Nadia Bolz-Weber‘s blunt preaching style differs greatly from what congregants generally see at traditional Christian churches. The tattooed Lutheran minister who believes in emphasizing “experience over rules” is an emerging star on the Christian left, but she doesn’t appear interested in embracing political labels.
While there is a growing group of believers interested in Bolz-Weber’s message, not everyone will be so enamored. For one, her use of what The Washington Post called a “frequently profane dialect” will certainly turn off more traditional church attendees. Still, she’s piquing the interest of others who are more theologically progressive in nature.
The 44-year-old pastor, profiled by the Post on Sunday, has an intriguing style that’s clearly driving interest in her theology, but it’s her personal story as much as her preaching chops that makes her an intriguing figure in the ever-diverse pool of Christian ministers.
After growing up in what the Post described as a “fundamentalist” Christian family, Bolz-Weber took a different path.
She said a thyroid disorder in her younger years led to anger and frustration, and she turned to drugs and alcohol and became sexually active. She experimented with Wicca and liberal faith groups, but later, in her recovery from drugs and substance abuse, reconnected with her Christianity.
Along the way, she said she never stopped believing in the almighty.
Bolz-Weber, a wife and mother of two, is now a Christian preacher who speaks to a very diverse audience. She’s the pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints, a Denver, Colo.-based church that’s part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America denomination in which tradition and innovation collide and where “scripture is honored enough to be faithfully questioned and struggled with.”
In her Patheos biography, she describes her church as having “a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination.”
Here’s how she recently described her sermons — which are generally around 10 minutes — and how services run at the church in an interview with Religion News Service’s Jonathan Merritt:
“We’re more liturgically traditional than most other Lutheran churches. So that’s, sort of, counterintuitive for some people. But how we do it is completely different. We’re in the round. Different parts of the liturgy are led by 15 or 18 different people. It’s not centered on the pastor. And we have a time right after the sermon, usually 10 minutes, to pray and reflect and respond. And that’s when people write “the prayers of the people” for later in the liturgy. So there’s an intimacy to how we live our liturgical life together. We always sing Southern gospel hymns, and we’re acapella. So we sing Fanny Crosby hymns, stuff like that. But then we’ll do acapella Gregorian chant liturgy. It is a bizarre combination.”
It’s obvious that Bolz-Weber isn’t a traditional pastor. In many ways, it seems she’s trying to mesh elements from both conservative and liberal traditions.
“In her body and her theology, Bolz-Weber represents a new, muscular form of liberal Christianity, one that merges the passion and life-changing fervor of evangelicalism with the commitment to inclusiveness and social justice of mainline Protestantism,” the Post wrote. “She’s a tatted-up, foul-mouthed champion to people sick of being belittled as not Christian enough for the right or too Jesus-y for the left.”
The Post summarized Bolz-Weber’s central message as follows: “God doesn’t love you more if you do good things, or if you believe certain things. God, she argues, offers you grace regardless of who you are or what you do.”
The newspaper proclaimed that her focus on “experience over rules” poses a challenge to conservative and liberal Christians alike, though many conservative churches focus intensely on the Christian experience in their teachings. Based on that fact, there wouldn’t necessarily be a conflict with this general idea.
The Post also noted, however, that some progressive Christians might not be pleased with Bolz-Weber’s views — mainly that church needs to be more than a nonprofit organization.
“This isn’t supposed to be the Elks Club with the Eucharist,” she told the Post, going on to say that Christianity has been reduced to either social action of a list of dos and donts. Bolz-Weber summarized the dueling messages as stating: “‘recycle’ and ‘don’t sleep with your girlfriend.'”
Despite her likely appeal to more liberal Christians, it seems she isn’t interested in being characterized as a liberal or a conservative. When Jeff Chu, author of the book, “Does Jesus Really Love Me?” tweeted that the Post’s article on Bolz-Weber reminds him that “‘liberal’ + ‘cons.’ = inadequate words to describe change in church,” she responded, under the Twitter handle @Sarcasticluther, “Yeah, I’m kind of neither.”
The description for her most recent book, “Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint,” says Bolz-Weber penned a “messy, beautiful, prayer-and-profanity laden narrative about an unconventional life of faith.” The description continues:
Heavily tattooed and loud-mouthed, Nadia, a former stand-up comic, sure as hell didn’t consider herself to be religious leader material-until the day she ended up leading a friend’s funeral in a smoky downtown comedy club. Surrounded by fellow alcoholics, depressives, and cynics, she realized: These were her people. Maybe she was meant to be their pastor.
Using life stories-from living in a hopeful-but-haggard commune of slackers to surviving the wobbly chairs and war stories of a group for recovering alcoholics, from her unusual but undeniable spiritual calling to pastoring a notorious con artist-Nadia uses stunning narrative and poignant honesty to portray a woman who is both deeply faithful and deeply flawed, giving hope to the rest of us along the way.
While Bolz-Weber seemingly doesn’t embrace political labels, some conservatives may see some of her messages as being too closely aligned with left-of-center social views.
For instance, the description of her book noted that it was written “for women who talk too loud, and guys who love chick flicks; for the gay man who loves Jesus, and won’t allow himself to be shunned by the church.”
Certainly some will see this as wonderful and inclusive, while others will shy away from the message due to connotations and an approach that is non-traditional (last year, she testified at the Colorado Senate Judiciary in support of civil unions).
Watch the preacher speak about faith and God, below:
Bolz-Weber’s church, House for All Sinners and Saints, currently attracts around 180 people each week. While that’s comparatively a small congregation, Bolz-Weber’s influence is apparently growing. The popular pastor is constantly traveling the nation and sending social media updates.
But as her popularity grows, questions surround whether she wants to be a mega pastor or whether she can handle the burdens of a larger platform. Unlike other pastors, the mega route may not be her forte. Then again, only the future holds those answers.
(H/T: Washington Post)