Dealing with a LGBTQIA+ identity within any of the segments of Christianity is rarely, if ever, easy. There are an ever-growing number of writers publically addressing the dissonance many feel within the church. This is a part of a series of profiles of those courageous people furthering the conversation.
Jim Brownson is the James and Jean Cook Professor of New Testament at Western Theological Seminary, husband, father, and friend. He's the author of a number of books, including most recently Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church's Debate on Same-Sex Relationships (Eerdmans, 2013).
Q: Could you describe how your faith journey? How it has been impacted by your theological study of the contentious issues surrounding gender and sexuality?
A: I'm a New Testament scholar whose primary long-term interest lies in the mission of the church. I believe that the gospel is always embraced in a particular context, which shapes the way we respond to it. In that sense, the attempt to inquire into how the gospel impacts LGBTQIA+ Christians is an extension of long-term work I have been doing for some time.
Q: What would advice would you give to your younger self?
A: Don't expect that rational arguments will solve everything. There are other factors that loom large in the way that people make decisions about their faith.
Q: In what areas do you hope your work in theology will most help others?
A: I hope that people will realize that you don't have to choose between being gay and being Christian as mutually exclusive alternatives.
A: Yes, I've received quite a bit of pushback in a variety of forms, from negative reviews to hostile letters to ecclesiastical charges being filed against me. (The charges were eventually thrown out.) I try to remain calm, and focus on the substance of the issues, and to try to engage at a constructive level. What motivates me, even in the midst of resistance, is the longing for further clarity for the life of the church. That said I'm enormously grateful for the many expressions of appreciation I've received for the book. That has far exceeded my expectations, and far exceeded my experience with any other book I've written. That is, by far, the most important and dominant feeling that the book has elicited in me.
Q: What would you most like to celebrate, at the end of next year, as your accomplishment?
A: I hope to return to teaching and writing, after a year of service as interim dean at my seminary--a task that has been rewarding, but has also consumed huge amounts of my time.
Q: Can you describe for me what you achievement you're most proud of?
A: I think that writing the "Bible, Gender, Sexuality" book would certainly be among those things I'm most proud of.
Q: Tell me why you decided to get involved in ministry? How did you come to choose to transition to an academic role outside of pastoral ministry?
A: I decided to go to seminary because I loved biblical study, and had tons of questions I wanted to pursue further. I started in pastoral ministry after graduating from seminary, but soon discovered that what I got most jazzed about, even as a pastor, was the teaching side of my work. That's what led me to go back to graduate school to work on a Ph.D. I like to look at the rest of my life as an attempt to integrate these two worlds.
Q: What would you recommend to someone just starting on his or her faith journey?
A: Find a community of folks with whom you feel comfortable to share you journey with.
Q: Do you have any tips or advice on prayer? If so, what are they?
A: Spend less time figuring out how to do it, and more time doing it; less time asking for things, and more time pouring out year heart; for me, also less time speaking, and more time singing.
Q: You are sometimes viewed as a reformer, what are the biggest challenges you face when dealing with ultraconservatives?
A: Finding ways to really hear each other, and getting to the core issues that are really at stake.
Q: What is the most effective way, in your experience, to help people overcome anti-LGBTQIA+ attitudes?
A: Without a doubt, the most important question is whether people know and love someone who is LGBTQIA+ or not. If they don't have such a personal relationship, change is not likely to happen. That's not to say that personal relationships over-ride other forms of truth. Rather, it is to acknowledge that changing a paradigm about sexuality take hard work, and unless people have some motive or incentive to do that sort of work, they simply won't do it.
Q: What do you hope you will accomplish?
A: I hope to finish my course in ways that make a positive difference, specifically for the life and health of the Church.
Q: How has your family been with regards to your public ministry?
A: They have been very supportive. I'm extremely grateful for this.
Please check out Jim's books, available on Amazon here.