Bakker: My concept of sin is the idea of cause and effect. It's the idea of when we're selfish, when we hurt other people, when we miss the idea of loving others, forgiving our enemies. For me, that's what sin is, sin is missing the mark of loving the other when we get so caught up and focused on ourselves and almost in a way we become the idol. Or the things we purchase become the idol because they're more important than the children picking the cocoa beans or the people mining for diamonds or policies that affect us positively but others negatively. To me, that's kind of the idea of sin, when we forget about the other.
CP: You also write in Faith, Doubt that God cannot be both gracious and angry, that He wouldn't punish people He's supposed to love. You also write that God is just. Does justice never require any suffering?
Bakker: Usually the idea of justice, you hear it a lot from the Neo-Reformed folks who say "well God's a just God and He requires punishment and He requires His pound of flesh. And we're lucky for those of us who do get there."
The idea of saying that justice is punishing someone for an eternity for temporal sin. The idea that how is that justice ... I'm not saying God doesn't punish us. If God created the laws of nature, we automatically have certain things like cause and effect. So when you stick your hand on a burner, you have a ring on your hand from the burner. That doesn't change the fact that God still loves you and is merciful to you. I just don't think God is this tyrant god ... What I find in God I have to see through Christ.
Things like reaping and sowing, that's not karma, that's just nature. So that's where I see God, [He] works in those lines. I don't think God breaks your car down because you've been bad.
CP: You're obviously LGBTQ-affirming, and appalled at how the Christian church in general has responded to homosexuality and same-sex marriage. The Christian Post ran a piece a few months ago featuring the viewpoints of some former gays and lesbians who believe God has personally called them to leave homosexuality and who say they believe homosexuality is immoral. What do you say to Christians with such a testimony?
Bakker: I used to have a friend who used to come and always confront me every Sunday and say "I think it's wrong, and I've been set free. What do you say to that?" I said "I can't tell you what your conviction is and what you want and what you don't want. This is just what I believe and I hope you can accept that." A year later, I got a text from her saying "you were right, I'm gay." I wasn't sure if she was upset or what was going on. Later she got in contact with me and said "I am who I am. I'm gay. I've met a woman and I'm in a relationship and I'm very happy." That was one of my experiences with that.
As far as the ex-gay movement is concerned, most of the folks I've met through that, I've seen more pain and hurt. The fruit of that ... I've seen marriages that have been ruined. I sat with a parent whose daughter took her life because she felt like she couldn't change. I've seen the things that are happening in Uganda. American Christians going down and preaching this message, and now seeing bills put out that are [against homosexuality]. For me, the majority of the fruit of the ex-gay movement have been a negative thing and doesn't seem to be something that works. There are people that say it works, but ultimately I think it's a dangerous thing. I think if someone says "this is what I want for me," that's fine. But as soon as they start saying "I think everyone else should be ex-gay," we start to get into a really dangerous territory.
There's a reason why we see that these movements are on the decline and why they're saying "we can't really change you, but we can help you." But does it work? And for me, the idea of that is if we're supposed to be known for our fruit and known for our peace, patience and kindness and joy and these types of things, why is the fruit of this failure, why is the fruit of this broken marriages, why is the fruit of this suicides and bullying?
I also think it's the civil rights issue of our time right now. Obviously, the president didn't allow Pastor (Louie) Giglio to pray at the inauguration. Some people are starting to realize that there's an issue, that these folks are being denied rights at the same time.
The question differs when it comes to a particular person who says "I'm ex-gay. What do you think about that?" For me, I can't think for you. I can tell you that I don't believe that this is something that you should have to do. But if this is what you want to do, then far be it from me to try and keep you from doing it. I will tell you my opinion if you want to know. But as far as when it becomes promoting it to other people and saying that this is the way God wants it to be, and this is the way you should be, I think that's a horrible mistake.
CP: What are some things that you think the Church should be doing in terms of the LGBTQ community?
Bakker: I think we should be opening our arms. I think we should be marching for equality. I think we should be ordaining folks in the community, who want that and who are looking for that. I think we should be honest ... that these Scriptures that we've used for so long, have been taken out of contexts. I think the Church should be embracing the LGBTQ community with open arms. I think we should be performing their wedding ceremonies. I perform weddings because I live in New York, I can do that. I think we should be treating people in the LGBTQ community the way we want to be treated, and loving them as ourselves. To me that's a no-brainer.
CP: What are some of the other defining issues, if any, that you've seen that you think the Church should get involved with and get more active about?
Bakker: I think the Church in the past has done great work with poverty and hunger. I think the Church should continue to work on that. I think the Church needs to be more aware of social justice issues, not just on LGBTQ issues. But stuff like diamond mines or ... what's happening in Uganda with this [anti-homosexuality bill]. Obviously the Church should be standing up and saying this is wrong, this is bad, we denounce this. It took Rick Warren months and months before he would denounce any of that stuff ... That shouldn't have taken him so long, but thank God he did it. But the idea that these folks who see this kind of stuff happening, are still going out there and still supporting this message is devastating. People are going to prison for the rest of their life because of their sexuality. Gay rights activists are being murdered every day. The American Church who has influenced so much of this, should be standing up and saying no this has got to stop, this is ridiculous. Not that the American Church is the end-all, but unfortunately, there's been a lot of folks who have been going into the countries there and stirring this pot up.
We've got to be better purchasers, we've got to be better with the clothes we buy, the products we buy, the politics we support, starting to think about what is it doing to others, instead of for us. The Church's job is, I believe, to increase our love for one another, to make sure that people are getting a livable wage, all these sorts of things. I think if you want to look at a really great model for the message of the Church, I think Martin Luther King, Jr. would be a prime example of what the message of the Church should be and should continue to be.
CP: At some point you were trying to reach out to churches with certain platforms to discuss LGBTQ issues. Are you still trying to do that, or have you given that up?
Bakker: I don't do it as outright as that. I was working with Soulforce and going to different churches and meeting with pastors. I still do meet with pastors. Often now, they want to meet with me privately to talk about the affirming issue and about the ins and outs and discuss some verses and the Scriptures, things like that. I still meet with pastors, just not on such a platform as I was with Soulforce. Any pastors out there who want to sit down talk about it, I'm always glad to do that.
CP: Is there anything going on with your church, Revolution NYC? Are there any projects you have coming up?
Bakker: The church here, we're just keep on keeping on and we have the online stuff that we're doing and continually trying to make a broader online community for those folks who might not even feel comfortable enough to attend church on Sunday.
I am working on a book right now on the ex-Christian movement. When I go on the road I meet a lot of people who have given up their faith, to the point where some just say "I'm an ex-Christian." Trying to find out different reasons why people are starting to lose faith and give up their faith. That's kind of what my hope is for my next book, that it will be on why people are losing their faith.
Pastor Jay Bakker, who co-founded Revolution Church in Phoenix, Ariz., in 1994, leads Revolution NYC services every Sunday afternoon at Pete's Candy Store in the borough of Brooklyn. His previously published books include Son of a Preacher Man: My Search for Grace in the Shadows (2001) and Fall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self & Society (2011). Bakker's latest book, Faith, Doubt, and Other Lines I've Crossed: Walking with the Unknown God, was released Feb. 12, 2013, by Jericho Books.