A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar

Heavy Burdens: Interview with Bridget Eileen Rivera (Part 2)

March 11, 2022 Randy Knie, Kyle Whitaker Season 2 Episode 17
Heavy Burdens: Interview with Bridget Eileen Rivera (Part 2)
A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar
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A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar
Heavy Burdens: Interview with Bridget Eileen Rivera (Part 2)
Mar 11, 2022 Season 2 Episode 17
Randy Knie, Kyle Whitaker

We return for part two of our interview with Bridget Eileen Rivera, the author of Heavy Burdens: Seven Ways LGBTQ Christians Experience Harm in the Church. In the conclusion, we discuss the common claim that the Bible is "clear" when it comes to LGBTQ issues, when (and why) the word "homosexual" was added to the Bible, what the Greek actually does and doesn't say, how sex was understood in the Roman world, trans issues and where the idea of binary gender categories comes from, whether Christians who reject their LGBTQ friends and family are bad people, and what pastors can practically do to implement change in their churches. As good as we think this content is, the book is packed with more than we could get to, so do yourself a favor and buy it.

The bourbon we taste in this episode is the Fusion Series from Bardstown Bourbon Company.

The beverage tasting is at 1:45. To skip to the interview, go to 4:31.

You can find the transcript for this episode here.

Content note: this episode contains discussion of rape and some mild profanity.


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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

We return for part two of our interview with Bridget Eileen Rivera, the author of Heavy Burdens: Seven Ways LGBTQ Christians Experience Harm in the Church. In the conclusion, we discuss the common claim that the Bible is "clear" when it comes to LGBTQ issues, when (and why) the word "homosexual" was added to the Bible, what the Greek actually does and doesn't say, how sex was understood in the Roman world, trans issues and where the idea of binary gender categories comes from, whether Christians who reject their LGBTQ friends and family are bad people, and what pastors can practically do to implement change in their churches. As good as we think this content is, the book is packed with more than we could get to, so do yourself a favor and buy it.

The bourbon we taste in this episode is the Fusion Series from Bardstown Bourbon Company.

The beverage tasting is at 1:45. To skip to the interview, go to 4:31.

You can find the transcript for this episode here.

Content note: this episode contains discussion of rape and some mild profanity.


Want to support us?

The best way is to subscribe to our Patreon. Annual memberships are available for a 10% discount.

If you'd rather make a one-time donation, you can contribute through our PayPal.

Other important info:

  • Rate & review us on Apple & Spotify
  • Follow us on social media at @PPWBPodcast
  • Watch & comment on YouTube
  • Email us at pastorandphilosopher@gmail.com


Randy: [00:00:00] Welcome, friends, to another installment of A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar. Super excited to continue the conversation today with Bridget Eileen Rivera. The book is Heavy Burdens: Seven Ways LGBTQ Christians Experience Harm in the Church.

And last week we got into the weeds in the best ways, kind of de-mythologizing some of the things that we think are clear in the Bible and thinking through some of the particularities of this debate that is just raging within the church and keeping so many beautiful people from knowing Jesus and embracing the gospel and feeling embraced by Jesus. These are important conversations, and so for the first time ever, we’re having a second part, a two-part episode, and this is part two with Bridget Eileen Rivera. I’m super excited to share it with you. 

Kyle: Yeah. Wonderful. In this conversation, we’ll take a turn more towards some practical stuff, some difficult moral stuff. Uh, so it’s heavy but [00:01:00] important.

Randy: Yeah. And my colleagues, church leaders, elders, people who make decisions in the church in America today. I want to just encourage you. I’m praying for you. And I, I’m just hoping that you get to listen without the fear, without the bias, that you can just have some time listening to this conversation and just being open to what might be possible in the church.

This is up to us. What happens in the next five years in the church. What happens in the next decade. Our kids are going to write a new story, but I want to get ahead of that and have our kids be proud of what we hand them in the church in regard to human sexuality. So let’s approach this conversation with humility, checking our bias at the door, and just listening for the spirit of God.

Kyle: So for our tasting today, we’re going to do some little unusual and we’re going to let Elliot introduce the bottle because he’s sharing it with us today…very graciously.

Randy: Kyle’s not buying today? Holy cow.

Kyle: Yeah. This is not me.

Elliot: I’m not sure I can hold up a bottle that matches what Kyle brings, but this is actually, this is the Bardstown Fusion [00:02:00] Series. So fusion, I think, is coming from… It’s a, it’s a blend of lots of different ages of, I dunno, all bourbons, I guess?

