Conversation With Rev. Will McGarvey

Will has been married to Becky for 22 years. They are the parents of Ian, 21, and Megan, 19 (and CoCo and TyTy, their miniature pincers). Will and Becky live in Benicia, CA. Will has served as pastor of Community Presbyterian Church of Pittsburg, CA, a PCUSA/UCC congregation, for almost eight and a half years.

How has your personal journey to being a happily married, out Bisexual man strengthened or challenged your faith?

It took me a long time to be honest with myself about being Bisexual. I grew up a member of the LDS church in Salt Lake City, where heteronormativity is a badge of honor. I always knew that I didn’t quite fit in, though Mormonism offers much to a white male. I had the normal crushes of childhood and adolescence but also found myself attracted to a spectrum of people, from the cute boys to androgynous girls to fuller figured women – of course personality was a prime factor. It was the era of AIDS, and the fear of being considered gay kept me from any form of experimentation. I also knew I wanted a family, and it was natural for me to fall in love with Becky and start a family. In many ways, being a married man, it would have been easier just to stay in the closet. I left the LDS church for theological reasons, never really feeling forgiven, and my sexual orientation played a minor role in that realization. It was discovering God’s abundant grace and love that allowed me the strength to seek out a progressive, more rational faith. Over the last few years, as I’ve worked with LGBTQQI2-S (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, two-spirit) youth and young adults in my faith community, not being out as a Bi-man was a form of lying, of bearing false witness against myself and a loving God, and of course it led to hiding my solidarity from those who needed to experience it the most. When I learned that a young man who visited the church had taken his life, I couldn’t wait any longer.

Is there a prayer or meditation that helps you make it through trying times?

During seminary, I sought out embodied forms of prayer that merged well with my emerging environmental theology. I took to walking the Labyrinth as a way of merging body, soul and mind. My music and singing is also a key mode for my prayer. Other times, I use Centering Prayer or Lectio Divina if I have a specific set of words I am concentrating upon. Lately, music and singing has been most helpful. I took a group from my churches to the Holy Land to help with the Palestinian olive harvest. I found that singing Hebrew and Arabic peace songs was most helpful in keeping my anger at the current situation in Israel-Palestine in check.

What is one of the defining moments in your life as a Christian?

I think breaking with the faith of my childhood and seeking out a new way of being a follower of the Way of Jesus was pivotal for me. That experience helped to teach me to trust myself, as well as the unknown path before me. It has also given me the courage to stand up against the continued oppression of my own denomination against LGBTQQI2-S people. (I’ve already stood up to what were once the largest powers in my life. What else should I fear?) It has also helped me take a posture of humility concerning what I know to be true in my relationships with my interfaith colleagues.

Most of the time, my conversion to “Protest”antism seems a lifetime away.  These days, such defining moments come in the back of a San Francisco Police paddy wagon being arrested with Interfaith colleagues for marriage equality, or stopping traffic in front of Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office asking her to bring up Comprehensive Immigration Reform. I guess my defining moments as a Christian have become those moments when I use my white male privilege to challenge the gross systematic oppression of those in our culture. I’ve spent some time with Occupy Oakland and Oakland SF, but I can’t be sure they will always be consistent with my calling as a pacifist, so I have stayed on the fringes.

Do you have a story of a person who embodies Christ’s teachings?

I think that the journalist Chris Hedges is a public theologian (like a radical Bill Moyers) who decries injustice from every quarter, including the church’s complicity. Chris is a Seminary-trained prophet that continues to ask why American Christianity is more subservient to the forces of wealth and power than the calling of the Gospel – serving others. He has spent time in the nations where our American wars have wreaked havoc and understands better than most how our foreign policy contributes to the suffering around the world. He is more fully a follower of Christ than many churchgoers I know, including me.

