A Magazine of Theological and Ethical Inquiry from Yale Divinity School

The Heart of Truth: An Interview with Alex da Silva Souto

Alex da Silva Souto ’12 M.Div. is pastor of New Milford United Methodist Church in New Milford, CT. As co-convener of the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus, he is a global advocate for the status and dignity of LGBTQIA persons (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual). For four decades, the denomination has been in turmoil over its rule against ordaining “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals.” Next year, the church body will hold a special called global General Conference meeting to seek ways of preserving unity despite its deep differences over LGBTQIA inclusion.

On the struggle against racism and other prejudices …

I think the problem is akin to alcoholism. An individual with a drinking problem has to get treatment at some point. But if the individual doesn’t admit to the disease, he can’t be helped, no matter how often we tell him his behavior is harmful to him and to others. The heavy lifting – the honesty, the self-searching, the steps toward recovery – finally has to be done by the alcohol abuser, or they can’t get to a place of health.

Sexism, heterosexism, racism – these are diseases too, diseases of the soul. For the longest time, our church and nation have had the luxury of pretending we don’t have brokenness. We could pretend that the body isn’t sick until it’s on the verge of collapse. So, we have to be honest. The phobias – the homophobia, the xenophobia – have a psychological dimension but they are also symptomatic of illnesses of the soul. What are religious institutions if not places for healing of the soul? Elected officials aren’t doing so well right now, but even in good times their work is limited. Legislation alone doesn’t do the trick. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 taught us that. It gave us some progress, yet we remain in great denial of the rights of so many. Legislative acts and presidential elections don’t suffice if the soul is broken and corrupted.

On the responsibility of those who hold the power …

The burden continues to be placed on the oppressed to be gracious and graceful and kind to those who think less of us, those who in some cases think we are evil. The burden remains on us, and yet by now we’re very weary of it. Really, it is time for those in power to do their own work: the effort of learning empathy for those who are suffering. We face a paradox.

The oppressed are tired of bearing the burden, tired of hearing that we are responsible for the majority’s misperceptions of who we are or aren’t. Yet we are still needed if the dismantling of tyranny is going to happen, just as I need my African-American siblings to help me understand my own efforts to dismantle my prejudices.

On the witness of the wounded …

Statistics report, and my own experience shows, that personal relationship and contact can – not always – allow hearts to grow softer to one another. We know that arguing with someone who has an entrenched opinion usually shows few results. Bringing intellectual prowess and reason doesn’t really work, not compared to a heart-to-heart encounter. That can be very difficult, of course. Many of our hearts are torn up and mangled. What people might have to say from their hearts might sound very harsh, because it comes from their wounds. Yet that can be an opportunity. A wounded person might be able to say to another who is listening: “Go ahead, stick a finger in my wound. See? I’m real. For a long time you have made me an abstraction, but now you can see: I am real flesh and blood.” I am blessed in my ministry to be able to speak to others, and in my vulnerability connect with others, if only fleetingly. Mutual vulnerability – that’s all we are seeking. (Oppressed groups have no choice but to be vulnerable – that’s their condition in the world.) We are not even asking others to stitch and suture the wound, just recognize the suffering.

On the gospel as social gospel …

In Methodism, there is no gospel without social gospel. Where the good news is non-existent for people, Christians have to step in. It’s a practice of vanity, a hypocrisy, if we can do something injustices and yet don’t care about them and instead are content to wait for the glory to bestow itself on us when we die. But what’s the point of being a person of faith unless we are calling the world into a greater reality? What is our purpose if not the transformation of the world?

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Let's Talk: Confronting Our Divisions
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