The Church of the Crossroads has long commemorated the work of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. by honoring peacemakers instead of seeking redress through anger and violence, the Rev. Kyle Ann Lovett said Monday.
She said in an interview that one of her goals as Crossroads’ new pastor is to urge people to "lower the vitriolic language, the anger, to lower the heat" in public discourse.
"Our position has been not to take the anger, frustration and despair of the assassination (of King) and wallow in that; rather, to use that to empower and recommit ourselves to make the world a more just and peaceful place, which speaks to Arizona, where they did not use these means to influence the direction of this country," Lovett said in reference to the shooting in Tucson, Ariz., last week that killed six people and wounded 13 others.
Lovett said the church’s 25th annual MLK Peacemaker Awards and celebration at 7 p.m. Monday reflect the vision of King, the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner who was assassinated in 1968. The public is invited.
She said that since last Saturday’s shooting, people throughout the nation have been asking themselves whether they have contributed to the polarizing climate in the country that could provoke some to violence.
"We have to say yes. We’ve demonized our opposition. Rather than criticize their position, we’ve demonized the person," she said. "We on the progressive end of Christianity have to look at ourselves, not only the tea party or religious right. We firmly believe our affirmations are correct, (but) we have to be conscious we do not demonize people who are not like us."
Lovett, one of the few openly gay head ministers in Hawaii, knows firsthand public condemnation as a member of a minority group still seeking tolerance and civil rights.
She started May 1 at Crossroads, which is part of the United Church of Christ, a liberal Protestant denomination. Crossroads describes itself as an "open and affirming" church that welcomes all, including lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders, she said.
The Rev. Charles Buck, UCC Hawaii Conference minister, said the last time the UCC had a gay head minister was 10 years ago, but it was not at Crossroads. There are other non-UCC ministers in the state who are openly gay, he said.
The United Church of Christ has been on the forefront of furthering human rights, Lovett said. It was the first major Christian denomination to ordain women and black ministers in the 1850s, and openly gay clergy in 1972. Lovett said Crossroads has "a gigantic footprint" in political and social activism.
When Crossroads hired Lovett, "my being a lesbian is just icing on the cake for them. It’s not why they called me, and it’s something that doesn’t disqualify me, either," she said.
"They wanted someone who could preach well, who had a progressive theology … someone who could be a public presence and not be uncomfortable speaking out. … They really wanted a good administrator to shore up the foundation.
"The church and I were a perfect match. I loved their passion. They identified so many things they so deeply bemoaned, like homelessness. They emphasized the need to be sensitive to the host culture." Other concerns were supporting anti-war efforts, LGBT rights and environmental stewardship, she said.
Lovett grew up in California and was a member of a UCC church where gay church leaders were accepted without question. Her previous ministries have been at UCC churches in San Francisco, Oakland and Santa Cruz, Calif.
In response to conservative Christians who call homosexuality an abomination, Lovett said, "We have this in common with evangelical Christians: We take the Bible seriously, but that’s where we part company. We do not take it literally." She recommended a Canadian website — www.religious tolerance.org — for a fair representation of conservative and liberal interpretations of Scripture.
"It makes me sad that others think I … can’t possibly have a loving relationship with Jesus because I’m lesbian," she said. "In spite of the fact that biblical texts are often misinterpreted, I still love Christianity and Jesus; I still have a relationship with God every waking moment, with every breath I take."