Gays and the Church -- Interview with the Rev. Steve Kindle
Gay Marriage and the rights of gays and lesbians in church and society is an ongoing debate in the churches and in society, though it seems to be much less a concern for those under 40. Several years ago I published an interview with my good friend Steve Kindle at the blog Faithfully Liberal, a blog to which I was a regular contributor, but one that is sadly no longer in existence (at least not as a functioning entity). Knowing that the issue continues to rage on, I thought I'd reprint this to stimulate your conversation. Since this interview was published, Steve became the pastor of a Disciples congregation in Fremont, CA. His blog is called Open Hearts -- Affirming Pages.
The Rev. Steve Kindle has a unique ministry. He is Executive Director of Clergy United for the Equality of Homosexuals, a consulting and education organization focused on the inclusion of homosexuals and transgender persons in the church. Originally ordained in the conservative Churches of Christ, in whose colleges and seminaries he received his theological education, today he has standing in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ. Before founding Clergy United, he served as pastor of two “Open and Affirming” Disciples congregations, and since then has served as consultant to congregations exploring the process of becoming open and affirming to the GLBT community, and this fall (2007) he’ll be speaking to a number of Log Cabin Republican groups.
Q. You’re straight and happily married, so why this cause?
A. Yes, it’s true that I have no “hidden agenda” behind my interest in promoting gay equality in the churches. It comes, very simply, from my understanding of the gospel: We are to welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us—unqualifiedly, without exception.
Q. Since your background is fairly conservative, what was it that changed the way you looked at homosexuals?
A. I was raised in a very conservative home, both politically and religiously. My understanding of the gay community was formed by all the stereotypes that typically accompany such an upbringing: that they are in the main promiscuous, self-centered, lust filled, choose this “lifestyle,” and are not to be trusted around children. I happened to move from North Dakota to San Francisco and, in the course of getting to know the gay community, I discovered the startling reality that GLBTs are as normal as any other large segment of America. Also, working with many gay Christians challenged my view that “gay Christian” is an oxymoron. So, I began a lifelong pursuit of examining the scriptures used to support the antigay view and found the traditional interpretations wanting.
Q. What role does religion play in how we view homosexuality?
A: One’s religion is usually a received phenomenon. We accept what we are given with little reflection. Since most people are not familiar with gay people (at least knowingly), our religion provides us the context for understanding and relating to them. If one is raised in an environment where GLBTs are named as abominations and condemned to hell, it is difficult not to become homophobic.
Q. To take this to another level, since you teach a seminar on the Bible and Homosexuality, what is the role of biblical interpretation in forming our views?
A. Most Christians don’t form their views, they inherit them. In the case of Fundamentalist, those who teach them seldom interpret the Bible; they are content to “let the Bible speak for itself.” So the surface reading of the scriptures is left as the final meaning rather than as the starting point for understanding. It’s as though the Bible should be read the same way we read the morning paper, without taking into consideration that some 2,000-3,000 years separate us from the original documents. If you are going to take the Bible seriously, you can’t take it literally; what it says may not be what it means in the least.
Q. If religious communities have traditionally been inhospitable places for gays and lesbians, how might they become open and affirming?
A. Change can only come when people are given, or give themselves, the opportunity to meet gay Christians. That’s why “coming out” is so important. When people discover that the notions they have just don’t hold up, change can begin. That’s why I encourage gays to go back to their churches, even though they can be unwelcoming places, and be a living witness against the lies told about them. Most of the congregations I am familiar with which have become open and affirming did not make the change simply for reasons of justice (although it happens). Most discovered that the GLBTs among them deserved to be treated with gospel welcoming.
Q. Although ordination is a point of contention in most churches, it’s marriage that is the issue that seems to be a problem even for the most progressive among us. Why is this?
A. I’ve discovered that the refusal to marry same-sex couples comes more from polity than from belief. If the restriction were lifted, there would be immediate and wholesale gay marriages performed all over the country. In spite of the restrictions, many clergy do it anyway, and many others perform union blessings that are in reality marriage by another name. I find it very curious that we won’t allow gays and lesbians to marry, and then accuse them of not behaving as we straights (should) behave!
Q. With younger Americans seemingly more accepting of homosexuality, do you see a major sea change in both the church and in the broader culture occurring in the near future?
Projecting the effect of the Millennium Generation taking the power now held by the Baby Boomers is wonderful to contemplate. All the polls suggest that being gay is a non-issue for them. However, as in all the major sea changes in America, from slavery, segregation, women’s rights and now gay rights, the church always comes in last. The citizenry as a whole is much farther ahead of the church on gay rights. I’m not looking for much to change in this regard. We have much to answer for.
Q. Finally, Steve, is there anything we’ve not yet covered that you just have to get off your chest?
A. Yes, indeed, and thank you! Ultimately, the refusal of marriage to same-sex couples is a denial of their humanity. The first “not good” of creation was God’s discovery that “it is not good for the human to be alone.” When the church denies marriage to gay couples it is saying that you are not worthy of having your loneliness relieved in the only way it is possible. In other words, you are not worthy of being a human being. Imagine the anguish of a straight person not being able to marry, ever, unless he or she married someone of the same sex. God created us all in the image of God. Who are we to denigrate that which God has made?