Pastor and New York Times bestselling memoirist Nadia Bolz-Weber presented her upcoming book to a full house at Battell Chapel on Thursday evening as part of the Institute of Sacred Music’s Literature and Spirituality series.
According to Associate Dean for Marquand Chapel Maggi Dawn, who arranged the event, the organization invites several writers each year who “are making an impact through their writing” and who are “representing different literary forms.” The institute invited Bolz-Weber, an ordained Lutheran minister and founding pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado, for her memoirs. Dawn, herself a longtime friend of Bolz-Weber, described the speaker as “a woman who knows how to tell a story and polish it ‘til it shines.”
“We should never be more loyal to an idea or an interpretation of a Bible verse than we are to people,” Bolz-Weber said.
The talk was originally titled “Truth-telling in a World of Spin,” but the speaker quickly pointed out, “I think I made that s— up.” Rather, Bolz-Weber read a series of excerpts from her forthcoming book, tentatively titled “Shameless,” which deals with what she considers the broad problems in the Lutheran Church’s attitude toward sexuality and sexual orientation. Drawing mainly from conversations with her parishioners about their experiences or lack thereof with sex and gender identity, Bolz-Weber made strong polemical claims about the way religion handles the different facets of sexuality. At several instances she asked the question, “Has the Church obsessed over this too much?”
Bolz-Weber also criticized the mainstream understanding of consent, which she characterized as the absence of “no.” Rather, she emphasized mutuality and concern for the other person, which involves seeing others as “the whole person” and not just their bodies. She based this argument strongly in Lutheran principles and the Protestant Reformation.
More broadly, Bolz-Weber advocated for a “new Christian ethic.” This ethic, she argued, should focus less on dogma and doctrine. Rather, she said, the Church should embark on a new sexual reformation, which her book will focus on.
In another section of her book, Bolz-Weber attacked the 1990s Evangelical Purity Movement, which emphasized that women should wait for marriage before engaging in sexual activity. Among other things, the movement, among other things, encouraged women to wear “purity rings” to signify their virginity.
Bolz-Weber also recalled her experience with one of her parishioners who had been an adherent to this purity movement. Because the woman did not leave the movement until her late 20s, she was emotionally unprepared for a relationship or breakup, and was left distraught after her first breakup at the age of 31.
During the Q&A, audience members asked questions about Bolz-Weber’s relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, her church’s parent body, and whether her views have resulted in any backlash. “They haven’t called,” Bolz-Weber responded.
From the audience in Battell, Bolz-Weber was unanimously well-received. Her talk was frequently interspersed with applause and the audience met her frequent injections of both expletives and comedy with laughter.
Jillian Armstrong SPH ’23 said that even though the talk was not what she expected, she found it “eye-opening” as it raised “questions that a lot of us have but never feel comfortable asking or talking about.”
Bolz-Weber is scheduled to preach and preside at Marquand Chapel at the Divinity School on Friday at 10:30 a.m.
Brandon Chambers | firstname.lastname@example.org