A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar

Heavy Burdens: Interview with Bridget Eileen Rivera (Part 1)

February 24, 2022 Season 2 Episode 16
Heavy Burdens: Interview with Bridget Eileen Rivera (Part 1)
A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar
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A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar
Heavy Burdens: Interview with Bridget Eileen Rivera (Part 1)
Feb 24, 2022 Season 2 Episode 16

Bridget Eileen Rivera wrote one of the most important books we've read. Period.

The book is Heavy Burdens: Seven Ways LGBTQ Christians Experience Harm in the Church, and it's a doozy. We had so much important stuff to talk about that we made this episode a two parter. We chat about the awful stories of trauma and abuse that Queer Christians experience on a regular basis in the church, how the Protestant Reformation changed everything about the way the church saw sex, and the many double standards the church embraces towards all things LGBTQ related.

We tasted a spectacular Irish Whiskey called Blue Spot by Spot Whiskeys.

The beverage tasting is at 2:45. To skip to the interview, go to 6:41.

You can find the transcript for this episode here.

Content note: this episode contains discussion of suicide, abuse, and sex.


Want to support us?

The best way is to subscribe to our Patreon. Annual memberships are available for a 10% discount.

If you'd rather make a one-time donation, you can contribute through our PayPal.

Other important info:

  • Rate & review us on Apple & Spotify
  • Follow us on social media at @PPWBPodcast
  • Watch & comment on YouTube
  • Email us at pastorandphilosopher@gmail.com


Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Bridget Eileen Rivera wrote one of the most important books we've read. Period.

The book is Heavy Burdens: Seven Ways LGBTQ Christians Experience Harm in the Church, and it's a doozy. We had so much important stuff to talk about that we made this episode a two parter. We chat about the awful stories of trauma and abuse that Queer Christians experience on a regular basis in the church, how the Protestant Reformation changed everything about the way the church saw sex, and the many double standards the church embraces towards all things LGBTQ related.

We tasted a spectacular Irish Whiskey called Blue Spot by Spot Whiskeys.

The beverage tasting is at 2:45. To skip to the interview, go to 6:41.

You can find the transcript for this episode here.

Content note: this episode contains discussion of suicide, abuse, and sex.


Want to support us?

The best way is to subscribe to our Patreon. Annual memberships are available for a 10% discount.

If you'd rather make a one-time donation, you can contribute through our PayPal.

Other important info:

  • Rate & review us on Apple & Spotify
  • Follow us on social media at @PPWBPodcast
  • Watch & comment on YouTube
  • Email us at pastorandphilosopher@gmail.com


Randy: [00:00:00] Welcome to A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar. 

Kyle: The podcast where we mix a sometimes weird but always delicious cocktail of theology, philosophy and spirituality. On this episode, we're talking to Bridget Eileen Rivera who wrote a book recently called Heavy Burdens: Seven Ways LGBTQ Christians Experience Harm in the Church. Bridget is a great author, turns out. This is one of my favorite books that we've ever done on this podcast. Probably top two or three for me. She’s somebody I’ve been following on Twitter for quite a while, so I was really excited when you told me that you got her to be on the show. Uh, she is a celibate LGBTQ Christian, which might sound unusual to some of our listeners, uh, might be really familiar to others.

And this book is, it's about a lot of things. It's about all the ways that LGBTQ Christians, celibate or not, are harmed by the church, but it's also got like a ton of [00:01:00] history in it. A ton of sociology in it. She is a sociologist by training. It's a nice primer on a lot of introductory concepts to gender and identity. It includes history that I didn't expect and learned from.

It's just a really, really valuable book. If you've, if you're a Christian wondering what to think about LGBTQ issues, this would be a good first book. 

Randy: Oh my gosh. I seriously wish I had this 15 years ago when I was starting ministry. If I had this book 15 years ago, when I started in ministry, I would have made so many less mistakes.

I would have engaged in this, this idea of how we church leaders and how we the church engage with LGBTQ community. It would have been so much different and so much more healthy and biblically rooted, I want to say. She's, she, she breaks down the scriptures. She breaks down church history, like you've said, she breaks down… And she tells stories of people who are LGBTQ in the church and the pain and the trauma and the abuse that they've faced that is normal. We'll, we'll get to all that. This book [00:02:00] floored me. Um, Um, I'm, I'm recommending it to so many, I'm recommending it to our whole elder team. I'm recommending it to all the pastors I know. Yeah. And I want to say for those of you who rolled your eyes when Kyle said she's a celibate LGBTQ person: she doesn't have an agenda to make everyone else celebrate in the LGBTQ community. 

Kyle: And we don't talk about that in our interview. And so we loved the book so much that we put way too much in our outline. And we had a really, really long conversation with Bridget and she was very gracious about it. So this is going to be a two-part episode. We don't, we haven't done those before, but sometimes you have an interview where you’ve just got to say more things because there's more that's important that needs to be said. So we're going to split this into two sections. You'll get the first half of our conversation today and the second half next time.

