What’s Eating Michelle Shocked? A Pastoral Letter to a Sister in Christ

Dear Sister Michelle,

I’m a Christian pastor who is a long time fan of your music and have seen you perform live twice. The first time was in Washington, D.C. when you were touring with Billy Bragg in 1988 and the most recent time was at the Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina two years ago.

I don’t think you identified as a Christian in 1988 but many of your early songs suggested to me that I should view you as a fellow follower of the inclusive ways of Jesus. Your music has been very empowering to women and has endeared you to the lesbian community in particular. Your lyrics have promoted social justice and have championed solidarity with the oppressed. You’ve helped give a powerful voice to the voiceless.

I was delighted to learn that you’d become a Christian in the past decade and was seriously over-joyed to see you performing for free at the progressive/emerging Christian Wild Goose Festival.

Needless to say, I was among the many in your fan base who were truly surprised by your recent anti-gay outburst.

I write to you from a pastoral heart of caring about a sheep that seems to have lost its way. I realize you have an actual pastor, but I’m not sure that he will be the sort to even perceive that your current actions are deviant of Jesus’ way – let alone seek to reach out to you with his shepherd’s crook. (Indeed, he may’ve been the one to set you up for that uncharacteristic stunt)

As I understand it, you knowingly set things up that you’d state “your truth” about how bad, wrong, and evil homosexuality is at a venue in San Francisco. I suppose in your mind it may’ve seemed a bit like Jesus going into the Temple in ancient Jerusalem and flipping over the tables and chastising the money lenders.

Jesus’ assertive episode wasn’t fully out of character for him as the gospels present him as challenging religious leaders and having conflict with them leading up to that point and Jesus clearly was seeking to force the issue and bring things to a head. His agenda that day wasn’t to chastise a particular group of sinners (money lenders/exchangers), his point was to call out the entire Temple system and the leadership of the nation of Israel that had been corrupted by their collusion with the Roman Empire. He was reclaiming the Temple for God’s purposes, not for the worldly powers that be. It was the culmination of his three years of subversive and counter-cultural community organizing and evangelism.

Sister Michelle, gays are only 5-8% of the human population and they certainly aren’t causing ruin to our nation. Indeed, it was the gay Bayard Rustin who was the architect behind the Civil Right’s movement and its powerful march on Washington. I trust we agree that that movement was in sync with God’s intentions.

I speak on behalf of many when I say that we find it odd that you uttered those anti-gay remarks. You’ve been active with progressive politics for years; have been in a lesbian relationship; have written many songs that convey justice, love and unity; and you were even arrested at an Occupy LA event in 2011. Simply put, uttering homophobic vitriol isn’t you. It isn’t Michelle.

Part of my calling is to remind fellow children of God who and Whose they really are. You Michelle, are a loved, forgiven, and accepted child of God – and so are all of the citizens of San Francisco. You are a talented and gifted prophet for social justice. You are a voice of empowerment to many oppressed and marginalized people. You are a convert to Christianity and as such you are an ambassador for our faith and for the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed.

You are the blessed homo(or bi)-sexual woman who, in an interview in 1990 in OutLines shared about your relationships with women,

“I was with my first woman lover about a year and a half ago. To be honest, the real fear of coming out of the closet, not fear, but the real pressures of coming out of the closet had been if you had certain problems identifying yourself one way or the other.”

You are the insightful follower of Jesus who in 2008 told the Dallas Observer that “In his time, Jesus was hanging out with the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the lepers, all the people that proper society had banished or had determined were underclass. Today, it is easy for me to imagine that Jesus would hang around those who have been scorned, abandoned and neglected. We live in a homophobic society. But homosexuals are a group of folks who Jesus would recognize. Jesus even says that he didn’t come here to be righteous. He came here for those who needed salvation.”

And, you are the humble and self-reflective Christian woman who later said, “I am a believer. I am a devout practicing Christian,” she told Edge on the Net in 2008.  “I don’t like the ring of that because I know so many people who profess the faith, and I look at their social conscious, and I can’t see how they reconcile their faith with their politics.” And… you went onto say that the Bible contains some “inconvenient truths like how the Bible teaches homosexuality is immoral.” However, you also said,“…But homosexuality is no more less a sin than fornication,…and I’m a fornicator with a capital F.”

And you are the talented singer-songwriter who created an album that challenged our military’s former discriminatory policy of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

Yet, you are also the wayward sheep who recently said that you fear for our nation if we allow gays to get married and who told her fans that they can “tweet that Michelle Shocked hates faggots!”

Let me gently invite you to reconsider a few things. First of all, it isn’t at all “clear” that the Bible is opposed to homosexuality. Please consider these fine links that challenge that notion:

I) II) III) IV)

But, for the sake of argument, let’s posit that homosexuality (and fornication, divorce, and remarriage) is a sin. Given that premise, as you wisely stated a few years ago, “it’s no more of a sin than fornication.” Michelle, gays are only 5-8% of the population and many of them are not having sex at all. Indeed, many of them go to their homes at night as lonely people. Moreover, most of the straight population engages in fornication and over half of them divorce and many of them remarry. To focus God’s wrath on the sins of the few while ignoring those of the many — is scapegoating. Jesus didn’t do that. Neither should we.

Second, re: your “fearing the world will end” if gays are allowed to marry, fear is the opposite of faith. Christians aren’t to fear anything. If God didn’t end the world after the genocide of native peoples, or after the genocides by Hitler, Stalin, Mao, after our use of nuclear weapons against civilians in Japan, or after our unjust war with Iraq, God isn’t going to end the world because some gay folks tie the knot and try to live happily ever after.

We humans sometimes make unfortunate outbursts. Sometimes we act out our inner demons that we struggle with. Sometimes we experience mental illness. Sometimes we hurt and offend others. Sometimes we self-sabotage. Sometimes we’re not at our best. Sometimes we step in it — Big time. And yet, grace happens too.

In your words, “What’s to be done with a prodigal daughter? … the answer isn’t to draw shut our shades and shutters, we are running out to you with the wide open arms of love.

Michelle, we love you. We’re praying for you. We’ll leave the light on for you. And when we hear the dogs barking, we’ll run out to meet you  — and you don’t even have to say you’re sorry. We love you just as you are — just as the real you loves us.

In God’s Grace,

Rev. Roger Wolsey

Director, Wesley Foundation at C.U.-Boulder

author Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity

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update: since this blog was written, I’ve come to learn that Michelle has clarified what she meant to say at that show the other night; i.e., she wasn’t advocating anti-gay positions, she was seeking to convey how *other Christians* tend to have those views and she was lampooning them. The trouble is, she was apparently less than deft at convey sarcasm and she left people thinking she’d said the exact opposite of what she apparently intended to say. Okay, we’ll have to take your word that you didn’t mean what others heard you say.

Consider this blog as one that tells the gay community that Jesus-loving Christians will step up and call out fellow Christians when they miss the mark and/or offend oppressed minority groups; and consider it also as a reminder that we need each other in this life in order to be at our best. Peace. - Roger

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About Roger Wolsey

Rev. Roger Wolsey is an ordained United Methodist pastor who serves as the director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He's the author of "Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don't like christianity."


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