Pastor Spotlight - Archive  
  Pastor: Dr. Kenneth Samuel
Victory Church - Atlanta, GA
Interview by:
Tuan N'Gai

Tuan N'Gai (TN): Good afternoon Dr. Samuel, I'd like you to complete this statement; "God opens doors…"

Dr. Samuel (KS): God opens doors that no one can close.

TN: How would you advise those who are looking to start "affirming churches" or churches that want to become "affirming" to overcome the obstacles they will have to face?

KS: I think the inclusivity issue highlights two very important issues for any church or for that matter, any Christian. The first being one of biblical interpretation. How do we determine what the Bible means for us in our time? What is God saying? That involves understanding what God has said and how persons interpret what God said. We understand that the Bible is a series of interpretive documents where persons have experienced God in various ways and contexts and wrote about it. The scripture says we see through a glass darkly. We all see God through our lenses. What God has said is interpreted through the lens of our experience, background, interests, passions, identity…all those things are lenses through which see God. Those who are serious about their study of the Bible will try to understand what lenses the biblical writers were speaking through, because that will help us understand what they meant and who they spoke to. Then we will have a ground of integrity and truth whereby we can make pertinent application for our contemporary context. If we do not look through those lenses and just assume what the Bible says is "literally" the Word of God, we get ourselves into all kinds of trouble. The literal interpreters of the Word of God have done serious damage throughout history to people across the board.

The other thing is for Christians and Churches to be concerned with issues of liberation. If we are concerned about issues of liberation, we understand that we cannot take the Bible literally, but we read the text understanding God's overall intent to liberate His people. Liberation is the central theme throughout the pages of the Bible. And if we miss that, we miss the crux of what it means to be a Christian. Salvation itself means freedom. It becomes a contradiction of our faith when we proclaim personal freedom, yet we support unjust systems that keep people in bondage to poverty, etc…I think if we are serious about liberation, we must read the text with God's intent to liberate all people. And whatever we extract from the text that does not speak to liberation, it has to be interpreted in light of God's overall intent.

TN: With the understanding that MINISTRY=SERVICE, how do you propose that we better serve our communities and not get arrogant because we are ushered into leadership positions?

KS: I think our supreme model of service is the Chief Servant, Christ Himself. There is so much hype with Christianity today. It's so institutionalized and so widely accepted that I wonder if we have basically taken the edge out of our whole dialogue and movement. Christianity began as a sect of Judaism. It was denounced for many years. Jesus, the Founder, suffered a political assassination. By serious reading of the text, we cannot see Jesus as a conformist or follower of the status quo. He was very much a radical who questioned institution, assumptions and was always on the cutting edge of including different people in the Kingdom. When we look at the model of Jesus, how many people want to be like that? We see the Bishops, and the Doctors, the Pastors and the Televangelists, and we all want to ride that train. But the life of Jesus was in stark contrast. Anyone who is serious about being a servant must remain focused on Christ and not the "trappings of Christendom". Very often the church and Christ are not in the same place. Al Sharpton said "in this upcoming election, we're going to have a showdown between the 'Christian Right and the Right Christians'." And that's very true. This is the era of the Christian Right. They are flying around in helicopters and jets, with one church in five locations. Many look at that and want it. Why wouldn't they? But when we look at the life of Jesus, we have to ask ourselves "who will I pattern myself after?" And if we will truly follow Jesus, then can I really expect to be popular and wealthy?

TN: Many see you as a role model, SGL and Non-SGL alike. How have you overcome the pressures of being and living a life of inclusivity?

KS: I don't know that I've overcome it. I live with it every day (laugh). But it's something that you understand comes with being a radical for Christ. I tell people all the time "if you want to be popular or well liked, don't follow Jesus". We take those glory years of His ministry and lift them up as though that's all there is. But Jesus does lead us to die. He leads us to Calvary. Surely we will be resurrected. But there's a lot of pathos and passion involved in the crucifixion and what leads to it. It involves our personal suffering. More than just "I'm trying to get over my temptation to drink" or something like that, but it will involve social criticism and ostracism. Some public ridicule. If people cannot endure or take that, you can't follow Christ. You can pastor a large church and be popular. You can be a pimp of the Gospel, but you cannot be a true follower of Christ unless you are able to endure the hardship. You have to choose between Christ and the Crowd.

TN: How would you advise someone who has heard their pastor preach a "bashing sermon" to go to them and voice their concerns?

KS: The people who have the most impact in changing the homophobic culture of the black church are the SGL persons themselves. Those who are secure enough in who they are to stand up to the pastors and say, "this is who I am". That's where it begins. A lot of what is propagated from the pulpit is done so anonymously so they just throw it out there. It's one thing for them to say something and not know exactly whom they're talking to. But for someone to go to him or her and say "What you said hurt me and offended me. I'm an active, tithing member of this church, and I'm here because I believe God moves here. But I want you to know that when you make those statements it's offensive and hurtful, because I'm just as much a child of God as you are". And if you have a pastor that cannot deal with that, then for the life of me, I don't know why they would want to stay. But you then will then have raised some serious issues. The pastors will no longer be shooting blanks, they will know that there are people looking at them how are personally and directly offended by that they have said. That will at least make the pastors think about how what they say affects people. Now there are some who have gone to their pastors and they pastor STILL bashes, and they stay. To me that is self-flagellation. It's a waste of your energy, your money, and your time. You go to church to be inspired and empowered. To be challenged to be better than who you are, not to be dehumanized. What is church about if you cannot learn how to be the best you can be? You can't be the best you are if you deny who you are.

TN: If you had 45 seconds to address the world, what would that message be?

KS: GOD IS LOVE AND LOVE HAS NO LIMITS. No racial limits, social limits. Not even religious limits. And most definitely no sexual orientation limits. That's it.

TN: Thank you so much Dr. Samuel for your time. We appreciate and admire the work you are doing.

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