So today for us in the tasting, I have an Irish whiskey. We've done a couple Irish whiskeys before. This one might be the best one we will have done. I'm going to go out on a limb…

Randy: Have you had this?

Kyle: No, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's going to be the best one that we've [00:03:00] tried so far. So this is called Blue Spot. It's a single pot still Irish whiskey aged for seven years. This is cask strength of 58.7% ABV. So this comes from a company that also makes an Irish whiskey called Green Spot, another one called Yellow Spot, and another one that I've never been able to find called Red Spot, which is the oldest expression. So this is the youngest expression, but also the newest and one of the more difficult ones to find. I lucked out and found this, I don't know, a few months ago, and just been waiting for the right reason to open it.

Randy: Tell them what it was aged in.

Kyle: So it was aged in a few things. So bourbon barrels, I believe, sherry butts, and also Madeira wine casks, which…

Randy: I didn't know sherry butts was a thing. I mean, that's probably a woman somewhere with like a perm. Too much lipstick.

Kyle: Sherry, if you're listening, sorry.

Elliot: Cheers to you!

Randy: But sherry butts is a real thing. I got Kyle good. 

Kyle: Yeah. It's just what they call them. They're just like bigger casks. 

Randy: Okay. I mean, you [00:04:00] age any whiskey in Madeira casks, bourbon barrels, and sherry butts, and I’m in. 

Kyle: Yeah man, absolutely. Really like fruity nose to me. 

Elliot: Orange.

Randy: Fruity, but still, still smells like Irish whiskey too.

Kyle: Yep, identifiably Irish, which is kind of nonsense if you haven't had much Irish whiskey, but there is a difference.

Elliot: What would you call that flavor though? What is the Irish whiskey…?

Kyle: I don't know it, to me, they always

Randy: Sugary.

Kyle: Well, yes, a bit sweet. They always seem younger to me even if they aren’t necessarily. 

Randy: You don't taste as much of the barrel in Irish, Irish whiskies, I would say. 

Kyle: They’re distilled, like, triple distilled, right? That’s their thing. So they just taste lighter. I don't know if that...

Elliot: Yeah. 

Randy: Some whiskey aficionados are rolling their eyes in the back of their head right now.

Kyle: Yeah, for sure. Oh man, this is good. Oh, that's hitting me just right.

Elliot: You know, I'd love this as a bitters. Like I want this flavor to put into other drinks too. Cause there's so much orange and spiciness. 

Randy: Whoa, that's hot! Woo would that burns going down! 

Kyle: That's interesting. Take, taste it again. I wonder if it does that to you the second time. Cause it's not hitting [00:05:00] me that hard.

Elliot: He just did it as a shot. He doesn't have any left. 

Randy: No, but a similar thing happened to me... I blame everything on COVID if it's bad, but.. Okay, I'm going to try it again.

Kyle: Man, yeah. To me, the flavors are so well blended; nothing takes over. 

Elliot: So you blame it when it's bad? Like, so you didn't, you didn't enjoy that first sip?

Randy: I tasted a few things and then all of a sudden my esophagus was on fire. 

Kyle: I will say the heat hits me at the end. It sneaks up on you. 

Randy: I mean it's a high proof.

Kyle: Mmhmm. Yeah, I like this a lot. I like it probably better than the, the Green for sure. Which is a little older.

Randy:mOkay. I still get the bananas of a regular Irish whiskey that we would have, but I get a deeper richness. I get more, like, of the syrupy molasses-y things going on. Really pleasant. Really nice.

Kyle: Yeah. None of the fruit on the nose that I expected to be in the palette is there; it's much darker flavors, richer, but I don't mind it at all. 

Randy: Mmhmm. Oh no. This is a good Irish whiskey. I mean.

Elliot: Yeah. You get [00:06:00] a bit of honey, a lot of orange for me, and then it’s just a spice mix after that.

Randy: The funny thing is it's probably my favorite Irish whiskey I’ve had. And it's probably because it tastes more like bourbon than any Irish whiskey.

Kyle: Yeah. I had similar feelings about the Yellow, which is a bit higher price point than this. Very sweet and reminded me a lot of bourbon. Yeah.

Randy: What's the price point on this?

Kyle: You know, I don't remember exactly. It's not a cheap bottle, but, um, I think it's worth it. 

Randy: Yeah. It's good. It’s really good. I must have taken a shot on that first one, because…

Elliot: Is this hard to find?

Kyle: Yeah, it took me a little while to find it and I'm pretty sure it sold out quick, so.

Randy: So tell our listeners once again what it is.

Kyle: This is Blue Spot Irish whiskey.

Elliot: Thanks for sharing. 

Randy: Enough said, yeah, thank you.

We love to share your reviews because we love it when you, when you give us reviews on Apple Podcasts or wherever else you give reviews. And so today we're going to read a review from jellyboneselmer. Amazing names of people.

