Conversation With Rev. Andrew Foster Connors
Andrew has been the minister at Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, MD for eight years. He is married to the Rev. Kate Foster Connors, and they have two daughters. Andrew serves as clergy co-chair of BUILD, a faith-based citizen power group in Baltimore, and is a leader in the NEXT movement in the PCUSA.
Is there a prayer or meditation that helps you make it through trying times?
The serenity prayer has always been important to me in seeking both the courage to act where I can and also the wisdom to relinquish myself to God’s care. Isaiah 43 continues to be a foundational text for me in trusting God’s provision through every challenge and finding courage in the face of fear.
What is one of the defining moments in your life as a Christian?
One of the most defining moments in my life as a Christian occurred in my college years when I was openly questioning my Christian heritage and commitment. I became involved in a secular, community-based organization that built health clinics in the eastern part of North Carolina with and among the poor. The health clinics became bases of organizing citizens to stand up for themselves and their communities. Though most of the organizers considered themselves non-religious, those most deeply affected by racism and economic inequality learned to fight against some of the worst kinds of injustice I have ever seen by trusting in the God of their Christian faith. One summer, I lived in the home of an African-American seamstress who had been fired from her minimum wage job after more than 30 years because she was speaking out for her peers and fellow employees. Watching her faith and the faith of others in the community helped reconnect me with the Jesus who had led me there in the first place. Ultimately, I was led back into the Christian community. I’ve never looked back.
Do you have a story of a person who embodies Christ’s teachings?
There is no one person; there are many. My parents are some of the most disciplined Christian folks that I know. My preaching professors in seminary, Chuck Campbell and Anna Carter Florence, modeled the integration of the pastoral and the prophetic not simply with their teaching but with their relational commitments to their students. Many of my colleagues in seminary, and others I’ve met along the way, have helped me develop my own sense of what it means to walk the talk of faith. Mostly, it has been the parishioners I serve who constantly surprise me with their acts of generosity, justice, kindness and courage. None of these persons is perfect, which is what makes them such accessible role models for the Christian faith.
In your mind, what are the Biblical foundations for LGBT inclusion in the church?
The whole “Gentile question” in the New Testament strikes me as the most relevant part of the Scriptural witness in terms of LGBT inclusion. Here you have an entire group of people who heretofore have not been eligible for inclusion into the family of God. They have not been eligible because Scripture has directly prohibited them from inclusion and because a whole set of stereotypes about their “practices” has grown out of that exclusionary theology. Then the Holy Spirit comes along and tells Peter to go and meet with one of them (Cornelius), whom he later baptizes. Peter is as surprised as everyone else. He had not intended to violate church teaching, but he does have a correct understanding of who is Head of the Church. In the choice between violating polity or violating the Spirit, he chooses faithfulness to God.
However, Peter does not see himself as above the polity of the church either. He goes to Jerusalem and tells the council exactly what happened. He shares what happened, alongside his decision-making, and then allows the council to decide what to do. Amazingly, the council trusts Peter because they put themselves in his shoes, and recognize the wisdom of the pastoral decision he made on the fly.
I love this story for so many reasons. I love it for the way the Spirit blows all through the Book of Acts disrupting everybody’s expectations of who’s in and who’s out, not to mention the power of the church to carry on the work of Jesus. I love it for the way it shows the pastoral side of ministry – rooted in theological norms, but also willing to have those norms disrupted by the very Spirit that gave rise to them in the first place. And I love the trust among the council. They understand that the church is built not first on laws or regulations or rules, but on a relationship with Christ. That relationship makes possible relationships with others in the Christian fellowship. Everything else that the church creates – polity, standards, norms and practices – grows out of a desire to protect those relationships, rooted in Christ. I long for that kind of trust in the church.
What would you say to those Christians who have a different view on inclusion?
A big piece of our biblical heritage is advocacy among the faithful about who constitutes community and about where the boundaries ought to be set. Deuteronomy 23, for example, excludes specific groups of people. This exclusion is then explicitly contested in Isaiah 56. It’s not possible to reconcile these two texts or the many others that carry on these competing traditions. It’s only possible to recognize that debates about who constitutes the community are important ones that continue through the centuries.
While I think it’s quite possible to argue that Jesus tends to side with Isaiah on many of these issues, pushing boundaries rather than enforcing them, we cannot condemn the church for having these arguments, nor expect this centuries-long argument to suddenly cease in our time. There will always be new questions that arise.
What can we do to foster dialogue and build bridges with people who have different views on inclusion?
Relationships are key. Sometimes I feel criticism and pressure both from those who are pro-LGBT inclusion and those who are against it to disconnect from certain relationships. It’s especially tempting for me, as a person who resides in most of the categories of privilege, to think that I should disconnect from those opposed to people I love and pastor. But the truth of most transformative change on the personal and political level is that it always happens inside relationships. One of my roles in these debates is to try to do my best not to sacrifice more relationships with people on the basis of principles – conservative or progressive – but to keep the lives of all human beings at the center of my ministry, calling and life.