Randy: This is why we have Kyle do the profiles.

Kyle: Are they all at least half corn?

Elliot: Uh, yeah. Yeah. So it’s bourbon. So there’s the, the older, there’s 40% of what’s in this bottle is a 13 year bourbon. And then the remainder is 3 different 3 year bourbons, and so the fusion is mixing the old and the new so you’re getting, potentially, the nuance of all those flavors coming together.

Randy: Cool. That’s fun.

Kyle: Excellent. Yeah. So Bardstown is kind of marketing themselves as blenders, I guess, more than distillers, cause they’re still fairly young. So I think they’re sourcing while they age their stuff.

Randy: This smells like a good, straightforward bourbon. Whoa. Man. That is easy drinking.

Kyle: It’s reminiscent of the, now, two older expressions of Bardstown that I’ve had, which is a compliment. I really like everything I’ve had from them so far.

Randy: This is good.

Kyle: It’s far more complex than you expect from an entry level bourbon. I think it’s that 13 year bit of it. 

Elliot: Well, the thing [00:03:00] is though, I, I often enjoy, like, I almost feel guilty enjoying these younger bourbons because it just feels like, I enjoy the heat and there’s a, just a straightforward profile that I get. Mix that with an old one though and you get the best of both worlds. 

Randy: This is complex. It’s like cinnamon, it’s got some, like, peach characteristics to it, and then, but it’s very, I love the cut. I, it doesn’t burn on the way down, but you can taste it. Yep. That’s a good bourbon. 

Elliot: Plenty of corn too. It’s like sweet corn, eating corn on the cob.

Kyle: Yeah. This is like what I want out of an infinity bottle. These guys have mastered…

Randy: Sure. For those, those of us or listeners who don’t know what an infinity bottle is, enlighten us.

Kyle: Yeah, you take the dregs of whatever bottle you’re about to empty and you dump it into another bottle. And you just keep doing that with all these different bourbons and whiskeys. And eventually the hope is, if you’re careful with your blending, you’ll have something unique and delicious. Or it might turn into absolute crap depending on... 

Randy: So in case you do make an [00:04:00] infinity bottle, make sure you track what you add there, because it might wind up as good as this shit right here. 

Kyle: You could use this as a guide, actually, these percentages.

Elliot: So is it technically a cocktail? 

Randy: No.

Kyle: No.

Elliot: It’s four, four different spirits, all mixed together. 

Randy: A cocktail of bourbons, you could say.

Kyle: It’s all one kind of spirit. Sure, sure, bourbon cocktails.

Elliot: That sounds like my kind of cocktail.

Randy: It’s good. It’s really tasty. We recommend it. Tell us one more time what it is, Elliot.

Elliot: It’s the Bardstown Fusion Series. Yeah, highly recommended.

Kyle: Thanks for sharing, man.

Randy: Yeah, cheers.

Elliot: Cheers.

Kyle: So I have another question about the Bible. I think this is really important. So you don’t have to go into super a lot of detail about the specific passages in the Bible, but I just want to mention this idea that you spend a lot of focus on in your book, a lot of time talking about, which is this idea amongst a lot of conservative Christians, that the Bible is just clear.

You have a whole chapter about this: that it’s obvious. All you gotta do is look it up—and they name the handful of verses—Paul says it right there. Or Leviticus says it right [00:05:00] there, or whatever. Right. And it’s just apparent to them that they’re talking about homosexuals just as they exist today or LGBTQ people just as they exist today or trans people just as they exist today or whatever.

Um, so can you give us a, just a sort of short analysis of that idea that the Bible is clear and that we can easily figure out what to think about this if we’re Christians just by looking it up?

Bridget: Yeah, well, that gets back to a lot of the context for where the word homosexual comes from, because the whole idea that the Bible is clear really falls apart when you take the word homosexuality out of the Bible. The reason why people are able to say that the Bible is clear is because there’s translation after translation that says something equivalent to “homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of heaven” or “men who practice homosexuality will not inherit the kingdom of heaven.”

And so people are able to [00:06:00] point to that chapter and that verse, 1 Corinthians 6:9, the Bible says it, I believe it. And so well, yeah, that looks pretty clear. You know, that’s pretty plain English. And so of course people are gonna think the Bible is clear. So how do you unpack that? Well, you, you start by asking, where does that word homosexual come from? Why is that in the text in the first place? And, well, the answer is kind of startling because the very concept of homosexuality did not exist prior to the 19th century. So when you see the word homosexual or homosexuality in the Bible, automatically, there is a concept that has been placed onto the Bible that did not [00:07:00] actually exist in ancient times.