“These guys have landed in a sweet spot, deftly [00:07:00] capable of engaging a wide spectrum of faith-based and secular backgrounds. Their dialogue is laid back, honest and approachable, even as they're unpacking hot button topics that would raise the temperature at any family dinner table. It's a safe place for the believer, the skeptic, even the willing evangelical. They're not self-serious, and they've given a platform to some excellent guests thus far. Refreshingly, they've done all this while straying from a gospel-centered message. I think this podcast fills a vital space in a crowded conversation.”

Well jellyboneselmer, we appreciate the love.

Kyle: Yeah. I appreciate the deft use of the word deftly there.

Randy: Yeah.

Kyle: You don’t hear that enough.

Randy: I mean, I'm kind of lost for words. 

Kyle: Yeah. Well, thanks jellyboneselmer. Cheers.

Elliot: Did he actually say they've done all this while straying from a gospel centered…?

Randy: No. While … without straying. Did I say while? 

Kyle: You said while. 

Randy: Did I do that?

Kyle: Yea. We do not stray from the gospel, I think that's what he meant.

Randy: He said “without straying from a gospel [00:08:00] centered message. Many people would disagree with that.

Kyle: Yeah. Freudian slip?

Randy: Bridget, Eileen Rivera. Thank you so much for joining us on A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar. 

Bridget Eileen Rivera: Thank you so much for having me.

Randy: Bridget, before we get into who you are, your background, and this amazing book you wrote, are you drinking anything tonight? 

Bridget Eileen Rivera: Yeah, I have with me, uh, Magner's Irish cider. It's my favorite kind of cider. It's my it's my go-to. I should say I do have one that's like, I actually like more than this, but this is my go-to 

Kyle: Nice. This is serendipitous because we are drinking an Irish whiskey. So cheers to Ireland.

Bridget Eileen Rivera:. Great minds think alike. 

Randy: Yes. So Bridget Eileen Rivera, the book is Heavy Burdens: Seven Ways LGBTQ Christians Experience Harm in the Church, and both Kyle and I were rocked by this book. We absolutely loved it. Can you tell our listeners, Bridget, just a little bit about yourself, [00:09:00] and where this book came from. 

Bridget Eileen Rivera: Yeah. So, um, and I should mention at the outset, I have a cat and a puppy who is not quite a year old yet, and I did spend a good 20 minutes before this, uh, trying to get her zoomies out.

But this is also her most active time of the day. And so you might hear pitter patters as we are talking of, like, the puppy dog in the background, running back and forth. 

Randy: What’s the puppy’s name?

Bridget Eileen Rivera: Faron, Faron with an F.

Randy: Nice. Alright, good. Alright Faron, we can take your noise. 

Bridget Eileen Rivera: We'll hope so, we'll just, we'll hope for the best. Um, to answer your question. So I wrote this book Heavy Burdens and to, I guess, give a little bit of background about me, I do a lot of advocacy for LGBTQ Christians in general, in the context of Christianity and church spaces, [00:10:00] Christian communities, and things like that. And I spend a lot of time talking about it, whether on my blog or on social media and just kind of challenging Christians to reassess a lot of assumptions that have been the status quo for so long. So I spend a lot of my time doing that and I'm currently getting my PhD in sociology. Uh, so I also spend a lot of time, uh, doing research to complete my PhD. And I also am an adjunct professor, which is, I guess, kind of part of the package when you're getting your PhD.

[Bark] Oh, there she goes. Sorry. And so I, I also, I teach college classes as an adjunct professor as well in sociology. 

Randy: This book, you begin every chapter with a story from someone from the LGBTQ community. I don't know if you've known them or they’re part of your community, or part of your [00:11:00] research, but this was one of those books that literally the first two pages of the introduction got me, because you begin with a story of you being in a small group and hearing from a mom telling about her son. Could you tell us about that story, that experience, and then why did you decide to center every, anchor every chapter with a personal story? 

Bridget Eileen Rivera: I guess for me, starting with a story was just essential because the purpose of my book was not to talk about theology, not to talk about the finer points of doctrine.

Uh, the purpose was to really get at the heart of what queer people experience in Christian communities, what it is actually like to be queer in the church. And I found that a lot of books will posture themselves as wanting to [00:12:00] put the experiences of people first when it comes to LGBTQ issues, but it's more like a kind of, oh, and by the way, this is not just about theology. This is about people too.

Um, and it's kind of, you know, stated, but then like the rest of the book is about theology with maybe a few other quick reminders that this is about people. And I didn't want to do that. I wanted my book to actually be about people, about real life experience. What actually goes on. And so every chapter is framed with a different story.

And I did not include even a fraction of a fraction of the stories that I could have shared. Um, and I didn't even include the stories from every person that I interviewed for the book. I interviewed over two dozen people, and I was only able to put half that [00:13:00] number in the book, which just killed me because every story just was so important in so many ways.

