2016 #GCNConf — “weconnect” Emmy Kegler Interview

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Posted on December 15, 2016, by Marg Herder

Emmy Kegler
Emmy Kegler

Emmy Kegler will be the featured speaker at the 2016 Gay Christian Network weconnect women’s retreat, which will take place on the afternoon of January 7, immediately preceding the official opening of GCN’s conference, “What’s Next.”

Emmy was kind enough to agree to be interviewed here on Where She Is prior to her appearance at weconnect. On Monday, I provided readers with an introduction to her life and work, and today, I’m following that up with our interview.

My questions are in bold, Emmy’s answers are in regular type.

I’m really looking forward to your presentation at the weconnect women’s retreat at the Gay Christian Network conference, and I know I’m not alone. Can you give us a sneak peek into what you will be discussing?

I’ve been really captured recently by the grief and pain that comes with coming out—for LGBTQ people, for their families, their communities, and their churches.

The coming out process is very similar to the grief process, with denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and plenty of other feelings thrown in. I would say that even in Christian community we can have a hard time working through our grief and coming to a constructive and holy place.

I’m working on doing something small that can help in that journey. 

You’ve written, “God’s message of grace is not just for people who look like us, who worship in the same temple, who stand on our side of the line. This is beautiful. And this is dangerous.” I loved this quote, but I thought you might be willing to say a few words about why this is dangerous. 

A year ago, I was extraordinarily wary of the Gay Christian Network because of the work it does to bridge what they call “Side A” and “Side B” Christians—those who believe that faithful LGBTQ people can be out and in relationships, and those who believe that faithful LGBTQ people are called to celibacy.

I was very skeptical of this idea, that people with these differing viewpoints could interact graciously with each other, especially in the Internet age, when polarized sides constantly snipe at each other on social media about every existing ideological issue.

Being in community and relationship with people who are “not like me” is inherently challenging because I am asked to know myself, to be true and honest, and to examine my own biases. If I am in compassionate community with people who don’t believe like me, I have to know what I believe more concretely than when I’m with like-minded people. I have to own what I am and what I say when it’s in contrast to others.

It’s dangerous to our paradigms to recognize that God’s love is for other people, too.

In this post, you say, “I don’t know what words to use to describe the tension between knowing God had called me to serve and knowing that there were people who wanted me dead in the name of God—people who thought that God had called them to kill gay and lesbian people who tried to serve.” 

You go on to articulate the hurtful things that happened to you simply because you are a lesbian. How do you move through events such as these and keep your heart open to the kind of love Jesus calls us to feel for all other people?

I’m not by nature a compassionate person; I’ve always had a temper. But I also love being with people and being in community, and that’s brought me into conversation and relationship with a lot of people who don’t agree with me. I’ve met so many people whose journey toward LGBTQ inclusion was halted because they met with polarizing talk from “both sides,” or who were raised in families and situations where understanding LGBTQ people was not really possible.

I’ve come to see how moving toward accepting LGBTQ people can create shockwaves in a person’s self-understanding, even if they’re straight and cisgender.

Emmy Kegler praying at an ordination in 2014
Emmy Kegler praying at an ordination in 2014

I’ve recognized that I can take a role in the work for LGBTQ welcome by being an educator—someone who can bring together a lot of ideas and present them (I hope!) in a way that invites conversation and contemplation rather than debate and diatribe.

I’m always working for hope, for belief that someone can change and move toward a more welcoming stance. At the same time, working with people who aren’t welcoming is exhausting and can even be traumatic, so I’ve learned my limits. Sometimes I can’t do welcoming work in a particular situation, and I’ve learned that’s okay.

How should we push back against those Christians who use the wounding and denigration of LGBTQ people as a tool to strengthen their power base and fill their coffers? And a separate but related question: what can we do to prevent these individuals from so often being held up by the media as the example of what Christian people believe and how they behave?

I believe those in leadership who use LGBTQ oppression as a way to cement their own power are actually plotting their own demise.

We’re at a tipping point in history, where marriage equality is the law in the United States and each generation is becoming more accepting of LGBTQ people. At some point, it’ll become illogical to step on LGBTQ people as a power platform—at least, that’s my hope. I do really believe that the arc of history is long but bends toward justice. If we empower our community to speak about our lives and our faith with honesty and vulnerability, we’ll keep making change.

As to the second question . . . wow, if I had a good answer, I’d sell it, you know? But I do think we’re getting there. I think more and more people are hungry for real Christianity, the compassionate and transformational Christianity. The world is becoming more aware that the practices of Jesus are not being modeled in political or religious leaders who preach hate. When we practice clarity about what we DO believe, about what our faith teaches us about love and service, there are people anxious to hear that.

The question for me is: how can we be positive about our faith and our lives? How can we express our truth, not just on the defensive against those who oppose and oppress us but as an outpouring of our joy and hope?

I believe there is powerful transformation possible in being able to say clearly who we are and what we believe.

Emmy Kegler blessing a baby at communion at Light of the World in 2013.
Emmy Kegler blessing a baby at communion at Light of the World in 2013.

You’ve written about your love of the Bible on your blog. Where did this come from? When and how did you discover that “There’s a whole feast in there, if we’d just let ourselves nibble a bit.”

My first love, in the galaxy of Christian experience, was church.

I loved worship and community first, and came to love Jesus through that. But I had a lot of fear and pain in regard to scripture (like many LGBTQ people!), and about midway through seminary, I realized I couldn’t keep carrying that burden. It was very, very hard to let my defenses down and re-engage with the whole of the Bible.