I liken this to trying to insert the words Democrat and Republican onto the text of scripture. And like, okay, those are real words. They describe real things, but the concept of a Democrat did not exist in ancient times. And so if you want to like insert, uh, the word Democrat or Republican into the Bible, well, the Bible wasn’t talking, could not have talked, about those people because there was no concept of those people. And it’s the same thing with homosexuality.

And where did that concept come from? Well, Freud was the most influential in developing this concept and it came about as a result of some of those changes in the Reformation where sex was seen as intrinsic to human nature. And so there was this idea that [00:08:00] began to develop that sex is inherently tied, your sexuality is inherently tied to your identity. So if you’re a good person, then you are sexually upright, moral, pure. If you are a bad person, then you are sexually impure, promiscuous, all of those sinful things. And this was used to develop, you know, the concept of the sexual purity of the white race, really entangled within that.

And the, the whole idea was that your sexuality is an expression of the kind of person that you are. And so sexual perversion was an indicator that you were sexually perverted. You are a pervert and that is your identity. Um, and so this idea, like [00:09:00] how do we start thinking about this, well, you start thinking about perversion as an identity. Okay, now we have to understand where does this perverted human identity come from? And well, Freud starts thinking about it and he says, okay, well, homosexuality comes about through a perversion of human development. And he came up with this whole identity to describe the ways that human development was arrested, perverted to create this homosexual reality in a person.

So he really popularized this way of thinking about human identity, this idea of sexual orientation, that you could define a person based upon their sexual attraction. And the results of this is that those words, “homosexuality,” “homosexual,” “bisexual,” “heterosexual,” they, like, became adopted overnight [00:10:00] because Freud was so influential to the point where even Christians did not really push back against it.

And by the 1940s, when they were updating new translations of the Bible, and they got to first Corinthians 6:9, and they read this verse that uses two words, malakoi and aresenokoitai, and I don’t know if I’m pronouncing that correctly, but…

Randy: Doesn’t matter.

Bridget: …we’ll go with it. Two very specific words rooted within the cultural context of ancient Rome, but they arrived at those two words, and instead of translating them to what they would mean literally if we were trying to be faithful to what the text actually said, interpreted them within the framework of this new concept of sexual orientation, which said that who you have sex with and who you are sexually attracted [00:11:00] to defines who you are.

Which the word that they understood for that passage was “homosexuality.” And so this word, this concept of sexual orientation, that was extremely new, this, this idea that we can define people in their identity based upon sexual attraction was suddenly in the word of God. This concept that had not existed even just a hundred years prior, suddenly the Bible is talking clearly on this idea.

And so I really want to push people that say the Bible is clear. Okay. Well, what if we took out the word “homosexual,” and instead we translated malakoi and aresenokoitai literally, would the Bible still be clear? How much of that clarity depends upon this word that was invented by 19th century sexologists?

And the truth of the fact of the [00:12:00] matter is that once you take that word out and you translate the text literally to say what it actually said, that clarity completely disappears. Now all of a sudden we have a conversation that needs to be had about what the Bible is talking about, which gets very messy and makes people uncomfortable.

Randy: You also articulate this very, very huge, vast canyon between how we see sex and how the ancient Romans saw sex, right? Sex as domination is basically what it was in ancient Roman culture. Can you take us into that world? Because even that word, that word that’s taken as effeminacy, actually has a totally different idea in the ancient world, in ancient Rome, than we do now, including men having sex with other men. It’s actually part of the definition of what’s in the Bible. Can you just clarify that, what I just butchered?

Bridget: Yeah. So there’s a lot of cultural things happening in these two words, malakoi and aresenokoitai. And the [00:13:00] first, which is probably actually the easiest one to talk about is the word malakoi, malakos.

This is a word very, very common to ancient Roman culture, um, used in a lot of different contexts to describe what we might say in English as being effeminate men. But what did that mean when they said that someone was effeminate? Uh, well translated literally, malakoi, malakos, it means soft. And so they were referring to a soft man.

And so, you know, we think of a soft man, we think of an effeminate man, we think of someone who’s gay. What they were referring to was someone who was pampered, was spoiled, lived in luxury, basically was a weak man. Cause back, back in these days, what was prized with someone who was strong, who was valorous, who was brave, who was mighty, who could conquer, who was dominant.