And I wish that all of those stories and more of the many people that I know, that these things could be out there for people to wrestle with because so many people don't really understand what it's like. And that's one of the things that I hope people also realize, is that I share these stories that oftentimes can be very shocking. Like the story that I opened up with about the woman who says that she would rather her child be dead than gay. And I share other stories of just incredible abuse, pastors, you know, telling people to get out of their church and never come back. And I mean, the list just goes on.

And these things can come across as really, almost extreme to [00:14:00] someone who has never heard of this happening before, has never spoken to a queer person before. And what I hope people realize as they're reading is that these stories that I share are not exceptional cases. These are not actually the extremes of what queer people experience. These stories are the norm.

I didn't actually have to search far and wide to find these stories. It's… in order to find a story that does not involve some kind of abuse, I'd have to search far and wide for that. Yeah. The, like, I would say 99% of the queer people that I know in the church have some kind of heartbreaking story about their experience with other Christians, with Christian communities, with pastors, family members. And it's, it just, it happens so much [00:15:00] and often it's the same rationales being used. Over and over and over again. And it just, it gets so tiring at a certain point. And so I really, I wanted to bring that to the surface.

I wanted to put that at the forefront because I found so many people don't know about this. And it was very frustrating for me to like, try to talk about this and often be told in response that I was exaggerating, that the things that I said that go on don't really happen. And it's like, no, this is happening now today. Real people. And yeah, I wanted that to finally be seen and reckoned with.

Randy: Yeah. Yep. In a number of those stories, this common thread kept coming through, that there came a point when this person who's a member of the LGBTQ community had to make a decision of what's, what am I [00:16:00] going to choose: my life, me being alive, or my faith, because if I choose my faith, I think I'm going to kill myself.

And that's not, that's not an exaggeration. That reality is so nightmarish, I can barely get through asking this question. That there are people right now who are facing that dilemma. Do I keep my faith? Which if I don't, I'm going to be disowned by the rest of my family. Or do I keep my life? Do I stay alive? Not kill myself. Can you just, you heard these stories, you've lived a lot of this. Can you just bring us into that reality, Bridget? 

Bridget Eileen Rivera: Yeah. Um, there's actually, there's several stories that were like that. A number of them end, you know, with a happy ending, and there was at least one where the person was not able to hold on to their faith and legitimately felt like they could not stay a [00:17:00] Christian and live. Legitimately felt that way.

And the thing about that place, when you're in a place where you feel as if you have to choose between living a livable life and being a Christian, that is such an impossible choice. And, uh, you know, people marvel at the high rates of suicide. And that's one of the things that I opened the book with, uh, that religious involvement reduces the risk of suicide for every American demographic except LGBTQ people. For queer people, the more involved in their faith they get, the more likely they are to die by suicide.

And people hear that statistic and they're like, how can that be true? Well, it's true because in so many churches, we have a Christianity, uh, where [00:18:00] people are told that they have to pick between their faith and a life that is even just possible to live. And for someone who is a genuine Jesus follower, when you tell them that you either have to disown your faith in order to survive, in order to like, be able to make it through the day, or you have to live an absolutely miserable life that you will have no joy in it, no family, no love, but at least you'll be saved. Um, that is a recipe for death.

And that is the point that many feel that they are driven to, where they feel as if they have no choice, their life is not worth living anymore. They can't go on, it feels like. And so, what's the point of continuing to [00:19:00] try. And so suicide feels like the best option. That's what a number of people told me. 

Kyle: Yeah. So a second ago you said the choice is between being a Christian and living a life that's possible to live. You didn't say—because I know some of our listeners might be thinking, interpreting you this way—you didn't say between being a Christian and having an enjoyable sex life. Um, and so can you, can you flesh out, what do you mean by a life that's possible to live? Because it's so much more than just having a sex life that they can… cause that's how a lot of conservative Christians think about it. “What's so hard? You just don't do that.”

Bridget Eileen Rivera: Yeah, a lot, a lot of people frame it that way, right? Like you are just choosing to forsake your faith so that you can have sex. And I have never spoken to a queer Christian who, uh, would describe their struggle in that way ever. [00:20:00] Yes, the pressure around sex, around what to do about that is huge, but there's even moreso the weight of feeling isolated, uh, feeling alone, the weight of teaching that tells you that you are an abomination, that tells you that you are sinning just for feeling a certain way that you can't control, the weight of being alone and having nobody by your side, nobody to care for you when you're sick. Nobody that you can call up at a moment's notice. The weight of walking through church and wondering who you're going to sit with that day.

Our culture is so, it revolves so fiercely around sex and marriage that we, uh, have created within our culture almost a situation where it can feel [00:21:00] as if you are barred from human intimacy if you forego getting married, having a sex life, and all of those things. Um, and so it's not just about the sex; it's the whole package. Um, and yes, sex is part of that, but there's more to it than just that, because so much we've, we've wrapped up so much within sex, and we've wrapped up so much into the implications of having same sex sexual attraction, to the point where it's not just about whether you have gay sex or not. There's also many churches that either implicitly or explicitly teach that same sex attraction is inherently a sin. That you are sinning if you just feel this way. And it's, it's such a heavy weight to have to walk around with, to the title of my book, Heavy Burdens. And a lot of [00:22:00] people just can't do it. 

