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Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Pastrix in Portuguese


It was pretty great to hear that Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber's first book, Pastrix; The Cranky, Beautiful Faith Of A Sinner & Saint, is going on sale in Portuguese. In Brazil in particular I feel that progressive Christian voices like hers really need to be heard. In case you need a quick bio, here's one from her website:
Nadia Bolz-Weber is an ordained Lutheran Pastor, founder of House for All Sinners & Saints in Denver, Co, the creator and host of The Confessional and the author of three NYT bestselling memoirs: Pastrix; The Cranky, Beautiful Faith Of A Sinner & Saint (2013), Accidental Saints; Finding God In All The Wrong People (2015) and SHAMELESS; A Sexual Reformation (2019).

She writes and speaks about personal failings, recovery, grace, faith, and really whatever the hell else she wants to. She always sits in the corner with the other weirdoes.
It's hard to say when I first heard of her. I'm certain it was back when I was still evangelical, though I think it was in the period when I had become progressive enough to like her style, despite myself. One of the first things I remember reading that she had written was an article about visiting a Church of Christ congregation with family around Christmas. She had been raised going to that church, but by the time of the article she was already in Lutheran ministry, and had been the odd duck of the family for far longer. The Magnificat was read in the service, and she reflected on how unlikely it was that anyone else there heard the dramatic, revolutionary language of those words ascribed to mary the same way she did. All the talk about the powerful being cast down was lost on the ears of the traditionalists around her. That was a feeling I could very much relate to, even then.

“God, please help me not be an asshole, is about as common a prayer as I pray in my life.”Nadia Bolz-Weber

It encourages me to learn that she has a book out in Portuguese, because her writing contains a perspective nearly unheard of in Brazil. There, it's unheard of to be an atheist, the majority is nominally Catholic but losing ground to evangelicals and Pentecostals, and lgbtq+ folks are largely excluded from organized religious life. Some would read that last part and think, 'good for them!' Aside from the fact that there are lgbtq+ people who would like to be a fully included and affirmed member of a church community, even those not interested often suffer rejection from their religious family members. If they aren't kicked out of the house they endure repeated attempts at conversion and reminders that they are 'sinners.' Now, I don't want to paint with too broad a brush. I personally know a couple of religious families in Brazil who have lgbtq+ family members, and they live in peace. There isn't exactly approval, but there is love. Still, yes, it could be better.

Brazil is an evangelical hothouse, with churches sprouting up everywhere for decades. The two times I live there I frequently saw churches appear overnight in a former retail location, go strong for a few months, and then vacate. Either it was unsustainable and closed, or outgrew its space and moved on to somewhere larger. The names on the buildings range from the mundane, like the 'Renewed Methodist Church' or 'Christian Congregation,' to the unusual, like the 'I believe in the Bible Evangelical Pentecostal Church.' The vast majority of those churches hold a very conservative line on matters of sexuality. They are fully subscribed to the purity culture brought in through foreign missionaries and the use of evangelical literature and other teaching material created in the United States. This, in turn, generates unnecessary shame and causes real harm to young people raised in that environment, particularly those who don't conform to expectations around gender and sexuality.

“Never once did Jesus scan the room for the best example of  holy living and send that person out to tell others about him. He always sent stumblers and sinners. I find that comforting.” ― Nadia Bolz-Weber, Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People

Bolz-Weber rejects that mindset, affirming that, in keeping with her Lutheran theology, everyone has sinned, requires salvation, and cannot earn it for themselves. She pictures a welcoming Jesus who doesn't have time for the self-righteous, preferring to spend his time with the 'rejects' from society. To her, Jesus didn't concern himself with keeping up a good reputation in the eyes of what could be called 'polite society.' This understanding is one that could come as the balm of Gilead for people in Brazil who have been hurt by the religious, and could help open some minds to different ways of approaching Jesus and the Bible. I'm not expecting any miracles, of course, but I can hope that some will be helped.

“Jesus taught us to pray, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" not forgive us and smite those bastards who hurt us.” Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint

Another sad contribution of American evangelicalism to the breakdown of Brazilian society is right wing politics. Brazil after the military dictatorship was pretty left-leaning. While I have serious concerns about how that, together with lingering ideas from Auguste Comte's dreadful philosophy, have created an incredibly adverse environment for business, on the social side of things I think it had a fairly positive effect. Now someone from the extreme right, aligning with the fascist ideology of Trump, is in power, sustained by the evangelical and Pentecostal vote. Voices to the contrary are prevalent in Brazil, but too uncommon among conservative religious leaders. 

Nadia Bolz-Weber's denomination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is one that officially accepts lgbtq+ folks into the life of the church, although discrimination is evidently permitted at the local level. 

LGBTQ ministers have been ordained by the ELCA since 2010. However, church policy, like that for same-sex marriage, gives individual congregations autonomy in calling ministers to serve. Women have been ordained in the church since its founding in 1988, and were ordained in the Lutheran churches that formed the ELCA beginning in 1970. — Stances of Faiths on LGBTQ Issues: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The nearest analog to the ELCA in Brazil appears to be the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil. Although for some reason I thought they were accepting of the lgbtq community, based on their website this does not appear to be the case. The following is my translation of a paragraph from a position paper they published:

We do not deny that homosexual people that live their condition without causing a scandal can carry out a blessed work in the community as they put into the service of the Gospel the gifts that God gave them. However, we observe as well that at the present moment of the Church there are not conditions for a practicing homosexual to assume public church ministry in the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil.  Ecclesiastic Ministerial Position and Homosexuality — 2001

The ecumenical scene in Brazil doesn't instill much hope, given how very small it is relative to the vast horde of evangelical and Pentecostal churches. The national council of churches there is composed of only six communions:
Of these, I only know that the Anglican church in Brazil, the third down in that list, is lgbtq+ affirming. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches most certainly aren't, and the others either don't have a public position, or its hidden in their very poorly designed websites. I have heard that in major cities like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo there are welcoming and affirming churches, many non-denominational, but far less so in comparatively smaller cities in that vast country. Sanctuaries for those harmed by toxic religion, whatever their sexuality, are few and far between.

Then again, isn't it the case in the United States as well? The United Church of Christ, for instance, is likely the most liberal Christian denomination in the US. It is fully open and affirming, and is striving to grow in other regards as well. Yet, many of its congregations throughout the Midwest and South would not be quite so easy going with those who are too 'different.' Even if they were, it's hard for a Millenial or even a Gen Xer to fit in well with a silver-haired parish. 

While it's true that the United States is no cake walk for people trying to avoid purity culture, dogma, and discrimination, I'm arguing that it is even more difficult in Brazil. For that reason I hope to see more of Bolz-Weber's work getting translated into Portuguese, along with that of others of her cohort.