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"Let them know they are loved"

Posted in: Features
By Jacqui Stanford - 3rd August 2015

“There are a thousand realities about your children that you have no control over. The one you do have control over is to let them know that they are loved by you no matter what,” says leading American activist-theologian Brian McLaren, who believes parents should have open minds to the possibility their child might be gay, bi, trans – or whoever they are.

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McLaren is visiting New Zealand for a series of talks, lectures and workshops around the country, as the guest of The Smallternative Trust, a relief and development agency.

Dubbed one of America's most influential evangelicals by TIME, he is a leading exponent of the so-called "emergent church movement", basically Christians who no longer "do church" in the traditional sense. He wants to get beyond narrow doctrinal wrangling, and is calling for “a rediscovering of the Jesus of the Bible in a fresh and liberating way”.

The former college English teacher, who is father of four and grandfather of four more, spent 24 years as a pastor, which is when he began writing and speaking, something he’s become noted for.

His was an early evangelical voice for churches to engage in some of the key concerns of the day, including lgbt equality.

It wasn’t always that way though.

“I had grown up in a very conservative background. So conservative that we never talked about sexuality,” he told GayNZ.com in a relaxed chat at Auckland café Alleluya.

“It was considered improper talk and something we just didn’t talk about. In the 80s and 90s when gay equality became a public issue and opposition to equality became stronger, it pushed pastors like me to have to rethink issues and make some choices. Which happened to me gradually in the 80s and 90s.”

McLaren is calming and astute, someone you could probably spend hours talking to. As a pastor he had people coming out to him – and often also spoke with parents of gay youths and spouses of gay adults. “When you have real life conversations like that you realise that a lot of the old easy answers and pronouncements are unrealistic. And deeply harmful.”

He is grateful his thinking changed before his own son came out. In fact he has two gay children and led the commitment ceremony at one son’s wedding in 2012.

“I’d gone through a total change in my thinking on this issue before I’d even imagined some of my kids were gay. I am really glad it worked that way because it made it a whole lot easier for them when it was time for them to come out.”

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His advice for parents is to realise, and he estimates as there are real no numbers, that around six per cent of people are gay.

“So I think every parent with small children ought to make up their mind that if their child happens to be one of that six percent, they better be absolutely sure their child is going to be loved and accepted by them no matter what,” he says, pointing out that figure doesn’t even include bi and trans people.

“I just think this a question parents ought to get straightened out in their minds. There are a thousand realities about your children that you have no control over. The one you do have control over is to let them know that they are loved by you no matter what.”

When it comes to churches, he says in a way they are in a tough position, because they have long traditions and authority structures based on the way the Bible has been interpreted. “To go against your tradition is never easy. But many, many times churches are cowardly, and they would rather hurt gay people and their families than offend some of the people who are among them. And that cowardice is inexcusable.

“I wish all the pastors who have condemned people could be put in a situation that was safe enough that people could tell their stories. Because I think very few clergy could be so hard-hearted to not be touched.”

More liberal churches are emerging though. McLaren says even in the US, many of the evangelical churches which have been seen as hardcore conservatives when it comes to sexuality, are thawing. “Just about every week I hear about another one that is changing its view on this. And I have so many pastors who say to me in private ‘I have changed, my congregation hasn’t’. It’s remarkable how fast it’s happened.”

In relatively liberal New Zealand, there are some fundamentalist wings and voices, influenced by anti-gay big boys in the US and some very gay-unfriendly nations.

McLaren points to a global trend of fundamentalist and conservative push-back.

“While equality is spreading for gay people in many parts of the world, it’s actually reversing in other places,” he says, referring to places which are actually moving to criminalise being gay and out.

“I think we’re going to see that pattern continue. There’s a kind of demagoguery that some leaders use. They need someone to scapegoat. And gay people for millennia have been scapegoated. And demagogues can always gain more power by creating a common enemy to scapegoat. I think we’re going to see more of that.”

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McLaren says religions can turn beliefs into something akin to a tattoo or uniform, a sign of belonging.

“And when you make belonging contingent that way, it has a bad effect both socially and what it means to belong - and on people’s honesty, because holding a belief becomes necessary for acceptance.”

He agrees things become very black and white, such as the Bible being read a certain way. “And what’s tragic about that is when you actually take the Bible seriously you see the Bible itself documents beliefs changing over time. So to use the Bible to freeze [beliefs] would be like taking a textbook from 1974 or 1991 and saying that textbook is the last word on science.”

If you would like to hear more of Brian McLaren’s thoughts on religion and social justice issues, and his philosophy of ‘a new way of believing’, you can catch him at the venues below.

NEW PLYMOUTH

MONDAY, 3 AUGUST
Dinner and conversation with Brian McLaren
Venue: New Plymouth West Baptist Church, 144 South Rd, Spotswood, New Plymouth
Time: 6pm
Registration & more information: administrator@westbaptist.org.nz
New Plymouth West Church: www.westbaptist.org.nz

AUCKLAND

TUESDAY, 4 AUGUST
Evening Conversation
Venue: Greenlane Christian Centre, 17 Marewa Rd, Greenlane, Auckland
Time: 7pm – 9pm
Registration & more information: Eric Holmes, eric@smallternative.org
Entry: Donation / Koha $10

HAMILTON

WEDNESDAY, 5 AUGUST
“Convermersion” (Immersion in conversation)
Venue: Hamilton South Baptist Church, 131 Ohaupo Rd, Melville, Hamilton
Time: 9am – 5pm
Registration & more information: office@hamsouthbaptist.org.nz
South Baptist Church: www.hamsouthbaptist.org.nz

CHRISTCHURCH

THURSDAY, 6 AUGUST
Café evening: ‘The Bible, the Church and the 21st Century World’
Venue: Vandam’s Café, 355 Riccarton Rd, Church Cnr, Christchurch
Time: 7pm – 9pm
Registration & more information: www.kererupublishing.com/aboutus/brian-mclaren-nz-visit

FRIDAY, 7 AUGUST
Workshop: ‘Dancing to a New Tune’
Venue: St Marks Methodist Church, Cnr Barrington and Somerfield Streets, Somerfield, Christchurch
Time: 9.30am – 3pm
Registration & more information: www.kererupublishing.com/aboutus/brian-mclaren-nz-visit

WELLINGTON

SATURDAY, 8 AUGUST
The Boulcott Seminar: A Day with Brian McLaren
Venue: Central Baptist Church, 46 Boulcott Street, Wellington
Time: 8.30am – 5.15pm
Registration & more information: www.central.org.nz/event-items/the-boulcott-seminar-a-day-with-brian-mclaren/

SATURDAY, 8 AUGUST
Free Public Lecture
Venue: Central Baptist Church, 46 Boulcott Street, Wellington
Time: 7pm


Jacqui Stanford - 3rd August 2015

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