Q&A with UNC pastor Alex Stayer-Brewington
Alex Stayer-Brewington, a Presbyterian hospital chaplain and former pastor at Bethlehem Presbyterian Church in Saxapahaw, North Carolina, is a liberal Christian who is involved in political activism. Staff writer Sophia Wilhelm asked Stayer-Brewington, a 2009 UNC graduate, about his opinions on current politics and religion in North Carolina.
The Daily Tar Heel: How do you think religion and politics are connected?
Alex Stayer-Brewington: In my world view, everything is religious and/or spiritual, and everything is political. Religion is inherently political and that, speaking from the perspective of a Christian, I would say that I worship a partisan God, a God with a vested interest in creation. I think that has very real literal implications for those who would choose to follow that God.
DTH: What are the most important political issues to you?
ASB: I think the prison system, but not just mass incarceration, but I think just the existence of prisons and jails in particular is pretty offensive. The whole what we call criminal justice — police officers with guns — I think that is hard for me to really, to have with my understanding of what a just and righteous society looks like.
Marketing and economics and capitalism and any system that would attempt to assign someone a value based on what they do, in terms of work, rather than just their inherent worth as a child of God.
DTH: Which ones do you think we need to focus on in North Carolina?
ASB: I live in Durham. Our county jail is a very inhumane and ungodly place. I would say more equitable access to mental health care, I would say food insecurity... Over in Alamance County, we’ve got a pretty terrible Sheriff. He has implemented policies to kind of try to... be like a cowboy figure over there in terms of rounding up undocumented immigrants. I think just treatment of people who are new to our state, coming from other countries.
DTH: What are your thoughts on how our civil rights have been handled in North Carolina?
ASB: I think if we contend as Christians and Jews do, that all humans are made in the image of God, then I think we need to reckon ourselves with how we honor that image. I think there’s also precedent in the Christian’s scripture for a pretty diverse array of genders past the male-female binary. In Genesis 2, it says God creates the heavens and earth. It doesn’t mean that God just creates heaven and earth, it’s a literary device called a merism, it means God has created heaven and earth and in between. It’s like saying, ‘I’ve searched high and low.’ In the same way, if you look at it in the original Hebrew, it’s kind of a poem and so this verse is paralleled as saying God created the male and female. To me, when I read that, I feel that I am kind of reading a suggestion that God created male and female and everything in between.
I feel like in our tradition we have a great many resources that are underutilized for really breaking outside of traditional ideas about gender and sexuality.
DTH: Why do you protest, or why are you an activist?
ASB: I think it’s because my parents taught me to, it was a value that was handed down to me, in the same way my Christianity was handed down to me. The more I learn about it, the more l realize that those two things have a lot to do with one another. I feel like, just as a citizen, never mind a person who identifies as a Christian, I see a lot of things that are deeply offensive to me, that are done in my name as a citizen, and I feel like they’re even more offensive to me as a person of faith.
It’s important to me to be vocal about my dissatisfaction, and it’s important to me to get out and make my voice heard. Sometimes it’s really frustrating, you can vote any way you want, but you look at the shape North Carolina is in with its senate and legislature, the redistricting that they’re doing which has thankfully been struck down. I think it’s really important to vote, but that can’t be the extent of our involvement.
DTH: When you were a pastor, why did you think it was important to place an emphasis on gender neutral preaching?
ASB: When I started preaching gender neutral, it was because I was thinking about little girls and thinking, what happens to the little girl who just hears ‘Father God,’ ‘Father God,’ ‘Father God’ all day and eventually comes to think of God as somebody very different than herself. Then, the more I did it, the more I thought about it, I realized I was speaking to older women in the congregation who may have been systematically disempowered in very subtle but powerful ways in the course of their lives, and then starting to realize I was doing it as much for myself and for other male-identifying people in the congregation who needed to be checked on our collective privilege.
Also, I just think in a very practical spiritual way, challenging the way people imagine God is one of the most important roles as a Pastor. Religious people, in general, have a tendency to make God in their own image. I know I do it all day everyday, I assume God loves the things I love and hates the things I hate. Alice Walker says in ‘The Color Purple,’ ‘God loves everything you love and a whole mess of things you don’t.’ It’s that whole mess of things you don’t that I think is really important to remind people of and challenge their assumptions and to say that like, ‘Hey, God is bigger than what you make God out to be.’
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