And [00:14:00] so someone who was malakoi, malakos, they were not dominant. They were weak, they were fragile, they were soft. They were all of the things that were not valued in a man in Roman culture. And at the time, uh, what had developed within Roman culture was this practice of raping, men would rape other men in order to establish their dominance.

Um, and so, uh, one man would rape another to prove his masculinity and the men that were raped were often men who were considered soft, basically were quote unquote “women.” And when that word was used, comparing them to women, they weren’t referring to men who put on dresses. They were referring to men who were weak, who were submissive, because what was prized, how sex was understood, was sex was an act of [00:15:00] domination.

And so there was this rape culture that existed and, uh, malakoi were the ones who were raped. And you, you cannot, you cannot read that word without understanding that context, because that word is so wrapped up in the context of ancient Rome. And so a lot of verses will sometimes translate the word malakoi as “effeminate,” “the feminine will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

And they’ll use that verse to condemn gay men wearing pink shirts and tight jeans and speaking with a lisp. And it’s like, that’s actually not with that verse is talking about; that’s not at all what was being talked about. That word is very much wrapped up within this culture of sex as [00:16:00] domination. Uh, then, then there’s the second word that’s used in this verse, which is aresenokoitai.

And this is the word that historically, in the KJV, was translated as “sodomites” and is, you know, often today translated as “homosexual.” Uh, but then some translations will translate both malakoi and aresenokoitai as “homosexual” together. Just, you know, count that the whole package and move on. But in general, what aresenokoitai means is “men who bed men,” men who sleep with men.

And this is not a word that’s commonly used in any texts that can be found in ancient Rome or in the Bible. And so what does “men who bed men” mean? Well, I think it’s important to have a conversation about that. A lot of people hear that and they immediately think homosexual. [00:17:00] Men who bed men are homosexuals.

Well, is that the case? Is that what that verse is talking about, given what we know about the time and the way sex worked at the time? Sex was an act of domination over others. Sexual attraction was peripheral to it. When Paul says “men who bed men will not inherit the kingdom of God,” is he really saying that a gay man is not going to inherit the kingdom of God because he’s attracted to other men? Is that really what he’s saying?

Or is it more likely that he is referring to something that exists at his time and, like, the understanding of sexuality that is dominant at this point in his culture that he is, is working with. And I really think it’s much more likely that he’s talking to the context of his time. And I think to say otherwise is doing an [00:18:00] injustice to the text. 

Randy: Yes. Yeah. I mean, we can disagree about what Paul was actually speaking to and speaking about, but what is I think inarguable is that these texts aren’t clear about homosexuality. We need to agree that; otherwise we’re not having a good faith argument and debate, I would say.

Bridget: Yeah. 

Kyle: Yeah, I mean, unless you read Greek…

Randy: Exactly.

Kyle: …then this isn’t clear to you. Because it’s not clear to lots of people who do. Unless you’re like very informed on the scholarship of the ancient near east, this isn’t clear to you. 

Bridget: I think that’s, that’s exactly it. Like, at the end of the day, this is a very involved conversation.

Randy: Yeah.

Bridget: And people want to sit down and say, the Bible is clear, and it’s like, no, it’s not. There’s a lot involved in this. And you’re going to say that people’s eternal destination hinges upon their ability to interpret Greek and Latin correctly, and [00:19:00] Hebrew while you’re at it, from the Old Testament, like, mmm, I don’t know about that.

Randy: Yeah. 

Kyle: Yeah. Not to mention the knowledge of psychology and anthropology and philosophy and sociology that you need to begin to enter this conversation.

Randy: Yeah.

Kyle: It’s funny how the only people who think it’s clear are the ones who haven’t looked deeply into it.

Bridget: Yeah.

Randy: So Bridget, changing gears, you speak to trans and gender realities in this book in ways that I’ve never heard of and find really, really helpful, and really, really helpful in a, in a biblical sort of way, actually. Can you bring our listeners into these ideas of gender as a bit more sacred and rooted in mystery and in the imago dei than we might have thought? 

Bridget: Yeah. Yeah. And this is a big conversation and in a lot of ways, it’s hard to completely do it justice, um, especially because there are so many feelings right now wrapped up in gender and the debates over trans rights are so [00:20:00] huge.

Uh, and I think it’s really hard to have this conversation without people getting riled up and feeling threatened in some way. And so I think an important thing when it comes to this conversation is to take a step back and to be willing to set aside for a minute, our fears, our assumptions, even our questions that we have for the other people out there.

