Interview with Kimberly Knight about progressive faith and tolerance
I had the immense opportunity to have a chat conversation with Kimberly Knight, who spoke of her experience as being a passionate follower of Christ while being gay in an American context.
I report it as vividly as it happened. Both of us would be glad if her testimony would be of help for other struggling Christians.
Kimberly Knight: Hi there, so sorry. I took a little nap and it went a bit longer than I planned :$
Lothars Sohn: Alright I know that all too well :=) One feels kind of frustrated after that, doesn’t one? 😉
Lothars Sohn: Anyway I’m so glad and thankful you’ve accepted my invitation!
Kimberly Knight: my pleasure
Lothars Sohn: So I would like this to be more a conversation than an interview. So if you wish you can ask me things back
Kimberly Knight: ok – sounds good
Lothars Sohn: What would you tell us if you were to sum up the most important steps of your life?
Kimberly Knight: Wow, that is a big question…When asked, a few key places in my journey come to my mind: my childhood with my parents, though not perfect, was formative in good and challenging ways.I was fortunate to have both of my parents together until the day my mother died in her 60s…
Lothars Sohn: I’m sorry for that…it must have been very painful
Kimberly Knight: I was raised in the southern US and much of our lives revolved around food – holidays, daily meals, friendships.
Lothars Sohn: Is that not the case EVERYWHERE in America? 😉
Kimberly Knight: indeed but there’s nothing as good as southern fried chicken, buttermilk cornbread and a huge potof collard greens…I felt loved by my parents even if over the years it was clear we were so very different.
Lothars Sohn: I know that feeling all too well.
An important part of my faith journey happened when I was a teenager, we attended a church named Confederate Ave. A Baptist Church in downtown Atlanta. We worshiped with an all white congregation and I really felt like I belonged there, I loved the church, the youth group and the Wednesday night suppers.
Well, there is one Sunday that I will never forget. The church was packed, more than I had ever seen. This was in the early 80s and people who had been members but not attending for some time were present. The reason that everyone came that day was to vote about a membership request and behold, the custodian for the church, an elderly black man, wanted to join the church. I understood that to mean he wanted to give his life to Christ that is how we talked about it, joining the church meant giving your life to Christ.
But when I witnessed the congregation voting, by a show of hands in the sanctuary, whether or not he would be allowed to join, I was devastated because it seemed to my young self that they were deciding whether or not he could give his life to Christ.
So in that instant I understood for the first time what religion looked like – and it looked like humans deciding who was worthy of God and who was not.
So I walked away from the church that day not to return for a decade but – i went to college and studied religion
Lothars Sohn: to a secular college?
Kimberly Knight: yes I thought a wholly academic approach would appease my mind and my heart
[Lothars Sohn: I had a similar feeling…
Kimberly Knight: well, that is what i told myself
Lothars Sohn: you were young…
Kimberly Knight: yes so I took my sweet time in undergraduate school and I was starting to understand who I was – well, i was confused and was trying to NOT understand who I was Through a series of bad and then somewhat better choices I was now attending a United Methodist church in my neighborhood
Lothars Sohn: and then you probably wondered: does God really want that for my earthly life?….
And my pastor (who would later come out too and start a UCC church) introduced me to my now partner and it was like God smacked me in the head with a cosmic frying pan. As I began to enter seminary I also started coming out and I could feel God walking with me in such a tangible way like I had never felt before.
When I kissed my wife for the very first time, I knew I was home though I kept waiting for it to feel bad, dirty and wrong – gross even, but it only felt more right every time she kissed or touched me and so I began the long process of shedding my old life and claiming the next part of my journey as God wanted it for me.
That is a long answer and there are many more points on the journey but – there you go
Lothars Sohn: of course, it was very poetically described :=)
Kimberly Knight: thank you – I have never blogged about that – not yet but likely will soon
Lothars Sohn: I’m looking forward to it! Now would be my next question
It is clear that (conservative) Evangelicalism in America is facing a great crisis. An increasing number of clever young people are leaving conservative and fundamentalist churches and oftentimes become very resentful atheists. What are your thoughts on this phenomenon?
Kimberly Knight: That we are in a great shift….some are calling it another Great Awakening in America
Lothars Sohn: For me it would be a Awakening if those folks gave up their wicked theological beliefs and worshiped a truly loving God instead of becoming militant atheists.
Kimberly Knight: I believe some people, with hungry minds and open hearts are engaging the Bible in ways they were specifically trained not to – with questions and faith rather than certitude and dogma
Lothars Sohn: I hope so, but I have experienced all too often how people who were fundamentalists turned into nasty antitheists who want to destroy every religion and oftentimes even Socialism for that matter
Kimberly Knight: indeed but that is not what I am seeing in the Emergent movement
There are plenty of atheists who are really just angry at religion and God but in the emergent movement something else is happening and it is becoming more progressive and it is moving toward activism.
