Who would have thought that a radio show on “The Divisions in Christianity Over Sex” would be an occasion to promote prison ministry, biblical storytelling, and Grace Church? A week before Christmas, a producer for NPR’s “On Point” show invited me to be part of a panel discussing how issues around human sexuality have divided the church.
Eleven o’clock the next morning we are live on the air, with guest host Tom Gjelten, who covers religion, faith, and belief for NPR News. About ten minutes into it I am introduced as “Deacon-in-Residence at Grace Church, a Methodist Church, there in Dayton.” After a commercial break, to my surprise, Mr. Gjelten asked, “tell us a little bit about your ministry and the Grace church. Who are the people you try to address in your own ministry?” I had expected questions about ordaining homosexuals, same-sex marriage, or the Commission on a Way Forward but not about my ministry at Grace.
I talked about Seeds of Grace, “a team of individuals at Grace Church who go with me into the jail, and into also the woman’s prison here in Dayton, to share the Word with them and to hear also the Word from them, as clearly the Spirit is present in all of these places. And as we work on learning the scriptures by heart we often encounter that Word.”
Pressed to elaborate on this I found myself saying, “God is present in all places with all people, and in all people, but so many folks don’t know God’s love, don’t know that they’re valued, and so one of the things we can do is to communicate that to them through the scriptures. We actually help them learn the scriptures by heart as a way of internalizing God’s kingdom and experiencing it.”
After I spoke, the host addressed Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He was said to represent the evangelical position, which I was identified as the progressive. Mr. Gjelten commented, “I’m going to guess that you don’t have a lot to disagree with, with the way she interprets her mission.” Prof. Moore answered, “No, I think what she’s said so far sounds really good. That’s exactly what Christians are called to do: to minister to all people, and to be present with those who are distressed, those who are imprisoned, those who are impoverished, those who are in vulnerable situations. I think we could agree on that.”
Such a moment of common ground was another surprise. On the other hand, I happen to think that what we do through biblical storytelling in the jail and prison is very evangelical. Nevertheless, finding common ground in unexpected places is fitting for the season of Christmas.
To access a page of info about the program, and a link to a recording, click here…