Randy: You’re being so pastoral right now, I’m just loving it.

Bridget: But yeah, set those things aside and be willing to spend some time in some critical self-reflection, which is, what I really am trying to do in that section of the book, is challenging people to take a step back and let’s do some self-examination of what the dominant [00:21:00] assumptions about gender are in the church today, and really critically asking where do these assumptions come from?

Are they in fact biblical or is it possible that the answers we’ve been given are actually inadequate? And that’s really hard to do. I think that’s really scary for people because we are used to asking questions of the other side. It’s not so easy to ask those questions of ourselves. And so that’s what I really try to challenge people to do in the book, and I guess the challenge that I have when it comes to gender is where does this idea about our sexual biology defining who we are as a human being, where does that come from?

Because when we talk [00:22:00] about gender, what we’re really talking about is we’re talking about identity. We’re talking about who a person is, how a person is defined as a human being. And so where does the idea come from that our sexual biology is the defining marker of who we are as humans? And when you peel back the layers of where this idea comes from, there’s surprisingly very little evidence that this actually is rooted in scripture in any way, shape, or form. There is a lot of evidence showing how intrinsically connected this idea is to Greek and Roman paganism.

The ways that the Greco-Roman philosophers thought about sexual biology and its connection to male and female identity, and you can actually trace Greco-Roman pagan philosophy on sex and gender all the way through to the Enlightenment, all [00:23:00] the way up through social Darwinism, and into the present day with a lot of these ways of thinking, you can just trace, like, a direct connection all the way through.

Um, and so that’s, well, that’s interesting. And I think that’s surprising to people because people will be like, but wait, I thought, like, this is clearly in the Bible. The Bible says that God made them male and female, and therefore that’s, that’s how it should be. That’s our identity. Well, the Bible also said to be fruitful and multiply, and we don’t see that as being legalistically restricting us from having, I mean, most Christians today don’t see the command to be fruitful and multiply as being a restriction upon the type of sex that they can have.

So why is the description “male and female” all of a [00:24:00] sudden this thing that defines our identity? Really that logic is actually pretty weak, especially when you consider that it’s not even necessarily a command, it’s a description. And when you consider the reality that there’s a lot of people born today who are not male or female, just in terms of the reality of the diversity of humankind. There are people that are born as neither or who are born as both biologically, and, well, yes, God said he made them male or female, but I don’t think God was trying to say that that’s all humanity could ever be. And I think we know that for a fact today because there are human beings who are not just one or the other.

So, yeah. So my, my challenge in the book is to get people to step back and really start to think, where do these assumptions come from? Maybe this is a lot more complicated than [00:25:00] we’ve been led to believe.

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Kyle: Okay, so, apologies in advance for the length of this question, but it’s important to me, it hits on some things that I think about a lot and are kind of near and dear to my heart, and I just want to get your take on it. I’m not quite certain what I think about it, so I’m going to [00:26:00] pose it for you and let you instruct me. So you recount, as we’ve said, in your book, many stories of Christians, I’m going to put Christians in scare quotes here, “Christians” who respond to LGBTQ people reaching out to them for help, confused, don’t know what to do, or in a situation that is brand new to them, that is startling to them, that’s terrifying to them, reach out to their pastor or their parent or their best friend or whatever for help, and get hatred, vitriol, cruelty, in return. Straightforward cruelty. Get out of my church, never come back. I wish you were dead. Never speak to me again. That kind of stuff. Like, on a dime, parent to child, that kind of thing. And you say in the book, and you’ve said in this interview, that that’s the norm, that you’re not talking about extreme cases, that this is not a thing you had to dig around to find, that that [00:27:00] is more likely than not to be the experience of an LGBTQ person.

So there’s that. Okay. And then you also say, and this is on page 97 in the book, so about halfway through, about this whole scripture thing, that the thing that that rests on, the thing that that, like, deep, certain conviction that would lead a parent to say “I hate you” to their child, the thing that rests on is this extraordinarily weak reading of scripture that we just dismantled in 10 or 15 minutes.

Okay. So you say in the book, “It starts to look like many Christians are more committed to forcing scripture to say clearly and explicitly that homosexuality is a sin then they are to understanding what Paul’s words would’ve meant to a first century audience.” We just established that, I think. No question about that.

