So much of our conversation is routine that we often find ourselves saying the same things day after day . . . but what if you’re in the hot seat? With this column we give our interviewees two minutes to think and one minute to speak their answer . . . with no advance warning of what the questions might be. How would you do in the hotseat?
In 2013, Karen helped found Community Spirit United Church of Christ, which is currently meeting online and looking forward to returning to the Ute Indian Museum when the pandemic is over. For almost 50 years now, Karen’s religious and spiritual life has been informed by a statement made by one of her early mentors, who said “The greatest act of faith is to question.”
Because of her generation, I thought that Karen might have grown up in a time when there were few female clerics. Apparently, that wasn’t her experience. I did want to ask some questions I have about Christianity in general.
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- I was raised in the Catholic tradition, so when my daughter told me at a young age that she wanted to be a priest, I had the unenviable task of telling her that girls couldn’t be priests. One of my classmates from Catholic school became Episcopalian so that she
could become a priest. Did you have role models? If not, what inspired you to become a cleric?
I was fortunate to be raised in the United Church of Christ, a denomination with a long history of being ahead of the times. Women have been ordained in my tradition from the 1850s onward. Growing up, I had lots of women in positions of pastoral leadership around me, so much so that I have never, ever questioned my call or thought of myself as any kind of trailblazer. These days, women clergy outnumber male clergy in my denomination. I think we’re better for this, honestly.
- Did you have a conversion experience, or an epiphany, a vision, or any other intense experience that cemented your belief in Christianity or was it something you were
I was raised in the church but even as a young child was critical of organized religion. I had an experience at 5 that began this critique and it gas continued ever since; even now I have my concerns about the church but have never felt I could abandon Christianity. I have had many epiphanies and holy nudges throughout my long life. These moments and experiences afford me a kind of inner authority that I try to use to the good in all that I do as a person of faith and as an ordained minister.
- As you are aware, Catholic priests are supposed to be celibate, as are Buddhist monks (not all monks, I guess, since many have children, but anyway). The idea behind celibacy in religious practice is that you channel that intense sexual drive energy into your belief practices or good works. Do you think that is an admirable, or even workable, policy?
In an authentic religious life, celibacy is first and foremost a calling. When a person is called to the celibate life and they respond in earnest, this brings a kind of meaning and satisfaction that blesses that individual and those they serve. I think immediately of the
Jesuit priest John Dear, whose celibacy has allowed him to be a profound, consistent voice for the nonviolent ways of Jesus. When celibacy is a requirement, however, that blessing does not always follow.
- Is premarital sex a sin?
Jesus made it clear that it is not what we do outwardly that matters most but rather the workings of our hearts, minds, and spirits that either lead us toward what is loving and just or toward what is not. My favorite mentor called sin “a failure in love.” As with sex within marriage, sometimes premarital sex is a sacred expression and other times it is not.
- Is gay marriage prohibited by the Bible?
Most Christians misunderstand biblical references to homosexuality, and this complicates our capacity to think about gay marriage. I do not believe homosexuality is a sin. The Bible is silent on the matter of gay marriage.
- Do Christians have to follow any of the law as set down in the Old Testament, just the New Testament, or only the Gospels?
Jesus tells us that all the laws and all the prophets are fulfilled in the great commandment to love God with our full selves and to love our neighbors as ourselves. I find much in the Old Testament that points me toward this ultimate law, but not everything there does.
The same is true of some of the New Testament epistles. The ultimate authority for any Christian must be Jesus; if Christians live as he lived and do as he did, then surely God will be glorified and pleased and the human family will be blessed.
- If you hadn’t become a cleric what would you have done with your life?
I had a career in higher education prior to becoming a minister. It was my first calling but was one I understood needed to give way for my second calling, pastoral ministry. Had I not heard the second calling, I would have happily continued in my first career; it
was incredibly rewarding.
- Do you accept the reasoning in Pascal’s wager that, reduced to it’s simplest form, it is the right side of the bet to believe in the existence of God because not believing ‘costs’ more than believing, in the sense of eternal damnation?
To my mind, believing or not believing in God is overrated, especially as this relates to the issue of eternal damnation. What is saving for me is to live as Jesus lived. I feel this is true for all of us although most prefer to focus on belief, rather than behavior.
Thank you to Karen, and everyone else, who has participated in 7 minutes 7 questions. We’re learning as we go, here, and it is the willingness of our interviewees to be completely honest that makes this whole thing work! If you think you’d like to be featured in this column, please email firstname.lastname@example.org