I started with my favorite books, like the gospel of Luke and the story of Esther. I read the book that is still my favorite Bible commentary, Daniel Erlander’s Manna and Mercy: A Brief History of God’s Unfolding Promise to Mend the Entire Universe. I worked through the entire Bible in 90 days in the summer of 2014, which was an exhausting whirlwind.

I still wrestle, but I imagine that wrestling as Jacob’s demand from the angel: “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” I try to stay with a text or a story until I can understand the value in it.

In your bio, you say you have a passion for “unscripted preaching and prayer.” Can you say what you mean by that, and why it has such meaning for you?

My faith journey includes years spent in an Assembly of God church and a nondenominational megachurch. In both communities, I saw pastors and leaders preach and pray without notes or scripts. This was incredible, coming from an Episcopal background where everything was carefully crafted beforehand!

I see the value in both ways of doing things. Speaking off the cuff can lead to stammering, losing track, or grabbing for words that have unanticipated implications. For me, prayer without notes and sermons without a manuscript are a way of letting go of my need for control and perfection.

When I have written things exactly as I wanted to say them, I found myself feeling very self-critical afterward, always thinking I could have done better, practiced more, and so on. When I speak from a few notes or from memory, I treat myself with a lot more grace. It’s not true for everyone, but it’s very powerful for me.

Also in your bio, you say that you “hope that the broken and imperfect church still [has] something to offer the world.” What do you think that “something” is? What does church offer the world that people cannot find in community, or even within their own individual journey of spiritual expression?

Church, at its best, is a place where we can be held accountable.

We’re asked to recognize that every member is part of the body of Christ, and we all share in a meal together. We have to face the fact that all these people, even the ones we don’t like, are going to be at the table with us for a very long time . . . and we have to figure out how to live with them!

The sacraments of baptism and communion are so central for me because they proclaim a very countercultural idea, namely that God has claimed us and we now belong to each other, not by choice but by accepting that God has already begun that work in us.

I believe the church at its core can also be a place of healing (and it breaks me when it’s a place of trauma). We have confession and forgiveness, peacemaking and reconciliation, prayer and offering going back to the earliest days of Christianity.

Self-examination and self-giving isn’t something we can do without community, and it can be scary to do without the promise that God’s net of love will catch us no matter how messy we are.

That’s my belief in the church. I know the church falls short, and so do I, but I hold on to hope.

Your web project, queergrace.com, sounds like a really inspired undertaking. Can you tell us a little about it here? What is your vision for it? Why were you called to this specific project?

My life as a Christian and a queer woman is a walking conversation prompt. I found that I kept having similar conversations with so many people. There are so many resources available, but they can be hard to find and are often broken into particular issues or ideas. I wanted to create a place where someone could find information on any topic in the LGBTQ and Christian sphere.

I keep working to make the information accessible, informational, and invitational. I want to explain and describe how LGBTQ people experience their lives and faith, so that the world can witness what God is already up to in us. It’s a work in progress, to be sure, but I keep at it.

I think that one of the seismic shifts we are witnessing in Christianity is the paradigm defined by the patriarchal version of God (male identified, behaviorally focused, hierarchically defined) giving way to an inherently different understanding of the nature of divinity. Do you have any thoughts on this? Does our understanding of God change as we seek a more grace-based way of approaching religion, or is there something else at work here? Something that is changing both our understanding of God and our understanding of salvation and grace?

I think in every time and place we will experience God’s grace anew. I’d call it the work of the Spirit.

We’re recognizing right now that a religion and a culture that defines us primarily by what we can “do” is killing us. We’re exhausted and sick, mentally and physically.

But if we point to the life of Jesus and say, “This is God, come to earth—the best we can know of the divine,” the belief in a distant, righteousness-tallying God can begin to fall away. When we start moving toward grace, our vision of God has to shift. We’re faced with a God who gets the divine hands dirty, who walks among us, talks to the outcast, dines with the elite but challenges them.

Grace isn’t just a gift of salvation from death—it’s about how we live, and live freely.

Emmy Kegler talking during breakout time in worship in 2013
Emmy Kegler talking during breakout time in worship in 2013

Related Links

Emmy Kegler’s website (and blog)
Queer Grace website
Emmy Kegler on Facebook
Emmy Kegler on Twitter (@emmykegler)
Emmy Kegler on Google+

Index of GCN 2016 Conference Content on Christian Feminism Today

Introduction to the #GCNConf Series
Introduction to weconnect Featured Speaker Emmy Kegler
Interview with weconnect Featured Speaker Emmy Kegler
First Timer Reflections – Rev. Jann Aldredge-Clanton, PhD
First Timer Reflections – Sam Koster
First Timer Reflections – Bastian Bauman
First Timer Reflections – Kirsti Reeve

Links:

Gay Christian Network Website
Conference Website

Social Media:

The hashtag is #GCNConf
Conference Twitter Feed Follow @gcnconf
Gay Christian Network Conference Facebook Page
Gay Christian Network Conference Instagram Page

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Marg Herder
Marg Herder is the Director of Public Information for EEWC-CFT, a Christian feminist organization working for gender (and LGBTQIA) justice in Christianity since 1974. She is the content manager and developer of the organization’s website, Christian Feminism Today. Marg identifies as a trans* lesbian writer, musician, and feminist spiritual seeker. She works to draws attention to the ongoing violence directed at women and LGBTQIA people in this “Christian” society, the desperate need for an understanding of God that includes the Divine Feminine, and Christ/Sophia’s desire that each of us move deeper into our own practice of non-violence.

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