Lothars Sohn: That’s also what I am aiming at with my blog.
Kimberly Knight: me too, exactly
Lothars Sohn: I am sure that fundamentalism is destroying Christianity
Kimberly Knight: well, in some ways – but it also may end up saving it, that is a weird thing to say, let me explain… perhaps the best thing to happen for LGBT rights is Westboro Baptist nonsense
Lothars Sohn: I understand but feel sad about them, often angry but also sad. I wish them to get “saved” from their wickedness.
Kimberly Knight: me too…but, if American Christianity had just idled along as bland and ineffective that might have killed it and was killing it, since that is not Christian either. But with the willful ignorance and the twisted rendering of the bible, people had something to get mad at – to awake from and were so tied to a life within the church they had to seek for answers that still equaled God
Lothars Sohn: This leads us to my next question
On of the purposes of my blog is to defend a form of progressive Christianity which is intellectually honest and rationally and morally acceptable.
One complaint of militant atheists (the so-called New Atheists) is that liberal and progressive Christians are dangerous because they legitimize the existence of fundamentalism. I believe that in quite a few cases they are unfortunately right since many liberals AVOID confrontations to preserve “the Christian unity“.
What should we do about that?
Kimberly Knight: Oh, well I do not avoid confrontation as you see 🙂
Kimberly Knight: and yes, plenty of my progressive sisters and brothers criticize me for not being gentle and loving (which I am) or for not being a bridge builder (which I am)
Lothars Sohn: but Jesus was confronting some of the pharisees of his time all the time those who had a wicked theology and behavior
Kimberly Knight: I feel called, in no uncertain terms, to confront that which has hijacked the gospel. not that God needs little me to defend God but because I feel called to be very clear that what many Americans think about Christians, God and Jesus are obsoletely wrong and it is wrong for me to remain silent when I can speak up
Lothars Sohn: For the readers, could you please put the NALT project in a nutshell?
Kimberly Knight: Hmm, well that is not my project and I have not even recorded a video yet but i can try: it is a project, inspired by the It Gets Better video project where progressive Christians are invited to share a video talking about how they understand their faith, primarily in terms of love and radical hospitality
Lothars Sohn: that speaks to my heart 🙂
Kimberly Knight: Create a video, upload it to YouTube and tag it with the appropriate words and key pharses and then let NALT know it is out there
Lothars Sohn: I am sure this is going to have much success
Kimberly Knight: I hope so and I know it has been criticized (exactly for why you mentioned)
Lothars Sohn: and I hope this will also show to the non-Christian world that we don’t agree with what fundamentalists are doing
Kimberly Knight: but I am a fan of the project if it saves one life, prevents one person from believing that God hates them
So here is a question for you: why the name Lothars Sohn?
Lothars Sohn: I come from Lorraine/Lothringen, a region in France with a German-speaking part, expect that the French government destroyed our culture and language
Kimberly Knight: I am sorry to hear that
Lothars Sohn: I am proud of my root and have taken “Lothar’s son” as name in honor of king Lothar the founder of my region.
And like the Israelite are sometimes described as being the children of Abraham I am a child of Lothar 🙂
Kimberly Knight: cool
Lothars Sohn: Did you take a look at my theological argument for the acceptance of homosexuality? I think it is extremely compelling
Kimberly Knight: I have not yet, I am sorry – can you resend the link…this latest blog post about my seminary has taken a great deal more energy than I imagined
Lothars Sohn: Alright! No problem.
Kimberly Knight: and now I am supposed to be writing a sermon for tomorrow
Lothars Sohn: You can perhaps hope that the Holy Ghost will transfer all words to your brain tomorrow at 09 am 😉
Kimberly Knight: that is apparently what I am counting on
Lothars Sohn: But let’s move forward if that’s the case.
Many conservative Christians agrees that homophobia is morally wrong while holding fast on the idea that homosexuality is inherently sinful. They teach that the desires are not sinful but that God demands from homosexual to always remain single but that one should encounter them with compassion.
What is your response to this widely held belief?
Kimberly Knight: LOL, well, that they are wrong
Well, here is why – I believe in a created universe and us as creatures created by our creator in that universe and I know that God – who is love – did not create millions of people that are expcted to remain single and in pain for their whole lives. We are created for relationships.
