger, where Jesus goes to the temple and shuts the thing down. We might need some of that in Christianity.
But I also think that sometimes our anger can be unhelpful, can get in the way of what we want the world to be like. And, as I’m saying this, I’m trying my best to not shake my finger at people who are angry and have every right to be angry. Right? I think maybe one of the ways to help us understand this is that Jesus gets angry, and we know what happens after Jesus gets angry. Right? He goes to the cross. In fact, the Gospels are very clear, the first three gospels are very clear that Jesus is going to the temple and shutting it down is what leads to his death. Right?
So there are, I’m not saying that that’s the consequence for everyone. But I am saying, like Jesus says, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Right? There are things in this world that we should judge. Transphobia, Homophobia, should be judged. I try to keep it so that I’m judging those things and not the people who hold those toxic beliefs because they have been formed. I’ve been there before. I’ve held those toxic beliefs before. I had somebody who loves me enough out of that belief. I didn’t have somebody who came up to me and shook their finger at me. I met trans people. I met lesbians as I was growing up and going to seminary who were some of the most amazing people that I have ever met. And some of the most soft-hearted, loving folks. And that’s how I got my mind transformed on this.
So I think it’s a balance. You know, sometimes we, like, explode and we just make more of a mess. And, if that’s part of our goal is to just make more of a mess of things, just have that in mind. I guess. When we judge, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” You’re going to get the judgment back. If we respond with anger, we’re likely to get anger back at us. Call us the karma of being human or whatever. So I would just say, recognize that principle. Know that it’s probably going to come back to us. And just be prepared for it. The other thing is, how are we going to get to the yes. There’s a whole lot of NO in the anger which is good. We have to have some “no’s” in order to keep boundaries and keep ourselves safe.
But we also have to have, like, the “Yes”. And maybe we’re in the moment in our history where we need more “yeses” in our culture. Like, what are we for and how are we going to get in that direction? And I've got to tell you, what you’re doing at Mama Dragons, are a massive “Yes”. And it’s a beautiful thing and a beautiful model for how to deal with this question of what to do with our anger. Love your kids all the more. Make sure that your kids know that you love them as they are and as they are becoming. That is the most important thing that we can do with our anger is to make sure that it gets directed in loving ways towards our kids and helps our kids be safe in a world that they’re not always safe, and there are people trying to make horrible legislation against our trans siblings and our trans children.
Use our anger in order to rise up against those policies, maybe not against those people who are trying to promote those policies because they’ve been formed in certain ways. And this is just, kind of, advice that’s hard for me to follow. So, I don’t want you to think that I've got this all figured out if you’re listening to this. Right? This is hard. This is hard spiritual, not 101 stuff. This is like 401 Spirituality that we’re talking about here, that’s so hard. Easy to say sometimes, but even far more difficult to practice. But that distinction between, you know, working for better policies, working against policies that harm our children or harm us, and not so much demonizing the people who are influenced by this horrible ideology is a good distinction that helps me as I try to navigate this.
JEN: I can feel it inside of my body as you’re saying this. Maybe that’s where all the sass goes to..
PASTOR ADAM: I know. Right? I’ll work on that too, Jen. Yes. Yes.
JEN: I’m going to be working on that too. So we know that, statistically, church attendance, participation in faith or religion in the US is decreasing, declining pretty rapidly. Poles indicate, in my own faith tradition, that one of the major reasons for this is the treatment of LGBTQ people. Do you have thoughts about this, if this is a similar trend in other traditions or if you’re thinking it’s other things? And for people who love their faith and what it gave them and they want to offer some version of that to their kids, like, what options do you see? That’s a big 16 part question.
PASTOR ADAM: Yeah. I’ll start off with this and then if you want to remind me of the other parts of the question. I’m convinced, so, this Sunday is Pentacost Sunday. So, I am convinced that Pentacost is about the spirit being unleashed in the world. And a lot of people think The Spirit is only unleashed in the church. That is such a small, pathetic view of the Holy Spirit and of God. God is bigger than the church. The Holy Spirit is bigger than the church. The Holy Spirit has been unleashed into the world.
And here’s the thing that many of our liberation theologians have taught me. Is that, if the church is not going to live into the Holy Spirit, which as the story in Acts - in Acts chapter two says, you can read this in Acts chapter two if you want to go ahead and do that - the Spirit is unleashed on all people. It is radically inclusive. This is not, the Spirit is unleashed just on Christians. This is all people. This is Christian. This is non-Christian. This is the Holy Spirit unleashed on our gay siblings, lesbian siblings, bi-sexual, transgender siblings. All people means all people. That includes black, brown, white people. That includes religious people, non-religious people.
The Holy Spirit is unleashed everywhere in our world. And here’s what the Liberation Theologians have taught me which is, if the church refuses to live into this view of the Holy Spirit that is unleashed on all people and the church insists the Spirit is only unleashed on us, and we have the power to do whatever we want to do to include, to exclude whoever we want to do, the Holy Spirit is going to leave the church. And the Holy Spirit is going to find a place and people outside of the church. Because, if the church is going to deny the Holy Spirit’s unleashment on all people, then the Holy Spirit is going to leave the church and go somewhere else.
So, when we see that people are leaving the church, that can be a good sign, actually. That can be a sign that the Holy Spirit is unleashed on the world. Now, there are some areas where churches are living into the Gospel and they start to dwindle because they are faithful because they are spreading this message of radical inclusion. And they might be in an area where people just don’t like that. Right? Church decline does not mean that you are necessarily not being faithful. Church growth does not mean that you are necessarily being faithful.
