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.