Kyle: Yep. Or even, even not just if you feel that way, but if you identify with a community that describes itself in that way, which we'll get to later. Another thing we'll get to later, I think, is the irony that it's Christians, mostly conservative Christians, who are so obsessed with the sex aspect of this, that that's where their focus goes to. And by your testimony, you've never met an LGBTQ person for whom that is the center of the story, or at least the whole story. So that should, that should tell us something, right? There's also—you didn't mention this in the book—but there's also the fact that our society is set up economically to be actively hostile to single people. And the church is doing nothing whatsoever to accommodate that situation. There was a recent Atlantic article all about this, very interesting stuff.

So let's change gears completely. There was a chapter early in your book, one of the first chapters where, I did not see this coming, it, it kinda hit me out of nowhere, and I loved it, [00:23:00] and I learned a bunch from it too. And it's an argument that ultimately, what is responsible for this more permissive view of sex that's taken hold in Western culture, that most conservative Protestant Christians, conservative Catholic Christians too, might want to blame on secularism, or might just want to blame on LGBTQ people specifically, your argument is that what's actually responsible for that happened in the 16th century. It was the Protestant reformation. Uh, and some of our listeners are going like, wait a second, what? Um, so I'm going to, I want to read a little quote from that chapter, and then I want you to give us kind of a cliff notes version of that story, if you can.

So you said, “The reformers”—and you're talking about people like Martin Luther here, okay—“The reformers introduced new assumptions to the Christian imagination. Sex and sexuality as integral to human identity, celibacy as unnatural, marriage as a human right, pursuit of marriage for romantic love. It wasn't [00:24:00] the 1960s that bequeathed such ideas to Western society, and it wasn't gay people either. It was the Reformation and the Christians who helmed it.”

Um, so specifically what I'm most interested in in that quote is this: that we should take a biological perspective on sex, or maybe we could call it a naturalistic perspective, where it's part of our nature. It's a necessary aspect of who we are that we can't root out, that our religion doesn't change it, that it lies outside the bounds of the scripture, outside the bounds of any, you know, religious authority or tradition. And that that's how we should understand sexuality, in this extra-biblical, extra-traditional way. And that that is a Christian idea. Can you flesh that out for us? 

Bridget Eileen Rivera: I think what you're asking is super important. And it's one of the reasons why I start my book basically at this point with this question, because I think it's really impossible to understand a whole lot of things that exist [00:25:00] currently today, unless you go all the way back 500 years ago to the Reformation and the changes that happened at this time. And so I think a lot of people are familiar with the fact that the Reformation brought the idea that the requirement of priestly celibacy is unbiblical. And honestly, I think that's the only thing that people really imagine that the Protestant Reformation changed with respect to sexuality, but actually, yeah, it's way bigger than just that.

Because in order to argue that priestly celibacy, requiring priestly celibacy was unbiblical, the reformers had to create a completely different way of thinking about human sexuality, had to [00:26:00] develop completely different arguments and, and logics behind human sexuality than what had been previously understood from scripture.

Um, and so what you see in the reformers writings, um, and, uh, Luther and Calvin are some of the most notable within this, is this idea, to what you were saying, that sexual urges are innate to human nature. They are intrinsic. You can't divorce our sexual desire from what it means to be human. And so to deny someone sexual intercourse, to deny them the ability to ever have sex, is to deny them something that is intrinsic to who they are. It's to deny them the ability to fully realize who [00:27:00] they are as a human being made in the image of God.

There's, and I share this in my book, Martin Luther, he's making this argument and he is, he's bringing this out and he's, he says sex is just as necessary as the fact that I am a man or a woman. It is innate to human existence and just as necessary as waking or sleeping or eating or relieving yourself. Like these things are basic facts. And so you can't say, you can't deny someone sex. It would be like denying them food. It would be like denying them water. It's intrinsic; it's necessary. And so that was the argument that enabled the reformers to say that requiring priests to be celibate is unbiblical.

Now that doesn't seem super radical from our perspective, but it was, [00:28:00] it was world changing. It was a completely new way of thinking about sex because before this, nobody had thought of sex as this thing that was intrinsic to human nature. And so it was at this point that you see the doors being blown wide open for new possibilities.

Not just that priests can get married, but that married couples who, for example, are sexually unsatisfied, um, opening the door for divorce for those couples to get divorced, which Luther actually talks about the, he uses that as one example, that a divorce might be recommended for a couple like that. The door's open to remarriage.

Whereas previously, if someone got divorced, first, they shouldn't have, and even if they did, they are not allowed to get remarried. Well, now that's thrown out the door. Now we can get [00:29:00] remarried if you're divorced. Why? Because requiring that person to be celibate is un-biblical. It's not fair to them.