So you also say, though, later, uh, and this is what peaked my attention, this is towards the end of the book, that “most Christians don’t mean to hurt anyone when they [00:28:00] adopt harmful approaches towards LGBTQ issues, quite the opposite, most want to help.” That’s a quote from your book. I want to press on that. I wonder if there’s a tension between that and what we just said before. Because a parent who says to their child “I hate you; get out of my life” because they told them they were gay, if they introspect for five minutes, they will know that that’s based on a reading of the Bible that they don’t understand. They know they don’t read Greek. They know they’re not a psychologist. They know that their pastor doesn’t read Greek or isn’t a psychologist. If they spent 10 minutes introspecting about this, they could find that that deep conviction is based on almost nothing.

And so I want to ask you, are you being too generous? If this really is the norm, as you say, are you being too generous in saying most Christians don’t mean to hurt anyone? Or is this a sign of a deep character flaw? An uncomfortable sin that is a cancer in the church, you might say?

Bridget: [00:29:00] Yeah, I think the, I think the question is worth asking and to a certain extent, I think you kind of caught me in the book trying to give people a little bit of the benefit of the doubt, because I don’t want  to isolate people, I don’t want to make people feel as if I’m pointing the finger at them and telling them they’re a terrible person, because you know, when people feel cornered and caged and blamed like that, they’re less likely to actually hear you and actually listen.

At the same time, I will say that I do actually believe that also. Um, I do think that most people are doing what they are doing and saying what they are saying because they think it’s the right thing. And it’s, it’s the loving thing. I think there are many people who are really just bullies and are just plain terrible people. But I think most Christians that I encounter [00:30:00] are, like, they genuinely believe that when they tell their child to pack up their things, they have 30 minutes and then get out of the house, they genuinely believe that is the loving thing to do.

And I think it’s important to consider the twisted nature of how people have been taught to think, how people have been taught to apply scripture. You know, people have been told that homosexuality is an abomination. They’ve been told, like, “have nothing to do with such people,” to quote a scripture verse out of context.

And another one that’s often quoted out of context in these situations is “hand them over to Satan. Perhaps though they die in the body, you’ll save their soul.” And there’s all of these twisted rationales given from scripture that are telling so [00:31:00] many people that in order to love this person well, you have to do these terrible things because that’s the only way that you are going to potentially save them. And if you just let them continue in their sin, how can you say that’s really loving?

And that’s not to let anybody off the hook for what they do and what they say. You know, that pastor who, uh, told the, you know, teenage kid in his office to walk out and never come back, like, I’m not letting that pastor off the hook. I think that was terrible and that he needs to be held to account for that. At the same time, I think it’s really important to recognize that very few people do bad things because they are trying to be bad. Most people do terrible things because they think it’s the right thing to do. [00:32:00] Most people end up hurting others because they think that they are doing something that is right.

That’s how the world gets messed up. Yes, there are evil people who are bad and terrible and wrong and just want to be evil for the sake of it. Yes, that exists. But more often than not, people are deceived and deceiving others. And that creates so much of the harm and the hurt that goes on, especially towards queer people.

Um, and so I really think that it’s important to acknowledge that it’s important to see that because, well, I think this is how I can hurt others because I am deceived and think that I’m doing something that’s right, when it’s really wrong and not even realize it. And I also think, you know, speaking to, you know, what I said [00:33:00] earlier, that it’s important to acknowledge that when someone does something terrible to a queer person in the church, that, that there is a way for them to change, that they haven’t been branded forever as this terrible, awful, homophobic person.

Cause I think that really entrenches people in their sin rather than inviting them out of it. And I’ve, I’ve met many people who have said that what was instrumental for them in changing was being invited to change as opposed to, you know, having people come at them with, you know, a pitchfork and tar and feathers.

And so I think that’s important because my book is written very strongly to point out a lot of the things that are wrong, but I don’t want to push people away either. I don’t [00:34:00] want to be telling people “you are terrible, therefore go feel terrible by yourself somewhere in a hole.” Like, no, these are things that we can change. You are someone who loves the Lord and therefore you are someone that should be heartbroken by this just as much as I am, and like, we can change this together. 

Randy: Yeah. And I do want to say, when you say my book is written very strongly, that’s not to say at all, that you can disagree with where you’re coming from Bridget, and feel like I was just subjected to embarrassment and shame, and she’s trying to make me feel like a terrible person. Not at all.

You make so much space for different perspectives and engaging in conversation in these ways. So I just want to let you know if you disagree with what we’ve been talking about, um, this is not a book where you’re going to feel shamed and judged. It’s just going to ask you to reconsider some things. It’s going to ask you to check your biases at the door and just ask what the Holy [00:35:00] Spirit is leading us into in this moment.

