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

====

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

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."

  • smrnda

    I heard that she was ‘being ironic’ but whenever you decide to perform, a question you need to ask is ‘is anybody going to get this joke?’ I used to write material for stand-up comics, and the advice I gave them was that if the audience doesn’t get their jokes, then they need new material, and blaming the audience is silly when you’re trying to be an entertainer. I’ve just read a few responses complaining that the audience ‘didn’t get the irony’ but hey, if people can’t tell when you’re being ironic, then you aren’t a very good performer.

    Understandably there are some remarks that, yanked out of context, can sound bad and even the opposite of what was intended, but the people there *in person* should get it.

  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

    it could also be that there’s a mental health factor involved. i’ve seen people do very uncharacteristic things during bi-polar episodes, that they’ve had to apologize for and try to make right. whatever the case, let’s pray for her and for as much reconciliation as possible.

    • mason

      unfortunately, a “mental health factor” seems like the only explanation that makes sense. any of us who’ve worked with michelle can tell you that she’s very intense and very intelligent. anyone who’s seen her perform can tell you that she is a true artist. and anyone who’s followed her politics can tell you that she’s quite liberal. but anyone who has spent time with her can also tell you that she often seems like she’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown. i feel bad for her. it’s a shame that someone who is so talented and so spiritual (as a performer) can become so muddled and confused. it’s downright disturbing because this rant at yoshi’s is not michelle.

    • JLMc

      First of all, Roger, let me just tell you that I just recently discovered your FB page (Kissing Fiish) and I have really been enjoying it. We really need more pastors like you. I have been following this really sad episode with Michelle Shocked – been a really big fan for a long time and I very much appreciate her social activism. However, having listened to a recording of the evening, it is pretty clear that she said some outrageous and hateful things, likely premeditated. Nothing seemed *ironic* or subject to *misinterpretation*. She has, apparently, been moving deeper and deeper into a fundamentalist sect. From what I have read and listened to over the course of the week, it seems to me that she is probably having some sort of mental crisis. I thought the Spin.com article/interview was particularly troubling and I really hope this story does not end tragically. Seriously… maybe I am being paranoid, but seeming to compare yourself to Jesus and rambling about his mock trial and execution, as she does in the Spin interview, being this close to Holy week is weird to me and troubling. I totally agree with your sweet blog and message to her and I really hope she is able to get some help and find some peace.

      • http://pleasepassthepeas.wordpress.com B00tler

        This was an excellent response to her comments in S.F. I am truly baffled at the “update” on behalf of Ms. Shocked. I attended one of her shows several years ago in Dallas–around 2004 or 2005, I think–and she went on an anti-gay rant during that show. Not as bad as the one in San Francisco, but it was clearly hostile and sufficiently offensive that my friends and I were shocked and upset and left the show. I wish now I could remember what she said, all I remember is that it was bad. I don’t think we misunderstood her. I don’t think the people who heard her in S.F. misunderstood her.

        I hope she gets herself figured out. I work with a non-profit music venue and have gotten to know various artists behind the scenes. One thing that strikes me is how difficult it is for them to have solid relationships and healthy lifestyles if they are touring all the time and especially if they have achieved any degree of recognition. Once some people get a following, it becomes hard to know who likes you for you, and who likes you for who you are on stage–or for the glow of being connected to you.

  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

    here’s a link to one of the original stories about the incident for those who aren’t aware:

    http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/19/michelle-shocked-draws-fire-for-anti-gay-remarks/

  • Cynthia

    A beautifully written love letter. Thank you for modeling compassion and integrity.

    • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

      Thank you. If I do something that’s clearly harmful to others, I’d want someone to love me back to my true self too. It’s a “do unto others as you’d have them do unto them” thing.

  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

    If you’d like to hear the outburst and exchange she had with her audience, click this link and scroll toward the bottom and click on the play arrow. It didn’t sound ironic or sarcastic to me. Seems to me she was speaking “her truth” — a homophobic one that doesn’t connect with her back-stepping apology. You be the judge:

    http://gawker.com/5991585/heres-audio-of-michelle-shockeds-anti+gay-rant-or-whatever-it-is

  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey
  • Julio

    I’m sorry, Pastor, but you are DEAD wrong. But, being a United Methodist pastor, says it all. You guys are liberals and perverting the word of God. There ARE things the Bible condemns and labels as SIN. Now, granted, homosexuality is no worse than fornication, adultery, etc. But it IS SINFUL.

    Please reread Matt. 7:21 – 23.

    As for your comments that the world won’t end because of the way gays are FORCING their lifestyles upon us–and for those who say they’re not, consider all the laws being passed and all the indoctrination going on in public schools, in the media and entertainment industries, etc.–you’re probably right. However! THAT on top of everything else–immorality–going on in the world, well, have you ever heard of the straw that broke the camel’s back? I’m not saying this is it. But it sure doesn’t make things any better.

    And, just because didn’t end it when those things you described occured, doesn’t mean He NEVER will. He has a time plan. And that plan DOES call for an end to things as they are now.

    Please, also, reread Ephesians 5:11.

    • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

      With respect, how about you read Luke 6:37. Peace.

      • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

        an end to “the world as it is now” is in order. an end to bigotry, exclusion, and damning judgmentalism is something to look forward too. indeed, that’d be part of what it means for the Kingdom to be fully realized. i invite you to take my hand and help work to help introduce that Kingdom.

    • cinesimon

      Poor Julio. I guess you could TRY to behave more childishly. Not sure if you’d achieve it though.