Lothars Sohn: yeah, I often say to grow in our ability to give and receive love
Kimberly Knight: and some are created to love people of a different gender and some are create to love people of the same gender and there are scads and scads of biblical arguments we could engage in but if in the end we are not acting out of love and compassion, then the answer is always wrong
Lothars Sohn: That’s no problem for homosexuality but I am struggling a lot
with pedophilia which is undoubtedly harmful (unlike homosexuality or trans sexuality)
and people never choose a pedophilic orientation
Lothars Sohn: why would a good God allow that…I struggle a lot with that problem…
Kimberly Knight: but that is an orientation that is based on predatory behavior…Ah – that is a good question and that is the theodicy question right?
why does God allow cancer or earthquakes or rape or domestic violence?
Lothars Sohn: it’s part of it but it’s more than that
because human evil is supposed to stem from our free will
but many psychopaths and pedophiles have no such free will, they are evil from their early childhood onwards.
How can God, how can we hold them accountable, if they were wired that way so to speak?
Kimberly Knight: because what they do robs another of their humanity and anything that robs another of their humanity – anything that causes such pain or death even…
One can only be guilty if one have had the choice to do otherwise and psychopaths seem to be machines which have been programmed to kill.
Kimberly Knight: not really and there is a difference between guilt and evil or guilty and wrong
Lothars Sohn: yeah I would say it’s bad, terribly bad what they do
Kimberly Knight: and so, they must be stopped by other humans with free will who understand that what they do harms innocent people
Lothars Sohn: Yes but I believe that no psychopath will end up in hell for having done what his brain was programmed to, God will redeem him
Kimberly Knight: well, I am not sure what I think about heaven and hell
Lothars Sohn: Welcome to the club, I am also unsure about heaven and hell 🙂
Kimberly Knight: All I know is that the life we have to live should be lived with love and compassion and yes, I may have compassion for the murderer and understand that they were broken by the evil free will of others likely
Lothars Sohn: sometimes yes
Kimberly Knight: but I can still believe they must be stopped from perpetuating the cycle
Lothars Sohn: Of course! And I try to take very seriously Jesus call to love our FOES
Kimberly Knight: yes, that is the hardest of all
Lothars Sohn: But to my mind God can only be just and good if He offered eternal life to everyone truly desiring him
I don’t know that but I diligently hope it is true 🙂
Kimberly Knight: me too
Lothars Sohn: Otherwise I am dumbstruck by the fact that conservative American Christians focus most of their attention on homosexuality and abortion. But when I ask them about the communism within the early Church in the Acts of the Apostles, they say it was bound to a specific time and place and is no longer valid today.
How do they manage doing this?
Kimberly Knight: the way all humans do – we see what we want and we ignore what we do not, they read the bible through the lens of their desire
Lothars Sohn: Is it not ironic that they pretend they are the ones who take EVERYTHING in the Bible seriously
Kimberly Knight: yes
Lothars Sohn: the people holding the view that homosexuality is sinful are often good persons who are wrong and sometimes even brainwashed. How can we encounter them in a spirit of love while not hesitating to point out their errors?
Kimberly Knight: i suppose it depends on their posture and by that I mean, if they are content to love and not try to create secular laws based on their religion and are not about hurting or changing anyone, then we can likely be in relationship and being in relationship does more to point out errors than telling them so
Lothars Sohn: True enough! But even people wanting to turn America into a theocracy can have a good heart even if they are terribly misguided…
Kimberly Knight: oh yes, and I have met them many times and there is rarely a thing I can say to change their mind so sometimes relationship is not even possible
Lothars Sohn: that’s the real tragedy of fundamentalism of any kind, religious and secular alike
Kimberly Knight: yes and that is what makes it unChristian because if we can not be in relationship and find a way to love one another then we are going against the will of God as revealed in the Incarnation
Lothars Sohn: And they often bully emotionally those they view as their enemies
Lothars Sohn: but many militant atheists who are former fundamentalists bully their enemies in the same way, in a very unrighteous manner
Kimberly Knight: yep, equally as wrong
Lothars Sohn: How should we react as Christians when confronted with such bullies?
Kimberly Knight: sometimes it is walking away, sometimes it is confronting them
Lothars Sohn: Consider someone for instance who says that in the LONG term, he wishes “fags” to be put to death. The Westboro baptists aren’t the only ones out there who want the state to murder homosexuals.
Kimberly Knight: then I confront them with truth and then walk away
Lothars Sohn: yes, Jesus did that!
My honest investigation of the Bible has led me to the conclusion that the books considered as Canonical are NOT more inspired than other religious books.
What is your own view of the Bible?
Kimberly Knight: oh I agree, I have for a very long time…I am reading (off and on) The New New Testament. an interesting collection
Lothars Sohn: and what is the NNT?
Kimberly Knight: a compilation of canonical and non-canonical texts into a new canon but of course it leaves out plenty that could be there
Lothars Sohn: And what kind of texts are those?