Nadia Bolz-Weber, 49, isn’t an everyday ordained Lutheran pastor. She founded a Denver Church, the House for All Sinners and Saints, in her living room in 2007 for all those “flawed” believers, many of them LGBTQ, who struggle toward God and a shared community of believers. In her four books (including Pastrix and Accidental Saints), as in her church, Bolz-Weber's bleep-bleeping language flows from her pen and lips and her tattooed arms open wide to offer spiritual care. Bolz-Weber’s new book is a call to be, like the title–Shameless (Penguin Random House, Jan. 2019).
How do you give shamelessness, usually a derogatory term, a different spin?
I heard terrible stories about the impact sexual shame had on the members of my church – the harm in their lives and in their bodies from the toxic messages they were told were based on the Bible. I want people who read this to re-think their ideas about sexual ethics, gender, orientation, extra-marital sex, and the inherent goodness of the human body. We are reaching for a new Christian sexual ethic that’s not based on a standardized list of ‘thou shalt nots,’ but on concern for each other’s flourishing, letting go of shame.
You write that church competes with sex. In what ways?
The church wants to control and decide what is powerful, spiritual, and transcendent. Sex can be all those things, too. That’s threatening if the church wants to be the exclusive answer to our existential loneliness. But people cannot divide their embodied sexual life from their life with God. God’s first blessing was sex. 'Be fruitful and multiply.'
Who is a heretic to you, what’s heresy?
Heretics confuse their will with God’s will. It’s domination. And the opposite of domination is to recognize everyone’s inherent dignity. Whatever God was accomplishing in Jesus and through his death and resurrection was for the reception of all people, all things, for all time. How God accomplishes that is none of my business.
Is it hard to extend comfort and grace to people you dislike?
Grace is a double-edged sword. If you really believe it, it’s not as awesome as it sounds. If it is true for me, it’s true for everyone who has ever hurt me. I’ll be seated at the heavenly banquet in between Harvey Weinstein and a racist cop. I absolutely have to believe the Gospel is powerful enough, transgressive enough, beautiful enough, to heal not only the ones who have been hurt, but also those who have done the hurting.
What have you been up to now since you stepped away from the House for All Sinners & Saints this spring?
It is seldom true that the founder or a church or any institution is the best person to steer when it needs to grow and change. I left the pulpit in excellent hands, and now I’m going to focus on being a public theologian–speaking to college and university audiences and gatherings of thought leaders beyond the church. I’m interested in preaching to the gentiles.