One of the easiest ways to grow a church is to find a common enemy and we are seeing that right now with Christian Nationalism which is on the rise. And all that, all that Christian Nationalism is, is about scapegoating people who are vulnerable. The very opposite of what Jesus came to teach us to do is what Christian Nationalism is about. And, so, when we do the opposite of what Jesus invites us to do, when we do the opposite of the Holy Spirit being spread out on all people, then the Holy Spirit is going to find another place to be. And I see the Holy Spirit working throughout much of our culture in ways where people are being led to more inclusion, being led to more ways of understanding what it means to be human and recognizing it and including it into our lives.
The more diversity - you know, when Paul says in Galatians that there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female, that we are all one in Christ, it’s a radically subversive statement of the ways in which we tend to divide ourselves into who’s included and who’s excluded. And Paul is saying you’re all included on this. It goes being sexuality. It goes beyond gender. All of those things matter to us, but they don’t matter in a way that lead us to exclude one another because of those things.
JEN: That’s really beautiful and speaks to me. I continue to feel that one of the most faithful things I ever did was walk away from my faith community which not a lot of people would understand. But you managed to say it in a really beautiful way.
So I have one final question for you. One idea that I take away from your TikToks is joy. The idea of finding joy and spreading joy. And you’re talking about hard stuff. And you’re talking about a lot of contention. But I love how you seem to personify joy in the midst of it. I love this in a world that feels right now, like, motivated by anger and fear. And I know you get hit with a lot of hate because of it. How can we as parents or listeners to this episode, just people connected to LGBTQ humans- how can we emulate and acquire this joy when it’s so easy to just be afraid and mad?
PASTOR ADAM: That’s such a great question. It’s just really interesting because I was in a Bible study once and there was somebody there who lifted up the Bible and said, “I find no joy in this thing.” And I didn’t have the words to say this in the moment. But Jesus says, I have come that you might have joy and that your joy might be fulfilled. Right? This is a joyful adventure that we are on. It’s an adventure of curiosity about the world. It’s an invitation.
Jesus, when he says that by the way, knows that he’s going to the cross. So, he knows that in the face of persecution, in the face of oppression, in the face of his own violent death that he is going to suffer through, that there is a place for joy in that. And I say this as someone who has been dealing with my own depression. I say this as someone who has been in therapy for the last six years and it’s been really helpful for me. I say this, and I try to hold onto my joy by living in relationships where I can share a sense of love with others, a sense of acceptance with others, a sense of being motivated that there’s something bigger in the world than my fear. There’s something bigger in the world than the conflicts that we’re experiencing.
And that’s what faith, for me, is all about is trusting that, as I’ve been saying that the Holy Spirit is unleashed, the Spirit of God is the flow of love in the world. And if I can just step into that flow a little bit more each day, that can bring some joy. It can bring some joy in understanding that I’m not in charge of this. I’ve learned to not feel that I need to be in control. I’ve also learned that I don't need to be the savior of the world. If somebody is having a difficult time, I don’t need to save them. Part of my joy is in recognizing that I just need to show up. If I just show up for someone and help them know that they’re not alone, that’s a win. Right?
Oftentimes, I learned this when I was studying to become a Chaplain. Oftentimes, like, in a hospital and when I went into a room, I thought it was my job to make people feel better. And that was joyless. That was actually, like, so much pressure. And oftentimes, religion can become this, what would you say, this monkey on our back. This, like, backpack that just has more and more books in it and gets heavier and heavier and heavier and just weighs you down. Right? And if that’s what religion does to us, I say just take the backpack off and move on because God does not want us to have this, like, monkey on our back. God wants us to live in more of a sense of joy.
And that sense is not having all of the answers to our questions. But joy for me has come in just, like, showing up when people are in need. Not having, not feeling the pressure to have the right answers, but just to help people know that they’re not alone. And that’s been the biggest answer for me when I’ve been suffering is not some, like, intellectual or theological reason for why all of this is happening in my life. Right? That’s not helpful. What is helpful is just to have a friend or a family member come and say you’re not alone. And for me, that makes this whole thing not a burden. It makes it lighter. It makes it more joyful and more fun for me.
JEN: I have a friend who refers to that always as sacred community.
PASTOR ADAM: Yes. Yes. In seminary they said it was the ministry of presence.
JEN: Oh. I like that.
PASTOR ADAM: Not the ministry of answers. Right? Just the ministry of presence, just being there and showing up.
JEN: There is something different about the way we think about friends and the way we think about sacred community. I like that distinction.
PASTOR ADAM: That’s good. That’s good.
JEN: I want to express my gratitude to you for your generosity in sharing an hour with us today. I want you to know that I really appreciate your efforts and your impact in the world also. Both on the LGBTQ topic, but also your efforts to fight Christian Nationalism and White Supremacy. I believe that you’re making a difference. And that’s tough stuff. That’s a tough world to be in right now. I want to encourage our listeners to head to the show notes, look up the article that Pastor Adam mentioned. We’ll link it there. And we’ll link to TikTok and Pastor Adam’s blog and podcast so that you can get more wisdom or find, maybe, a little bit gentler path for your own religious journey. Thank you.
PASTOR ADAM: Thank you.
JEN: Thanks so much for joining us here at the den. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with your friends. We’d also love it if you could take a minute to leave us a positive rating and review on whatever platform you’re listening to us on. Good reviews make us more visible and help us reach more folks who could benefit from listening. But, review or not, we’re glad you’re here. For more information on Mama Dragons and the podcast, you can visit our website at mamdragons.org or follow us on Instagram and Facebook. And if you’d like to help Mama Dragons in our mission to support, educate, and empower the parents of LGBTQ children, donate at mamadragons.org or click the donate link in the show notes.