I also hold Rev. Naim Ateek and Sam Bahour in high regard for their selfless work on behalf of Palestine. Pastor Ateek blends his liberation theology with an activism and teaching ability that naturally exude from his personality. While Naim’s theology has been criticized by some of my Jewish colleagues as anti-Semetic, I find his analysis and tenor a pastoral message of liberation for both Israelis and Palestinians. Sam is an American-Palestinian businessman who does business and infrastructure development work in the West Bank. He is one of the best minds in Palestine around the practicalities of making life better under the Israeli Occupation.

In your mind, what are the Biblical foundations for LGBTQQI2-S inclusion in the church?

The person of Jesus of Nazareth – who shows us what love is. He always drew the circle wider. It is offensive to me that some of our co-religionists use him as an excuse for their homophobia. I would also include Isaiah 56:3-8,  which is one of those texts that universalizes God’s welcome in the Temple – including foreigners and eunuchs – not based on any worldly condition, but on their keeping of the Sabbath and desire to worship God. I think this is one of the things Jesus embodied during his life, the ever present welcome of a loving God. If you read through the Torah and then the Prophets, one sees a progression from the social mores of the age of the Patriarchs (with patriarchal polygamy and strict gender constructions), to an Exodus liberation of slaves. While some tried to turn the Exodus into a conquest of other indigenous peoples, eventually the message of the Prophets included the locals and outsiders in the family of God. Those distillations of the Law are always universal in their inclusion, as is the message of Jesus.

What would you say to those Christians who have a different view on inclusion?

What are we afraid of? We don’t have to have a Deuteronomic faith. If God loves us, who are we to say She can’t love everyone else?
In Seminary, we pastors are exposed to the Documentary Hypothesis as a way of understanding the biblical authors. The Deuteronomic Historian (1 or 2) espoused a cause and effect theology that essentially says: If you follow the law, you will be blessed. If you don’t, you will be damned. Some Christians still live by this code, which other parts of the Bible speak against as being simplistic (such as Job, the majority of the Psalms, etc.).

What if the ancients were wrong about gender identity and sexual orientation? What if our English translations aren’t the best way into understanding the ancient culture’s understanding of human sexuality? For those who choose only a god of cause and effect, the cost they pay is being able to describe God as a God of love. Can God be both a puppet-master and gracious? Philosophers for ages have pointed out that one must ultimately choose one or the other view of God.

Furthermore, the Bible in its original languages uses both feminine and masculine terminology for God. A part of reclaiming a progressive view of the Divine is understanding the context in which God is described in the Bible and then reminding ourselves that our faith is more in the Ultimate than any description of it.

Attempting to enforce pre-modern conceptions of God on post-modern peoples is both an insult to our intelligence and an offense to the ineffability of our mysterious God. Who are we to say that God hasn’t changed Her mind and publically come out to accept all her children? I won’t perform the test, but for me it passes Augustine’s “test of love.”

What can we do to foster dialogue and build bridges with people with different views on inclusion?

Come out. Don’t lie about yourself. Be public about your faith, and be public about the fabulous way God has created you! One of my mentors, Dr. James Noel, pointed out that the LGBTQQI2-S community comes to the church every two years at our PC (USA) General Assemblies and begs them to accept us – to love us like Jesus does. And then we are surprised when the church says no. I think he is correct. We just need to take our place of sacrificial service, love and justice in the church. We follow a Teacher/Master/Lord who laid his life down for others. We need to show the Church another way. The church is forever in need of losing our place of privilege in the world, and we can remind the church that it’s not up to them to accept or reject us. We are Christ’s own beloved children, and we need to start acting like it. We can live into God’s calling, without asking what it will cost the institutional Church. This is what our youth and young adults are waiting for us to do. If we won’t follow our own convictions, why should they?


One Response
  • Dr. Michael J. Adee on December 4, 2012

    Thank you, Will, for sharing your faith journey and your life’s journey to this point. I so appreciate your candor, thoughtfulness and faithfulness in pastoral ministry. I have so much respect and appreciation for you and Becky, and your family. May God continue to watch over and bless your family and your beloved church family.


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