And so there's this whole sea of change that happens, and this re-imagining of what the purpose of marriage is. You know, before this time marriage had been seen as a very instrumental thing. It was sacramental and seen as instrumental to the furthering of the human race, economics, and things like that. But more and more, we're seeing a change during this time of like, the reason why you get married is so that you can have sex and love.

And so like you see this idea of romance starting to develop, and the whole way of thinking just changed overnight and you can, uh, directly trace a lot of these ideas to the development of contraception and eventually abortion, because once you divorce the [00:30:00] purpose of sex from procreation and start saying that the reason why we have sex is to fulfill our sexual desires, well, if the point is not procreation, it's to fulfill our sexual desires, then contraception makes a lot of sense. Because having babies is not actually the big reason anymore.

And you know, once you start opening the door to contraception, it's really not that far of a leap to be okay with abortion. And you can actually go into the 1970s and major conservative Christian denominations supported abortion, the Southern Baptist Church, the Presbyterian Church of America. Like you can read these major conservative denominations supporting abortion, and you can trace these changes directly to what took place in the Reformation. And yeah, that lays the groundwork [00:31:00] for a lot of things that we see today, which I go into in my book. 

Randy: Yeah. Chapter eight, “Double Standards,” which, man, you just slay so many things in that chapter. You write how for a vast majority of church history—and by vast, I mean, almost all of it—contraceptive sex was seen as sin, pure and simple.

In fact, Martin Luther, you said—I’m quoting from your book—Martin Luther said any kind of sex outside of the purposes of procreation was sin. And that sin was worse than adultery or incest. Church fathers and reformers—I mean, I circled the names in your book, Augustin, Martin Luther, John Calvin—church fathers and reformers held to this belief. And yet heterosexual Christians have no problem today for moving from this belief that has its roots in the scriptures, right? Like this, this amazing double standard that we have no idea actually exists and completely ignore. Can you bring us into that reality because it's kind of stark. 

Bridget Eileen Rivera: Yeah. Wow. So this is a big one and I just, I personally think that this [00:32:00] is the most fascinating thing out of like all the little historical tidbits that I talk about in the book, I am personally most fascinated by this. So contraception, as you said, for most of church history, contraception was seen as a very bad sin and even seen as being equivalent to murder. And that did not actually start changing until about a hundred years ago.

So we're talking about thousands of years of church history; contraception was never seen as okay. It was seen as an incredibly terrible sin and only a hundred years, the past hundred years, is it okay. So how did that happen? Well, I think important background information is understanding the definition of sodomy.

Um, most people, when they hear sodomy, they think homosexuality. For [00:33:00] me, in my context, I never actually, I, I thought that's what sodomy, what it was. A man and a man having sex. That's what it was. That's what I thought the definition of sodomy had always been. And in fact, that's not the case for most of church history.

Sodomy was defined as any kind of sex that subverted the purpose of procreation. And most of the examples were heterosexual, where a husband and wife using contraception, um, different forms of, of sex were understood to be sodomy such as, you know, not actually having intercourse, but having like, something like mutual masturbation, all of these things were understood as being sodomy because they were done intentionally to subvert the purpose of procreation.

That's really, really shocking to [00:34:00] a lot of people because when we hear sodomy, we think homosexuality, and that really changes your understanding of verses that say “sodomy.” Because, you know, you'll have, and I'll, I'll see this all the time and I'll see, you know, very straightlaced Christians bringing out the King James Version and condemning sodomy and being like “The Bible condemns this; sodomists go to hell.” And using that to point the finger at gay people, not realizing that that verse is more than likely talking about them too. If they really want to apply it in a traditional sense, then when that verse condemns sodomy, that verse is condemning their behavior for having sex with their wife while using birth control, because they've got three kids already and can't afford a fourth [00:35:00] one, and so, you know, they're not having children.

Randy: And just in case any listeners think that this is extra-biblical or something, this is rooted in the Old Testament, in the scriptures, right, when old what’s his name spilled his seed into the ground.

Kyle: Onan.

Bridget Eileen Rivera: Yeah.

Randy: Onan.

Kyle: It's one of my favorite Bible stories because there was a comedian named Dorothy Parker who had, uh, had a, a pet parrot and she named him Onan, and somebody asked her why, and she said, because he spills his seed upon the ground.

Bridget Eileen Rivera: Oh gosh. 

Kyle: I'm always going to remember that story.

Randy: But it's rooted in the scriptures, is what I'm trying to say, right Bridget?

Bridget Eileen Rivera: Yeah. So, and again, I want to be clear when I'm saying this, I'm not trying to tell anyone that they are a bunch of sodomites for having contraceptive sex. That’s, like, not the point of this conversation, and I even, like, make that caveat in the book, like, the point of this conversation is to kind-of expose those double standards of how we apply scripture.

And so to your [00:36:00] point, yes, for most of church history up until a hundred years ago, this was rooted in scripture, Um, rooted in our understanding of what's known as the sin of Onan, um, or Onan, I don't actually know how to actually pronounce it, but, um, but the way the story goes is, uh, in ancient Israel, there was a law where basically the brother of a deceased husband, if the husband had not provided children to the widow that was left, then, uh, the dead husband's brother was obligated to be with her and provide offspring to her. That was the law. Um, and it was really designed to protect women at the time because a widow left without any offspring in the society as it existed, uh, would be [00:37:00] destitute.