So well done in doing that well, addressing the topic straightforward while still not making people feel like if I don’t agree, she thinks I’m a terrible person.

Last question though, Bridget: we often like to end our episodes thinking about what’s a better way. You know, we’re talking about some heavy things, and we don’t want to be just another deconstruction podcast, and it’s a perfect segue to your book because in your last chapter, you just get really practical, and you just list some things—I’m a pastor, I’m a church leader—and you list some, some things that Christians and church leaders in specific could do to just make a better way forward to, to not have the statistics be what they are, which are absolutely anti-Christ. So can you just—I know there’s a lot of pastors listening to this podcast to this episode—what would you have to say to those pastors church leaders who are listening right now about what might be a better way? 

Bridget: The biggest thing, and what I see as being the most important thing of [00:36:00] all of my recommendations in the last section of the book, the last several chapters, is to make room for theological differences on sex in marriage.

I think that’s just hands down the most important thing, because when people, especially LGBTQ people, feel like there is no room to question—if I question any aspect of this, then I am risking my faith, my community, whatever, I’m risking these major things in my life, just by questioning what I believe on this topic—it’s extremely unhealthy. It puts so much pressure on people.

And what it creates is it creates an environment where people believe what they believe not because they’ve been genuinely convicted that this is true, but because they’re afraid to believe anything else because they’re just falling in line. And so if you [00:37:00] want to shepherd a congregation that is truly walking with Jesus and truly searching the scriptures and seeking to understand what God’s word says for them in the context of, uh, thinking about their sexuality, thinking about something like marriage, I think you have to make room for people to ask questions, for people to have differences of belief on this topic. Otherwise, what they believe will not be a product of genuinely searching God’s word, but just a product of wanting to fall in line and be accepted.

So, yeah. First and foremost, make room for theological differences in your church, and protect that and cultivate that. I think that’s probably the most important thing. 

Randy: Huge.

Kyle: So let’s say that, and I’m thinking of specific people as I’m formulating this question that I know, let’s say you’re a pastor that wants to do what you just said: I want to [00:38:00] make space for theological disagreement about this. I’m really uncomfortable about that. I don’t know what it’s going to do to my church. I’ve maybe seen other churches that did that, and they suddenly became the pro-gay church in town and then they got thousands of emails and people picketing or something, you know? And I’m not sure what I think about this, and so if I invite in disagreement, what is, what is that going to do to my body? Is it going to, is it going to be the only thing we talk about from now on? Do I have to suddenly, you know, make some legal statement that’s really clear to shield myself from liability or something like that? Opening…I mean, it sounds easy, right, to say “welcome disagreement about this,” but it might carry some, some practical costs that would lead some pastors to be very fearful about it. Do you have any, like, practical advice for someone in a situation like that?

Bridget: Yeah, um, and, and first off I think, um, everything you just named is important to acknowledge. I think a lot of times in these conversations, people just kind of, like, call out [00:39:00] pastors and be like, get off your lazy bum and, like, you know, change your church around and you know, all of these things and, like, make it seem like it’s really easy. And the truth is, is that it’s not as easy as it sounds. Like, you can say it, but then, like, you actually have to do it and, like, the reality on the ground is, like, way messier than, you know, just like sitting back and having a conversation theoretically about it. Like, it doesn’t work that way.

So yeah, I, I want to start with, with acknowledging that. But, like, do not—and I really want to emphasize—do not make this some kind of drastic change that you suddenly implement out of nowhere, because it will, it will blow up in your face, and be, like  complete chaos, and the results [00:40:00] will not actually accomplish changes in hearts and minds. Um, it will just cause hurt in the church.

And so I think sometimes pastors can maybe feel, like, this pressure that, like, I have to change things now, like a pastor that has, like, a heart to bring change, be like, we got to get this going, but like, don’t do this overnight. I think it’s important to sit down, have an intentional plan lined out, have a timeline for when you want to bring things up, be fostering conversations within your congregation. Maybe host a weekly workshop or seminar that people can be attending that will help to, like, get conversations moving. You know, bring in people that can talk about it, you know, host a book club, like, get the conversation moving and, you know, foster this over time.