  • Julio

    Yes, and once again, that verse is NOT saying what too many people WANT it to say. It is spaeaking about HYPOCRITCAL judging.

    Also:

    John 7:24

    1 Corinthians 6:3

    OK, let me get a couple of things straight, first. I do not know you. You may be the kindest, most decent person ever. I am not “hating” on YOU. I just checked the UMC’s doctrines and realize I may have made a mistake. I thought they were unequivocally for homosexual marriage/pastors. It seems there is division in the denomination about that. However, it would APPEAR that you side with the ones wanting to change that.

    Homosexuality is a sin, Pastor. God says so, not me. I have PLENTY of sin in my life that needs to be cleansed. BUT! I admit it is sin AND that I need God’s grace and power to change. I don’t try to defend it, say the Bible doesn’t condemn it or isn’t clear on it. I accept what God has told me and seek his power to change me.

    I refuse, with all due respect, your offer to “introduce” me to the lies of the devil–I understand you do it in all sincerity and with good intentions, and that you believe it with all your heart and think you’re doing me a favor; however you are sincerely wrong, and the road to hell, as they say, “is paved with good intentions.” But! I agree with your description of heaven But I would add, no blatant/contnual sinner who denies that God has said what he has said, will be there as you seem to think. That means those who PRACTICE and live a life of homosexuality. I am NOT saying they can’t repent and receive eternal lif in the kingdom, I just saying they NEED to repent and accept jesus and his truth for waht they are.

    • conrad sullivan

      God made gay people the way they are, if they are sinner’s then blame God for making them that way, don’t blame the people who are simply being who God made them to be. If being gay is so bad then God really screwed up, and I have a problem believing that.

    • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

      Julio, exactly. hypocritical judging. You’ve just confirmed that you’re a sinner who is not yet fully repentant. And, when coupled with Matthew 7:3, 5, this would mean that you’re not in a position to be judging others. You take your Bible seriously. Do more of that. Let’s let God and others deal with others.

    • cinesimon

      I’m sure you condemn just as viciously those who lie in the same bed as their wives when they have their period.

      That fact that you clearly pick and chose which bits of sentences from either testament to follow and preach, shows very clearly that it is YOU who choose to hate.

      Blaming it on a god you obviously have no faith in(given your overt dishonesty), merely shows your lack of honesty, and an angry unwillingness to behave like an adult.

      And I take it you do understand that exactly the same arguments were made against the freeing of slaves, an the right for non whites to vote? It’s the same old same old.

      I’m surprised you’re not calling everyone commies and Muslims, too.

  • Mitchell Hay

    Hi Roger-

    Our mutual connections to `Chelle Shocked are similar. Saw her in Boston with Billy Bragg while my wife-to-be and I were in seminary in `88, and then at Wild Goose in 2011. (You and I gabbed briefly when I picked up a copy your book.) One of the things I loved about WG was the ability to hang out and eat with the artists. May daughter (now 14) found it so liberating to eat breakfast with Jennifer Knapp and talk about coming out, and to chill on the grass with Michelle and talk about the intersection of loving Jesus and leftie politics.

    My daughter was pretty heartbroken to read about Michelle’s anti-gay rant. I pray it was a case of comedy-fallen-flat. And if not, I pray for grace to abound anew in her heart. Thanks for your ministries.

  • conrad sullivan

    I’m a long time fan of Michelle’s and was deeply disapointed in her rant. She made it clear in her rant that she shared these views that she expressed. She can appolagize for her hate fueled rant but if she say’s that she meant something else, then now she’s lying. It’s this kind of hate coming from self professed Christians that drive so many people away from Christianity. Michelle did her part to convince many people that God don’t exist. It’s no wonder why the number of agnostic and athiest people are growing faster than any religion. I can’t help but think myself if heaven is going to be full of hateful conservative Christians then what a miserable place it must be.

  • cinesimon

    The problem for Michelle, is that the evening in question was recorded – and it’s very clear that she was including herself as an anti-gay hardliner. Unequivocal.

    The recording really does show her ‘clarification’ to be dishonest at best. Below is a link to the recording:

    https://soundcloud.com/therealtofuandwhiskey/michelle-shocked-2nd-yoshis

  • gali

    Listening to that audio I’d say that was a textbook example oof deranged ranting. And not just the anti gay statements. The whole thing. And I understand it wasn’t the first time. Let’s hope this career suicide will lead to her getting the medical attention she obviously needs.

  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

    It occurs to me that this earlier blog that I wrote may be applicable to this situation.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogerwolsey/2011/10/halloween-a-time-for-me-and-my-shadow/

  • Sencho

    When all of us finally admit to ourselves what is already so clear to so many – that there has never been a God – then we can move beyond Shocked’s and others’ brand of hateful self-righteousness. I wish all of you that particular enlightenment and true freedom from ignorance.

    • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com rogerwolsey

      Sencho, GODISNOWHERE.

  • Debbie

    Roger, this is very well written, and I enjoyed reading this. Thank you for making sense!

  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com rogerwolsey

    uh oh. the plot has since thickened… and not in a good way. Praying for her.

    http://www.advocate.com/arts-entertainment/music/2013/03/29/michelle-shocked-continues-unravel

  • Deborah

    Thank you Reverend Wolsey, for seeing the cognitive disorder behind the deeds and loving the child in spite of the behavior. Thank you also for taking the time to post a plea for love and prayers, rather than a call for further judgement and emotional violence. I’ll say a prayer for Michelle…and for you.


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