And so Onan was obligated to give Tamar a child, some kind of offspring, and he didn't want to do that. He had his reasons. They were selfish reasons. And instead, he went in, he had sex with her, and he pulled out and spilled his seed on the ground instead. So there's all sorts of terrible things going on here.

And most people today will focus, not on the sexual sin of him spilling the seed on the ground, but will focus on his selfishness. How could he do this to this destitute widow? Um, how could he treat her this way, rob her of a right that she has legally? And yes, all of that is true, but—and I think this is not often recognized—after Onan was sentenced to death and died, Onan’s brother was obligated [00:38:00] to give offspring to Tamar and Onan's brother never gave her offspring, never even tried. And he wasn't killed for that, even though that was just as terrible and just as selfish. Um, so there was something particularly heinous about what Onan did that warranted him being sentenced to death.

And what most theologians up until a hundred years ago believed was that heinous act was spilling his seed on the ground, was subverting the procreative capacity of sexual intercourse because they believe that Onan was in effect murdering a human being before that human being could even be conceived.

And so that story formed the basis for the belief for most of Christian history that contraception is a heinous act, [00:39:00] equivalent to murder, worse than incest, worse than adultery, and was seen as sodomy, plain and simple. And, uh, that shifted, you know, a hundred years ago. Um, and what's interesting about that shift is you see that story with the sin of Onan being re-imagined now, to where people are like, you know, “Back then,” people will say, like, “they didn't understand that male seed does not actually contain, you know…

Kyle: A little homunculus.

Bridget Eileen Rivera: …the possibility of a human being.” Um, like they, they didn't have the science back then, this wasn't, you know, like, there was misunderstandings. So there's all sorts of ways now of, like, reinterpreting them.

But then when you see a gay person wanting to take a second look at similar passages [00:40:00] that may or may not be talking about homosexuality, there's no room for interpretation. Um, and so there's all of this room for redefining how sodomy applies to straight people, to the point where we define it away. Sodomy is not even any longer something straight people can do, cause we've, we've essentially defined that out of the possibility by making it just about homosexuality, about gay people. They are the sodomites. They are the ones that are not allowed to look at the complexity of scripture. And they are the ones that have to have all the condemnations and all of the rules and all the laws, whereas we can stretch, and we can make things work for us in all of these different ways, but there's no room on the other side for gay people.

Randy: And the appeal is to church tradition, right? Because I hear this all the time, that why, what gives us the right? People for 2000 years have thought homosexuality is sin. What gives us the right to [00:41:00] reinterpret that church tradition, which is, which means that if you are married and have sex with your spouse for non-procreative reasons, you're doing exactly that. You’re in, in the midst of an act, which we've reinterpreted and said, “Church tradition be damned. I want to do this because it seems right between me and God and my spouse.”

Kyle: And any pastor will understand. I mean, any pastor with a congregation that's going to stick around is going to, you know, explain that away. They're, they're gonna massage the text in some way. They're going to say, well, we have to make allowances for cultural shift, but it's not a problem. 

Randy: But of course you can't do that for homosexuality. 

Kyle: No, no chance.

Bridget Eileen Rivera: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Kyle: So what happened a hundred years ago to make that seemingly really stark break? Was it related to the insertion of the word “homosexuality” into the text? Did those two events have a common cause? How do we go from “this is like the worst sin ever” to “nobody cares”? [00:42:00] 

Bridget Eileen Rivera: And this is where understanding kind of the seismic shifts that happened in terms of the framework for thinking about sex is important. That happens 500 years ago because those seismic changes had been building and building for centuries up to this point until the rationales for saying that contraception is immoral and unethical no longer made sense.

Like the arguments just didn't jive with everything else that people believed about sex and what the purpose of sex was for and what the purpose of marriage was for. And, you know, you ask most people today what the purpose of marriage is and ask a typical Christian, and they'll say something along the lines of: to find someone that I can love and cherish, and within that, have [00:43:00] sex and, you know, find intimacy with another human being, and that whole concept. All of those ways of thinking just would be foreign to someone 500 years ago in the church. But now all of these things are intimately connected to what it means to be married.

And if you are saying that in order to have sex you also need to be willing to have children, well, now you're standing in the way of people's sexual fulfillment. Which is standing in the way of their human nature. And so like, there has to be, uh, you know, th, this has to be allowed. And so, yeah, the rationale just didn't make sense for not allowing this.

And so you see the switch happening very, very rapidly, starting in the 1920s with the Anglican church, kind of caving on this, and then most Protestant denominations following [00:44:00] thereafter. And I mean, it's not really surprising to me, and I'm not trying to make a moral point about what is biblical or what is not for people. I'm just wanting to highlight the stark inconsistency, um, in so drastically changing the terms of sex and sexuality for straight people, but keeping such a straitjacket for someone who is attracted to the same sex.