But then, like, on the flip side, there’s those that are, like, not in a hurry at all and are like, okay, whew, I’m going to just take my time. [00:41:00] And then like a decade later, like, nothing has actually happened. And so I would say it’s important to, like, really have a plan and stick to it, of your timeline, of when you want to have things accomplished, like, what you want to see change in your church. And, you know, be intentional about that, because if you are not planning this out with intentionality, then you really will wake up 10 years later and your church will be the same place it was for gay people, you know, a decade ago. 

Randy: Yeah. And I do want to say that from experience, the people that I feel pressure, I have felt pressure from to change tonight or tomorrow, or this year, have not been from the LGBTQ community in our church. It’s been from straight allies who say, you need to change or I’m out. Most of the LGBTQ people in our community—and by our community I mean our church—have been so [00:42:00] gracious and conversational and loving, absurdly so.

Um, I just want to say out of experience at trying to do exactly what you’re talking about, Bridget, I mean, for pastors listening, church leaders listening, elders who are listening, and thinking “we could never do that”—and like you said, it’s, it’s not like flipping a switch—but there’s something that you can do that’s called shaping a culture that takes a long time, but you can shape a culture in your church and in your congregation that allows space for these kinds of conversations, that allows space for allowing for disagreement about what we think about sexuality. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it also doesn’t take a decade. And I can, I’m living proof of it. We’re not, our church is not perfect, but we have affirming and non-affirming people and leaders and pastors, and we love each other. And we learn from each other. And we have gay people who we’re learning from in our congregation, thanks be to God, so that this isn’t just theoretical.

Two things that you said in these closing chapters that I just wanted to hear just a little bit about, and then we can be done, Bridget. Again, we’re talking to pastors, [00:43:00] church leaders, elders who are listening. Two things you said: first of all, you said, it’s time to dismantle this myth that gay and Christian don’t belong together, that those words or ideas don’t belong together, that you can’t be a gay Christian. We can dismantle that and say, you can be gay and a Christian. And then similarly you say in the last chapter, right, “What strikes me the most about Jonah’s story,” and this is just a story in the book that you have to read, “is that Christians were the greatest obstacle to this gay man’s faith.”

Christians are the greatest obstacles. There are, there are so, there’s a multitude of LGBTQ people who just want Jesus, who want the gospel, who see it as beautiful, who see Jesus as beautiful. But what you, what you say in the book, I think, is true. Christians are the greatest obstacle between Jesus and these gay people.

These are two things that we can dismantle starting now. Would you agree?

Bridget: Yes, I think, uh, 100%. One of the number one things that will improve is getting out of the way of gay people and Jesus, you know, just stepping [00:44:00] aside and letting God do the work. I think a lot of Christians for a very long time have thought that they were doing God’s work and that’s not been the case.

And so, yeah, stepping aside, getting out of the way, stop being the obstacle. And if you know that you don’t know enough on this topic, then maybe it’s best to not be setting policies around this topic, to not be making major decisions for people around this topic just yet, and sitting back and learning instead.

Randy: Yeah. Bridget Eileen Rivera. The book is Heavy Burdens: Seven Ways LGBTQ Christians Experience Harm in the Church. Get the book. Every single person listening, buy this book. Read it. It’s that important. Thank you so much for joining us. It’s been a pleasure, Bridget.

Bridget: Thank you. I really enjoyed getting to talk.

Kyle: Well that’s it for this episode of [00:45:00] A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar. We hope you’re enjoying the show as much as we are. Help us continue to create compelling content and reach a wider audience by supporting us at patreon.com/apastorandaphilosopher, where you can get bonus content, extra perks, and a general feeling of being a good person. 

Randy: Also, please rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts, iTunes, and Spotify. These help new people discover the show, and we may even read your review in a future episode. If it’s good enough.

Kyle: If anything you said really pissed you off, or if you just have a question you’d like us to answer, or if you’d just like to send us booze, send us an email at pastorandphilosopher@gmail.com.

Randy: Catch all of our hot takes on Twitter at @PPWBPodcast, @randyknie, and @robertkwhitaker, and find transcripts and links to all of our episodes at pastorandphilosopher.buzzsprout.com. See you next time. 

Kyle: Cheers. … Do we want to clink? We should have a clink. 

Elliot: Do the mason jars, [00:46:00] that’s terrible.

Kyle: You’re right, that’s much better.

Randy: Mason jar and Glencairn… 

Kyle: No, that’s worse.

Elliot: Hold it lower; you’re holding it right up by the…

Randy: Yeah, you’re right. You’re taking all the…

Kyle: Eh, we have some options.

Beverage Tasting