And I think it's one of those things where it's not surprising to me that we have actually in the past 50 years seen such a quick growth of affirmation of gay marriage over the past 50 years within many church denominations, because when Christians start peeling these layers back, start asking [00:45:00] the hard questions, start looking at how straight people are taught to think about sex for themselves, and then start trying to be consistent and applying those same rules to everybody else, queer people included, the rationale for not affirming gay marriage kind of falls apart because affirming gay marriage is a natural outworking of everything else that's come before in terms of how we think about sex, how we think about what the point is. And once you remove procreation from being the point, it just, it opens the doors to basically what we see in our culture today, which is that all sex that you want to have is okay. As long as you're not hurting anybody, as long as there's consent and nobody gets hurt, it's all, it's all on the table. And so that's what you see in the culture at large. And I [00:46:00] think that is really an outworking of this idea that there is, like the point of sex is to have sex, there's nothing else attached to it, which we see in Christian community. 

Randy: Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, we're not going to go into this at length, but I just want to mention that this is, this is done by heterosexual Christians in a number of ways recently within church history. I mean—by recently, I mean this last century—where if I want to have sex with my wife or my husband, and not have to worry about having kids, sure. Of course, we're going to use contraception, even if it goes against the scriptures and against church tradition, because we've just learned more since then. If I want to marry someone who's been divorced or if I've been divorced and I want to remarry, of course, I'm going to do that because we've learned since then. And we've morphed since then, even though it goes against what the scriptures say and what church tradition says.

Kyle: Yeah. Or if I want to charge interest on a loan. Of course. 

Randy: Yeah. These are, these are for heterosexual people. We break the rules, we go against church tradition, and we go against the, what we find in the scriptures, but far be it from any gay or lesbian [00:47:00] person to even dream of that or for any straight person to be affirming of sexuality. Never, never. That's the double standard that is just, it's undeniable.

Bridget Eileen Rivera: And yeah, to like speak to what you're saying, like if I were a pastor, let's say, and I walked up to one of my congregants who was divorced, and this congregant was interested in, like, dating and getting remarried, and I told that congregant that their desire to get remarried was a sin, and that if they decided to get remarried, they would be living in continual adultery for the rest of their lives unless they chose to divorce that person that they remarried and go back to their former spouse, and that they would just be living in perpetual sin, like…

Randy: Wouldn't happen.

Bridget Eileen Rivera: …that congregant would, uh, like be completely [00:48:00] not okay with any of that. And neither would the rest of the congregation. They'd be like, dude, you know what? Stop meddling in my sex life. I am going to make choices for myself. I am going to decide what I feel like God is calling me to, and I'm going to do what's best for me.

And the way I understand things, like, no pastor is ever going to go up to someone in the church and tell them that they have to be celibate for the rest of their lives, and that the desire to not be celibate is inherently sinful. Like, no pastor would do that to a straight person, but pastors do that all the time to gay people.

Kyle: Yeah, I think you're putting your finger on it there, Bridget. Like, the reason you don't see this with issues that straight people deal with is because if you tried as a pastor in almost any setting [00:49:00] outside of a few super rural fundamentalist churches with like 15 people in them, and they're all related, like, you're going to lose your church. Right? That's why you don't see it. But when you do it to gay people, you don't lose your church. Your church might even grow. And if it doesn't grow, it's going to feel more cohesive because now we have something to rally around and preach about and make everybody feel like there's a war they're a part of that's bigger than themselves. 

Randy: And rather, if you allow it for gay people, you're going to lose your church to a church split, or they're going to fire you.

Kyle: Yeah. Huge benefits for denying it to them, huge costs for not denying it to them. And these are the same people who are preaching fidelity to the text every week and railing about, you know, capitulation to culture.

And if you're right, and I think you are, this is the most two-faced capitulation to culture you could imagine.

Randy: Yeah. Yep. 

Bridget Eileen Rivera: Yeah. 100%.

Elliot: Well, this has been a great conversation so far, and with so much more to [00:50:00] discuss still, we'll be picking this up in part two with our next episode, so make sure that you don't miss that.

Kyle: We hope you're enjoying the show as much as we are. Help us continue to create compelling content and reach a wider audience by supporting us at patreon.com/apastorandaphilosopher, where you can get bonus content, extra perks, and a general feeling of being a good person.

Randy: Also, please rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts, iTunes, and Spotify. These help new people discover the show, and we may even read your review in a future episode, if it's good enough, 

Kyle: If anything we said really pissed you off, or if you just have a question you'd like us to answer, or if you'd just like to send us booze, send us an email at pastorandphilosopher@gmail.com. 

Randy: Catch all of our hot takes on Twitter at @PPWBPodcast, @randyknie, and @robertkwhitaker, and find transcripts and links to all of our episodes at pastorandphilosopher.buzzsprout.com. See you next time. Cheers. [00:51:00] 

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